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I wrote a book about preserving food. The same step-by-step instruction and full-color photos you find in my blog. Buy it at Yes, You Can 

Links to planters at selected vendors:

Garden-Fountains.com

MasterGardening.com

 

 

Sprouts

Amazon.com is a terrific source for certified organic seeds intended for home sprouting. Dress up salads, stir-fry, sandwiches, spreads, and other dishes with homegrown sprouts of all kinds. Follow this link to order your sampler or to find home sprouting kits.

 

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you can grow that

Grow Marjoram! Seriously, Grow It

You Can Grow That!

Ithaca NY backyard vegetable garden

After stopping to photograph a nicely-planted boulevard, I got an invite to the back yard where a small farm was well on its way to harvest. The bushy clump in front of the gas grill (front-left) is the out-of-control marjoram from which I received a rooted stem.

On a trip to Ithaca last spring, I happened through a neighborhood in which people tended their boulevards as gardens rather than as barren rectangles of useless grass. I parked and walked so I could take pictures and was capturing a particularly engaging scene when its gardener walked out from behind the house.

We became friends and she invited me to see what was growing in the back yard. There was a small farm back there. As we chatted, we discovered we had a mutual acquaintance. It’s an unlikely story, so here goes:

Crazy, unlikely back story

My dad was a college professor. One of his students in the 1960s had two boys who I would visit and play with—they were toddlers and I was, perhaps five or six years old.

Marjoram contained

I transferred my marjoram (a rooted stem from someone else’s garden) from a planter to a containment ring in my herb garden last year in late summer or early fall. The plant had developed a healthy root ball during its 4+ months on my screened porch. Here, about 10 months later (and after a very harsh winter), the plant is enormous. It hasn’t filled the containment area, but I suspect it will next season.

After I entered college, we had little contact with my dad’s former student and her family. I moved to Boston and began a corporate career where I met the woman who married me. We reproduced and moved to central Pennsylvania where we reproduced a bit more.

When my kids were about old enough to be babysitters, we got word that my dad’s student’s son (the toddler I’d played with some 40 years earlier) had moved to Williamsport—about 20 miles north of us. He was married with children and his family eventually moved to Lewisburg where my kids provided them with baby sitting services.

My childhood playmate’s wife is a musician who had performed in several academic settings, and we were fortunate to attend a private concert that she put on for friends as a rehearsal for an upcoming public concert. Alas, eventually, my childhood playmate and his family moved toward the Midwest (his eldest daughter is now driving).

Marjoram heavy with blossoms

My marjoram sprawls in part because huge clusters of flowers weight the ends of very long stalks. Blossoms started to open about July 15, and the display has been brilliant for three weeks with no end in sight.

June, 2013 in Ithaca

I was enjoying the small farm in the back and chatting with this pleasant couple and I learned that the husband is a musician who has performed at Bucknell University (the college in Lewisburg where I live). He had been offered the gig by the musician wife of my childhood playmate son of my dad’s graduate student! Freaky.

We became friends and realized we’re practically related! (It gets better: The musician husband is from Uganda. Our family had come to know a Bucknell student from Uganda who had started the awesome charity Bicycles Against Poverty. Turned out our student friend had attended the concert performed by the Ugandan musician husband booked by the wife of my childhood playmate son of my dad’s graduate student… and they—the two Ugandans in the story—had met each other!)

But that’s not the point.

What marjoram has to do with it

We got to be such good friends (happens all the time among gardeners) that my new acquaintances decided I might like to take some marjoram home with me. The marjoram patch was out of control, they said, and pulled a stalk out by its roots.

Butterfly on marjoram blossoms

If marjoram’s beautiful purple flowers aren’t enough eye candy, my plants draw a lot of butterflies. It’s encouraging to see so many flitting around while I’m working the in garden.

I thanked them for the gift and nursed it for a few days until I got it back to Lewisburg. There, it languished in a small planter on the porch until October or November. Finally, I set a containment ring in the ground in my herb garden and planted the marjoram stalk in it. That marjoram is a superstar!

Photos make the case: you should have marjoram in your garden. In fact, grow it among your ornamentals; plant a meadow with the stuff. It’s amazing! Best of all, it grows like a weed.

Find a friend who grows marjoram and ask if they’ll pull a stem for you. Or, buy a marjoram nursery pot at your local garden center. You won’t need a large pot; in less than a year, a single sprig will grow into a large clump. You can grow that!

Honeybee on marjoram blossoms

Nothing in my kitchen garden draws more honeybees than does the marjoram. This is encouraging; there must be at least one honeybee hive surviving within a few miles. The honeybees have a lot of company. The marjoram blossoms draw several other types of bees as well as pollinating flies and wasps.

Follow this link for more You Can Grow That posts.

 

Enough Peas to Preserve

You Can Grow That!

Shelling peas as leisure time activity

When you grow enough peas to stock your larder or freezer, it’s important to process them within a day of picking them. During peak season, I harvest about a gallon of pods each day. To keep up with them, I pod them while sitting in an easy chair and watching a show on TV.

Fresh garden peas have distinctive flavor unlike any you can buy in a grocery store. Remarkably, if you blanch and freeze fresh peas from your garden, they’ll hold much of that amazing flavor for you to enjoy throughout the year. Growing peas is easy, but I rarely see home kitchen gardens with enough pea plants to provide for a single meal much less for preserves.

Do you want a store of garden peas to get you through the year? You can grow that!

Pea-Growing Fundamentals

Peas thrive in cool weather, and cold only slows them down. Conversely, heat kills. Your goal as a pea gardener is to plant when the “days to harvest” are fewer than “days to summer heat.” Usually this means planting as early as you can work the soil—or within a few weeks of that.

Furrows for double rows of peas

I hoe 14’ long furrows 6 to 8 inches wide and set pea seeds every two inches along each side of the furrows. Last fall I covered my planting bed with autumn leaves so I had to rake them aside to make my furrows. The benefit of covering over the planting bed is that it emerges from winter with almost no weeds. Sadly, the leaves provide cover for slugs; I imagine I’ll be setting out bowls of beer to deal with that problem.

A rule of thumb in zone 6 is “Plant peas on St Patrick’s day” (March 17). It is rarely realistic; my garden soil is often mud in mid March. More importantly, when I plant peas that early, they grow at a glacier’s pace. I can plant more peas two to four weeks later and they’ll catch up with the ones I planted early.

Most years June offers up some stinking hot days, and by July the heat is relentless. It isn’t stinkingly-hot relentless, but it’s consistently hot enough that peas hate it; they wilt and die.

Peas grow from seed to harvest in about 70 days. Some claim 55 days—British Wonder and Alaska, for example—and shelling, snap, and snow peas may have widely differing days to maturity. I grow only shelling peas and I assume 70 days to harvest.

Counting back from late June, I need to plant peas in early April to give them their best chance. I also hedge my bets by selecting “wilt-resistant” peas. Wando is popular for late planting; it holds up well in early summer heat. Wando pea plants offer another advantage to older, rickety gardeners: the vines grow at least five feet tall. I wrote about this special consideration last year in a post titled Wisdom with Age.

Support Your Peas with Trellises

Pea vines are the most fragile plants in my kitchen garden. The stems flex a bit, but if I handle them too roughly, they crease and everything above the crease withers within a few days.

Pea sprout

The earliest sprouts you’re likely to see are tiny leaf sandwiches. In cold weather, a sprout may look like this for several days—or even weeks.

Some varieties grow only 18 inches long while others may reach two, three, four, or five feet in length. Whatever the length when mature, pea vines can’t support their own weight; they produce tendrils that can wrap around leaves and branches of other plants for support.

It’s important to provide trellises. I grew an 18 inch variety once without trellises and the vines grew together as a mat on the soil. This trapped enough moisture that many vines rotted; it wasn’t pretty.

Trellises needn’t be elaborate. Here are a few styles to consider:

  • Use dead tree branches pushed into the soil and leaned against each other.
  • Set fence supports at each end of a row and stretch strings or wires horizontally between them at 4- to 6-inch intervals.
  • Buy prefab lattice panels (home improvement stores sell 4’ x 8’ panels) and stand them along rows of pea plants.
  • Attach wire fencing (available on 25’ or 50’ rolls at garden stores—I use 48” fencing) to sturdy stakes that you can hammer into the ground over freshly-planted peas.

Plan to Preserve

Pea patches are among the saddest things I see in other people’s gardens. So many gardeners set seeds along a short row—two to four feet long—and that’s it! With so few plants, you’ll harvest several delicious handfuls of pods over a two or three week period. That’s great for snacking in the garden, but you won’t have peas for the dinner table. Growing enough to preserve requires a bit of commitment.

First pea leaves of spring

In warm weather, pea sprouts can put out leaves in just a few days… but when the temperature drops, so does the sprouts’ growth rate.

For a sense of scale, I plant three 14 foot double rows of pea seeds, spacing the seeds about 2 inches apart.  To create a double row, I hoe a furrow six-to-eight inches wide and an inch or two deep. I press pea seeds into the soil at two-inch intervals along each side of the furrow and then fill over them with more soil, leaving the furrow slightly lower than the surrounding soil. Then I baby-step lightly along the furrow, compressing the soil onto the seeds.

Each double row holds about 160 seeds—if things go well I end up with close to 500 plants. Some years I buy too many pea seeds and save the extras till the next season. I plant these as described, but before covering the seeds with soil, I scatter extras along the middle of the furrow in case the older seeds don’t germinate as reliably as new seeds.

Simple sturdy pea trellises

Each of my pea trellises is a 13 foot long section of relatively sturdy, 48 inch wire fencing attached to three wooden garden stakes. I erect a trellis by setting the middle stake with a few whacks of a hammer, then pounding each end stake deep into the soil while pulling it away from the center stake to stretch the wire. Finally, I drive the center stake deep. By deep I mean 8 to 12 inches… I’ve attached the fencing so each stake protrudes about a foot below the bottom wire. In autumn, I pull the stakes and roll the trellis loosely to store in my garden shed. I’m fortunate: my garden shed could hold two or three dozen rolled trellises; with only three I’ve plenty of room for other gardening gear and much of our camping equipment.

I finish by erecting my trellises and watering heavily. I keep the soil damp until sprouts appear—sometimes I have to water each day, other years it’s cold and wet so watering isn’t crucial.

My point, though, is that number: 500. When I plant 500 seeds, we eat peas for a dozen or more meals during the growing season and I freeze between one and two gallons of peas for the rest of the year. I’m a lightweight. There’s a garden down the road from me that runs at least 30 yards long and the owners set three rows of peas and trellises each spring! These people grow at least seven times the plants I grow… I’m guessing they eat peas at dinner almost every day.

You won’t need as many plants to grow snow peas for preserving… but because I don’t grow snow peas I can’t guess how many meals’ worth you can harvest from a foot-long row.

Succession Planting After Peas

When your pea plants wither in late June, crush them to the ground and set seedlings of some other vegetables among them. I grow winter squash where my peas were, but you could try melons, cucumbers, beans and other vegetables that have short season varieties.

Sure, it’s a bit of work to plant peas and erect trellises; more work than for most common garden vegetables. Still, there’s nothing tricky about it. If you have enough garden space and you want enough peas to freeze (or to can or dehydrate), you can grow that!

Grape vine pea trellis

I love this pea trellis fashioned from sticks and wild grape vines. Sadly, this tiny row of plants will produce enough peas for only one or two meals. If you plan to preserve peas from your garden, plant plenty. With rows totaling 42 feet and double-planted, I harvest between 2 and 3 gallons of peas in a season. I freeze about one-and-a-half gallons, and always use them up before next season’s peas are ready.

 

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Start Your Own Seedlings

You Can Grow That!

Tomato seedlings under lights

One week old tomato seedlings grow under lights in my office. While I planted 16 seeds per container, some didn’t sprout. There are, perhaps, 70 going strong. To the right are pepper seedlings barely visible under their shop light. That light is so much closer to the plants because I lifted the fixture above the tomatoes to fit the camera under it for the photograph.

Sprouts are up! One hundred and six sprouts grace my seed-starting shelf. Most are tomato plants though about 24 are pepper plants and another 8 are lettuce.

I live in USDA hardiness zone 6b or 7a, depending on how you squint at the most recent map. While it felt more like zone 3 this winter, the temperature might have just brushed minus 5 – the minimum low to qualify as zone 6b. What was unusual is the cold hung on day-after-day; we had a six-week period during which it was a relief if the temperature spiked into the low 20s.

Even as the snow melted, we had cold. There’s a popular rule of thumb in our neighborhood: plant peas on St Patrick’s Day. I doubt many people succeeded. In fact, cold and rain continued until just two days ago, so anyone trying to plant peas would have been working in mud. I don’t expect to put anything in the garden for another three or four days, assuming we don’t see even more rain.

How I Start Seeds

I recently attended my first seed swap where a presenter recommended that home growers buy celled seed-starting trays. I no longer go that route. I’ve used peat pots pressed out in connected cells, I’ve used compressed peat pellets, and I’ve used old plastic drinking cups. I wrote about much of this some years ago in evergreen blog posts.

Inexpensive seed starting light and stand

Here’s a setup I created with my dad last spring. He found a seven foot section of wire shelving. We marked 17 inches in from each end of the shelving, cut the reinforcement wire along the front edge, and bent the two 17-inch ends down to create a stand from which to hang a shop light. My dad has a cabinet in his living room where he sets up trays and pots in which to start tree seeds. With chains to suspend the shop light, it’s easy to adjust the fixture’s height as seedlings grow tall.

These days I cut up gallon plastic milk and orange juice jugs and use the bottoms as seed planters. In a milk jug, I set 16 seeds, and in an orange juice jug, I set 12 seeds. Sure, roots grow together as the seedlings get large, but teasing (gently tearing) them apart doesn’t seem to bother them too much.

When I set seeds, I create a paper tag to identify which varieties of plants are in a particular container (and where the varieties are). These I tape to the side of the container for quick reference. I refer to the tags when I set seedlings in the garden and make a map that shows where I plant each variety.

The easiest thing to overlook when you start seeds indoors is lighting. Don’t assume a south-facing window can provide enough light to produce healthy seedlings. Instead, get a fluorescent fixture with 850K spectrum tubes (see the box titled Don’t Buy Grow Lights). When you first plant seeds, suspend the light about 3 inches over the surface of the soil. As seedlings grow, raise the light to maintain a 3-inch separation from the tops of the plants.

To start tomato and pepper seeds, keep the room temperature above 70 degrees. Ideally, shoot for 80 degrees which, if you don’t want to turn up the heat, you can achieve by putting a heating pad under the seed pots. I’ve found in a 70 degree room, fluorescent lights parked 3 inches above my planters warm the soil adequately.

Starting seeds indoors is only mildly challenging. If you have space to set up a light and some makeshift planters, don’t buy a flat of seedlings that someone else has started. You can grow that!

Making a milk jug seed planter

I start seeds in planters I create by cutting the bottom halves off of gallon plastic milk jugs. I start a cut by pinching the milk jug between the tips of a scissors and squeezing hard. If the carton proves too tough, I can poke a hole through with one scissors tip. Then I cut around the container on a line parallel to the bottom of the jug.

Preparing to start seeds

I buy a bale of potting soil every three or four years from a local garden center. A bale is an enormous amount of soil—compressed to about half its “fluffed” volume. To use it, I wield a butter knife as an ice pick, stabbing one end of the bale repeatedly until a chunk comes loose. I crumble the chunk into a planter and smoosh up smaller lumps between my thumb and fingers.

Note that I don’t put drainage holes in the bottoms of my homemade planters. This forces me to pay extra attention to the moisture of the soil. Before I plant, I add what must be about a third of a gallon of water and leave the planter for 30 minutes or longer so the water soaks in. The soil should be moist on the surface but there shouldn’t be water sloshing around in the container. Note your potting soil might float when you first add water. Worse: some potting soils don’t absorb water without encouragement. If you have such potting soil, stir the water in or it might just pool on top.

Planting seeds in a milk jug starter

I use a chopstick to create 16 indents in the soil of a planter; orange circles in the photo represent the layout. For tomato and pepper seeds, these can be just one-eighth to one-quarter inch deep. I drop a single seed into each indentation and then gently nudge soil over the seeds. With all the seeds covered, I very gently tamp the soil down with the heel of my hand.

Label your seed planters if you plant many varieties

My labels aren’t pretty, but they work. This one reveals I have paste tomato seeds in the left two rows (for a total of 8), 3 Amana Orange tomato seeds at the back of the third row with one Tangerine Beefsteak seed in the front of that row, and a final full row of Tangerine Beefsteak seeds.

I may have to “pot up” the seedlings later which I do by gently tearing each one away from the root ball and then setting 8 into a milk-jug-derived planter. Of course, I create new labels for the new planters, and eventually I use those labels to inform a map I draw so I know where each variety ends up in the garden. I posted a video that shows the potting-up procedure when I made my seed-starting planters slightly differently… but the video is still relevant:

 

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One Hundred Pounds of Squash

Inside a Fairytale Squash

It was love at first sight when I came upon this display at a farmers’ market. A fully ripe Fairytale Squash is light brown like the one on the left under the halved squash in the photo. I harvested all my Fairytale squashes green this autumn. Fortunately, winter squashes are usually happy to ripen off the vine if you store them someplace warm.

How much squash could you use in a year? Five pounds? Twenty five? How about one hundred pounds of rich, delicious, orange goodness? Back in January I explained how easy it is to grow winter squash. I’m telling you now: with a single hill of the right variety of squash, you can grow 100 pounds or more!

Really Big Squash

I once bought a 27 pound Blue Hubbard squash along with a 20 pound Neck Pumpkin and shared stories about them on this blog. Articles about them included the following:

These squashes were so large, I hold the farmer who grew them in high esteem; I expected never to grow such large squashes. Then I fell in love with Fairytale Squash.

Fairytales Come True

Last autumn, the farmer who had sold me my giant Blue Hubbard and Neck Pumpkin put together a display that included a Fairytale squash sliced open. It was gorgeous! I took a lot of photos and, as winter set in, I bought a Fairytale squash at a fire sale price.

Neck Pumpkin and Blue Hubbard

The largest squash I’d dealt with were a Blue Hubbard (27 lbs) and a Neck Pumpkin (20 lbs) I’d bought at a farmers’ market. Neck Pumpkins I grow each year are descended from that original 20 pounder.

Sadly, I never tasted that squash. It got soft very quickly after I bought it, so I ended up harvesting the seeds and composting the rest of it. Honestly, the squash was in bad shape when I bought it; from the get-go I had wanted it for its seeds.

This spring, I planted a single hill of seeds from that Fairytale squash—four seeds started in June and transferred to the garden in July. In about a month, those four plants had taken over half the space I’d reserved for winter squashes; they were crowding out a hill of Butternuts and a hill of Neck Pumpkins (as well as three hills of pickles, my entire carrot patch, and two rows of bush beans).

Fairytale Squash incursion

About a month after planting, a single hill of Fairytale Squash had overtaken a 14 foot long, four foot high trellis. This is was massive growth, though still immature; it hadn’t yet produced blossoms. Eventually, the vines filled twice the volume they do in this photo and produced 5 large fruits. Because I planted late, I lost several very young fruits to autumn’s first frost.

By the end of August, I was hacking off the ends of some Fairytale Squash vines and training others back on themselves. When fruits finally set, I marveled at how large they grew and despaired just a little that they never ripened from dark green to the soft brown I’d seen at the farmers’ market.

Finally, after the first frost, I harvested the unripe Fairytale Squashes and moved them into our dining room where I figured warmth would help them along. There are at least five of these beauties, the smallest of which is over 15 pounds. The largest is a full 33 pounds! This single hill, starting very late in the season, produced more than 100 pounds of food! Had I planted a month or two earlier, it might have produce far more.

Want 100 pounds of winter squash? You can grow that!

Ripening Fairytale Squash

The dining room provides a warm environment for my Fairytale Squashes to ripen. The stack weights, perhaps, 90 pounds, and there’s one more squash on the piano bench.

Find more You Can Grow That! posts here: www.youcangrowthat.com.

 

Grow a Larder Full of Produce

Homemade sour cherry jam on yogurt

A late-night snack of plain yogurt dressed with homemade sour cherry jam is healthful and delicious. Get the most out of your home vegetable gardening by learning to preserve.

As I sat down to write this month about what you can grow, I set up a bowl of plain, probiotic yogurt with a generous dollop of homemade sour cherry jam. I’ve enough homemade jam and jelly in my larder for all the cooking I might do: baking thumbprint cookies, making salad dressings and marinades, flavoring yogurt and cottage cheese, stuffing brie… I’ll also give away about 60 half-pint jars as gifts.

But messy as it is, my larder holds much more than jam and jelly. There are jars of grape drink, sweet corn, pickles, pineapple, applesauce, barbeque sauce, red pepper relish, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, beans, salsa, and various fruit syrups as well. I haven’t canned enough to free me from grocery shopping, but many meals draw from the larder assuring I know exactly what goes into the food I prepare.

Canning, Freezing, Drying, and Cold Storage

While I do a lot of canning, I employ other food-preservation methods as well. For example, this season I’ve blanched and frozen peas, three types of beans, and a whole lot of sweet corn. Soon, I’ll harvest about 15 winter squashes and roll them under a bed where they’ll keep well into next summer. And, if I stay focused, I’ll harvest a whole lot of herbs to dehydrate and refill my spice rack.

Larder of home-canned produce

I’ve seen some amazingly tidy larders with jars in straight rows, but mine rarely looks so good. The upper shelf here holds jars I filled this season—and there are at least five more cases to add. The lower shelf holds last year’s goodies… I need to become more aggressive about using them in my cooking.

It sounds like a lot of work, but happily the work is easy. To prep produce for preserving, you wash it, pare it, pit it, and cut it up as you would were you preparing it for a meal. I plan for preserving: I plant way more than we’ll consume in-season, and put it in storage as I harvest it.

But I don’t stop with my own produce. I stock up at farmers’ markets and grocery surplus stores when produce is cheap. For example, this week I bought 50 ears of sweet corn for $10 and pressure-canned 19 pints—and when pineapple is in season (often selling then for $1 apiece) in January and February, I expect I’ll can a dozen or so pints.

Your Home Preserves

There are several compelling reasons to preserve at home:

  • You extend your enjoyment of your produce garden through the winter
  • You cut down on the chemical additives in your diet
  • You lock in nutrients when the produce is fresh (many store-bought “fresh” veggies lose a lot of vitamins between harvest and dinner service)
  • You can save money by buying produce in bulk
  • You create a store of food that tastes way better than canned, frozen, and dehydrated foods available in grocery stores

If you’ve been thinking about preserving your own, but you’re experiencing some inertia, give yourself a little push. Few things are as satisfying for a kitchen gardener as filling up a larder with home-preserved goodies. You can grow that!

Want help getting started? I’ve posted several articles about home food preserving and linked to them from this blog. Click “Preserving” in the menu at the top of this page to get to the article index. I’ve also written a book that teaches the fundamentals of canning, freezing, drying, cold storage, and fermentation. You can buy a copy by clicking the book’s cover in the left sidebar of this page.

A canned food sampler

A few jars I filled in the past few weeks, from left-to-right. Bottom row, front: tomato sauce, dice orange tomatoes, diced red tomatoes, diced mixed tomatoes, and 2 more jars of tomato sauce. Top row, front: 2 jars pear jelly, 2 jars peach jelly. Second row: 2 pints sweet corn, 2 pints peach syrup, 2 pints blueberry syrup.

You Can Grow That celebrates gardening each month. The list of this month’s celebrants and links to their posts are at You Can Grow That.

 

Grow a Fig Tree from a Cutting

Fig cutting rooting in water

The last cutting from my brother’s fig tree still stands in a pint-sized canning jar. Even when I took the cuttings out of the shipping container, some had sprouted leaves. The cuttings didn’t add much growth at all while rooting in water.

Wanna grow a fig tree? It helps to know someone who already has a fig tree. My brother (Kris, who has written a few guest posts for this blog) has at least one fig tree. He taught me how incredibly easy it is to grow a new one.

In April, Kris mailed to me six cuttings from his fig tree. These were about six inches long and each ended in a terminal bud—Kris had pruned his tree and made the cuttings from pruned branches.

After removing the cuttings from the mailer, I set them cut-side-down in a pint-sized canning jar with about an inch of water. This I placed on my enclosed porch where it has remained since.

Fig Twigs Sprout Easy

Within a month, one cutting sprouted roots. When the roots were about three inches long, I transferred the cutting to half a milk carton filled with very moist potting soil. The cutting put out leaves and grew taller and it looks encouragingly like a small tree.

After I removed the first rooted cutting from the canning jar, a second cutting put out roots. Then a third rooted while a fourth obviously died.

I planted the two rooted cuttings in half milk jugs, and a month later those look quite happy. Another cutting has made it into soil, and the remaining one still sits in the canning jar. It doesn’t seem stressed, but it only just started to grow roots. I’ll move it to soil soon.

Fig Tree Hardiness

Fig trees are, apparently, nearly as indestructible as weeds. They aren’t naturally large to begin with, but they don’t mind if you prune to limit their height and girth. This makes it possible to maintain a fig tree in a planter.

Young fig tree from a cutting

After a few months in potting soil, a rooted fig twig has grown into a very promising shape. I’ll most likely plant two of these in larger containers and move them inside for the winter. The rest will go in my yard where it will be sink-or-swim: they’ll receive no special protection against winter cold.

Most experts report that figs are hardy only down to zone 7. Fortunately, there are varieties claiming hardiness down to zone 5. In colder hardiness zones, fig trees die back significantly in winter but recover and actually grow fruit in the following season.

Many fig enthusiasts in cooler zones hedge their bets and plant in moveable containers. As leaves drop in autumn, they take the planters indoors. Alternatively, they wrap their trees in plastic or burlap and stuff in autumn leaves or straw to provide insulation. With either strategy, it helps to limit the tree’s size through regular pruning.

When you decide to add figs to your kitchen garden, find someone who is growing figs in your area. When you get cuttings from them in spring, ask how they winter over their trees—if they recommend special treatment beyond what you’re willing or able to provide, at least plan to drag your fig trees into a garage or shed after they drop leaves in autumn. With cuttings and patience, if you want a fig tree, you can grow that.

 

You Can Grow That celebrates gardening each month. The list of this month’s celebrants and links to their posts are at You Can Grow That.

 

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