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Posts Tagged ‘apples’

Spontaneous Apple Branch

Unexpected stick on my apple graft

At a casual glance, this photo shows a stick with a small branch. I deliberately shot from an angle that provides clues about the branch’s true nature.

I assembled some apple trees this spring, but that’s a story for another blog post. I mention it because every morning I’d check the progress of my grafts: were buds on the scions swelling? Were leaves emerging? Did the wood seem to be drying out?

One morning, I was astonished to find a small branch had appeared on one of the grafts.

For a few minutes I tried to convince myself the branch had been there all along but I hadn’t noticed it. I waffled between that explanation and the unlikely, crazy possibility that it had, indeed, grown overnight—or over the course of a few days during which my inspections had been too casual to spot it.

Geometrid Caterpillar looks like a stick

Eventually, the “branch” on my grafted apple tree relaxed and seemed ready to move on. This photo clearly exposes the branch to have been a well-camouflaged caterpillar—something in the inchworm family.

Then it occurred to me: my young grafted apple tree hadn’t grown a branch, it had acquired a resident. The branch was a caterpillar doing a really good job of looking like a branch.

What an awesome adaptation! Imagine you’re a caterpillar that sometimes shares trees with birds that like to eat caterpillars. One day, one of those birds perches just eight inches away! The bird sucks down several of your mostly green caterpillar neighbors, and several times it looks directly at you… but it doesn’t even lean closer because in those moments, you’re just a tree branch!

After that bad boy bird moves on, you can grab the branch with the rest of your tiny feet and inch away.

Seems to me this caterpillar had an excellent chance of growing into a moth. Apparently, even then it probably did well at avoiding moth-eating birds. The adult of this caterpillar has earthy, mottled colors on its wings so it nearly disappears when it lands on tree bark. If a bird doesn’t see you as food, it’s probably not going to eat you.

Small Kitchen Garden – Spontaneous Apple Branch

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Fruit Flowers for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

Apple blossoms on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

My apple trees had more blossoms than in any past season. If all become fruit, I’ll need to rent a stand at the farmers’ market.

What an awesome spring we’re having! Sure, it was unpleasantly cold until it wasn’t supposed to be. Sure, perennials remained dormant until early April. But oh, my! Daffodils and hyacinth exploded in April, and eventually warm days coaxed forsythia to bloom.

I got my spring vegetables planted. Pea vines are about five inches tall and starting to wrap tendrils onto the trellises. Five types of lettuce are putting out second leaves and pak choi plants are starting to develop their own distinctive shape. Carrot plants are just sending up their first feathery leaves, as are the cilantro and dill seedlings that have emerged in my herb garden.

Large leaves are emerging from between the two thin first leaves of the spinach seedlings, and the onion sets have sent up spikes more than four inches tall. It has been warm enough for the past week to plant tomato and pepper seedlings in the garden and so far I’ve set out 28 tomato plants.

Peach blossoms on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

The old broken down peach tree blossomed as if its life depended on it. It has done so every year since the trunk snapped at least five years ago. Though the crown of the tree rests partially on the ground and connects to root solely via a bark-covered hinge, the tree consistently produces a fine crop.

There are plenty more seedlings to plant, and many, many seeds as well. But that’s not what I’m writing about today.

Best Ever Spring for Fruit Trees

My fruit trees were very cautious this year. Some years they’ve burst into full bloom in early April, but they had none of that this spring. Even as warming soil coaxed spring vegetables into action, the fruit trees held out. Buds swelled and looked ready to pop for weeks, but low nighttime temperatures kept the buds tight. My last blog post was about those fruit flower buds.

Pear blossoms on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

My pear tree appears robust until you look closely at its trunk. The trunk’s core is hollow from about the soil line to three or four feet above the ground. In 2008 I mail-ordered two trees to replace the old pear tree but they’ve yet to produce fruit. In the meantime the old, sick pear tree continues to make fruit and this year it’s outdoing itself.

Only in the past week, meteorologists assured us we’d have no more nights below 48F degrees. The fruit trees seem to have gotten the news. The blossoms popped and we had several days of awesome color.

That’s it. The fruit trees bloomed and temperatures soared (87F degrees today) and petals plunged to the ground. A few still hang on, but the pear, peach, and apple trees have had their showiest moment of the season and will now get down to growing fruit.

I can’t remember a better spring start for fruit trees in central Pennsylvania. Perhaps this will be a bumper crop year; well-needed after last year’s brutal fruit-killing spring.

Learn about Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.

Purple Leaf Plum blossoms on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

Since 2008, I’ve been posting photos of this tree and telling readers it’s a Moonglow pear. I mail-ordered a Moonglow and a Bartlet pear tree in 2008 and planted them close together so they’d cross-pollinate. So far, they’ve produced no fruit. And, since last season I’ve been suspicious that they’re not actually Moonglow and Bartlet trees. They came labeled as Moonglow and Bartlet, but they look identical. Flowers, leaves, colors, textures are as if they are a single tree.

Maybe real Moonglow and Bartlet trees are indistinguishable from each other, but these trees also look little like other pear trees I’ve seen. Finally, yesterday I gave in to my suspicion and tracked down the Purple Leaf Plum tree—which is obviously what I planted. It’s a very sad waste of SIX YEARS’ anticipation that I’d soon be harvesting pears from my beautiful trees. Apparently, Purple Leaf Plum trees produce edible fruit, so they might not be a total loss… but they’re sure taking their time getting around to it.

Blueberry blossoms on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

As the fruit tree blossoms are dropping petals, my blueberry plants are in full-bloom. They’ve grown enough that I might get two or three handfuls of berries this season. I’m so looking forward to years when the blueberry plants are three or four feet tall and five feet in diameter.


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Buds on Nearly Wordless Wednesday

Apple Flower Buds


Peach Flower Buds


Pear Flower Buds


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Early Fruit Blossoms in my Small Kitchen Garden

This spring’s early start has peach blossoms busting out all over with pear and apple blossoms anxious to pop. When a fruit tree gets and early start, it often loses fruit when more typical weather returns.

Every year that fruit trees have graced my small kitchen garden, I’ve faced an uneasy springtime vigil: Will my fruit blossoms survive?

Fruit trees produce blossoms in response to increasing warmth. By late April, the temperature has usually been high enough for enough days that we get a dramatic display of white, pink, and purple.

Early Spring Kills Small Kitchen Garden Fruit

Two phenomena are particularly distressing to any fruit-grower: a late freeze, and an early start.

While the pear blossoms have held off longer than the peach blossoms, this cluster will probably pop within two days. Meteorologists predict a freeze in two days. Will my peaches and pears survive?

Late freeze—In some years, we see the typical gradual warming that brings on the blossoms in late April. However, with all those gorgeous blossoms on the trees, a cold front drops out of the north and temperatures plummet below freezing.

The opened blossoms freeze, killing the fruit. The kitchen gardener loses out.

Early start—In some seasons, the air temperature rises in March, staying relatively steady for several weeks. Fruit trees react by budding up and putting out blossoms weeks earlier than is typical. If the “unseasonable” warmth continues, there isn’t a problem. However, usually an early start leads to an abrupt return of “seasonal” temperatures. This means sub-freezing nights that can kill fruiting blossoms and destroy hope for a fruit harvest.

Edgy Vigil in my Small Kitchen Garden

During an early start, I can’t help but monitor the bud clusters on my fruit trees. As long as the buds remain tightly closed, even a deep freeze isn’t going to hurt them. When the clusters start to loosen up, I become particularly concerned. Will blossoms pop early this year? If they do, will a nighttime freeze exterminate my fruit crop?

So far, my apple trees are keeping a tight grip on their petals, but the warm weather will almost certainly make them let go in early April. It’s more common for them to wait until late April. That two-to-three week difference could make the difference between a bumper crop of fruit, or a very poor harvest.

This year the vigil started in mid March. It has been crazy warm, and the trees are responding. In fact, my peach trees are in full bloom, pear trees are close on their heels, and my apple trees—the late bloomers of my fruit trees—are threatening to pop. Experience tells me this is very, very bad. Heck, last year we had a killing frost in lat May!

I’m enjoying the gorgeous fruit blossoms, but I’m not happy about them. If Mother Nature blankets us with cold air, there may be nothing to harvest this summer and fall. While I continue my vigil, there’s nothing I can do about the outcome. I don’t need the fruit harvest to survive, so I’ll merely be disappointed if there’s a killing freeze. I can’t imagine the anxiety of a commercial fruit grower when faced with such an early start.

Subscribe to Your Small Kitchen Garden Vlog

Your Small Kitchen Garden blog has introduced a video blog titled Visit with the Gardener, in which I share snippets of what’s going on in my garden and/or kitchen. I try to keep the videos under two minutes and provide either useful tips and techniques – or encouragement – for you to try new things in your kitchen gardens.

Please have a look, and jump over to Youtube to subscribe to my channel. Here’s the link to my channel: Your Small Kitchen Garden Vlog. And here’s an example of a recent post on the vlog. Please enjoy:

Other useful information about fruit blossoms:

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Bread from Your Small Kitchen Garden

My friend on Twitter, @Mamapigeon, specifically asked about bread I was baking back in early September. This post explains how to make that bread. Follow me – @cityslipper – on Twitter or leave comments on this blog, and you can help determine the content of upcoming posts.


Not the applesauce and brown sugar loaf I describe in this post, but this is a typical loaf of bread shaped and baked according to instructions in this article.

Bread? Am I really going to tell you how to make bread from stuff you grow in your small kitchengarden? Well, actually… sort of. No, I don’t think you should grow wheat, grind it into flour, and make loaves (though you would gain my admiration if you did this). Rather, I’m going to share a “recipe” for using homegrown produce when you make your own yeast bread.

I put recipe in quotes because I don’t have a recipe. I long ago learned that when you mix flour, yeast, and liquid and store the mixture under favorable conditions to sustain life, you end up with bread dough (in most cases). Bake the dough and you get bread.

Apple Brown Sugar Loaves

Typically, I use at least some oil when I make yeast dough. About a month ago, I decided to use, instead, applesauce that I’d canned last season. The jar was half-empty and I wanted it out of the refrigerator. I used too much brown sugar as sweetener, added an unusual number of eggs, and ended up with two very tasty, chewy loaves of bread. Here’s how:

  • Measure 1.5 Cups of white (unbleached) flour into a very large bowl (if you’re hand-mixing) or into the large bowl of your Stand Mixer if it can handle bread dough. This will be a very heavy, stiff dough, so your mixer will get a workout.
  • Add one Tablespoon of active dry yeast (one packet) to the flour and whisk it around.

After initially whisking together 1.5 cups of flour and a tablespoon of active dry yeast with the wet ingredients (3/4 cups of warm water, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, and 1 cup of applesauce… and four eggs), I add two more cups of flour and put the stand mixer’s dough hook to work (left). I run the mixer on its lowest setting and let it work all the flour into the dough. The dough will still likely be sticky (middle), so I add another half cup of flour—one tablespoon at a time—while the mixer runs. I let the dough absorb each tablespoon of flour before adding the next one. At least once while adding flour this way, I stop the mixer and scrape the dough off of the dough hook.

  • Into a container that can hold three or four cups of liquid, measure about ¾ Cup of hot tap water, ½ Cup of brown sugar, and one Cup of smooth apple sauce. Mix this until the brown sugar dissolves.
  • Add the wet mixture to the flour and yeast and whisk till all the flour is absorbed.

Continue to sprinkle tablespoons of flour into the mixing dough until the dough gathers around the dough hook without sticking to the sides of the bowl. I increase the speed of the mixer from time-to-time to make sure the dough gets beat around a bit. When the dough has a surface stickiness, but doesn’t actually stick to your skin, let the mixer knead it for a few minutes, then remove the dough from the hook.

  • Add four eggs to the mixture and whisk thoroughly, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you work.
  • Add flour to the mixture. Start by adding 2 cups of flour and mixing it in. Use a wooden spoon or a pair of chopsticks to do this… or let the dough hook on your stand mixer do the job.
  • Add more flour and mix it in… Best to work in about half-cup increments, adding flour, mixing, adding flour, and so on. When the dough becomes too heavy to mix with a spoon, you’ll need to dig your hands in and knead in flour as you add it. Eventually, the dough will become cohesive and stick to itself rather than to the bowl or to your fingers.
  • Test the dough after each addition of flour. You’ve added enough when the dough’s surface is a bit sticky but the dough doesn’t actually stick to your fingers. It may absorb close to six cups of flour in all (the 1.5 you started with, and about four more as you mix the dough).
  • Once you finish adding flour, continue to mix the dough for two or three minutes in your stand mixer, or to knead it if you’re mixing by hand.
  • Oil a baking pan heavily. I use a large, round pizza pan, but I recommend using an air-bake cookie sheet; it’ll help protect the bread from burning.
  • Pull the dough ball apart into halves. Return one half to the mixing bowl while you work with the other half.
  • Roll half the dough between your hands to smooth it out and to shape it into a cylinder… you could roll it on the counter as you might to make worms or snakes out of clay, but it saves cleanup to keep the dough in your hands. The cylinder should be about two or three inches in diameter and from seven to twelve inches long.
  • Lay the dough cylinder on the baking pan so that it is one-third of the way from an edge of the pan to the pan’s other edge.
  • Shape the second half of the dough and put it on the baking pan a third of the way in from the pan’s other edge.

Liberally oil a baking pan, split the dough in half, and roll the halves into tubes. Then use a sharp knife, or a scallop-edged knife to make five 1/4 inch deep incisions along the top of each loaf.

  • Make 5 slashes on a bias along the top of each loaf. I’ve found a scalloped-edged knife works best for this.
  • Paint the loaves with a generous coating of melted butter or olive oil (olive oil’s better for you).
  • Set the pan in a warm place so the loaves can rise. I usually turn on the oven for about 2 minutes, turn it off, and slide the baking pan in. The short burst of heat lingers and helps the yeast grow.
  • When the loaves are at least twice as big… and as much as three times as big… as when you first formed them (usually in 45 minutes to 1.5 hours), heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (if the loaves were rising in the oven, remove them before heating the oven).
  • Bake the loaves for 18 to 20 minutes… 25 minutes if the loaves are very large. I usually set a timer for 9 minutes and examine the loaves at that point. If they seem to be quite brown already, I turn the heat down 25 or 50 degrees. In any case, I rotate the pan so the loaves cook more evenly.

Paint the loaves with oil (I use olive oil), and set them to rise in a warm place. After 45 to 75 minutes, the loaves will triple in size (these didn’t quite make it before I had to bake them)… bake them in a 375 degree oven for 18 to 20 minutes… 25 minutes if the loaves are particularly large. After baking, immediately move the loaves to a cooling rack. Try to eat this stuff while it’s still hot.

Generally, a loaf that’s 6 inches wide and about 3.5 inches tall cooks well in 18 minutes. However, with four eggs in the dough, I’ve seen loaves grow much wider and taller, and these need more cooking time. When the loaves have a pleasing brown crust, pull one away from the other and look at the bread along the newly-exposed edge. If that bread doesn’t appear fully-cooked, push the loaves back together and slide them in the oven for another five minutes.

Cool the loaves on a cooling rack for a few minutes before serving. Use a serrated knife to cut slices. Store what you don’t eat in the first sitting in an air-tight container only after the bread cools to room temperature; when you store a loaf that’s still hot, it can develop very soggy spots.

Here are a few other ways to use applesauce in bread; these are quickbreads rather than yeast breads. Let me know if you try any… or leave a comment with a link to your favorite apple bread recipe:

  • Recipe: A Crime Against Apples – The past week has been gloomy, rainy, and gray, and yesterday I decided it would be the perfect day to turn these apples into applesauce and applesauce bread. I after I had peeled and chopped the apples I discovered, horror of all …

  • pecan applesauce bread – i have had this bread recipe for so many years i can’t remember where i found it. it is still just as delicious today as it was when i first made it years ago. i enjoy it best with coffee for breakfast! 2 cups all-purpose flour …

  • applesauce bread – mix together the dry ingredients. add the wet ingredients, mixing well. if desired, sprinkle cinnamon sugar (liberally) over the top of the bread before baking. (a crumb topping would be great too!) bake in 2 greased loaf pans at 350 …

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Fruit Tree Neglect in a Small Kitchen Garden

While this completely neglected apple looks scrumptious in the tree, there is a near 100% certainty that it’s home to a grub or a worm or a burrowing insect.

I’ve explained in past posts (about fruit trees) that growing fruit trees as a part of your small kitchen garden strategy adds a boatload of work to an otherwise potentially low-impact activity. Especially with apples, if you don’t follow a regular maintenance schedule, your fruit trees won’t reward you well.

Even as I’ve embarked on the simple mission of planting a new pear tree in my own home kitchen garden this year, I’m ruing the near total neglect I gave my fruit trees through the growing season.

Tree Things I Didn’t Do

Dormant Oil—This is a bigger confession than I care to make: I have never completed all the annual fruit tree maintenance jobs recommended by expert agriculturalists. One that has always eluded me is supposed to happen in mid-to-late winter: spraying the tree with dormant oil. Dormant oil kills several types of bugs that can weaken a fruit tree—and that may attach themselves and hold on through the winter.

As in every year I’ve had fruit trees, I didn’t apply dormant oil this year.

Pruning—In very late winter, it’s important to prune a fruit tree. You remove dead wood, take out branches that cross each other (to reduce rubbing that may damage the bark), open up the tree’s crown so sunlight can make it to the tree’s lower branches, do some shaping to make the fruit-bearing branches more accessible, and cut back limbs to promote new growth.

Traditionally, I’ve pruned my trees properly, and I’ve even done a lot of grafting. I didn’t do any pruning or grafting this year.

Mulch & Fertilizer—It’s helpful to mulch around a tree that grows out of your lawn. Mulching retains moisture, guards the soil from insects and burrowing animals, and keeps your lawnmower away from the tree’s trunk. Mulch helps retain moisture, cuts down on plants that compete for the moisture, and provides shallow roots with some insulation against rapid freezing and sudden extreme swings in temperature. Fertilizer is a quick pick-me up, providing nourishment at crucial developmental points during the year.

I’ve never been good about mulching, though my wife sometimes does the job. I do usually fertilize… but I neither mulched nor fertilized my fruit trees this year.

Culling—Especially with peach trees, and with apple trees to a lesser extent, a tree’s tendency to be prolific can result in production of small fruits. Peach tree branches may be lined with blossoms, and if every one of them grows into a peach, they’ll be small peaches indeed. So, shortly after the petals drop off and you can clearly identify baby peaches, it’s a good idea to pick off and discard a lot of the babies. Usually a two-step process, you first pick off fruits from clusters leaving just a single fruit where there was a cluster. A week or two later, you pick off the smaller fruits, leaving one every eight or nine inches along each branch.

This is typical of an apple that has had no help in fending off insect marauders. I’d have no desire to bite into this one, and paring it for use in pie or apple sauce would be only slightly less appetizing.

Certain insecticides cull fruits when the fruits are small. For example, applying Sevin brand insecticide to an apple tree right after the petals fall will usually cause some fruits to fall… and using a higher concentration of Sevin culls a greater number of fruits.

I didn’t do any culling this season.

Pest-prevention—Pears, peaches, and plums grow surprisingly “clean” in central Pennsylvania even if you do nothing to fight off insects. Apples are another story. If I don’t treat my apple trees with some type of bug spray repeatedly, nearly every apple I harvest will hold hidden biological treasures. Chemical insecticides require application immediately after petals fall, and again every ten to fourteen days until harvest. Admittedly, I’ve not tried organic treatments to protect my apples… if you’ve had success with any, please leave a comment that tells about frequency of application and efficacy of the product.

This season, I applied insecticide right after petal-fall, and, perhaps, two weeks later. After that, my apples became insect incubators.

Woodchucks, skunks, porcupines, raccoons, and, perhaps, smaller rodents, suplement their diets with my rotting apples. There is also a healthy bee and wasp population eating the sweet fruit. The alcohol fumes coming off the apples might draw attention from prohibitionists.

Harvest—Of course, if you grow fruit but never harvest it, you don’t actually have fruit. Peaches provide a window of as long as a month during which you can pick some, let them ripen indoors, pick some more, and so on (picking a peach speeds it to ripen—but it should already look ripe before you pick it). Then, all at once, the ones still on the trees soften, shrivel, and drop off. Pears seem to hold on for several months, but you should harvest pears the moment any full-sized one drops off on its own account. You can start picking apples when they first look ripe, and continue picking right up until leaves are falling. The apples will start to jump out of the trees on their own, so it can become a daily chore to pick up fallen apples before rodents chew on them, and then to pick apples off the trees so you get some that aren’t bruised by the fall.

Yes, I’ve harvested apples this year, but my motivation is very low. Most of my apples are fermenting in my lawn while providing nutrition to insects and rodents. The ones I’ve gotten to before the predators all have been colonized by boring insects—even apples I’ve picked from the trees.

There’s Always Next Year

When the season started, I had been excited about mild weather and a bumper crop of apple blossoms. A few awkwardly-timed rain storms (which interfere with insecticide treatments), and heavy focus on non-gardening-related activities made me miss insecticide application for about six weeks. At that point, it was pointless to jump back in and hope for good results; I could see most fruits were already badly formed.

It sometimes takes a year like this to get me motivated for the next five years: With last year’s bumper crop of well-cared-for apples, I canned some nine gallons of apple sauce. I enjoyed canning two gallons of it, and canning the rest felt like a forced march.

When it comes time to prune and graft in March, I’ll remember the overwhelming smell of fermentation and the sticky gushiness under the apple trees during my autumn lawn mowing. It’ll be enough to get me out to work on my fruit trees.

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