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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 

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Sprouts 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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Posts Tagged ‘fruit’

Buds on Nearly Wordless Wednesday

Apple Flower Buds


Peach Flower Buds


Pear Flower Buds


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Jam and Jelly: Post Produce January 2013

peanut butter is my Post Produce entry

A loaded peanut butter and jelly sandwich will ooze jam when I bite into it. The sweet fruitiness calls back flavors from last year’s growing season.

It’s the first 22nd of 2013; the first Post Produce of the year. Finally, winter has found my small kitchen garden in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. A fresh inch and a half of heavy, dry snow covers an earlier, well-hardened snow that was on the verge of melting away just a few days ago. The thermometer reads eight degrees Fahrenheit as I type, and it’s heading lower as morning approaches.

To celebrate Post Produce in the dead of winter, I’ve only preserves from my garden. We’ve been eating carrots, beans, squash (both summer and winter varieties), pepper relish, and herbs from last year’s garden. While I try to create new combinations and flavors with my own preserves and farmers’ market purchases, a classic, unoriginal, all-American standard has recently exploded back into my repertoire: Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches!

Lunch for a Bedtime Snack

We don’t do dessert so much at the Cityslipper ranch, but lately I’ve developed late-night urges for sweet snacks. Having to assemble something to get me through to bedtime, I slapped together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich using one piece of bread cut in half, and it satisfied. I guess when you go without dessert long enough, that quasi-nutritional lunch-time standard tastes pretty sweet.

The bread and peanut butter I use for these snacks come from a grocery store, but the jams and jellies come from my larder. In 2012, I made strawberry jam, sour cherry jam, black raspberry jelly, fruit punch jam (sour cherry, black raspberry, and blueberry), peach jelly, grape jelly, and quince jelly.

In the interest of full disclosure, only a few strawberries and fewer blueberries came from my garden, though peaches could have. Black raspberries grow wild across the street from my house, so harvesting and preparing them makes it feel as though I grew them myself.

But wherever the produce comes from, it’s always a joy to make a sandwich using jam or jelly I made from the fruit. I’ve produced videos and written posts about making jam and jelly. I hope you’ll try making some in the coming season; it’s easy to do and a terrific first project when you’re learning to can.

How to make strawberry jam – written instructions

Strawberry jam video

How to make sour cherry jam – written instructions

Now You Post Produce!

Please participate. Write a post on your blog about how you’re using produce from your garden—fresh or preserved… or write about produce that you’re harvesting or planning to harvest. Then return here and use the Linky widget to link to your blog post. Follow other bloggers’ links to see what your fellow gardeners produce.



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Black Raspberries or Blackberries? The Kitchen Gardener Explains

Apparently, if you live in a warm climate, you may not find these berries growing in your neighborhood–or you might have trouble getting them to produce.

Though my small kitchen garden has had a very slow start this year, the woods and meadows around it have grown apace. So, black raspberry season has ended, and blackberry season is just getting started.

I’ve talked much with my friends about my wild black raspberry harvest: I’ve picked at least 32 quarts of berries—eight gallons—and these I’ve cooked into jelly and syrup which I’ve canned to give as gifts and to use in all kinds of cooking projects: ice cream, ice cream topping, marinade, salad dressing, drink flavor (as in sangria), and pancake and waffle topping.

Apparent Confusion among Kitchen Gardeners

Sharing with friends about black raspberries has raised some questions. Most surprisingly is that southern acquaintances report black raspberries don’t grow well or aren’t common in their areas. But the USDA reports that black raspberries range into southern Georgia.  So, while black raspberries are weeds in Pennsylvania, they might not be so robust in the south.

The second question about black raspberries is why so many people refer to them as blackberries. Apparently, blackberries grow very well in southern states. So, maybe some southerners assume that a reference to black raspberries is a reference to the familiar blackberry. But an equal number of northerners seem to confuse black raspberries and blackberries. Below, I’ve written a short primer on these two, similar berries.

On the left, black raspberries or black caps. On the right, blackberries.

Black Raspberries Versus Blackberries

Black raspberries also go by the name black caps. The name suggests the berry’s shape: it’s like one of those scull-hugging stocking caps—like a bowl made out of little round balls that sits like a cap on a hard core. When you pick a black raspberry, it easily pulls away from the core.

A blackberry looks a lot like a black raspberry, though the balls that comprise it are usually bigger than the ones that make up a black raspberry. More importantly, when you pick a blackberry, the hard core comes with it; a blackberry has a central core of stem-like material.

The black raspberry on the left is hollow; it looks like a tiny cap you could put on a tiny person. The blackberry on the right contains a solid core. While both types of berries taste great, I prefer black raspberries. Unfortunately, black raspberry seeds crunch and stick between my teeth. The core of a blackberry makes it even less pleasant. Crunchiness is why I juice the berries and use the juice to make jam and syrup.

While black raspberry and blackberry plants are very similar, black raspberries ripen in very early summer and usually finish when blackberries come on. I track a season’s progress by the berries: Strawberries set things off and fade as black raspberries take over. Black raspberries fade into blackberries which, in turn, give way to elderberries. Mulberries ignore the progression. They ripen in strawberry season and might hang around well into black raspberry season. (In case you don’t know mulberries, they grow in trees and they resemble blackberries far more than they resemble black raspberries.)


Really: the differences between black raspberries and blackberries are obvious when you see the plants and berries. Please have a look at the photos and schedule your trip to visit me near the end of June; we’ll pick some black raspberries and make jelly.

Stems of black raspberry and blackberry plants are similar: they both have nasty thorns. However, black raspberry stems (left) are round and smooth and often have a tinge of purple. Blackberry stems may have grooves and are usually a shade of green.

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Water Small Kitchen Garden Perennials

There wasn’t much “structure” to the root systems of my young fruit trees when I planted them in the fall. They’ll need plenty of water as they come out of dormancy this spring.

I’m poised to plant my small kitchen garden, having finished late-winter pruning and grafting in my fruit trees. I’m poised, but holding. March teased early with some very warm days, but then plunged into barely-tolerable cold.

The soil has thawed, so a more rugged gardener could have planted peas, lettuce, spinach, and other cold weather crops by now. I tend to wait until April for those, and sometimes am simply too busy to plant them until late April. But this year there’s something else that’s very important for me to do in my garden: water young perennials.

Fall Planting Time Bombs

Back in mid-Autumn, I argued in this blog that you should plant fruit trees in the fall (this goes for most perennials, but if they’re not going to feed you, don’t waste your energy planting them). I shared my experiences of trying to find fruit trees at local nurseries, I explained that I ended up buying via mail-order, and I showed how I planted my young trees in mid-November.

Among the advantages I listed for planting perennials in autumn: you don’t have to water, and you can omit fertilizer. Dormant plants aren’t demanding.

Come spring, those young perennials emerge from dormancy and require the creature comforts you denied them in the fall. If you had plenty of rain or snow over the winter, your soil will thaw and be moist; your perennials will be happy. However, if your neighborhood is emerging from a dry winter, your perennials may awaken to desert-like conditions. This is especially bad for the young ones.

What’s more, even if your ground thaws wet, you need to make sure the young plants don’t dry out along with the soil. Unless you’re experiencing substantial seasonal rainfall—or massive snow melt—you should start watering when the ground thaws.

How Much Water?

In early spring, water deeply once or twice a week (again, don’t water if Mother Nature is doing a good job of it). As plants (any plants—not just the perennials you planted in autumn) emerge from dormancy (you see leaf buds plump up), increase your watering to once daily unless the soil is obviously saturated.

When you plant perennials, you should soak them till the soil can’t hold more water. This helps you work out air pockets and get the soil up against young roots. Subsequent watering needn’t saturate the soil. Your goal is to keep everything damp, not to maintain a mud pit around your tree.

When leaves emerge and you see vigorous growth, cut back the water to two or three times a week, and keep it up until fall. Skip watering if there’s a decent rainstorm.

Especially if you planted bare root trees in the fall, they need a lot of moisture in their first year to help them develop strong root systems. But temper daily watering: the point of planting in autumn was to reduce the amount of water you had to provide. Especially in March and April, the soil may stay wet for several days between watering.


It’s good to provide fertilizer as your young fall plantings wake up in the spring. Best of all, mulch with compost (but don’t let the compost rest against the plant). If that’s not an option, provide a light feed of 10-10-10 chemical fertilizer.

For my older fruit trees, I’d always driven holes in the ground with a crow bar, and then filled the holes with fertilizer. A friend who runs an orchard told me he prefers to broadcast fertilizers on the surface and let them dissolve into the soil. For young trees, just dust fertilizer on the loose soil around the tree trunk—a small handful at most. With all the watering, it’ll soak in quickly.

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Trauma in a Small Kitchen Garden

There’s plenty of good stuff for a rodent to eat in and around my yard, but apparently sour cherry and pecan tree twigs are the tastiest of all. Still, the rodent left healthy leaf buds any of which could become a new leader for the tree.

My small kitchen garden experienced some trauma this week: someone bit off the tops of some of my new trees! I mentioned those trees in an earlier post about new pear trees. In that post, I explained the importance of protecting young trees from rodents who would be eager to chew on them during a snowy winter.

Well… those rodents were more eager than I expected. I had looked for tree tubes at local gardening stores, and, failing to find any, had come up with a possible alternative I figured to make out of trash. But, no rush, I thought: there wouldn’t be snow for some time and there are plenty of tender shoots and leaves still available to any foraging critters who might wander through.

I made my nearly cost-free tree tubes out of two-liter soda bottles. First, I rinsed the bottles thoroughly; I don’t want residual sugar or artificial flavorings to attract rodents to my trees. Using a utility knife (scissors would work), I cut the tops off above where the bottles start to taper—so the cut bottle tapers a little. I cut off the bottom above where the indentations start. This leaves the bottom of the cut bottle wider than the top; the upper end of each cut bottle can slide easily into the bottom end of a cut bottle.

Stupid Rodents in my Small Kitchen Garden

I get about 9 inches of tube from each bottle. So, I stacked 3 bottles to make an 18-inch tube. As my trees grow, I may add another bottle or two; the tender bark will need protection for several years. I’m not concerned about removing the tube in the future. When the tree branches and the bark is tough enough to withstand rodents, I can simply use a utility knife or scissors to cut the thin plastic away.

Rodents around here don’t think the way I do. While they had been perfectly happy with lawn grasses, weeds, meadow plants, and forest undergrowth until this weekend, apparently they wanted something different during the holiday. Someone cleanly snipped off the tops of the three new trees I’d not yet protected with fences or tree tubes. This is an impressive accomplishment considering that the trees are well apart from each other in different places in my yard… and there are intervening shrubs that didn’t receive similar pruning.

So, my sloth proved my point: young trees are vulnerable and you need to protect them! I’m discouraged, but not crushed. My young trees are several inches shorter, and they no longer have terminal buds. They do, however, have many lateral buds, and chances are they’ll make it through the winter if I protect them. Without a terminal bud, a young tree will send branches up from the main stalk, letting them vie to become the tree’s new leader.

My job, should the trees survive winter and send up these new limbs, will be eventually to prune off all but one so it can become the tree’s trunk. The trees’ future growth will “absorb” the bumps made by these side shoots so the trees appear straight—or nearly straight. This isn’t a great way to grow a tree, but it happens time and again to wild trees, and they don’t complain much about it.

Cheap Small Kitchen Garden Tree Tubes

I prefer soda pop from a 12 ounce can; I don’t drink it quickly enough to empty a two-liter bottle before the stuff at the end goes flat. This is one reason I didn’t make and install tree tubes immediately after planting my trees: I didn’t have any two-liter soda bottles available.

This tree tube concept wouldn’t have occurred to me had I not known about duct tape. I don’t worship duct tape, but there it is: I held the tubes together with a single wrap at each joint. Honestly: this is the first do-it-yourself project I’ve done where duct tape was truly the best solution.

Having bought several two-liter bottles, and picked up some empties from my dad, I was going to test my home-made tree tube idea this week. I started today… just a weekend too late. But I’m happy to say the makeshift tubes are perfect for my needs, and I hope they keep what’s left of my new trees alive through the winter. If you’re adding young fruit trees to your small kitchen garden in the near future, you might save some hassles by creating and installing tree tubes immediately after planting.

I held the tree tube in place with two bamboo sticks. If the marauding rodent that bit off my trees’ tops wants more cherry tree, it won’t have to push hard to topple my creation. I’m holding fast to the old axiom, out of sight, out of mind, and I hope the stupid rodents do as well.

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Update on Fruit Trees for my Small Kitchen Garden

The pear trees are in the mail. In just a few years I’ll be able to harvest some of these beauties right in my back yard!

Many blog posts ago, I stated intent to plant a pear tree this autumn in my small kitchen garden. I reported my efforts to find a pear tree at local garden stores and nurseries, and my eventual decision to purchase a tree via the internet. I ordered a tree five trees, and then discovered a lot of negative reviews for the nursery I’d selected. I waited.

While I was placing my order, I decided to buy two pear trees and a sour cherry tree. After I placed the order, I emailed the store and asked to add two pecan trees for a total of five trees. The person with whom I corresponded (via email) to make this change explained that they wouldn’t ship my trees until there had been a frost to send the trees into dormancy.

Apparently, the nursery has had frost. I received notice that my order shipped, and I’m anticipating its arrival within the week. Psych! But I have a minor disappointment: the shipping notification didn’t mention pecan trees. I’m confident that I won’t be getting those trees, and that I won’t be charged for them.

Honestly, I’m not upset; I had an inkling that my emailed change request might challenge the nursery operator. I’d added the trees more to honor a minimum purchase amount specified by the nursery to offset their “no shipping charge” policy. So, while my request got lost between then and now, the oversight won’t cost me anything, and the nursery loses only the profit from selling two pecan “seedlings.”

When the new pear trees and the sour cherry tree arrive, I’ll document their condition and the steps I take to get them planted and ready for winter in my small kitchen garden. I hope, if you have the space and the inclination, that you’re planting fruit as well!

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