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Posts Tagged ‘plant fruit’

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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Sad About Rhubarb Plants


Despite the nearly nonstop rain in March, By April 4 of 2011, my newest rhubarb patch was leading the way for my kitchen garden perennials. Young leaves were popping on every plant I’d set in the previous season and there was a lot of promise for a fine harvest.

My rhubarb plants are dead. All of them. Rhubarb plants in my small kitchen garden are a sixteen-year story if you count only the years since I planted my first ones. Those failed to thrive and eventually drowned during a wet season.

I learned from my drowned rhubarb and abandoned the low ground that tends to collect water during heavy rains. I committed one end of my rather small raised bed vegetable garden to perennials: rhubarb, asparagus, herbs, and (please don’t hate me) hollyhocks and lupines.

Never Enough Rhubarb

The slightly higher ground of the raised garden bed was the trick: for many years my rhubarb plants thrived. Still, there was never enough. From four plants, I’d get a modest harvest and make, perhaps, two pies and one pot of rhubarb sauce. My family doesn’t care for rhubarb, so I lacked motivation to create a larger bed. Then I met an aging farmer.

Rain continued into April of 2011, so that by April 19th there was standing water in much of my raised bed vegetable garden. My longest-established rhubarb plants were clearly stunted from having their roots submerged nearly continuously for more than a month.

In 2009, I made friends with a man in my neighborhood who was giving up on vegetable gardening. He had quite a nice rhubarb patch and told me he planned to remove it. I offered to do the work in exchange for the rhubarb plants and we agreed I’d return to excavate in the spring of 2010. I summarized the rhubarb project in a post titled Small Kitchen Garden Rhubarb Project. Happily, the project resulted in a robust rhubarb patch and a bonus herb planting bed that I finished in the fall of 2010.

And Then the Rains Came

Rain started in March of 2011 and continued until June. We had six rainless weeks during which my vegetable and fruit plants acted as though all was well. Then it rained. It rained some more, and it rained even more.

We had six rainless back-to-back weeks in 2011, and annuals and perennials alike put on terrific growth. While this was a photo of my artichoke plants on August 31, it clearly shows a hedge of happy-looking rhubarb—that’s the rhubarb I’d transplanted from a friend’s yard in 2010. An aside: I won’t plant artichokes in Central Pennsylvania again until human-made greenhouse gasses move us into hardiness zone 9. Extrapolating from the latest hardiness zone maps, that will happen before I turn 70.

The “high ground” in my raised garden bed proved lower than I’d thought, and it was clear the rhubarb there had little chance of surviving. I had higher hopes for the new rhubarb plants as the area of the yard where I’d set them had never held moisture in heavy rains.

Things looked good; I harvested lightly, made a few pies, and cooked a pot of sauce. 2012 would be the first year since starting my own kitchen garden that I’d have more rhubarb than I could possibly use.

Perennials Have Popped, but Not the Rhubarb Plants

Apparently, despite the favorable growth in 2011, my rhubarb plants suffered. I suspect that as they faded in late summer, they weren’t progressing through the natural seasonal decline of their foliage and stalks. Rather, in all the moisture, they were rotting away. This spring, even the asparagus in my raised planting bed (where rhubarb died early last year) has sprouted and looks healthy. The rhubarb, however, is absent. I’m not entirely surprised: I was suspicious last fall that the plants were hurting, but I didn’t expect them to fail… at least not ALL of them.

Only eight days after I shot the photo of artichoke plants and robust rhubarb, many streets and buildings in Lewisburg Pennsylvania were unusually wet… as was my garden. Given the lack of rhubarb sprouts this spring, I realize now that the autumn wilt of my rhubarb patch had more to do with saturated soil than it did with the plants’ transition into dormancy.

To start yet another rhubarb patch with plants from a nursery would cost $30 to $50. However, I found rhubarb at a local department store; 2 roots per bag at $3 per bag. I wasn’t shopping for rhubarb, and I’m suspicious of these pathetic-looking roots, but I took the chance and bought three packs… which turned out to hold 7 budding tubers.

Rhubarb Project Number Four

So, I face my fourth attempt to establish a rhubarb patch in my small kitchen garden. This time, I’m planting on high ground close to the house. Everything drains away from the house, so this location seems unlikely to suffer if we have another biblical rain event like that of 2011. But I’m hedging my bets: I’m building a mound on the high ground, raising the soil six or more inches above the surrounding earth.

Which leads to the “takeaway” from this little story: when you start a rhubarb bed, find a high place in your yard and make sure the roots of your rhubarb plants will never sit in saturated soil. Rhubarb has the distinction of being the least wet-tolerant plant I’ve grown in my small kitchen garden.

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Pink Champagne Blueberries in my Small Kitchen Garden

Briggs Plant Propagators in Elma, Washington provided attendees of the Garden Writers Association Symposium with bagged Pink Champagne blueberry plants. I’ve planted mine near my fruit trees in hopes of improving the blueberry crop in my small kitchen garden.

In late August, I abandoned my small kitchen garden for a week and attended the GWA Symposium in Cincinnati. I’m glad that I did for a lot of reasons, one of which is that I returned with several Pink Champagne Blueberry plants courtesy of Briggs Plant Propagators in the state of Washington.

I finally planted the blueberries in late October. Why did it take me so long? Rain. Rain and PH.

Blueberry Plants Prefer Acid

As I’ve reported in nearly every post this year: In central Pennsylvania, if you weren’t gardening in the rain, you weren’t gardening. We had so much rain that several towns in my area made the national news. But I wasn’t out in the rain for gardening or for any other activity.

While I waited for the rain to subside, I managed to test the soil’s acidity. According to a home test kit (that I’ve since been told is highly unreliable), my yard has neutral PH. That’s not too bad for blueberries, but they prefer acidic soil, so I treated the soil with an organic acidifier.
Instructions for the acidifier were to spread some of the material on the soil and that it would take five or more weeks to lower the PH one full point. So, I dug holes for the blueberry plants, loosened the soil in the holes, and sprinkled the prescribed amount of acidifier in each hole. Then I waited.

Captions under the photos in this blog post tell the rest of the story. Happily, we had a few rainless days and I set the blueberry plants in the holes. I watered heavily that day, and I erected small fences to keep out rodents and deer. The plants look terrific; they’ve started to develop fall colors, and I expect they’ll drop leaves in the next week or so.

When I plant a perennial, I dig a hole dramatically larger than the root ball requires. This lets me work compost into the soil, or, if I’m planting in a lawn, it lets me recycle the sod into fertilizer. I piled the sod along one side of the hole, and heaped the soil on the other side. Then, I laid the sod into the hole grass-side-down. It will break down as the blueberry plant’s roots reach it, providing an abundance of nourishment in the plant’s first season.

You can’t see a “how to plant _______” sequence often enough! OK, you can, really. There are so many “how to plant” videos and articles on the Internet, it’s easy to get your fill. I won’t be offended if you pass on the planting, but have a look at the final set of photos; they show how to protect your seedlings from foraging animals. Here’s the basic planting sequence: gently squeeze the nursery pot several times and tip it down until the root ball comes free and slides out. Then, especially for heavily root-bound plants, loosen the root ball across its bottom. I don’t butterfly the roots as some do—just gently pull them apart across the middle so the roots loosen up. Finally, I set the slightly softened root ball into the middle of the prepared hole.

I pulled the soil into the hole and filled around the blueberry plant’s roots. I filled the hole so that the soil was exactly even with the surface of the soil that was in the pot. Sometimes, you need to adjust the plant by lifting it and adding soil beneath the root ball. It’s very important that you don’t let soil rest against the exposed stems of the plant. After filling the hole with soil, I ran the hose… I used enough water to saturate the soil all the way through the sod in the bottom of the hole. In retrospect, it would have been better to set up the fence before watering the plant.

My blueberries need only a modest fence. Using 24-inch chicken wire, I figured to make a cylinder about a foot and a half across. Remember high school trigonometry? To calculate the distance around a circle, multiply the circle’s diameter times PI. So, to get a 1.5 foot circle, multiply 1.5 times PI (which I approximated as 3); you need about 4.5 feet of chicken wire. I cut the wire, drove a stake about 8 inches away from the plant (completely missing the root ball), curved the chicken wire into a cylinder, and stapled it to the stake. The bottom of the cylinder rests on the soil, and I can use a tent stake to pin it down later if the need arises.

Disclosure

GWA is the Garden Writers Association, a group of people who write for magazines, newspapers, television, radio, gardening-related businesses, and the Internet. You might guess that GWA members are important to companies who sell products and services to gardeners or who create products for the gardening industry. You’d be right. The GWA Symposium draws tool manufacturers, nursery suppliers, plant breeders, and other concerns who wish to get the attention of writers. Those writers, in turn, might report on the products and services, bringing them to the attention of readers, viewers, and listeners.

I received products mentioned in the accompanying article to use for free because I’m a member of GWA. The experiences and any opinions I report are purely my own.

 

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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.)

PHEW!

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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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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Small Kitchen Garden VLOG

Here at Your Small Kitchen Garden, I’m always experimenting. Usually, those experiments have to do with fitting more vegetable plants into the same space I planted last year. They’re also about ways to preserve produce and to prepare fruits and vegetables fresh from my garden or the local farmers’ market.

Today I’m starting a new experiment. I’m inviting readers into my garden, my “orchard,” my larder, and my kitchen for brief visits to see or hear what I’m up to. These visits aren’t so much about “how-to” instruction as they are about “what-to.” In other words, I’m going to tell you what I’m doing for my garden, and encourage you to think about doing the same—or similar—things for your garden.

Visit with the Gardener

I’m starting a video blog called Visit with the Gardener at Your Small Kitchen Garden Blog. Each video post will be short—generally from one to two minutes. In the video descriptions, I’ll try to include links that lead to relevant posts in case you want the “how to” to go along with the “what.”

Please join me in my Small Kitchen Garden to see what I’m doing. Hop over to Youtube and subscribe to my channel—I’m Cityslipper over there: Cityslipper on Youtube.

Here’s the first installment. It’ll give you an idea of how lazy I can be. Oh, and if you want to talk about art, I don’t groove much on the camera angle either… but I really wanted you to be able to see the pear tree, and this captured it:

 

I found a few other references to Vlogs about gardening:

  • 2009 Garden Vlog 4, Planting Corn | Growing Peas Made Easy – 2009 Garden Vlog 4, Planting Corn • How To Grow Corn. by admin. Like the title says:) Video Rating: 4 / 5. Tags: 2009, Corn, Garden, Planting, Vlog. 25 comments. No ping yet. theblackstarorder says: …

  • [WATCH]: Moms SQFT Victory Garden – VLog Day 23 | ORGANIC GARDEN … – Watching the plants grow. Great soil mixture! Why it pays to experiment, sometimes. Mel’s Mix 1/3 vermiculite 1/3 peat moss 1/3 compost I used the following, Sticking pretty good to Mel’s mixing ratio. Triple processed top soil Moisture …

  • GARDEN VLOG. | – GARDEN VLOG. Y’ALL, this was my FIRST vlog. Video blog. Whatever. I only did it because Emily was on a mission last night to inspire people to make one and I guess it worked. It isn’t as bad as I expected it to be. …

 

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Small Kitchen Garden Fruit Tree Update

Back in November when I planted them, the roots of my young fruit trees looked a lot like this one. Still, all three tree, two pear trees and a sour cherry tree, are growing vigorously.

Last autumn, I reported in Your Small Kitchen Garden about my decision and subsequent effort to plant fruit trees in the fall. Only after ordering trees from an on-line nursery had it occurred to me to seek customer reviews of the nursery. The reviews I found made me a bit edgy, and I wrote about it in a post titled Aggravation in my Small Kitchen Garden.

Still, I was pleased with the arrival of my order, and with the condition of the plants when I unwrapped them. In a post titled New Pear Trees in my Small Kitchen Garden, I shared the story of planting them.

More Angst About Summerstone Nursery

My post about Summerstone Nursery (the Aggravation post) has drawn a few comments from obviously unhappy customers. I don’t doubt these people have had bad experiences, and I stand by my earlier comments: I suspect there are exponentially more satisfied Summerstone customers than there are angry ones. I happen to be one of the satisfied customers.

Consider the photograph from last November’s post (above, right), showing the bare root of the sour cherry tree I planted then. I imagine a large number of people would say that this tree has no roots; it looks, after all, like a stick. The roots of all of my new bare root trees were similar to this one.

The blossoms on my new moonglow pear tree are a beautiful soft pink. The leaves of the plant are a greenish purple. It will be a bit of a wait, but I’m looking forward to seeing this in bloom once it’s full-grown.

Now have a look at the gorgeous blossoms and purple/green leaves growing from my Moonglow pear this spring (left). The sour cherry tree and my Bartlett pear tree aren’t as sensational, but all three fruit trees have produced new branches and leaves and are growing vigorously. (I have no photo of the sour cherry tree because it’s inside a makeshift tree tube to protect it from rodents and cutworms.)

The pecan trees look dead, but I can’t blame that on Summerstone Nursery: a few days after I planted them, a wild animal gnawed several inches off of each one. My subsequent efforts to protect them from further damage stressed them, and I think they’re not coming back (though I continue to hope).

Summerstone or Not?

Based on my experience with Summerstone, I would buy from them again. Here’s my rationale:

  • Their prices are low; replacing dead plants at half price is inconvenient, but it would bring the total cost up to what you’d pay for your first purchase at other on-line nurseries.
  • They have variety that many on-line nurseries don’t.
  • All my interactions with them have been satisfying.

Would I recommend that you buy from Summerstone? No. Don’t buy from Summerstone Nursery unless you live near them and can pick up your plants in person. Don’t buy from any nursery unless you can pick up your plants from them in person.

You could learn a lot from visiting a nursery or garden store, and when you’re there, you can select specific plants with the help of experienced professionals. The advantages of buying locally in-person are so great that I can think of only one reason to buy plants on-line: Buy plants from on-line nurseries only if you can’t find what you want at a store near you.

My Fruit Tree Prognosis

I’m confident my two new pear trees and my new cherry tree will be fine… assuming I take care of them properly. I won’t be harvesting fruit from them for several years because they’re all under two feet tall. Still, I’m pleased with how this fruit tree project is going.

 

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New Pear Trees in my Small Kitchen Garden

A mailing tube leaning next to my front door signaled it was finally time to plant fruit trees.

It seems a whole season has passed in my small kitchen garden since I started encouraging people to plant fruit trees in autumn. Then, I reported on the impending demise of my pear tree and my decision to add a new tree this fall. Autumn arrived very slowly, so the frost that sends trees into dormancy came late—the nursery didn’t ship my trees until early November.

The good news is: they arrived at the end of last week, and they look fine. What’s more, I planted them during the weekend, and documented the experience as-promised. Of course, autumn made itself known during the weekend, so tree-planting was less pleasant than I’d have liked: I don’t believe the temperature rose above 40F degrees, and a dusting of snow fell as I was packing my gear back to the garden shed.

According to instructions on Summerstone Nursery’s web site, I unwrapped the young trees and watered them from root to tip.

Kudos to Summerstone Nursery

A young bare root sapling may have very few roots branching off the main stem. This is the sour cherry tree’s root section lying against the back of a shovel. It’s easy to understand why someone might feel they received “sticks.” Young trees are sticks that haven’t yet grown into logs.

In one of my posts about the fruit tree saga, I explained that I first ordered trees, and then looked for customer reviews of the vendor from whom I ordered. Most reviews were negative, and I was a tad concerned. Later, I reported that I had ordered three trees via the vendor’s web site, then emailed a change request to add two more trees. When I received a shipping notice, it listed only the original three trees along with the charge for just those three.

Surprise, surprise: when I opened the package, I found five trees inside. All were clearly labeled, and all were apparently in good or better health. Assuming they are actually the varieties of trees I ordered, I have only a tiny complaint about the vendor, Summerstone Nursery: I wish they’d managed the change request accurately. Now I need to review my credit card bill and mail a check to Summerstone if they didn’t charge for the additional trees I’d requested. Still, based on this one experience with Summerstone Nursery, I’d buy from them again, and I’d recommend them to other gardeners.

To plant trees in a lawn, first remove the sod where you’re going to dig a hole. I’m planting two pear trees in the same hole. This simplifies a lot compared to spacing the trees out: Pruning two trees so close together is like pruning one tree. Watering and treating for insects is easier with the trees close together, and bees will work both trees as one, with luck, resulting in a high pollination rate. I dug a rectangular hole because I used this patch of lawn for illustrations in another blog post about cutting a garden bed into a lawn (including detailed instructions for how to cut sod). Eventually, I’ll mulch the area into an oval shape. For a single bare root tree of this size, you could dig a hole about the width of a shovel, and a foot deep… but I encourage you to dig broader and deeper so you loosen the soil where roots will grow a year or two down the road.

Bare Roots for a Small Kitchen Garden

With the sod removed, dig. You need to dig several inches deeper than the root section of the tree. Pile the sod and soil on a tarp or in a wheelbarrow; you’ll need it later (don’t bury the sod under the soil as you’ll need the sod first). Planting instructions from most nurseries tell you to set the tree so that the graft is above the soil line. In many cases, a layperson can’t identify a graft, so this information is useless. If there’s an abrupt bend or a bulge in the twig just above the root line, that’s probably the graft. If the twig seems continuous, embed the tree so that all roots projecting from the main twig are underground… but all tree branches or leaf buds are above ground. If you’re just not sure, planting shallow is safer than planting deep—the root stock will hold up better in contact with the soil, but anything above the root stock may suffer if it’s underground.

One recurring criticism of on-line nurseries is that the trees they ship are no more than sticks. For the uninitiated, I understand this concern: young trees are pretty much just sticks. Were you to buy a tree of this age already potted, you wouldn’t think twice about it; what few roots it had would be concealed by soil.

However, the trees I purchased were delivered “bare root.” This means they were removed from the soil in which they were growing at the nursery and wrapped in moist packaging for shipping. The leaders of my bare root trees (the leader is the top-most vertical branch with a terminal bud on its tip) looked like perfectly healthy branches on any of my mature fruit trees: thin, supple, and lined and tipped with healthy leaf buds. The bare root end of my trees had only a few thin roots—but certainly adequate roots to support trees of this size.

When the hole is six or so inches deeper than the root section of your tree, line the bottom of the hole with the sod you removed at the outset… but with the grass side down. You don’t need to do this, but why waste the great nutrition in that sod? Buried, the sod will break down over the winter, and make your tree happy when its roots grow down in the next growing season. (Don’t plant the tree with its roots in contact with the sod.)

Planting such young trees creates a few challenges:

1. When grass and weeds are under a blanket of snow, tender tree bark becomes particularly appealing to rodents. If you don’t take precautions, your young trees will be perfectly healthy one evening, then barkless and dying the next morning.

2. If prevailing winds perpetually blow on your young trees through the winter, the trees may dry out. Sometimes you’ll lose a leaf bud or two and the tree will remain viable, but if all the buds go, there’s little hope for the tree. Ideally, you protect the stick-like baby with a windbreak… and if you’re clever that windbreak can double as a rodent-excluder.

Some years ago, the industry invented tree tubes. These are rigid or semi-rigid cylinders that can surround your saplings, protecting them from rodents and deer until the trees are tall enough and woody enough to withstand furry pests. If you’ve driven through tree-planting country, you might have seen forests of these tubes springing up in fields.

Spread soil on the sod until the hole is the correct depth to accommodate the tree. Then hold the tree in place and gently fill with soil around it. Continue adding soil to cover the roots of the tree; stop when the entire hole is about an inch below the surrounding soil.

A tree tube might extend four feet above the ground, completely hiding a seedling whose crown is only two feet up. That seedling concentrates on growing up the tube to reach sunlight. Using a tree tube increases your tree’s chances of surviving its first years in your small kitchen garden.

I can’t tell you yet how easy these tubes are to find. I phoned a local garden store in search of tree tubes, and they suggested I consult a local forestry authority. I’m hoping a home improvement store might carry them, but if that doesn’t pay off, I’ll be back to ordering on-line. There are plenty of companies selling tree tubes, or tree shelters, or tree guards, or grow tubes on-line.

I wish I’d thought to track these down before my trees arrived. Now I have to fight off rodents hand-to-hand until I can acquire some tree tubes.

Add water. Don’t add a little water. Your job now is to flood the hole. Do so gently without washing away soil. Rather, let water trickle into the hole so it soaks in and eventually saturates the soil you dug out and added back; this may take ten or fifteen minutes (for a single tree in a much smaller hole it might take two or three minutes). When there are puddles around your tree, shut off the water and lightly press down the soaking soil with your foot. As you do this, gently adjust the tree so it points straight up (or at the angle you desire); the soil will be so loose and sloppy that the tree will move around easily, shifting often as you tamp down the contents of the hole. Add more soil on top to soak up excess water.

Erect some type of anti-rodent protection… and a wind block if the tree isn’t well sheltered. I fashioned a three-sided fence using sections from my planting bed; I won’t need them around the vegetable patch until spring. However, if I find tree tubes, I’ll remove the fence… What ho! I just got an idea for fashioning makeshift tubes from junk. I’ll experiment and let you know how it works.

Here are some other articles about planting fruit trees:

  • Peach Tree Guild | The Lazy Gardener – Luckily for me now is a good time to plant fruit trees: when they are dormant. The cultivar is Elberta, which seems to be a pretty reliable peach according to what I have read. With some of the species I already posses I threw together …

  • Vegetables Gardening Fruit Trees – Well the first thing that I want to talk about would be that fact that it is a great time to plant fruit trees in Winter this time is best because all the sap in the stems and leaves of the tree has fallen back down into the roots to …

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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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Aggravation in my Small Kitchen Garden?

 

An anonymous visitor to Your Small Kitchen Garden raised concerns about Summerstone Nursery. In my last post (Pear Trees for my Small Kitchen Garden), I explained that I chose Summerstone from among more than a dozen web sites, and I explained my selection process. Admittedly, in researching these nurseries I made a classic blunder: I failed to research what customers of the businesses had to say about them.

I’m flabbergasted at the oversight as I’ve been shopping on line since the 1990s and I approach I thought I approached all information on the internet with a kind of “Oh, Yeah?” attitude. Not this time.

Problems with Summerstone?

Will I be one of the disgruntled few, or will I be happy with the vendor from whom I ordered pear trees? I may not be able to answer until next summer (and I don’t expect homegrown fruit for three or four years). In the meantime, I have visions of large, beautiful pears that are just out of reach.

So, a day late and about $36 short, I’ve read some consumer reviews of Summerstone Nurseries. The reviews aren’t all rosy (they’re also not all bad). I probably wouldn’t have bought from Summerstone had I read the reviews first… but I’m not sure. I also did belated due diligence on Willis Orchards, Raintree Nursery, and Nature Hills—the other on-line suppliers I mentioned in my last post. It would be wrong to say that any impress… though, perhaps, Raintree has the best ratio of positive to negative reviews… Summerstone’s ratio is the worst.

I’m not Thrilled…

When reading reviews, I always remind myself: If things go OK, I don’t go out of my way to tell the world about it. I expect things to go OK, so why bother reporting OK to a consumer watch organization? Businesses such as eBay make customer and seller reviews central to the basic sales strategy: you leave good review, I leave good review, we’re good eBay citizens… but a customer can really mess up a seller’s business by leaving a bad review. The dynamics encourage everyone to leave reviews whether good or bad.

For sales web sites, you can predict the behavior of customers: when things go well, they move on. When things go poorly, they complain. So, I’m sure you see mostly negative reviews of vendors who don’t participate in shopping communities or web 2.0 networking—even when the vast majority of shopping experiences with the vendors are neutral or positive.

Do I Feel Better Now?

Rationalization complete, I’m still bothered by the negative reviews of Summerstone Nurseries. It occurs to me that if left to their own devices, people are more likely to complain than to compliment (or simply move on), then a compliment on an independent consumer watchdog web site must carry substantially more weight than does a negative review. Sigh!

Well, I’m an optimist and I’m very patient. So, while I’m still not recommending a particular on-line nursery, I’m not denouncing any either. I’ll stay the course, and continue to report as the pear tree saga unfolds.

I feel I’ve learned what I thought I already knew: get your hair cut where the barber goes for a haircut; buy donuts where cops buy donuts; eat at the crowded restaurants… You know: seek other people’s recommendations before making a purchase.

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