» Archive for March, 2014

Mouthwatering Peaches

Friday, March 7th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Cabbage, broccoli, lettuce and other cool season vegetables can be started now from seed. There are many wonderful varieties available on seed racks.
    • Roses should be pruned if you haven’t done so already. Remove all old leaves on and around the bushes and spray with Neem oil to prevent early pest and disease problems.
    • Deciduous Clematis vines can be cut back to about waist height, to encourage bushiness, more flowers and a nicer looking vine. Do this now before the new growth starts.
    • Asparagus, horseradish and rhubarb are perennial vegetables that are planted now during the dormant season.
    • Last chance to spray peach and nectarine trees for peach leaf curl before the buds break open. Use copper spray for the best results.

Mouthwatering Peaches for your Orchard

Nothing compares to the taste of tree-ripe peaches. Like ripe tomatoes, you just can’t buy them in the market. Peaches originally came from China where they have been cultivated for over 3000 years? Today, in China, there are more than 1000 unique types of peaches!

We grow from 100-200 different cultivars of peaches in the United States. They can be divided into two types, the freestones and the clingstones. In freestone types, the flesh separates readily from the pit. In the clingstone type, the flesh clings tightly to the pit. Freestone types are usually preferred for eating fresh or for freezing, while clingstone types are used primarily for canning. Fruit may be either yellow or white-fleshed.

The main challenges to growing good peaches in our area are late spring frosts and a disease known as “peach leaf curl.” Selecting varieties that are both late-blooming and resistant to peach leaf curl will result in the best crops. ‘Frost,’ ‘Q-1-8’ and ‘Indian Free’ are excellent choices.

‘Frost’ is a delicious yellow freestone that bears heavily. ‘Elberta’ is an old-time favorite with classic, rich peach flavor. ‘Reliance,’ which is both cold-hardy and frost-hardy, has sweet, flavorful, yellow freestone flesh.

White-fleshed peaches have long been savored by home growers and connoisseurs for their sweet, luscious flavor, tantalizing fragrance and novel color. The flat ‘Donut’ peach, has caught the eye (and taste buds) of today’s white peach fancier. It is self-fruitful and produces a tremendous amount of fruit by the second or third year. These unusual fruits are flat and round, with a sunken center. The flesh is sweet and juicy, often described as having overtones of almond.

For some tastes, the unique red-and-white-fleshed peach ‘Indian Free’ is still unsurpassed among the white peaches. The intense aroma and sweet-tart flavor of a fully tree-ripened ‘Indian Free’ has to be experienced to be believed. It requires another peach or nectarine as a pollinator.

‘Q-1-8’ is a sweet and juicy white peach with a sprightly flavor from a peach-leaf-curl resistant tree and ‘Sugar May’ is also white and is very juicy with fine sweet flavor.

Standard trees grow 15 to 25 feet tall if unpruned, but can be kept to 10 to 12 feet with consistent pruning, especially summer pruning. The best standard rootstock for our area is Lovell, which has a vigorous root system that is tolerant of wet soil or heavy soil.

Peach trees require full sunlight. If possible, select a site with a raised elevation or on a slope, so that cold air can drain away from the tree on a cold night during bloom. Trees need well drained soil. Mounding can help if you have heavy soil.

A young tree will need only 5-10 gallons of water a week. Mulch around the tree and you should be able to meet its water needs with grey water from the house.

Peaches seldom a crop every year in our climate, but when they do a single tree can produce 200 pounds of luscious, juicy fruit. Let them ripen to peak perfection before picking them and enjoy their exquisite, mouthwatering flavors.


Friday, March 7th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant seeds of broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and other spring vegetables now.
    • Spray for peach leaf curl with copper spray. Peach and nectarine trees may suffer from this fungus disease without a protective spray.
    • Bare root fruit trees, grape and berry vines, and ornamental trees, roses, wisteria and lilacs are still available.
    • English daisies are an early-blooming perennial with showy red, pink or white flowers. They will bloom all spring in partial shade.
    • Strawberries can be planted any time now. Get them in early, and you’ll be picking strawberries this summer.

Natives Berries for the Landscape

California’s redwood forests have a unique community of plants which grow in the sun-dappled shade at the base of the towering trees. In this special ecosystem, sword ferns, rhododendrons, salal, huckleberries and many other shrubs, trees and wildflowers thrive under the dark, moist grandeur of the redwoods.

One of the great delights of late summer is to come upon a patch of wild huckleberries that are ready to pick. This slow-growing, native evergreen shrub has delicious blue berries which ripen in late summer and early fall and are enjoyed by humans and wildlife alike.

Evergreen huckleberries vary in height from 3 to 8 feet tall depending on their growing conditions, but can be kept smaller with pruning. They grow taller in shady locations and are smaller with greater sun exposure. A handsome choice for woodland gardens, berry patches, and even containers, evergreen huckleberry is an ideal “edible landscape” shrub.

Known botanically as Vaccinium ovatum, this lovely shrub has small shiny leaves that are dark green above and pale green underneath, with copper-colored new growth. The spring flowers are particularly attractive. They hang like clusters of pink, urn-shaped bells very much like heather or manzanita blossoms, to which they are related.

Huckleberries make excellent landscaping plants since they have such attractive, glossy, evergreen foliage and showy edible fruit. They are good for anchoring soil and flourish in sun or shade with some summer watering and good drainage. They like acidic soil that is low in organic matter, and tolerate everything from sandy soils to clay, and are drought tolerant once established. One inch of organic mulch will keep them happy.

Evergreen huckleberries are excellent plants for creating wildlife habitats. The flowers attract butterflies and the berries are eaten by scarlet tanagers, bluebirds, thrushes, and other songbirds. Deer and rabbit browse freely on the plants. Because of their food value to wildlife and their dense shrubby growth, evergreen huckleberry is a good addition to hedgerows.

In fall, the plants are covered with delicious, juicy, purplish-black berries. They are delicious fresh and also make excellent jelly, pies, pancakes and muffins. They can also be frozen and used for up to 6 months.

Huckleberries were a traditional food of Native Americans who sometimes traveled great distances to harvest them. They ate the berries fresh, usually with oil, dried them, and partly mashed them and pressed them into cake form. The leaves and berries, which are high in Vitamin C, have a variety of herbal uses.

The flavor of huckleberries, especially wild huckleberries, are generally much stronger than blueberries. Ripe huckleberries should be sweet with a little tartness. They are generally sweeter than blueberries when they are fully ripe.

Vaccinium ovatum is harvested commercially, not for its berries, but for the use of its foliage in the floral arrangements.

Edible plants can be important additions to your landscape, providing beauty as well as tasty and healthy treats for your family.

Home-grown Peas

Friday, March 7th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Spring vegetables can be planted now from nursery starts. Begin your garden with broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, chard and onions. It pays to grow your own – especially this year!
    • Pansies and violas will fill your spring flower beds with their bright faces in many shades of blue, yellow, red, pink and purple.
    • Flowering dogwoods and tulip magnolias can be planted now during the dormant season from balled & burlapped specimens.
    • Prune wisteria trees and vines by cutting out unwanted long runners and removing old seed pods. Don’t damage flower buds that are clustered at the end of short branches.
    • Choose a peach tree for your orchard and enjoy luscious fresh peaches in the summers to come.

Home-grown Peas for Sweet Picking

Peas are loved by young and old alike. They deserve their popularity, because they are both good for you and easy to grow! Peas have been around since the earliest times, primarily as dried peas. Lots of breeding has been done on peas, so there are now many different kinds with different characteristics.

Peas come in dwarf or bush types which grow 15-30 inches high or in climbing varieties which grow 4-6 feet and will become tangled if you don’t give them something to climb on. Peas are classified into three types:

    • Shelling peas have tough pods that are too fibrous to eat, with sweet, tasty morsels inside. A 10-foot row will yield 4-6 lbs. or 1-1½ qts. of shelled peas.

    • Snow peas or sugar peas are flat and have a few small peas inside. They are eaten whole when their pods are still young and tender. This is the kind used in Asian stir-fry meals.

    • Snap peas also have edible pods and they snap like green beans when they are ready to eat. The pod grows tightly around the peas. They should be picked when young and tender. Check for strings along the center vein, as some cultivars need to have the strings pulled before eating.

Peas are a cool season crop. They should be planted when the soil temperature is at least 55°F, but before it gets too warm. This usually means March in Willits where heavy soils are slow to warm up.

Sow seeds about one inch deep and two inches apart in the row. Low-growing varieties can be grown in rows 18 to 24 inches apart. Climbers need three feet between rows, or plant a double row six inches apart on either side of a trellis. Protect them from birds, and they should germinate in 10-14 days. You can also find starter plants at the nursery.

Once peas begin to reach the appropriate stage for harvesting, they should be picked at least every other day to assure sweet, fiber-free pods. Shelling peas have the best quality when they are fully expanded but immature, before they become hard and starchy.

Snow peas are harvested when the pods have reached their full length, but the peas are still small and the pods are flat. This stage is usually reached 5 to 7 days after flowering. Sugar snaps are at their best when the pods first start to fatten but before the seeds grow very large. At this point, the pods snap like green beans and the whole pod can be eaten.

Vining types of both sugar snap and snow peas continue to grow taller and produce peas as long as the plant stays in good health and the weather stays cool.

Peas are best used as soon as possible after harvest, but may be stored in the refrigerator for a few days if cooled immediately. For best quality, freezing and canning should be done within a few hours after picking.

When peas are planted in a new area, you can increase the yield by inoculating peas with a nitrogen-fixing bacteria called an inoculant. In an established garden, inoculation is less necessary, but it is a relatively inexpensive process that will increase vigor and yield.

Enjoy fresh peas straight from your garden by planting them now when the time is right!