» Archive for January, 2015

A Gallery of Great Pears for the Home Orchard

Friday, January 30th, 2015 by Jenny Watts
    • It’s bare root season, which means you can save money on fruit trees by planting them now. A wide selection is still available.
    • Start an asparagus bed so you can enjoy their young, tender shoots straight from the garden.
    • Artichokes can be planted now from dormant roots. By next spring, you’ll be harvesting your own delicious buds.
    • Plant strawberry plants now for delicious strawberry shortcake this summer.
    • Pansies will brighten your flower beds with their happy faces. They will bloom all through the spring.

Great Pears for the Home Orchard

Pear trees produce generous crops of delicious fruit and make handsome landscape trees with their glossy leaves and white blossoms. They are long-lived trees and are one of the easiest fruits to grow in this area.

There are many tasty varieties to choose from that will give you fresh fruit over a long season. Bartlett is the earliest pear in this area. It is the thin-skinned yellow fruit familiar in the market in late summer. Perfect for canning, and excellent for drying, they are sweet and juicy and delicious for fresh eating.

Ripening a week or two after Bartlett is the Magness pear. This soft, sweet, juicy dessert pear is almost free of grit cells. The greenish-yellow fruit develops a red or russeted blush. Magness is very disease resistant, especially to fireblight. It does require a pollinator.

Similar to the Magness is the Warren pear. It is an excellent quality dessert pear that has no grit cells and a superb, buttery flavor. It is self-fruitful and a good keeper.

The smallest of the commonly grown pears, Seckel is also the sweetest. So small that they can be canned whole, they are also delicious fresh. Seckel pears are a sweet and delicious treat!

Midseason pears mature in September and October. D’Anjou is a large, green pear that is firm but not especially juicy. Sweet and mild-flavored, it makes delicious pear pies and is an excellent keeper. Red Anjou pears are nearly identical to the original D’Anjou with the exception of its deep maroon color. Bosc has a long, narrow shape with skin that is heavily russeted. The flesh is crisp and fragrant with a distinct flavor. Baked or poached, it is one of the best.

Late season pears ripen from October into November. Comice pears, green and often with a red blush, are the favorite of many for eating fresh and as a dessert pear. They are too juicy for cooking, but the very best for fresh eating, and are a favorite in holiday gift boxes. They are very soft when ripe and creamy in texture. Winter Nelis is the latest pear. It is quite small with yellow-green skin, but has a juicy, sweet, rich flavor. It is very good eaten fresh and also fine for baking.

Pears need pollination to bear a good crop. Plant two or more different trees within 100 feet of each other and they will all bear more fruit than if planted alone. If you only have room for one tree, plant one grafted with three or four varieties, or do your own grafting. Most varieties will start to bear significant harvests 5 to 6 years after planting.

Choose a site with full sun, moderately fertile soil, and good air circulation. Pears will do well in many different soils. Space trees, on OHx333 rootstock, 15 feet apart.

Pears do best with a small amount of fertilizer early in the year. Heavy doses of nitrogen will make the tree more vulnerable to fire blight.

Pear trees live for many years and with proper pruning and care, will give you an abundance of delicious fruit, year after year.

Growing Great Onions

Friday, January 23rd, 2015 by Jenny Watts
    • Prune fruit trees, grapes, berries, and ornamental trees this month. Take in a pruning class and sharpen your shears before you start.
    • Spray fruit trees with a dormant oil spray. Spray from the bottom up, including the undersides of limbs and the ground around the tree, to prevent early spring insect infestations.
    • Tree collards are delicious winter vegetables. Set out plants now.
    • Start seeds of perennial flowers like columbine, coreopsis and echinacea.
    • FREE Fruit Tree Pruning Class this Sunday, January 25, from 10 AM to 2 PM at Sanhedrin Nursery, 1094 Locust St., Willits.

Growing Great Onions

Onions seem like they would be one of the easiest vegetables to grow, but raising good onions can be more complicated that it first appears. As vegetables they are interesting plants to grow because they are very dependent upon day length and temperature to form bulbs.

Onions are typically seeded in fall through early spring, harvested in early summer and used fresh or stored for winter. But as many experienced gardeners know, the crop is not always successful, and many times the bulbs produce flower heads, which is known as “bolting”.

To grow onions successfully, you must know a little about them. Onions are biennials, which means that they grow one year and makes flowers and seeds the second year. The first year the onion plant begins its growth by putting out its green top leaves in cool weather. It stores energy in those leaves until the weather gets warmer and the days get longer. Then it begins storing energy in the bulb underground. When the bulb is mature, the leaves turn yellow and die and the onion is ready to harvest.

Given a certain set of environmental conditions, onions can be tricked into believing they have gone through two growing cycles during their first year. Instead of finishing with a well-cured bulb, ready to harvest, a seed stalk can develop prematurely, causing onions to be unmarketable.

Fall seeded crops are susceptible to bolting the following spring if warm fall temperatures, allowing excessive growth, are followed by low winter temperatures and slowed growth. The most successful onions may come from transplants set out in early spring.

Occasionally other factors, such as damage by cultivation or excessive stress, may cause bolting. That’s why only a few plants may bolt in an entire plot. Should this occur, the onion will still be perfectly edible; however, as the seed-stem gets bigger, the ring inside the onion will become pithy and inedible. If left to maturity, this ring will rot quickly and cause the entire onion to rot as well. It’s best to eat the onion as soon as you see the seed-stem. Don’t bend or break the top; the leaf is hollow, and breaking it will allow water to go right into the center of the onion and cause it to rot.

Onion sets (the small dry bulbs) have a bad habit of bolting and producing a flower stem. It is actually better to plant first-year seedling onions. These come two ways: as nursery-grown seedlings in small pots, and in bunches of larger seedlings that have been grown in fields and dug-up. The latter are available now in a limited number of varieties, and the former will be available soon with other spring vegetable starts.

Onions are characterized by day length: “long-day” onion varieties will quit forming tops and begin to form bulbs when the day length reaches 14 to 16 hours while “short-day” onions will start making bulbs much earlier in the year when there are only 10 to 12 hours of daylight. As a general rule, “long-day” onions do better in north of 36 degrees latitude while “short-day” onions do better south of that line. Willits and Ukiah are at about 39 degrees.

Our long summer days make the intermediate to long-day onions good for our climate and latitude. These include Red Zeppelin, Walla Walla, and Copra, Ruby, Candy, the Southport Globe onions, and Yellow and White Sweet Spanish.

For keeping qualities, the strong-flavored, yellow ones, like Copra, Yellow Spanish and Yellow Globe are the best. The milder onions don’t develop the really firm outer skin needed for long storage.

Onions aren’t bothered by frost, so early spring is the best time to get them planted. Then they have plenty of time to store up energy in the leaves before bulb-making time. The more green growth, the bigger the bulbs will be. So get started with onions, now.

Grapes for the Home Vineyard

Friday, January 16th, 2015 by Jenny Watts
    • Apples and pears are the easiest fruits to grow in our area. Choose early, mid-season and late varieties for a continuous harvest from late summer into winter.
    • Fill your winter garden with color from primroses and pansies.
    • Witch hazels bloom in the middle of winter with their interesting and showy, fragrant yellow or red blooms. One might look good in your garden.
    • Delicious raspberries, blackberries, loganberries, boysenberries and blueberries are all available now for early planting.
    • Fruit trees can be pruned this month. If you’re not sure how, take advantage of one of the fine classes being offered this month.

Grapes for the Home Vineyard

An age-old fruit, grapes have been cultivated for over 6000 years and continue to grow in popularity today. Grown for fresh eating, juice, jelly or wine, grapes are widely recognized for their health benefits as well as for the production of fine wines.

Wine grape varieties represent only a small portion of the more than 600 kinds of grapes, and only about 60 varieties are suited to produce fine quality wine. The rest are considered table grapes, which are seeing a surge in popularity with today’s home gardeners.

Seedless table grapes are the most popular and Thompson Seedless and Flame make up the majority of table grapes sold in California. But both of these varieties require a considerable amount of heat to reach their finest quality. The Willits area just doesn’t get the amount of heat that the Central Valley does where these varieties grow to perfection. But there are many delicious grapes that are well suited to our climate.

There are two basic types of grapes, American and European. Our familiar table grapes and most wine grapes are derived from a single European species, Vitis vinifera. They have relatively thin skins that adhere closely to their flesh, and seeds that can be slipped out of the pulp quite easily.

American varieties, Vitis labrusca, are sometimes called slip-skin grapes, as their skins separate readily from the flesh; their seeds are tightly embedded in the pulp. The most familiar American variety is the Concord grape. Our area is suited to American grapes and to selected European varieties with lower heat requirements.

In 1999, several new cultivars were released. Princess is a large green grape that rivals Thompson with berries of excellent eating quality that have a satisfying crunch. Summer Royal grapes are medium-sized, and blue-black in color. These round seedless grapes have a pleasant aroma and a sweet flavor, and are ideal for snacks and salads. Summer Muscat has green, seedless muscat-flavored berries that are excellent for dry-on-the-vine raisins.

Some American grapes that ripen early in the season include these seedless varieties. Himrod is an excellent quality golden yellow grape that bears large clusters of crisp, sweet fruit. This seedless variety is reliable and productive. Canadice is a beautiful rose-colored grape that is sweet with a somewhat spicy flavor. Interlaken has pale green berries that are sweet and crisp.

Suffolk Red is a seedless grape with round, firm, pink to red berries and a pleasing, spicy-sweet flavor. It makes a really delicious table grape. Golden Muscat has pale golden berries with a characteristic muscat flavor. Its large, well filled clusters are juicy and sweet.

The best known purple grape is Concord, whose fruit has a distinctive “foxy” flavor. Used widely for grape juice and jelly, it may be America’s favorite grape.

Several European grapes do well in our area. Perlette is a pale green grape that is sweet and juicy. Black Monukka, which has a deep, purplish-black skin and is very sweet and rich flavored, and Flame, a crisp, sweet red grape, are both excellent for fresh use and for raisins. These varieties do not need the high heat that Thompson does to ripen.

Grapes are so abundant and easy to grow, that no family vineyard should be without them. Plant several varieties to enjoy their distinct flavors and a long harvest.