» Archive for January, 2016

Luscious Blueberries from your Garden

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016 by Jenny Watts
    • Spring flowers and vegetables can be started from seeds now on your window sill. Try pansies and snapdragons, broccoli, cabbage and lettuces.
    • 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.
    • Lilacs and wisteria have beautiful spring flowers. They come in a variety of colors and can be planted now from bare-root plants.
    • Asparagus, whose delectable spears are even sweeter when home-grown, are available now for planting. Prepare a fertile bed for these long-lived vegetables.
    • If you’re short on space in your orchard, you can plant 2 or 3 varieties of the same fruit in one large hole. This will allow cross-pollination among apples, pears, plums, cherries and Asian pears.

    Luscious Blueberries from your Garden

    Blueberries can be grown in many parts of the United States, however different types of blueberries are better for different climates. Northern Highbush and Southern Highbush blueberries do best in the Willits area.

    Northern Highbush blueberries grow 4 to 6 feet tall and have clusters of white bell-shaped flowers in spring, rich green foliage that turns deep red in the fall, and abundant crops of sweet blue berries in midsummer. They are the best known and the largest, sweetest and juiciest blueberries you can grow. These varieties, however, are native to Canada, Michigan and other northern climes. They prefer cool summers, where they have the best fruit quality, but are worth growing in our area in partial shade. They require more than 1,000 chill hours for bud-break.

    Southern Highbush blueberries have an earlier ripening season and grow 5 to 8 feet tall by 5 feet wide. They are all self-pollinating, although the yields and the berries will be larger if two varieties are planted together. Southern Highbush are specifically hybridized for superior fruit, soil adaptability, heat tolerance and low winter chilling.

    These varieties are suitable for areas from Florida to California because of their low chill requirement and heat tolerance. This makes them particularly suitable for coastal areas of California as well as the inland valleys. They grow in full sun or partial shade, and are grown commercially in the Central Valley. Attractive blue-green foliage remains evergreen in mild winters or turns yellow-orange before falling in cold climates.

    Blueberries need mostly sun and rich, acid soil that is high in organic matter. A pH of 4.8 to 5.0 is ideal. When planting, add lots of peat moss, equal to 50% of the planting hole soil. Dig a wide hole and add a couple of cups of soil sulfur per plant.

    They don’t like strong nitrogen fertilizer, but you should feed them after they are established with regular light applications every six weeks, beginning in April and ending in July or August. Use an acid plant food with at least 10 percent nitrogen. Make the first feeding as soon as growth starts in the spring. Spread the fertilizer around the plants 6 to 12 inches away from their crowns, and water it in.

    Remove all blossoms the first two years and allow only a small crop to mature the third season. This will help the plants establish faster.

    Blueberry roots are shallow and should not be disturbed. Mulch the plants with 4 to 6 inches of sawdust or compost, but keep it away from the base of the plant. This will keep down weeds and retain moisture. Keep replenishing the mulch all summer. Plants should be kept moist all through the growing season.

    A wonderful feature of many varieties is their outstanding fall color: hot, luminous reds, pinks, and oranges that really light up with fall rains. It’s nice to plant them where you can enjoy their colorful foliage. Blueberries are very nutritious and are a wonderful addition to your diet as well as your garden.

Apples for many uses

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016 by Jenny Watts
    • Bare root season is here. Choose and plant your favorite fruit and shade trees now.
    • Start seeds of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and other cool season crops indoors for planting outside in March.
    • 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.
    • Strawberries can be planted any time now. Get them in early, and you’ll be picking strawberries this summer.
    • Asparagus, whose delectable spears are even sweeter when home-grown, are available now for planting. Prepare a fertile bed for these long-lived vegetables.

Apples for many uses

There are hundreds of apple varieties grown in the United States, representing differences in flavor and texture that span the gamut from sweet to sour, and hard to soft. Because of these differences, some apples are better for cooking and some for fresh use. Here are some guidelines for choosing apples that suit your uses.

For fresh use and crisp apple salads, it’s hard to beat Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Fuji, Gala, Liberty and Honeycrisp apples. Red Delicious is probably the best known apple in the country. Its dark red skin is classic and its creamy aromatic flesh is sweet, crisp and flavorful. Golden Delicious is a long time favorite for its sweetness and flavor. The flesh is firm, crisp and juicy.

Fuji apples are sweet, very crisp and flavorful. Gala apples have a nice blend of sweetness and tartness with a rich flavor, and an attractive yellow skin airbrushed with red. Liberty has a well-balanced sweet-tart flavor with an attractive red skin. Honeycrisp is a delicious new apple that some say is “explosively crisp” and honey sweet with a touch of tartness. It is excellent for eating and salads. Fuji, Liberty and Red Delicious have the added advantage of not browning easily.

When it comes to apple pie, we look for an apple with quite a bit of tartness that holds its shape well during cooking. Some good choices are Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, Granny Smith, Braeburn and Rome Beauty. Honeycrisp is firm, juicy and sweet. Pink Lady is very crisp with a good sweet-tart combination. Granny Smith is quite tart but makes an apple pie reminiscent of colonial days, with added sugar. Braeburn is great for baking because it keeps its shape throughout cooking. Rome Beauty is wonderful for baking.

For applesauce, it’s hard to beat Gravenstein. This late summer apple has a rich flavor that makes delicious sauce. It is not a keeper but this is a wonderful way to preserve the bushels of fruit that the large tree produces. Golden Delicious is used to make unsweetened applesauce, because its sweet flavor doesn’t need sweetening.

Granny Smith is a rather tart apple but it makes very good sauce. Braeburn makes a great, “sweet-tart” sauce with no added sweetening. Pink Pearl makes beautiful, tasty pink applesauce.

Baking apples are those that are baked whole, as in dumplings. These apples have some tartness so that the flavor doesn’t get lost and they hold their shape well. Rome Beauty is probably the best for baking, but Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Granny Smith and Pink Lady are also very good.

Apple juice or cider can be made from many apples but some particularly good varieties are Gala, Golden Delicious, Gravenstein, Granny Smith and Jonathan. The best juice probably comes from a mixture of different varieties to create a blend. Choose a combination of apples to achieve the sweet/tart flavor you prefer.

Enliven your taste buds with a variety of apples for every use in the kitchen.

Gardening Resolutions for 2016

Sunday, January 10th, 2016 by Jenny Watts
    • Start seeds of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and other cool season crops indoors for planting outside in March.

    • Fill your winter garden with color from primroses and pansies.
    • Roses should be pruned in February near the end of the dormant season. You can clean them up now, however, by removing all the old leaves on and around the plants.
    • Control peach leaf curl by spraying during the next dry spell with copper spray to help prevent this disfiguring disease from attacking your trees this spring.
    • Blueberries are a delicious fruit that can be planted now from young plants. Give them a rich, acid bed prepared with lots of peat moss.

Gardening Resolutions for 2016

Rainy winter days make gardeners anxious for the warmer weather that will allow us once again to get our hands in the dirt and watch new life grow. As you look out at the garden, maybe with garden diary in hand, it always feels good to set some goals, to make some resolutions for the season ahead.

This is a good year to build a compost bin to turn kitchen scraps, leaves or yard waste into rich humus. Or vow to change to a more organic style of gardening for truly nutritious produce. Maybe this is your year to double-dig the garden. If so, pick up a copy of John Jeavons’ How to Grow More Vegetables and learn how to do it right.

Grow more food! Rotate your crops from where you planted them last year and practice succession planting with things like peas, lettuce, beets, greens mix, basil and cilantro. Choose at least one new vegetable to plant. Variety adds different nutrients to our diet and is good for the soil. Make a trip to the nursery to shop for seeds so you’ll be ready when the time is right.

Plant more flowers for color, cutting, and fragrance – and also to attract beneficial insects and butterflies. Plant them in flower beds, pots and even the vegetable garden. They are food for the soul.

This is a good year to replace that tired lawn with drought-tolerant shrubs, perennials or even vegetables. Get some help to create a new water-wise plant design for at least part of your yard, and perhaps an irrigation system to go with it. Choose natives and Mediterranean plants that will need little water once established.

Create a relaxing oasis somewhere on your property. Find a place for a bench, surround it with your favorite plants and add a small fountain to enjoy the sound of running water. A recirculating fountain uses very little water and is a place where birds can enjoy a drink of water.

Plant a fruit tree this year. If you haven’t started an orchard, there’s no better time than the present. If you have a tree that isn’t thriving, pull it out and plant a new vigorous one. There are few things so rewarding as harvesting a tree full of fresh, ripe fruit. And there are few taste pleasures as satisfying.

Keep a garden diary. Each of us seems to live in a different micro-climate where temperatures, precipitation, sunlight and winds can drastically vary within a few miles. It’s hard to remember what happened from year to year, and after a few years, you may be able to anticipate the first frost or when the rose weevils arrive.

If you’re not a gardener, become one. You don’t even have to have a yard. Many flowers, herbs and small vegetables can be grown in pots. And the exercise and stress reduction make gardening a healthful pastime.

Share your love of plants and gardening whenever possible. Grow, celebrate, discover and enjoy your garden this year!