» Archive for February, 2016

The Diverse Family of Plums

Saturday, February 6th, 2016 by Jenny Watts
    • Delicious raspberries, blackberries, loganberries, boysenberries and blueberries are all available now for early planting.
    • Pansies will brighten your flower beds with their happy faces. They will bloom all through the spring.
    • Plant strawberry plants now for delicious strawberry shortcake this summer.
    • Spray for peach leaf curl with copper spray. Peach and nectarine trees may suffer from this fungus disease without a protective spray.
    • Cabbage, broccoli, lettuce and other cool season vegetables can be started now from seed. There are many wonderful varieties available on seed racks.

The Diverse Family of Plums

Plums come to us from both Europe and Asia, bringing with them their characteristic traits and flavors.

Best known to us are the Japanese plums with their round, juicy fruits. Santa Rosa is the most popular plum in California with a purple skin and tangy, flavorful amber flesh. Late Santa Rosa is very similar to Santa Rosa but ripens a month later. An interesting variation is Weeping Santa Rosa Plum which is a beautiful 8-10 ft. tree with long slender limbs that bow gracefully to the ground, covered with delicious fruit.

Burgundy has maroon-colored skin and flesh with a sweet, pleasing flavor with little or no tartness. While Elephant Heart has heart-shaped fruit with sweet, juicy, richly flavored, firm red flesh. It has dark reddish-purple mottled skin and is very productive.

The European plums include the prunes. They are all very sweet and richly flavored. French Prune is California’s commercial prune, and Italian is larger and later ripening. They have purple-blue skin and amber flesh and can be eaten fresh or dried. Blue Damson is an ancient variety with small, tart, blue-black plums that are excellent for jams and jellies.

Green Gage Plum is a small to medium sized green plum with very sweet, richly-flavored flesh. It is a long-time favorite for dessert, cooking and canning. Emerald Beaut is a greenish-yellow plum that becomes exceptionally sweet as it ripens.

Plant breeder Luther Burbank was the first to cross plums and apricots, thought to be impossible at the time. His goal was to produce an apricot-like fruit which would bear consistently in our wet north coast climate where apricots fail to set fruit most years. Floyd Zaiger developed some new hybrids in the 1980s which he called Pluots and Apriums. Pluots, which are 75% plum parentage and 25% apricot, do well here while Apriums, which are 75% apricot and 25% plum are difficult to grow here. He went on to develop peach/plum hybrids and nectarine/plum hybrids.

Flavor King is a wonderful tasting pluot with a sweet, spicy flavor. It is very large and resembles a huge, heart-shaped Santa Rosa. One of the most highly flavored pluots ever developed, it is a reliable producer in this area. Dapple Dandy is a taste-test winner with creamy white and red flesh and a wonderful plum-apricot flavor.

Spice Zee Nectaplum™ is a cross between a white-fleshed nectarine and a plum. The skin turns pale pink when ripe and it has outstanding nectarine/plum flavor. Sweet Treat Pluerry® is a cross between a plum and a sweet cherry, and is much larger than a cherry. It has purple skin and yellow flesh and combines the sweetness of cherries with the zing of plums.

For a variety of delicious flavors, be sure you have a good selection of plums, prunes and pluots in your orchard. Fruit trees of all kinds are available to plant now.

Asparagus: A Homegrown Delicacy

Saturday, February 6th, 2016 by Jenny Watts
    • Primroses, in their rainbow of colors, will light up your flower beds and boxes this winter and spring.
    • Plant seeds of broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and other spring vegetables now.
    • It’s bare root season, which means you can save money on fruit trees and roses by planting them now. A wide selection is now available.
    • Onion plants can be set out now for early summer harvest.

Asparagus: A Homegrown Delicacy

Each year, when spring rolls around, the asparagus bed comes to life. Around April 1st, the rich green spears start poking their heads up out of the bare soil, reaching for the light. Every day a few more points appear and anxiously we await the harvest of one of our favorite crops.

Asparagus takes a lot of work initially, but it is not difficult to maintain an established bed. Plants can live for 20 years and produce many pounds of spears, so it is important to start them off right.

Soil should be rich, loose, well-drained and located in full sun. Add plenty of well-rotted manure or compost and rock phosphate dug deeply into the soil: double-digging will greatly benefit asparagus.

Start by transplanting 2-year-old roots into your garden. Dig a trench 12 inches deep and place roots 18 inches apart, spreading out the roots around a small mound.

Set roots deep enough to cover the crowns with 2 or 3 inches of soil. Initially, cover them with only one inch of soil. When shoots begin to come up, add soil around them until the trench is filled. Then add a four to six inch layer of mulch to keep the weeds down, and maintain the high soil-moisture content necessary for best production.

Asparagus need plenty of water, especially the first growing season. Keep the soil wet at least 8 inches deep.

In July, side-dress the plants with 5-10-10 fertilizer or compost, and cultivate lightly into the soil. Keep the bed well weeded as the crowns are getting established, and maintain a thick mulch through the summer.

In the fall place a 3-inch layer of manure around the plants. Or, if you’d rather, remove the mulch and apply a balanced fertilizer at about 2 pounds per 100 square feet then replace the mulch.

Leave the dried tops until spring when they can be broken off and composted. An important part of asparagus culture is allowing the ferns to mature during the first and second year. This green foliage is needed to promote strong roots. Vigorous top growth in one season is the best assurance of good yield the next.

Harvest begins when the plants are three years old. The first harvest will last only a week or two. In later years, cutting may continue for 6 to 8 weeks.

The first spears will push their way up when we are still having frosty nights here in Willits. So be sure to protect these tender shoots from frost.

There are different varieties of asparagus and you may want to try more than one. ‘Mary Washington’ is the most popular variety with heavy yields of long, straight spears with tight tips. The sweet, tender spears have gourmet flavor and a 60 day cutting season.

UC 157 is a hybrid developed at UC Davis. It has deep green, smooth cylindrical spears, and early spring production. This variety produces higher yield than older standard varieties.

‘Jersey Knight’ Asparagus is a variety that grows only male plants. The stalks are much larger , and they yield 3-4 times more top quality asparagus than any other variety.

‘Sweet Purple’ has deep-burgundy spears and a higher sugar content than green varieties. The spears are generally larger and much more tender than standard varieties.

Homegrown asparagus is really a delicacy. There is little comparison with the store-bought vegetable of the same name. So do yourself a delicious favor, and plant an asparagus bed this winter.