Harvest Time

Friday, September 4th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Pansies and snapdragons can be planted now to replace summer annuals. They will give you color this fall, winter and next spring.
    • Trim foliage on grape vines to allow more sun to reach the fruit and ripen the grapes.
    • If your bearded iris blooms were sparse this year or the plants are more than four years old, now is the time to divide and replant them. Mix some bone meal into the soil, and plant the rhizomes just beneath the soil surface.
    • Keep apples picked up from under the trees to help control the spread of coddling moths which make wormy apples.
    • Cover newly planted vegetable starts to protect them from birds. Spray cabbage and broccoli plants with BT to control cabbage worms which make holes in the leaves.

When to Harvest Fruit Trees

The ripening of fruits is a complex subject. How do you determine when the grapes are ripe? Will blueberries get sweeter after you pick them?

It is important to know whether the fruits or vegetables that you are about to pick will ripen further after you pick them. There are three categories: fruits that don’t ripen after they are picked; fruits that ripen in appearance but not in sweetness; and fruits that become sweeter after picking.

Cherries will not ripen after harvest. Harvest sweet cherries when they reach the right size, color and taste and when they come off the tree readily. Lift the cherry clusters from the tree carefully to avoid damaging the fruit spurs, or cut the stems with pruning shears. They are most often harvested with stems attached, because they keep better that way. Cherries don’t keep well even with the best treatment, and bruised or cut ones go downhill fast.

Plums, pluots and plumcots should be harvested when they are still firm, but fully flavored. Prunes that are to be dried, should be left on the tree until they are fully ripe and easily knocked off the tree. Lay a sheet under the tree to gather them up easily.

Soft berries, like blackberries, raspberries and strawberries, will not ripen after picking. Either will grapes. You can trim back the foliage on grapevines to allow sunlight to reach the clusters of grapes so they are fully sweet when you pick them.

Blueberries will get softer after picking, but will not get any sweeter. Most of the summer fruits fall into the same category. Apricots, figs, nectarines and peaches will change color and appear to ripen, but will not get sweeter after they are picked. They develop the best flavor when allowed to fully ripen on the tree.

Fruits that do get sweeter after you pick them include apples, pears and kiwis. You don’t want to pick them too green, but if they are partially ripe, they will continue to ripen after harvest. Store them in a cool, dark place, not too damp or too dry, but do not refrigerate until closer to ripe. Pears should be picked while still fairly hard and green. They ripen from the inside out, so if you try to let them get nicely yellow (or red) on the tree, they will be mushy inside.

Persimmons ripen in the fall. The astringent types, like Hachiya, can be left on the tree until soft-ripe, but are usually harvested when still firm but bright orange and then allowed to become very soft and ripe at room temperature. The non-astringent types, like Fuyu, are harvested when they develop their full orange color and are eaten when firm and crisp like an apple.

Optimum ripeness will vary with individual preferences. Handle your fruits gently and enjoy the delicious flavors of home grown fruit.

Container Orchard

Friday, August 28th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Chrysanthemums come in bright fall colors to give you instant color in flower beds and containers.
    • Sow these vegetable seeds directly in the soil: carrots, chard, lettuce, mustard, peas, radish, spinach and root vegetables. Keep the surface of the soil moist until the seedlings are established.
    • Rough black spots of apples and their leaves are due to the ‘scab’ fungus. Nothing can be done now, but remember to spray trees next spring with lime sulfur just before the blossoms open.
    • Rose of Sharon, with its hibiscus-like flowers, is a lovely summer bloomer in our climate. The tree form makes a small tree for full sun or part shade.
    • Peruvian lilies, or alstromeria, make wonderful cut flowers. Set out plants now for armloads of flowers next year.

Grow a container fruit orchard

There are various reasons for wanting to grow fruit trees in containers. For some folks, the only place protected from deer is on the deck. Others may enjoy watching a fruit tree up close on the patio, or want to grow a citrus tree that needs winter protection. Whatever your reason, there are dwarf fruit trees that can be grown in containers even in the most limited spaces.

The types of fruit trees that can be grown in containers are apples on M-27 rootstock or genetic dwarf apples; genetic dwarf peaches and nectarines; all figs; cherries on Zaiger dwarf rootstock; and dwarf citrus.

First you will need to choose containers for your little orchard. Though many types of wood or ceramic containers can be used, a heavy plastic, like the terra cotta-colored plastic pots, are easiest to work with for repotting. Most trees, either bare root or canned, can be planted into a 16 inch pot. After one full growing season, repot in early spring into a 20-inch pot, and the next spring into a 24-inch pot, its final destination. Use any good bagged potting soil that drains well.

Watering and fertilizing are the most important maintenance tasks. Plants should never be allowed to wilt, but don’t overwater them. Fruit trees generally need water about twice a week, but they will need more if they become root-bound.

Fertilize apples, figs and citrus once a month during the growing season using an organic fertilizer or a 5-10-10 fertilizer. You don’t need a lot of nitrogen, since you don’t want fast growth in a container tree. Peaches, nectarines and cherries should be fed twice a month.

After three to five years, growth may slow down, or trees may need constant watering. These trees will need root pruning in late winter. Lay the container on its side and roll it to loosen the root ball. Pull the tree out of the pot. With a shovel, slice two inches off the sides of the rootball all the way around. Place the tree back into the pot, add fresh potting soil, and tamp it down firmly. Water thoroughly.

Fig trees and citrus are not as hardy as other fruits. In the winter, move them to a protected area where they will not freeze during cold weather. Citrus can live in the house by a south window during the coldest weather.

Fig trees can be sheltered in the garage. Move them after they drop their leaves and go dormant. They will not need any light or much water while in dormancy. Water sparingly once every three of four weeks during winter storage. If you must leave them outdoors, spray with Cloud Cover™ in early November to protect them from drying out in freezing weather.

Enjoy delicious home-grown fruits fresh from your patio!