Spring Garden Update

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The ONE tomato seed that germinated was this, the trusty Stupice (pronounced Stu-peach-ka) tomato.  Most of my seeds have entered their 3rd year in my kitchen cabinet and so I can conveniently blame their age for lack of successful seed sprouting this spring, having nothing to do with my 30 hour work week which I’ve never had since beginning my edible quest some 4 years ago.  And it’s no big deal that this tomato plant is about a month behind the tomato curve because Stupice is one tomato that is a lover of the fall, a welcomer of the sudden cool days that can sneak up in early autumn when we’re still passing them off as summer.  In 2012 I was still harvesting these medium sized red Czechoslovakian heirlooms in January.  Yes, that’s right.

Refreshed soil in the raised bed is now home to a white Armenian cuke, butternut squash, yellow crookneck squash, pattypan squash, basil and rosemary.  To my surprise the basil is getting DEVOURED by some rodent, perhaps with an Italian parentage.

Refreshed soil in the raised bed is now home to a white heirloom cuke, butternut squash, yellow crookneck squash, pattypan squash, basil and rosemary. To my surprise the basil is getting DEVOURED by some rodent, perhaps with an Italian parentage.

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My daughter and I had a “decorate grow bags” afternoon using felt shapes and water-proof fabric glue. They grow my best tomatoes ever.

My daughter's design, now home to a cherry tomato.

My daughter’s design, now home to a cherry tomato.

For such a small thing, Eva's Pride has an impressive crop.  Supportive stakes in my future?

For such a small thing, Eva’s Pride peach has an impressive crop. Supportive stakes in my future?

Honestly, I'm unsure what the deal is with my Snow Queen Nectarine.  the bottom half is growing some healthy, strong new branches but the top half is only now meekly blooming with no leaves.  I'm hoping the two ends can meet somewhere in the middle and soon.

Honestly, I’m unsure what the deal is with my Snow Queen Nectarine. The bottom half is growing some healthy, strong new branches but the top half is only now meekly blooming with no leaves. I’m hoping the two ends can meet somewhere in the middle and soon.

Pole beans making their presence known.

Pole beans making their presence known.  These WERE grown from seed (one of the easiest veggies to do so in my opinion).  I just save a few over-ripe pods each year and let them dry out on the kitchen window sill.

And last but not least, the red seedless Thompson grape.  This may be one of the most exciting things happening this season for me.  It's a first and I'm enjoying seeing the tiny flowers give way to this...

And last but not least, the red seedless Thompson grape. This may be one of the most exciting things happening this season for me. This vine fruiting is a first and I’m enjoying seeing the flowers give way to tiny grapes…

Spring Garden Firsts

I took my normal walk around the backyard taking photos, as is my M.O., and realized only after looking at them on my computer this morning that each photo represented a first in my garden.  This is the first time I’ve seen my Eva’s Pride peach tree produce fruit:

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And the first time I’ve seen the Double Delight nectarine I bought in January leaf out and bloom:

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And seen the flower up-close:

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And the first time I’ve seen the Thompson Red Seedless grape do this:

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Last year it had just started to produce fruit clusters but before they had a chance to fully form something happened and they either fell off or were eaten by something.

And the first time I’ve seen my favorite specimen (Red Baron peach) blooming against the backdrop of my favorite backyard retreat after being completed last summer:

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Thankful for firsts.

Flowers Galore

Beauty has woken from it’s slumber and the flowers around the backyard are bountiful.

Golden nasturtiums.  They're edible and are beautiful as a garnish on salads.

Golden nasturtiums. They’re edible and are beautiful as a garnish on salads.

Royal Lee Cherry in full bloom.

Royal Lee Cherry blooming away.

Today I tried my hand at being a pinch hitter pollenator.  While there are some bees around the garden, I hadn’t seen much activity on this cherry tree.  Being that this one cross pollenates with Minnie Royal, and that one bloomed later with only 4 blooms so far, I decided to increase my odds of ending up with a real, live cherry in May.  I took the smallest paintbrush I could find and gently brushed the pollen from the flowers of one tree and brushed what I collected onto the stigma (the longest part of the center of the flower) of the other tree, and vice a versa.

Here's what I believe to be the beginnings of a grape cluster!

Here’s what I believe to be the beginnings of a grape cluster!

Lettuce going to seed, yet also very floral-like.

Lettuce going to seed, yet also very floral-like.

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January in Bloom

Sequoia Strawberry flower.

Sequoia Strawberry flower.

I planted a dozen Sequoia strawberry plants about a week ago.  It’s a June bearing variety that does well in California and is one of the earliest Spring crops where safe from frost.  June bearers generally produce a single large crop in spring to early summer and are prolific producers for 3 to 4 weeks.  Plus, they are root knot nematode resistant, which works well with my RKN soil.

Eva's Pride peach is already about to bloom!

Eva’s Pride peach is already about to bloom!

We’ve had little rain this winter and unseasonably warm weather during the day, which has encouraged this already early bloomer to be on the verge of something that I’ve never had before in the garden.  A blooming fruit tree is January.  That feels like a garden miracle!

Another view of Eva's Pride.  I've never tasted this peach as this is my first Spring with her after rescuing her from a small pot from a previous place of employment, but I've read that it has a "zing."

Another view of Eva’s Pride. I’ve never tasted this peach, as this is my first Spring with her after rescuing her from a small pot from a previous place of employment, but I’ve read that it has a “zing.”  Can’t wait!

Even my grapevine seems to be early this year.

Even my grapevine seems to be early this year.  But I’m not complaining!

Royal Lee Cherry budding in groups.  My two cherries seem to be the only ones to bud in groups, which makes sense since cherries form in clusters!

Royal Lee Cherry budding in groups. My two cherries seem to be the only fruit trees in my backyard orchard to bud in groups, which makes sense since cherries form in clusters!

Even though cherries aren’t supposed to fruit until at least year three, and I’m just my second Spring, I’m still crossing my fingers for maybe just a few cherries, or even one lone straggler.  Yes, that would be just fine with me!

Budding up for Spring

Fruit trees are fantastic planners.  Just as we humans start hunkering down in our winter-y way of life (turning on the heater, spending more time indoors, eating a little more), my fruit trees are also losing their leaves and looking their most bleak.  But under that stripped-down exterior something fascinating is already taking place.  The promise of spring, even when winter has just started, in the form of swelling buds.

Minnie Royal Cherry

Royal Lee Cherry

This being only my second soon-to-be spring with my 2 cherry trees, I’m realizing that their buds may have a head start on my other fruit trees, probably because they are the first to blossom and fruit.

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Eva’s Pride Peach

And of course I have some other winter veggies here and there, such as carrots, lettuce and sugar snap peas.

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These two seem to be relying on each other for mutual support.

These two seem to be relying on each other for mutual support.

One of my flower pots with some extra room is now more beautiful for winter thanks to these beautiful lettuce.

One of my flower pots with some extra room is now more beautiful for winter thanks to these lettuce.

Here is a tally of my mini orchard to date:

  • Red Baron Peach-the matriarch of the backyard having been planted about 6 years ago
  • Minnie Royal Cherry
  • Royal Lee Cherry-these two require each other for pollination
  • Snow Queen White Nectarine
  • Gold Kist Apricot
  • Burgundy Plum
  • Thompson Red Flame Grape
  • Eva’s Pride Peach

This coming spring is one of my most anticipated yet because I think that maybe, just maybe some of my two year old trees (Eva’s Pride Peach, Thompson Red Flame Grape, Burgundy Plum, Snow Queen White Nectarine) will fruit for the first time.  And that would be the most bountiful with fruit my backyard will have ever been.

PS: My sweet Silkies started laying again after a two month hiatus about a week ago on my birthday.  Thankful!

Snappy Spring

When Spring comes, she doesn’t mess around!

The Red Baron Peach already has little peaches!

The Red Baron Peach already has little peaches!

The Gold Kist Apricot seems to be happy, with cute, heart-shaped leaves filling in.

The Gold Kist Apricot seems to be happy, with cute, heart-shaped leaves filling in.

Apricot close-up.

Apricot close-up.

Even the red Thompson seedless grape is leafing out.  I seriously had my doubts whether it was even still alive up until a few weeks ago.  "Patience, my dear," whispers the garden.

Even the red Thompson seedless grape is leafing out. I seriously had my doubts whether it was even still alive up until a few weeks ago. “Patience, my dear,” whispers the garden.

Loose leaf lettuce seedlings in a pot.  The mice and snails haven't seen them (yet!).

Loose leaf lettuce seedlings in a pot. The mice and snails haven’t seen them (yet!).

I transplanted all of my Rattlesnake and Alabama #1 green bean seedlings yesterday.

I transplanted all of my Rattlesnake and Alabama #1 green bean seedlings yesterday.  I have 18 green bean plants in all.  I’m seeing green bean casseroles in my future.

The following is an interesting comparison:

About a month ago I bought a few nematode resistant tomato starts at my local big box store (these are harder to find at real nurseries.  Weird, I know).  I bought them at the same size and planted them out on the same day.  The first photo is Park’s Whopper and the second is Celebrity.

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Quite a bit different, right?  Park’s Whopper has BARELY grown, while Celebrity has taken off like a weed.  The overall health, color, size and vigor of Celebrity surpasses Park’s Whopper by a long shot.  The difference?  Celebrity is in a grow pot.

Now, I know all the nay sayers will think, “The ground soil is not as good as the potting soil in the grow pot.”  And while that may be true, my ground soil is nothing to scoff at.  I have amended it for over 2 years with homemade and store-bought composts.  I believe that it is the grow pot’s excellent drainage, extra-heated soil from the black fabric, and air-pruned roots that make the difference…all things that ground soils could never truly duplicate.  The proof is in the pudding!

Grapes of Wrath Update

Sometime in January of this year I purchased two itty bitty bare root grape vines (one Thompson green seedless and one Thompson red flame seedless).  One went in the ground surrounded by my state-of-the-art vineyard-style support system.  The other went into a pot.  Little did I know, but this turned out to be a science experiment of sorts.  The one in the ground with slightly less sunlight and poorer, clay soil barely grew, complete with tiny leaves.  The one in the pot planted in loose organic potting soil grew like a weed and is now 6′ tall, with gorgeous leaves the size of my hand.  Gradually I had to accept that I had a decision to make.

Leave the vigorous vine in the pot and allow it to eventually weaken due to limited root space or chance it and transplant it to the so-so location that the other has floundered in.  A neighbor gardener and I discussed it one morning and a honey-do weekend project was hatched unbeknownst to my husband (what’s new).  Honey-do list priority 1: Transplant.  One of the beauties of the garden is the opportunity to make mistakes.  Many plants will rebound and I’ve read that grape vines are hardy transplanters.  It’s okay not to be perfect.  Your garden does not judge, but tries it’s best to continue thriving.

In the ground she went.  I know, I know, some pruning is in my future.  The leaves have curled a bit and the top of the main shoot has curved downward, but it is to be expected.

My hope is that the health and vigor of the vine will battle the sub-par soil and emerge victorious.  I’ve read that grape vines are actually planted in nutrient-poor soil on purpose, particularly wine grapes.  This forces more moderate crops with superior flavor.  However even with poor soil there must always remain one soil truth: drainage.  It is here where I am lacking somewhat, so I added some sand with the existing soil and crossed my fingers.

A few of the girls gave their stamp of approval.

You will notice a lower shoot growing out to the left.  The reason that I left this is in case something horrific happens to the first.  I like plan B’s.  By the way, doesn’t it look gorgeous in the sunlight?  If you’d like to see how I constructed the vineyard-style support system (I mean my Dad), check out the original post here.

And if you’re wondering about the fate of the little, meek grape vine that was taken out of the ground…..it got potted up in the same pot and spot that the other did so well in.  If I’m lucky, I’ll be in a similar predicament come next spring with where to plant it. 🙂

Virtual Garden Tour


A Cherokee Purple Heirloom Tomato that is really taking off. Growing tomatoes from seed this year has been so rewarding and definitely worth it.

Sequoia strawberry is also stretching it's legs. That little white berry is my first ever home-grown strawberry!

Many heirloom tomato seedlings having graduated up to the next level and are now continuing their growth in larger recycled pots that I saved from some nursery purchases. These are destined to be Mother's Day gifts! They really start maturing just at the right time. 🙂

A rainbow cherry tomato. Remember that cherry tomato seed packet that I found with 5 different colored tomatoes all in one packet? Well this is one of those. It'll be exciting to see what color this one will be! White, red, orange, yellow or green. Cool!

Last year I tried seed saving for the first time and I guess I did something right because this seedling is from a seed I saved from my pole green beans! The longer you collect seed from any given plant season after season, the more acclimated the seeds/plants become to your particular conditions and the better it does.

There were about 6 shoots coming from this green seedless Thompson grapevine. I read that you should chose the two thickest, healthiest shoots and cut off the rest. The idea is that you train up one main shoot the first year grown from bare-root and the second is a backup just in case something happens to the first. Ever since I cut off the other shoots, the growth has greatly increased. The main shoot will then create it’s own shoots next year and those will be trained horizontally. By that time this baby will be out of it’s huge pot and in the ground.  I found a few helpful videos on youtube.

A future peach. I’ve seen a significant lack of bees this year and I wondered how many of the flowers would get pollinated to go on to form a peach.  A veggie garden blog that I follow (and would highly recommend) called My Tiny Plot in Bath, England recently made this post about how she hand pollinated her peach. It seems that somehow there are plenty of peaches for harvest this summer on my tree, perhaps around 50 for this one 5 year old tree.

The Diana fig seems happy. Just wish it would grow more! It's 3 years.

Can't wait! Figs are a unique favorite of mine and can be made into some elegant dishes.

A few of the Silkies poking around the new bed. The grass was dewy that morning, which slicks back the feathers around their faces and actually allows me to see their eyes! A rare treat!

A volunteer nasturtium cascading down the blueberry pot.

Here's what the Double Delight nectarine has been up to.

.....And the Burgundy plum.

Over the winter I took out some sad shrubs from this planter leading to my doorway and created a grouping of three brick colored pots which also match the front door. There’s a palm also in this planted and it’s roots have made planting almost anything in the ground here impossible.  I’ve planted some succulents around the pots, so hopefully they will manage.  In the  2 larger pots are tomatoes and the smallest some All Season Butterhead lettuce.

How could I overlook this beauty on my photo extravaganza?

California poppy I seeded last year.

I hope you all have enjoyed the tour.  I’ll be here all week.  Feel free to tip your waitress.

I Am Officially In Love

In the spring garden I find myself appreciating life’s sweet simplicities.  I am out in the garden so much now, that I’ve contemplated pitching a tent, which would also help me get the snails and slugs in the middle of the night.  No, not really!  (Well it may have crossed my mind.)  Watching my vegetables and fruit grow day by day is a true simple pleasure.

As spring gets into full swing, I can’t help asking myself if I’m growing everything my little heart desires.  With the new bed, I can really sink my teeth into this whole veggie gardening thing this year.  Here’s a list of the fruits and vegetables that are currently growing in my garden:

  1. Broccoli
  2. Potatoes ( Yukon and Blue)
  3. Sugar snap peas
  4. All Season Butterhead Lettuce
  5. Cosmic Purple carrots
  6. Cucumbers (Lemon and Persian Baby Green Fingers)
  7. Golden Beets
  8. Green beans (Rattlesnake, Purple and Blue Lake pole)
  9. Edamame
  10. Heirloom Tomatoes (Rainbow Cherry, Black Krim, Persimmon, Old German, Pineapple, Purple Cherokee and Brandywine)
  11. Grapes (Green Thompson Seedless and Purple Thompson Seedless – both of which won’t fruit this year!  Bummer.)
  12. Burgundy Plum (will not fruit this year)
  13. Double Delight Nectarine (will not fruit this year)
  14. No Name Peach
  15. Diana Fig
  16. Various herbs

Oh! And don’t forget sunflowers (Teddy Bear and Giant Mammoth)!  I am definitely planning on collecting and roasting those sunflower seeds…and maybe leaving a few for the birds.

One of the many Mammoth Sunflowers seedlings that I planted along the back perimeter of the south-facing bed.

Hmmmmmm.  After seeing that list, I’d say my heart has nothing left to desire!  Being the practical gal that I am, I strive to grow things that my family eats on a regular basis.  There are so many unique veggies out there, but with my limited space, do I really want to use up room on Bok Choy that I’ll have no idea how to cook?  (Please don’t get me wrong, Bok Choy lovers).  I’m sure down the road my wandering eye will motivate me to try new things, but for now we’ll stick with the basics.

In about May my pumpkin seeds will go in the ground.  I am in love with growing pumpkins!  I’ve got all new kinds this year that I’ve never tried before.  Red Warty Thing, Big Mac, Fairytale and the mystical blue Jarrahdale.  It’s difficult to save the space for them as I’ve been planting so much lately, but the garden is teaching me about succumbing to the present and trusting in tomorrow.  It’s crazy how philosophical I am these days.

My recent seed purchase. They are both stringless with great eating and baking quality!

Growth

When the beginning of fall comes, I’m already thinking of spring.  By far, spring is my favorite time of year.  My heart feels lighter, hopeful and renewed.  This year, spring holds an ever more significant meaning.  It’s the start of a new summer vegetable garden.  My garden grows and I grow with it.

A Cherokee Purple tomato seedling getting it's first true leaves. I planted these about 4 weeks ago in my exciting new idea for seed starting pots - toilet paper rolls. It is still too cold here at night for these guys to be outside, so they sleep in my garage.

A partial photo of my seedlings. I've got about 85 seedlings in the works. I'm planting more heirloom tomatoes than I'm going to need, so I've already decided that the extras will make wonderful gifts.

I couldn't be more thrilled over my green Thompson seedless grape. It has leafed out much faster than it's red Thompson seedless pal in the ground. This one does have more sunlight and better soil, since it's in a pot for now.

I will have to brush up on how to prune first year grapes, ASAP!

Here are the new buds on the red seedless grape. As you can see, it is behind the green grape. As the sun gets higher in the sky, it will receive more sunlight and should catch up (fingers crossed).

I'm in love with my peach in spring. It isn't quite at it's flower peak and yet I still stare at it from my kitchen window.