Refreshing the Splash Zaiger Pluot Guild

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Guild CloserMany of the fruit tree guilds started this spring are doing very well right now. The grouping around the ‘Eva’s Pride’ peach still has summer leeks, carrots, basil, a ‘Rugosa’ squash, lettuce, and the last remains of the chamomile all growing nicely. The squash is not as vigorous as the one planted nearby that doesn’t share space with other plants that close, but it’s producing squash.

The guild toward the very front corner of the garden where it is hotter and drier because of the nearness of the sidewalk on two sides has not done as well. Unless you are very fond of Morning Glory which seems not to need water or attention in this climate. There was one ollas set in the ground near the ‘Splash Zaiger’ pluot, which turns out to be less than half of what a bed that size requires with no rain.

Permie Plan 2014Today I pulled all the Morning Glory I could get my hands on, the spent onions and other small plants lost to the drought and refreshed the bed with compost and some Eden Valley Blend Organic Garden Soil, which I’ve never tried before. It’s nice to work with and doesn’t smell up the car too badly. Normally I would have used FoxFarm Ocean Forest soil but the nursery was out. I added a second good-sized ollas to the opposite corner of the bed and seeded in some new guild members. This time I chose cumin, beets, ‘He Shi Ko’ bunching onions, ‘Glorious Gleam’ nasturtium, ‘Dolico’ bush cow peas, and “Petis Pois’ bush peas. (Surely one of the legumes will be happy with the weather if the other is not.)

Fruit Tree Guild in Summer

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Fruit Tree Guild with OllasThis is the first year I have tried to create guilds of plants in the garden. I added a dozen young fruit trees to the front this year, and I started each of them off with growing companions suggested by folks who know a whole lot more about permaculture than I do. Each bare-root tree was planted with something that would help fix nitrogen, like the peas pictured here, something deep rooted that would help accumulate minerals, a root crop to help break up the clay soil, use the space well and provide leaves for eating, shade, and mulch, and something from the Allium family.

Each guild also has it’s own ollas for irrigation since we’re in an arid climate in yet another drought year and evaporation is not our friend. You can see the top of the terra cotta ollas sticking up. The white stopper on top helps stop evaporation and keeps lizards and slugs out of the water. Lots of compost and mulch was added around the growing area, but not up against the trunk of the young tree. They apparently need some breathing room where the trunk meets the soil.

Guild in SummerNow that it’s July, the guilds have shifted from peas to beans for nitrogen, and from compost to a green mulch of leaves from squash, cucumbers, melons or sweet potatoes. I have also added an “aromatic pest confuser” to each guild. This is usually an herb that has a strong scent, something I like in the garden anyway, and which can be used to essentially hide the plants damaging insects may be looking for. Each of my young squash plants is mulched twice in the spring with rosemary cuttings for this same reason. It may seem a little weird, but no squash borers have turned up to call me on it. ;-)

This young peach tree has basil, carrots, leeks, chamomile, squash, and a lettuce plant in it’s guild. I am going to add perennial runner beans to fix nitrogen. Behind the tree, you can see the long, flat leaves of the horseradish patch. I may see if I can encourage the horseradish to expand away from the tree roots, but for now, they all appear very happy together. This tiny tree even produced three gorgeous fruit this spring. I expected it to take several years before I got to taste these peaches, so that was a very welcome surprise and I’m taking it as a good sign.

If you want to start a guild of plants around any of your trees to create a supportive growing neighborhood, it’s very easy to get started:

1. Choose a perennial nitrogen fixer, like a runner bean, or add annual nitrogen fixers such as peas in spring, beans in summer, peas again in fall.

2. Choose root crops or deep-rooted herbs that will reach down into the subsoil and help bring nutrients up to where the other plants in the guild can share them. Comfrey is a perennial favorite of permaculture fans. Borage is another one that requires no work at all to grow.

3. Choose aromatic pest confusers, herbs that you will want to smell and maybe eat yourself that help keep pests away from your guild. I like Lemon Balm, oregano, basil, and thyme.

4. Grow a living mulch that will contribute food for you as well as shade and leaves to mulch in place to keep the soil moisture consistent for the guild.

5. Enjoy!

What are your favorite plants to use in guilds or as companions for other crops in your garden? I would love to hear about them in the comments.

Squirrels Love Nectarines

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photo (36)I watched from the stairwell window as a black squirrel pulled a nectarine free from the tree with its teeth, leaped down onto the fence, and sat on the fence post flicking his tail and enjoying his treat. That’s how I knew it was time to bring in this year’s nectarine crop. Two weeks ago I had picked some of the larger fruit on the sunny side of the tree and bagged them with a large apple to encourage ripening. They don’t taste quite as good as the few fruit from the tiny ‘Double Delight’ tree in the front garden, but whatever these yellow nectarines are, they are still pretty tasty with excellent texture. I also love the “free stone” quality they have, coming cleanly away from the pit while you are eaten or preparing them.

When I took this picture, I had already pulled out the best and largest fruit for fresh eating. These two baskets are for nectarine jam, pies, nectar, or cobblers. Got a favorite nectarine recipe I should try? Leave it for me in the comments!

I don’t know the variety of this tree. It’s almost ten years old now and it hadn’t been pruned well until two years ago when a large branch broke from the weight of fruit. Now it gets groomed carefully every winter with the other trees around the garden. This winter it was “cut back hard” for the second year in a row and it’s fruiting well now and looking in much better shape. The ‘Double Delight’ set it’s fruit earlier than this one, which I hope will extend nectarine season for us next year and beyond. Even if this tree didn’t make delicious fruit, it would still make a great ornamental. This is what it looks like in the spring:

NectarineBlooms

 

Starting the Drying Tomatoes

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Starting the Drying Tomatoes

On Christmas Day, as per family tradition, I started a few seeds of the drying tomatoes I like to grow early in the year, along with two indeterminate varieties that I wanted to get give a head start. I planted six seeds of each variety and kept them well moistened and on a heat mat under lights. Ten days in, here are the germination results:

‘Principe Borghese’ from Victory Seed Company, packed for 2009 = 100% germination
‘Principe Borghese’ from Pinetree Garden Seeds, packed for 2011 = 4 of 6
‘Principe Borghese’ from Franchi Sementi, packed for 2012/2013 = 3 of 6
‘Principe Borghese’ seed I saved in 2012 = 4 of 6
‘Oregon Spring’ from Territorial Seed Company, packed for 2009 = 4 of 6
‘Pruden’s Purple’ from Sustainable Seed Co., packed for 2011 = 5 of 6

Not the world’s strongest scientific evidence, but one thing I can tell you is those P. Borghese seeds from Victory Seed Company still rock!

Hot Pepper Have-to-Haves

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The first of this year’s pepper seedlings has sprouted! It’s a Pizza pepper from several year-old Territorial Seeds meant for planting in 2009. After my recent trials with onions seeds, I was glad to see that these held their viability.

On February 15th, I planted six seeds each of  Pizza, Fish, Joe’s Long, Matchbox, and Chervena Chujski peppers. In a few weeks I’ll compare the germination rates and seedlings of the varieties.

Pizza peppers from this same pack of seeds did well for us in 2010, growing late into the fall and producing lots of thick-walled peppers with a little zip to them, but none of the sting some of our hotter peppers bring. I love these for fresh eating in dips, in salsa and in summer pasta dishes.

The Fish peppers grow on beautiful multi-colored plants and carry an irresistible  bit of heirloom history. William Woys Weaver, author of Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, says, “the Fish Pepper…was an African-American heirloom that began as a sport or mutation of a common serrano pepper sometime during the 1870’s…raised almost exclusively in the black community for use in oyster and crab houses…It was one of those “secret” ingredients favored by cooks and caterers to spike a recipe with invisible heat, for the Fish Pepper was used primarily when it was white, and it could be dried to retain that color. This feature was a culinary plus in the days when cream sauces reigned supreme.”

Fish peppers were prolific on very small plants through our unusually cool summer last year. The six seeds I have started came from Mike the Gardener, and I also plan to start a few more plants from saved seed to compare the fruits at harvest. I like these dried and ground into pepper flakes or powder and added to stews, chili, or barbecue sauces. I may even sneak one or two into the homemade ketchup recipe this year.

Another heirloom, Joe’s Long peppers, are listed as having came over from Italy with the Sestito family. My husband’s family is Italian and that gives me an excuse for lots of wonderful varieties I grow, including this one. Plus they look so darn cool. Check them out on the Bountiful Gardens website where I ordered my seeds. I’m looking forward to trying these fresh and also experimenting with them dried.

I’m planning to grow peppers in containers on the patio this year, a warm and protected spot they should like, and the Matchbox peppers are often recommended as a container variety. I received seeds from the Hudson Valley Seed Library in an Edible Garden gift basket during the holidays. I’m looking forward to the “sugary-hot” spiciness of these guys. I enjoy adding hints of sweetness to stir-fries, braises and sauces and plan to try these in chili as well. And I hope the plants will complement the colors of the Fish peppers I plan to have growing nearby.

The last pepper in this early batch is a sweet pepper, the Chervena Chujski from Landreth. I was tempted by this variety because it is supposed to be good for both fresh eating and roasting, which we love. Last year I could have used a whole lot more peppers that were good for roasting. I plan to try the Chervena Chujski grilled, hand-roasted over a gas burner, and smoked. If they are productive, I will also pickle some of them.

Which peppers will get space in your garden this year? I’d love to hear what you are growing and what you turn them into once they get to the kitchen!

Beaning In the New Year

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Home grown dried beansIt’s done! In honor of the New Year I have finally shelled, frozen, sorted and stored all the beans from the 2011 growing season. Well, all the ones we didn’t eat, that is. We’ve already made chili with 2 cups of the ‘Scarlet Emperor’ beans and had baked beans out of another cup of the ‘Jacob’s Cattle’ beans.

We grew a mix of pole and bush drying beans, runner beans and garbanzo beans. What you see here is ‘White Emergo’ at twelve o’clock, with cut-short greasy beans to their right. The top right corner are ‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’ pole black beans and below them are the ‘Scarlet Emperor’ runner beans we like so much. The big pile in the center is ‘Yellow Indian Woman’ bush beans. I want to try them in this soup recipe. The black beans on the left are ‘Black Coco’ bush beans from Bountiful Gardens. I wanted to try them because Carol Deppe talks about them in the Resilient Gardener. I’m planning to eat half of them and save the other half for seed, unless we don’t like them that is.

I also managed to save a few of lots of other kinds of beans, though it took me a while to sort them all. I’ve been trying to see which types would do best in our climate–whatever that is these days! The ‘Cannelini’ did well, though I’ll have to plant a lot more of them to have enough for dinner. This year I didn’t have much luck with ‘California’ black-eyed peas, ‘Hutterite’ soup beans, or the ‘Borlotti’ beans I wanted for a family recipe.

Here they are matched up with the rest of the harvest. Let me know if you have a favorite drying beans that grows well for you.

Dried Bean Varieties