Monday, November 26, 2012

Asian Persimmon - Ichi Ki Kei Jiro

I planted this Asian Persimmon tree four years ago. It set a few fruits last year, but they didn't stay on the tree long enough to ripen. This is the first year for us to harvest any of these.

Ichi Ki Kei Jiro is one of the persimmons that is supposed to be completely devoid of that usual persimmon-astringency. That has turned out to be absolutely true for the fruits on this little tree.

After years of eating native persimmons, it's a little strange to bite into a hard persimmon without its biting back, but these fruits can be eaten when they are hard like apples. They are an odd color for "apples," but when they turn orange, even if they are still quite firm, they are sweet and non-astringent.

However,  just because they CAN be eaten when hard, that doesn't mean it's the best plan.
We tried a couple of these when they were still as firm as apples, and they were fine, but then we waited for one to soften some, to see what that would be like, and the wait was totally worthwhile.

The mushy-soft persimmon had a lot more flavor than just sugary sweetness. We sliced it in half and ate the soft pulpy innards out with a spoon, and the flavor approached the "food of the gods" aspect of native persimmons that their Latin name implies.

The rest of these bright orange fruits aren't coming into the kitchen until they start turning brown and mushy and looking like they might be "going bad," because that is when they will just be getting good.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

First Frost in Our Yard!

We heard that there was a frost coming, but very few of the plants currently out there needed protection. However, I was hoping to be able to help the potatoes through the night; they are very tender.

I piled leaves around the stems and draped a flannel sheet over the patch, but the freeze was deeper than just a little dip down to 32 degrees.

In the end, the measures I took weren't enough. The stems of the potato plants (and the nasturtiums) turned to mush.

The good news is that, even though most of the spuds had only pushed plants up out of the ground a month or so ago, a couple had come up earlier, and there was a little harvest to dig up today.

When I had dug up last spring's potatoes, I had saved some of the little ones in the fridge to replant in August. I was hoping to trick the little spuds into thinking that their dormancy period was over, but the trick only worked on a couple of them. I'll have to rethink the plan next summer to figure out a way to get a more abundant autumn harvest. I'm pleased enough that the couple of early-birds produced a few spuds for us, and we are looking forward to eating them.

Along with the spuds, I brought in some broccoli to serve with tonight's supper and a winter radish to have sliced thin and salted with our pre-dinner snacks. The potatoes will be for another day.
The freeze wasn't hard enough to harm the cauliflower, which is good, because they are the most tender of the brassicas out in the yard. Broccoli and cabbages can take much lower temperatures without harm.

We had one of the cabbages - the first of the season! - with our Thanksgiving Day meal. There are more that are getting close to harvest-size.
Elsewhere in the garden, the garlic are still all below ground, but the shallots are coming up.
The lettuces are still perking away - but we've had a lot less of these than my bunnies have. Moonpie and her babies are pretty big lettuce-eaters.
Overall, I'd have to say that the yard made it through this first very late frost in good shape. The weird part is that it Really Was the First Frost! I think that the official UGA weather station in Dallas, GA, recorded a frost about a week ago, but it was on a night for which the temperatures were patchy - my yard made it through that earlier "frost" without any frost at all. Last night - the night of Nov. 24 - was the first for my yard.

I'm not going to complain (I usually expect a first frost around the end of October), but I will say that it's weird.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Transplant without Trauma

My friend pictured below, Mr. Collins, knows I'm nuts about gardening, and he brought another of his really great ideas into the office to show me what he'd worked out.  He grows plants from seeds to transplant into his garden, but he had been having trouble with the loose potting mix he was using.

When he moved the plants from the pots to the garden, the loose mix would fall away from the rootball, resulting in some damage to the root system. This happened often enough that he spent some time thinking about ways to get around that problem. He wanted to "Transplant without Trauma."
He actually was working with more than one idea. The one that seemed most successful was lining the pot with an old mesh produce bag. After fitting the bag into place, he adds the potting mix and baby plant. When it's time to move the plant into the garden, he just lifts the whole shebang out of the pot by the edge of the mesh that is sticking out of the pot and plants it, mesh bag and all. The roots grow through the mesh with no trouble. The planting mix doesn't shift, and the roots remain undisturbed.
Another idea had been to put an old jar lid - that has a big spikey nail sticking up higher than the sides of the pot - into the bottom of the pot before adding the potting medium and baby plant. The theory had been that he would just have to pull the spikey nail up and the plant would come with it, but on its own this wasn't enough to hold the soil together. However, combined with a mesh bag, it works as a 'helper" mechanism.
Another very simple tool that he brought was the blue lid in the photo above. He made the cut-away portion large enough to fit easily around the stem of the plant he needed to remove from its pot - the slit in the rim is designed to open up the space to wrap this around the stem. When the blue lid is in place, right against the soil, the pot is turned upside down to pop the plant out. The blue lid holds the soil and plant together better than when he does this the usual way - with just his hand across the top of the pot. The lid stops the jolting fall of the soil/root mass into his hand.

It was really great of Mr. Collins to stop by with his ideas. I am sure I am not the only person who has a stash of those mesh bags waiting to be re-purposed. Usually, I scrunch/knot them up to use as scrubbies in the kitchen, but they are very long lasting, and I have a pile of spares.

Out in my garden now, I have some broccoli that experienced the traumatic version of transplanting, because I bought the plant babies in a nine-pack from a garden-supply store. The good news is that it all seems to have recovered well enough.

Ditto for the cabbages and the cauliflower. I think, though, that if I had been growing my own from seed, and if I were starting them a little late (not an unusual occurance), that I would want to find a way to reduce trauma to the plants so they would be more likely to experience less of a slow-down in their growth. I think I will be looking around for some more mesh bags to keep on hand, just in case.

In places other than my yard, pecans have been dropping to the ground. I hope I'm not the only person who finds herself at the end of the day with a pocketfull of pecans that have been picked up on, say, a noon walk.

I've been picking up a half-dozen or so most days, and even though there are barely enough for a pie at this point, I am looking forward to a peaceful few evenings of cracking pecans by the fireplace later in the winter.

There's not much to complain about  these days - I have family, friends, pets, an un-smashed house, an interesting job, pecans making lumps in my pocket, good food growing out in the yard, and more. I plan to spend the next several days being extra-thankful.

I hope that you all have a great Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Raspberries in the South

I grow two kinds of raspberries in my yard, and in both cases I am flirting with the edge of their hardiness zones. Mostly, it gets way too hot and humid here for raspberries, and diseases (that should have killed them off) abound. It’s probably a minor miracle that I have enjoyed as much fruit from these plants as I have so far.

The Heritage red raspberries have been in the same bed in the backyard for about 20 years. They were among the first perennial food-crops we planted when we moved here 22 years ago. The Jewel black raspberries have been in the front yard for only three (or maybe four) years.

Heritage is an erect, primocane type, which means that the moderately prickly canes typically grow to only about four feet high and stay (mostly) upright, and that they produce fruit in late summer on canes that first appeared just that previous spring – on canes that are only several months old. You can plant Heritage in spring and expect fruit in the late summer of that very first year. Those same canes can also produce fruit in the following spring if they are left in place over the winter.

Jewel, a trailing, floricane type, has crazy long thorny canes that fall all over the place if left unchecked, and it produces fruit in spring on canes that first appeared the previous spring, a full year later. In other words, the first fruit on a new plant will be produced the second year that the plant is in the ground.

Neither of these varieties is recommended by UGA as being good-to-grow in most of Georgia. The UGA publication “Home Garden Raspberries and Blackberries” does mention that Heritage (plus Redwing, Carolina, Nantahala, and Latham) produces well in the mountain and upper Piedmont areas, but the publication focuses mostly on blackberries and the trailing red raspberry variety called Dormanred.

The hilariously unappealing information offered about Dormanred is this: “Fruit must be very ripe to be sweet; good producer statewide; better cooked than fresh…” The North Carolina State University publication “Raspberries in the Home Garden” echoes the faint praise by saying that Dormanred fruits are “glossy red, fair quality.” In other words, if we want to eat good, fresh raspberries, most Southerners will need to hop in the car and drive north - or way uphill - to find them.

In cooler regions, raspberries are grown in full sun to get the best production from the plants. Here in my yard, the raspberries are in partial shade. The Heritage bed in the backyard gets full sun for only about 5 or 6 hours, and those are not late-afternoon hours. I think this has helped the plants’ longevity, even though it means that the productivity isn’t very high.

When I was thinking about where to plant the black raspberries, I remembered that – when we used to live on the Eastern Shore of Virginia – I had seen wild black raspberries on woodland edges where they got morning rather than afternoon sun. I didn’t have a spot exactly like that, but I do have a spot that's on the north edge of a tree/shrub area that also has a very small tree blocking part of the late-afternoon sun, and Jewel seems to be doing well enough in that place.

We also are growing the invasive Wineberry, because it, like the other two, produces delicious berries.

I'm thinking about raspberries now because some of the Jewel canes have tip-rooted, and the babies, which are in very inconvenient places, need to be moved. I've already moved a couple of the babies into pots, and the rest will be dug up soon. There's also some pruning to do - removing the older, second-year canes before insects and diseases find them and move in.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Tracking the Harvest: Sept. and Oct.

(7 Nov. question: When I look at this post in "edit" mode, I see the Sept. and Oct. harvest totals, but when I look at the post just in viewing mode, I see the August data. What are other people seeing?)

No, the baby cauliflower isn't part of the Sept. and Oct. harvest tally - it's for this month or the next, but I am soooo happy to see it!

The fall veggies are trickling into the kitchen - it's a slow but steady pace. We are having some of our broccoli with tonight's supper, but we're having some of the last of the pepper harvest, too.

The harvest-tally confirms that October is our big transition month, when the garden slows its production of the warm-weather veggies, and the cool weather veggies begin to appear on our plates. It always seems like such a slow change, but once autumn truly arrives, it's a wonderful thing!

Tucked away for the winter, we have plenty of dried cowpeas, dehydrated peppers, tomatoes, and blueberries, and smaller amounts of dehydrated squash and okra; there's a basket of sweet potatoes on the floor in the kitchen; we have some canned green beans (put up before the house was smashed by the tree); a batch of blackberry jam; and a big basket of home-canned goodies given to us by a very good friend as a house-warming gift when we were able to move back in. The near-future of our meals is looking very local!

Our last couple of months of meals have had a significant, from-our-yard element, too. Here is what we brought in from the yard in the last two months. As usual, the weights are recorded in kilograms:
Tomatoes, ripe
Southern peas
Bush beans, green
Tomatoes, ripe
Bush beans, green
Southern peas
Potatoes, sweet
Bok Choy

Sept. total 15.7 kg = 39 pounds and 9.8 oz
Oct. total 18.35 kg = 40 pounds and 7.2 oz
Running total: Jan. through Oct. = 393 pounds, 2 ounces 

We are closing in on 400 pounds of food, which is pretty good for a yard that doesn't get full sun and considering the complications this summer brought to the life of the main gardener.
Hope everyone else's gardens are doing well!
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