Fruiting factors


The biggest, most perfect apple on this tree left with a deer this morning. I figured if they’re ripe enough for the deer, they must be ripe enough for me. I estimate that one apple would have pushed the total weight well over 5lbs though.IMG_5773

Being a gift, I don’t know the exact age of this ‘Red Delicious’ tree. It would seem to be on dwarf rootstock though.

The guild entails three comfrey,  some musk strawberries, chicories, parsnips, a blueberry (which gave about two handfuls of fruit earlier this year), japanese wineberry. I planted a peashrub     (Caragana arborescens), and a false indigo   (Amorpha fruticosa) in there earlier this year, and seeded vetch, borage, and field peas, pulling them up at flowering to feed the tree. The guild has never been dug but for transplants, never been fertilized but by plants growing in it. Only thick grass mulch established it.


Interestingly, the other apples, despite blooming just as much, gave little or no fruit, in direct relation to how developed the guilds are around them. This one is the most developed.

Hardy Ginger

I might try some of these gingers in my greenhouse.  Anyone else had experience growing them outside?

Thanks to Eric Toensmeier for all the top notch articles he writes.

Snub Daubenton’s

It is with great embarassment that I report my own precious Daubenton’s kale in the US is dead.

It didn’t live a whole three days. Day two of life in the greenhouse, in a comfy new pot, proved to be too stressful apparently, as its tiny leaves, accept for the tender growing tip, shriveled up to a crisp. Even that died quickly after I brought it into part shade.

Obviously, I was at fault to have taken a new plant, fresh from shipping, and stick it in to a greenhouse in full sun. That is a fact. But at the same time any other plant should have been able to revive once in a less stressful environment, as the new leaves just emerging were not harmed. Obviously the plant is not very hardy.

I wonder how it would have faired through cold with resilience like that. I had already planned to keep it in the greenhouse because my area is too cold to keep it outside. But I question now if it could stand winter in even an unheated greenhouse in my area. (Update: Tried to take one through the winter in an unheated greenhouse. It died)

The pampered thing.

My Mother, hearing how popular the plant is, searched for it herself and landed one from a friend, who had gotten it from a friend. This one is even grafted. Hers she has just kept transplanting into bigger and bigger pots, kept it in a very gentle morning light. But if she has something I don’t, it’s enough for her.

[Note: It died. It froze actually. Even protected zone 5 temps aren’t enough to keep it happy. My neighbor, who has a very protected yard, that is easily a zone higher than us (although in mild winters she has succesfully overwintered plants hardy to zone 8) also lost a Kosmic kale. If you get it, don’t expect anything rugged.]

Snub it and move on to more promising genetics. Why shouldn’t I when I’ve discovered I have, after a particularly cold winter, resprouting luxuriously in the same greenhouse the Kosmic kale died in, a perennial kale?

Sutherland, a variety of kale grown from seed, often can regrow perennial if you hit on the right genetics. After growing through a very harsh winter (in an unheated greenhouse, so there was wind protection, but little protection from ambient temperature, which went well into the -20 degrees farenheit) then leafing out luxuriously all through the spring and summer with 100 + temps any day the sun was out, the smallest flowering that produced no seeds, I have no doubt it is indeed perennial.


So my road to the Holy grail so far has been bumpy, but I’m not out of the game yet.

N fix 1: Maakia amurensis

The rare, unusual, and elusive are famous for offering extreme qualities in one area or another, but usually come with a catch, some pathetic weakness or obnoxious strength that makes you think twice before heading out on the search to get them.

Maackia_amurensis wiki
Photo credit: Wikepedia

Maakia amurensis, despite its rarity, extreme qualities of weather tolerance, excellent ability to fix nitrogen, seems to show no drawbacks.

Maakia is the namesake of the Russian naturalist explorer Karlovich Maack, who discovered the plant near the amur river near the border of Siberia and China in the 19th century.

The leaves of maakia in spring are very pretty. Click for photo source.

As you might guess, growing on the border of Siberia, Maakia is hardy to usda zone 3 –plenty hardy for most areas of the world. It also tolerates heat, and flooding, to the point that many laud it for lining blacktop city streets like locust trees.

It’s attractive too. The leaves first unfurling in spring glisten a beautiful silver like frosted white flowers, its true, white, pea shaped flowers coming out to play much later in July. Yet another point for Maackia because very few trees bloom then.

Perhaps it’s only drawback, Maakia can, in good situations, grow as tall as 49 feet. In average conditions, and harsh conditions, maakia only grows to 20, perhaps 30 feet. Being a nitrogen fixer, it ought to be cut back periodically to mulch its system anyway.

For this reason I wouldn’t consider the characteristic an eminent drawback so much as a possible bonus. Certainly such a tall tree would be useful among the closed canopy of a nut grove, filling a niche that few others can.  On my sun beaten hill though, I assume it will only reach 20 feet –if I even let it get that tall.

Photo from

Blue abounds

Among gardeners of texture and color, true, vibrant blue is often considered elusive, highly desirable, and never to be passed up if the chance comes to add a new blue to the collection.

Considering the common range of species, it comes as no surprise. Tulips, peonies, roses –the basic groups- to the chagrin of breeders, just won’t crack their colors enough to let a real blue slip through.

To my surprise, in growing edible species, and planting for function rather than color, I find myself surrounded lately with flora of that rarest color in the plant kingdom.

Anchusa azurea tops the list with towering, rough spine covered spires of deepest blue IMG_5448flowers shot with violet purple veins. Please don’t take offense at the idea, IMG_5452but the flowers are edible, being very closely related to the common Borago officionalis. At four feet tall, with flowers like these, it is by far the tall, dark and handsome member of the Boraginaceae family. It is also biennial, first blooming in its second year, but can perennialize, growing back and blooming for several years if it likes its site. We’ll see if it hangs around for me.

Its function in the garden is edible flowers, as I mentioned, but more importantly, mulch– after it has flowered and seeded.

At the back is C. cusikii, pale, and almost done flowering. At front is C. esculenta, dark blue, and just starting to flower.

Second comes camassia, which I’ve written about before, but for a quick review, it’s an edible bulb that takes a variety of climates in North America, including shade, sun, wet, dry; a very versatile plant.

C. esculenta

I’ve been impressed by the size and earliness of C. cusickii, both in bloom –starting more than a week earlier than C. esculenta, and its far  larger bulbs. Talking about flower color though, esculenta is a far deeper blue, which I prefer. Its diminutive size of six inches less than the cusikii at flowering is the one characteristic that evens things out.

Third is none other than the common weed, Glechoma hederacea, IMG_5460commonly known as creeping charlie. Of course I didn’t plant the stuff, but it is rather attractive with tiny blue flowers studding its green carpet.

For function, it is an edible medicinal; and that carpeting effect is useful where it keeps grass out from under taller plants.

A blue flower to come is the N fixer lupine. I have Lupinus perrenis, the blue kind of lupine, scattered about the food forest. Several are in their second year and could be flowering, but have chosen to wait until next year to bloom. Look for pictures next spring.

Nothing edible here, just N fixer and dynamic accumulator due to lupine’s tap rooting. I had to move a young lupine that had found its way smack in the middle a path, and I was very impressed with several large nodules jutting out on only a five inch taproot.

Ironically, all the species I’ve mentioned here are not hybrids, and hardly selected for any desirable traits. Nature has instilled such peaceful color by its own design, way ahead of the breeder’s game.

News of half success

I got an update from my friend as to how the work from An off site project is handling the spring weeds.

photo 1

Obviously some weeds popping up at some spots, but considering all the potential weeds under there not popping up, I’m quite impressed.

What’s more impressive is that even though weeds are getting through, for instance Thistles, there is so much mulch for them to grow through that a large part of their stem is soft, white, and easily pulled. See the weeds my friend pulled out by just reaching into the mulch.

photo 2

So the Thistles are under control. He mentioned they’re just the beginning though, and that the whole things is ready to burst. So we definitely still need to to execute part 2 of the plan when we rake up all the mulch and hack off the offenders.

With the insurrection finely minced and re-smothered under carbon rich leaves, we’ll plant some Comfrey for mulch, pile on grass clippings over this summer for more mulch, and I imagine few of those weeds will be back again.

So I plan anyway.

Notes on juglone

I am consulting for a rather large food forest (20 acres) and needed to check out juglone effects because they want to include Walnuts with Persimmons and Pecans. I hope to share more info about the project soon. Here are my notes I thought I’d share.

My Mom planted several Lilacs under this Black Walnut several years ago. Notice there are no Lilacs now.

Plants effect one another: by shade, by root competition, by mulching each other with leaves. These effects are basic and easily seen, but plants also effect each other in far more intrinsic ways, one of the most significant called allelopathy.

Allelopathy is the science of the effects plant chemicals have on each other; how one plant, if planted near another, will thrive or languish because of the chemicals its neighbor emits.

The methods of emissions can become quite advanced: from root exudates of nitrogen and the simple release of chemicals as a plant rots down over winter, to release of chemicals into the air, via the leaf stomata.

The chemicals are fairly specific: killing some plants but benefitting others, depending on species. In this way, allelopathy is more a situation of plants choosing the partners they want nearby than an all out homicide (herbicide?) of any plant nearby.

One of the most famous allelopaths is Juglone. It’s produced  by plants in the genus Juglans, which as you might huess gave the allelopath its name. Black walnut (Juglans nigra) produces the highest amounts of this allelopath in the genus Juglans.

Juglone works by slowing the metabolism of plants, turning their leaves yellow when taking serious effect. Despite the strength of juglone, it is not very soluble in water, and hence, doesn’t spread very far, even in porous, well drained soil. The effects are often weaker where the soil is better draining, strongest where the soil is hard and non-porous.

The potential dose of juglone is strongest under the tree’s drip line. Nevertheless, it is recommended that sensitive plants be kept at a distance of even sixty feet from the tree to ensure root exudates containing juglone aren’t a problem. Obviously this is only a worry with larger walnut trees, but because they grow over time, keep this in mind.

See this post and its pdf. for more info on juglone, and lists of plants likely suceptible to its effects.