Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Finding Space

I have recently run into a problem that had been perplexing me for the past month.  I have been running short on additional space for annual vegetables and fruits.  Because of the rotation I will not have as much room for tomatoes this year and I want to have more broccoli and cauliflower as well as trying some new varieties of watermelon and cantaloupe.

I have a plan.

I am going to build three new vegetable plots, create a few raised beds, build some planter boxes and perhaps rent space in a community garden. This sounds simple but the result of this plan is that I now have to rip out a few large sections of my yard.

I will be exchanging lawn for vegetables.

This is the entire point of edible landscaping and so the time and effort will be worth it.  I will expound on each of my little projects in detail on further blog posts.

In the mean time start looking in your yard for spaces that could be converted!!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Renovating brambles and berries.

If you did not renovate your strawberries and brambles during the fall there is still time to do so.  The process is simple and will help the fruit stay clean and keep canes and rhizomes healthy.  In this blog I will cover how to renovate both strawberry beds as well as raspberry and blackberry bramble patches.

The bulk of the work in the strawberry patch is in the cleaning up of detritus and last years leaves.  The bed should then be given a high phosphorus fertilizer with a 1-2 nitrogen to phosphorus ratio something like a 15-30-X fertilizer would be correct for this application.  the "X" is the potassium content and although potassium is essential for plant metabolic function this number is not as critical as the nitrogen or phosphorus. Don't worry about getting it on the green leaves that are still up from the last season because you are going to trim these off collect them and then mulch the bed with cedar or dry straw.  The new plants will push their way through the mulch and the application of fertilizer will help the plants set blossoms and fruit.  The reason for the mulch comes later in the season when you don't want your berries sitting on wet soil.

The raspberry and blackberry patches are a little more involved.  If you have not already done so you need to build a two wire trellis supported by stakes above the brambles.  The trellis should be about five feet high at the top and the middle wire at about three feet. When I first planted my beds I did not think that I needed to do this as my brambles were against a fence. I was wrong.  The process of tying the brambles up to strings fastened to the fence was a big pain in the neck and I quickly learned my lesson.  If you need a more attractive solution try using plastic coated wire and bamboo so that the trellis looks nice and the bamboo blends in with the mature canes.  The brambles are then fastened to the wires so that the trail along the wires horizontally.  The brambles that don't reach the wires or new shoots can be fastened to taller shoots at diagonals.  Then you will need to take pruning sheers and clean off all old leaves and stems from the previous year. Rake and clean the detritus from the bed and apply a general purpose fertilizer like 10-10-10.  Canes that break off during this process can be cut at an angle like you would cut a flower for a vase. Dip the cut end of the cane in rooting hormone and stick it into the ground and voila you have another plant.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Monoculture and the American Table

Monocultural farming techniques helped to create successful civilizations throughout history.  The beginnings of  single crop agriculture are associated with increased population and the ability to produce more food with fewer hours of labor allowing surplus for storage and to process large quantities of  baked goods, beer and wine.  However, monocultural farms do have serious disadvantages, and have many cautionary examples that show exactly how growing a single favored crop leaves a civilization vulnerable to compromised food supply.  Growing a singular genetic stock in a sight specific manner has lead to instances of crop loss due to blight, drought, flood, or infestation and our modern hubris derived from a much better scientific understanding of botany and genetics does not make us immune from the potential consequences of single crop agricultural practice.  I support science and do not have any health concerns over consuming genetically modified foods.  I do however have many concerns over patented genetic seed stock and the vulnerability of our food supply to the ever adapting food crop pests.  Evolution never sleeps.

My biggest concern is the limited dietary selection that will inevitably result from a focus on the shelf life, shippability, and consumer taste demands on the determination of which crops should be grown.  Although these considerations are all valid and important considerations to the agribusinessman there needs to be a way for the average person to grow and deliver varieties of produce the family table.  The most viable way to do this in my opinion is to adopt a philosophy of maximizing the productivity of ones own micro-agricultural spaces.

Biodiversify  your own space and protect yourself against the inevitable problems of large scale single crop farming.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Biodiversity and the Edible Landscape

Many home gardeners limit their crops to maybe a few tomato plants and perhaps some strawberries or a small herb garden.  Although this is a great start I would encourage these gardeners to look for more opportunities to replace purely decorative plants with varieties of plants that bring nutrition and sustenance and the benefits of reduced trips to the store to purchase produce.

A very good way to do this is to look at the landscape like a landscaper. Divide the yard into three stories.  The floor is the story of the landscape that includes ground covers, ferns, mosses and low growing plants.  The second story of the home landscape is the overgrowth which includes shrubs, large plants, vines and brambles. The canopy is the final story of the landscape.  This story is basically trees.

When a gardener walks out into their green spaces they should look for opportunities to include plants that fill all three of these levels in order to create a design that looks natural.  This type of planning is effective because it surrounds the observer in vegetation transporting them away from the hard urban forms that compose most of the scenery throughout their day. This aesthetic is also functional as it allows the gardener to create a microclimate with placement opportunities for greater varieties of plants.

This use of space will automatically increase your biodiversity because you are seeking out plants that produce nutrition and that fill a role within your design.  Tucking in an extra few strawberry plants between the rock retaining wall and the pathway below it or placing an espaliered apple tree against a garden shed are examples of such planning.


Be aware of shadows cast by trees. When planting your dwarf orchard be aware of the canopy and it's shade.  Get a twelve foot piece of PVC and hold it vertically where you plan on planting your tree.  Observe where the end of the shadow falls.  Repeat this process throughout a single day morning, noon and night.  Record your results and then do this day pattern over a four month summer period starting in April.  I know that this puts planting that orchard off for a year but careful observation and planting will allow you to take advantage of every square inch of your usable space.

Every safety railing or piece of wrought iron is a trellis.  View every piece of decorative iron and every safety railing as an opportunity to support a grape, kiwi, or pole bean.  Do not underestimate the value of these ready made supports in creating food opportunities.

Find edible flowers. Edible landscapes can include amazing flowers and spring displays.  Day-lilies, Jerusalem Artichoke, Cherry tree blossoms, Sunflowers, Cone Flower, Roses, Arugula, Lavender, Nasturtiums, Marigolds,  Crocus  for harvesting saffron, Clover, Bachelors Buttons, and the controversial dandelion are all edible and add color to the garden.

Consider insect diversity. Bees offer good pollination and honey. Lady bugs and Lady birds control harmful insects as do mantis, mud daubers, wasps, masons bees, lacewings, predatory mites, mealy bug destroyer, and beneficial nematodes.  Some of these can be introduced into your gardens and landscapes and will self sustain offering years of protection.

Be willing to experiment. Cold hardiness zones and soil types are guidelines that should receive some consideration.  However, testing a sample plant now and then might yield unexpected results and opportunities for greater diversity.  Try new and unusual varieties of annual vegetables as well as trees and shrubs.  Be willing to accept some losses and test the boundaries of commonly accepted local gardening advice.

Consider Dioecious Fruit Trees. Instead of using self pollinators consider the two variety option where there is room to do so.  This practice forces the gardener to increase the biodiversity and resilience of their garden. It may be necessary to graft additional varieties onto existing trees where space is limited in order to gain the same benefits.

Look at plant limitations as opportunities. Instead of looking at a label or planting guidelines as a limitation change your thinking into the question: "Where would this work in my garden?" this simple shift in thinking can reveal ways of filling up those nooks and crannies of unused space and increase your yield.

Research, Research, Research. I find new and interesting plants everyday that I am ready to add to my edible landscape and I encourage readers of my blog to share what they know with me or anybody else I enjoy learning everything I can about new edible varieties that will survive in my climate.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Virtual seed swap

The past few days have been a great source of amusement as my facebook lights up with messages concerning the first annual seed swap on the "an honest to god gardening group" FB page.

 I created two forums one for a seed swap and the other for a scion exchange.  A few of the over three thousand members of the group have decided to participate and the number of plants made available were also slim pickins but somehow I managed to find a very nice scion exchange to get some grape vine starters which will fit well trained over my walls next to the flagstone patio on a south facing wall.  These will be very nice.

I was still very excited about the exchanges though as they have stirred my imagination with the possibility of virtual seed and scion exchanges that could provide diversity to the edible landscape.  Even in a small urban setting a diversity of productive plants is necessary if you want to insure bounty in the fall.  My yard is a 1/8th acre plot.  On this I have planted:
Kristin Cherry
Lapins Cherry
Nanking Cherry (2 different cultivars)
Black Currant
Red Currant
All In One Hardy Sweet Almond
Allenia Hardy Sweet Almond
Service Berries (4 different cultivars)
Blackberries (5 different cultivars)
Strawberries (2 different cultivars)
Sweet Basil
Bush Basil
Meader Persimmon
Aronia Berry (3 different cultivars)
Taylor Paw Paw
Sunflower Paw Paw
Bartlett Pear
Gooseberry (4 different cultivars)
Hardy Kiwi (2 different cultivars)
Grapes (3 different cultivars soon to be 4)
Honeyberry (2 different cultivars)
Superior Plum
Methley Plum
Granny Smith Apple
Golden Delicious Apple
Reliance Peach
Red Raspberry
Golden Raspberry
Black Raspberry
Goji Berry
and about one thousand square feet of vegetable garden space with the usual suspects strategically placed including tomatoes, peppers, green beans, watermelon, cantaloupe, broccoli, carrots, beets, onions, egg plant,  lettuce, and various herbs.

I will continue to build on the diversity which I see as a good start but not really good enough yet.  I would still like to see some more edible plants despite my already highly unusual variety of edible plants.  I would encourage gardeners to consider the possibility of increasing the biodiversity in your own landscape.

I think that the logical extension of this concept is the online seed swap/scion exchange and perhaps a perennial trade.  Think about the possibilities!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Open bowl peach trees.

This week pruning peach trees is on my schedule. I would like to offer my advice on this even though my trees are somewhat different than the standard orchard tree. One of my peaches is espaliered the other is being grown as a spindle in order to save space, so neither is an ideal peach.

The ideal peach is pruned into an "open bowl." the concept is that up to four or five main branches are selected that are stemming out at a similar height. These branches would hold a bowl like fingers without the main leader of the tree. What I am going to say next is going to freak you out if you have never done this before so brace yourselves.

You need to take everything above these branches out. Now remove any branches that cross. What you have left is the "open bowl"  This might seem very extreme, but to produce quality fruit you will need to prune the tree back hard.  The tree will put its energy into these branches and the fruit. Pruning the tree will strengthen the branches and increasing the productivity of the tree. The late summer will produce new growth and next February/March you will need to repeat this process.

During the late summer you can prune to promote dwarfing of the tree.  At this time you could also "head" the branches by pruning them at the end back to a smaller stem that has a nice angle that you like (30-45 degrees)