Meanwhile, back at the mini’stead

We’re in the dregs of February. Probably one of the most bleak times of the year. Cold, grey, and no green in sight.

But if you’re a green thumb, a real, hardcore, DIY’er gardener—February is when you finally get to bust out your seeds and start getting dirty.

I’ll give myself a little bit of credit, last year was one of my better years. My seeds to plants ratio was probably one of the highest ever. My peas and peppers were astoundingly plentiful. But every year has its successes and failures. I want a farm and I have to admit, my backyard overwhelms me.


Last year was my first great success with peas and my absolute biggest failure with tomatoes ever. Great winter squash, terrible melons—but I don’t even like melon. Pretty lame green beans and my idea of making cornichons was a total bust. Excuse me, if they don’t ripen at the same time how the hell do you make it work? One cornichon at a time? The French would.

Lessons for this go around? Don’t plant sunflowers in the middle of the bed. They were stunning but made everything significantly more difficult and more shady. Same goes for the borage. 2012 was the year of the flowers I guess. Well, 2013 is all about greens and cultivating an allium bed. And tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.

But there is only so much that you can start in February.

So, I put together two trays. Alliums: cipollini, leeks, red + white scallions. Brassicas: winngstadt + golden acre cabbage, broccoli raab, baby bok choi. Black + long eggplant. Herbs: Fennel, dill, thyme. Flowers: nicotina, datura, love in the mist. And some greens: Orach and amaranth.

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The calendar at Skippy’s Garden is the one that I’ve used for several years now.

5/10 is a reasonable last frost date for the area, but I am moving a little ahead of the game—the winter has been relatively mild. And if nothing else, in my experience, a little extra time is good when it comes to peppers, tomatoes and eggplant. I’ll pot them up into larger pots before the final transition to the garden. My official planting calendar is based on a 5/2 last frost date.

From my sources, I hear it is supposed to be a long, cool, wet spring into early summer. Not ideal to warm your bones, but it is great for brassicas and greens, so I am giving baby bok choi, broccoli raab and cabbage a shot.

I love working in the office and looking at the little dirt-babies getting ready to grow. Look at that glowing happiness:



The Orchard – Part 2

Welcome back to So You Want To Grow Fruit. Or, so this girl here wants to grow fruit.

If you need a recap, I think you can figure it out with the tools at hand on your web browser. So we’ll just jump right in.


I don’t actually eat a lot of plums. Yet. Yet? But I start shopping the plum section at Raintree Nursery and it’s really hard to just pick one. And when you preserve, like I do, some of the maybenotsointeresting plums suddenly have their own allure. So…let’s see what I can come up with.

European Plums. They are better keepers and used more in preserves: drying, canning. Gage and Damson are both names that float around. So right off the bat I like the Blues Jam Damson varietal and the Cambridge Gage. One of each good sir. And then, between the 3 Mirabelle types (Mirabelle de Metz, Parfume de September and Geneva Mirabelle) I like I think I like the last one best: “A superb tasting, small yellow plum with yellow flesh and red dots on the skin. Incredibly productive. Great for tarts, compotes, canning, jam, eating fresh or prized for brandy.”

Asian Plums. “Easy to grow and so precocious that they often fruit in the nursery row.” Precocious plums.You and I are both lucky that Raintree has fewer Asian plums. Hollywood and Weeping Santa Rosa are both self-fertile. With its weeping habit, I would take two of the Santa Rosa and use them in my landscaping. The nice thing about pollination is that the trees need not be right next to each other to make it all happen. Just within a bee’s flight.

There is the difference between growing fruits for canning, for storing and for snacking/using. The Weeping Santa Rosa doesn’t provide as much fruit as some of the other trees I’ve mentioned—but that simply makes it a tree more for eating fresh and enjoying-in-the-moment.  And that’s okay.


Given the lack of peaches in my little orchard, I suppose I should jump on first runner-up, the nectarine. I vote Red Raspberry for it’s unique factor: “A rare nectarine with rich red flesh reminiscent of the old “Indian Red” peaches…Small to medium sized fruit has dark burgundy skin with flesh streaked in red and a juicy, melting texture. The flavor is unique: rich and complex, very sweet but with a pleasant tartness similar to raspberry.”


Quince are something I’ve always wanted to work with. And maybe, as soon as this year, I’ll be able to. I have one tree on order. Honestly, I don’t even remember which cultivar I landed on. Even now, looking through them it’s pretty much a toss-up between Ekmek, Havran Turkish and Aromatnaya Russian. Quince—the fruit few people give a hoot about. I am not even sure if I would want/need more than one. Clearly I am not very solid on this idea. My one quince can become friends with my one nectarine.


Why not? Well, for one, they aren’t very hardy. 10°F.
We don’t get that cold that often, but we could.
So my solution is to plant them as foundation plantings i.e., near the house (or other outbuilding). And to stack the deck in my favor, I’d select either the Nordland or the Chicago fig. Cold places = hardier figs. One of each and they can duke it out for Homestead’s Best Fig.

All in all, that’s a lot of fruit. Tree count: 6 apple, 6 plum, 4 pear, 2 fig, 1 nectarine and 1 quince. Twenty! Not bad, not bad, I think that will keep me busy.