“Annual vegetables are like getting a goldfish. Trees are like getting a tortoise that might outlive us.”
When we moved here to Turkeysong six and a half years ago, it was a very rainy December. We moved into a tiny trailer with just a propane oven for heat. I was rather unhealthy that winter with long continuing complications from Lyme disease, so my physical resources were limited. But it was an exciting time and full of promise as we embarked on a long held dream. Bathing was accomplished at the nearby hot springs most of the winter until I built a wood fired bathtub which worked passably well. Parking was a mile walk down the 4 wheel drive only road, and the winter was so wet that only two trips were made driving in the 1/2 mile driveway before late spring arrived. I carried office chairs, a desk and sheets of plywood down the half mile drive. I remember many times walking in at night after bathing at the springs, exhausted, sick, dizzy and weak. Most days I spent laying down alone in the damp cold miserable trailer feeling ill and tapped out. The Accommodations were very uncomfortable, but frugality ruled the day and I still knew where my priorities lay. Rather than move toward better shelter, showers, making the driveway passable or other creature comforts, I started preparing to plant trees and put in a garden.
I don’t get why everyone doesn’t see fruit and nut trees the way that I do, or make them a priority. Once established they can give so much for the effort expended in establishment and maintenance. Trees also have a charisma and substance that is of a nature very different than other plants. You can’t develop much of a relationship with a broccoli plant in one season. Annual vegetables are like getting a goldfish. Trees are like getting a tortoise that might outlive us.
Trees currently on the place are 11 Olive, 40 Apple, 9 Sweet Cherry, 2 Pie Cherry, 3 Chestnut, 8? Almond, 9 Carpathian Walnut, 3 Asian Plum, 7 Prune, 5 Feijoa, 2 Loquat, 5 European Pear, 1 Asian Pear, 2 Persimmon, 1 Jujube, 4 fig, 2 chilean wine palm, 1 jelly palm, 1 mulberry and some other odds and ends not counting 55 apples trained as diagonal cordons and a nursery full of trees for next year. After 6 years of planning, researching, planting, mulching, weeding, training, pruning, and occasionally watering and feeding, we are beginning to see results!
I’ve been delighted to see my efforts growing into something resembling trees. Since I do almost all of my own grafting, I’m a year, or even two, behind those buying trees in a nursery. When the young trees come out of the nursery bed the year after grafting, most of them are a single whip, or maiden which is a sapling with no branches around 2 to 5 feet tall, so it is some time before they really take shape and come to a size that suggests they be taken seriously. The spring orchard, which contains most of the trees first planted here, is beginning to take the visual form of an orchard now with some of the trees being 8×8 or larger which is big enough to support a significant crop.
And this year, on the wings of a warm spring, came fruit. Weeks of nice weather had bees out and busy pollinating. The trees were studded with fruitlets thick enough to break branches if they were all left to grow. I’ve delighted in watching my trees develop, cherishing each phase in their development. The graft “taking” and starting to grow is the first victory. A healthy Maiden in the fall is the second. Tucked in place the next spring they wait to begin the first season in the ground. Over the next few years of battling weeds, voles and bark beetle grubs they grow larger, more self sufficient and I can usually take satisfaction in the realization of a strong framework of well placed branches. They begin to bloom, and maybe even set a fruit or two. One day I look at them and they look something like a tree complete with fruit, being off on the right root and leaving their childhood years behind.
Fruit is good. I want to eat fruit and juice it and dry it and make alcohol from it, cook it, can it, ferment it and sell it, but this is not just any fruit! A great share of the energy put into trees here is put into research and planning. The first year my only real resource besides a few other fruit enthusiasts was a book called Cornucopia. It is a really cool book with descriptions of food plants, including varieties. There are a lot of Apples listed in Cornucopia, but even if interested I could not find many of them on short notice and the listing is on the order of hundreds while there are actually thousands of varieties. This person has catalogued 11,324 varieties of Apples! No doubt that number includes some repeats under different names, but no doubt that there are also many varieties missing. I began researching apples in more earnest in the past 3 years. During that time the amount of information about Apple varieties available in cyberspace has grown tremendously. The most useful information is often quite old, especially the mid to late 1800’s, such as Dr Hogg’s The Fruit Manual and up into the early part of the last century like Bunyard’s A Manual of Hardy Fruits More Commonly Grown In Great Brittain, and many more. I’ve spent untold hours researching apple varieties. Much of my down time when I’m too tired to work on other stuff has been spent searching for information and sources on hundreds of Apple varieties. I have fairly extensive data base entries of apple research to draw on and use them regularly. On top of that go notes about growth, tree health, ripening times and tasting of apples grown here. Not every fruit grower needs to be as enthusiastic as the likes of me to grow good fruit, but I can tell you that due care in the selection of varieties pays off.
I research whatever I’m planting generally. I don’t want to leave my decisions up to a nursery owner who may not be familiar with the many varieties of fruits out there. Also, most nurseries are only able to order a limited number of varieties, even though that is improving with renewed interest in heirlooms. Mostly I research Apple varieties because I plant more apples than any other fruit or nut. I’m fascinated by the apple. I long ago recognized the utility and greatness of the apple as the king of homestead fruits. It can be dried, sauced, baked, made into juice, cider, apple butter, dried apples, vinegar, brandy, pies and tarts, eaten off the tree or eaten or cooked after storing for months. There are apples that ripen in July and Apples that ripen in February and probably later… at least 6 months of apples fresh off the tree and I’m confident that this period can be extended.
I’m continually frustrated trying to talk about Apples with people. Its the same conversation over and over. “I like (insert grannysmith, golden delicious, pink lady, honeycrisp, fuji or other grocery store apple)”. “I like a crunchy apple”. “I don’t like mushy apples”. The conversation on apples is generally a limited debate. Its kind of like politics… “I like the Democrats”… “I like the republicans”… “I like one of the two new guys”… Like I said, a limited debate. I want to grab people and shake them and try to get them to listen to me when I tell them what they are missing, but by the time I start trying to tell them they are already telling me that they don’t like mushy apples. Well, almost nobody likes mushy apples, but the range of debate should not be limited to mushy v.s. crunchy and sweet v.s. tart; the world of apples is so much broader.
I like some of the apples I am already familiar with very much, but what I’m doing now is exploring my options- playing the field so to speak. I want to expand the season for apples as far as possible in both directions with first rate apples. That means planting and fruiting a lot of varieties to see what does well here and what suits our tastes. That means a lot of sampling! Some of my best memories of last fall and early winter were climbing into bed of an evening with tonia and an apple or two or three or four and doing some tasting. Sometimes a new one, but always approached as a new one because every one, even off the same tree at the same time, can taste a little or even a lot different. Over the years here I’ve collected around 220 varieties. Frankentree alone has about 140 varieties on him. In total, we have probably 60 or 70 varieties fruiting this year, a new level of apple tasting and eating. Hell yeah, now that’s my idea of a good time!
I hope to be finding time to write more about apples since I put a lot of energy into them and I just like to talk about them; and no doubt I’ll be posting about some of the apples we’re tasting this year as the fruits of labor drop ripe and plump into our hands. But I suppose that what I really wanted to communicate here is my excitement at finally seeing my plans come to fruition and how worth it all the inconvenience and labor has been whatever the cost. We are still cooking and scraping by in the same crappy kitchen trailer and sleeping in half finished structures with no real doors or windows, but even if thats the case for another winter, at least we have trees that will be beginning to bear heavily of awesome and carefully selected fruits. The best time to plant a tree really is 10 years ago, but it turns out that 6 years ago isn’t so bad either.
Some parting advice:
*Take any advice with a grain of salt.
*Plant trees sooner rather than later.
*Don’t plant more than you can take good care of.
*Check with the local nursery, but check more with local fruit enthusiasts. Follow up leads with internet research. Many of the best fruits are little known and grown.
*Don’t make caramel popcorn while standing naked in front of a hot wood stove.
*Rarely plant more than one tree of any variety for home use and consider making some trees multiple varieties to span a greater range of seasons and/or tastes.
*Don’t discount either Heirlooms or Modern apples. Many of both are excellent and Unique. Heirlooms are romantic, but not always superior. Many of both just plain suck.
*Learn to graft so that you can change trees to new varieties or add to your collection if you find something promising.
*Use the internet to research varieties you are interested in using the terms >> “apple name” apple variety <<. Orange Pippin and Adam’s Apples are a couple of good current sources. Google books rocks the older sources.
*Stay tuned for more hot Pomeography! Including sublimely tempting photos, tantalizing descriptions and verbose romantic ramblings on the virtues and charms of apples!
This page is intended as a source page for acquiring potato onion starts. I will try to update as I get more information. If you know of any source not listed, please contact me. I don’t necessarily vouch for the sources in regards to either service or authenticity, I’m just listing claimed sources, so buyer beware. I also don’t know for sure how many kinds are really out there. The early literature I’ve looked into did not leave the impression that there were many varieties available in the past and I don’t recall mention of any red types. It has been common for purveyors to sell Shallots as Potato Onions and suppliers may not even know the difference, so be aware of that issue. I don’t have any financial interest in any of these except of course for the few I have to sell.
Potato Onions can be fall planted in milder areas with no especial care. They can also be fall planted in cold areas if they are hilled up with soil to cover, but the soil must be pulled away from the plants in the spring so that just the roots are buried and the bulb is sitting at ground level where it will be less prone to fungal diseases. Optionally, store until spring and plant then. Some may be lost to decay in storage, but they keep remarkably well in general. I planted some in September this year which had been held over from the previous summer’s crop, so they were over a year old. All of that time they were stored under unideal conditions including hanging in a often very hot trailer all summer long. Still, they do spoil and it isn’t uncommon to lose a number of them right after harvest and then a few here and there through the winter, so for spring planting you’d be better to order in the spring. I’m not sure who, if anyone, ships them in the spring.
I sometimes have a few Yellow Potato Onion sets to sell. I have a limited number in fall 2012 as starter kits of 20 or more bulbs, which is around right around 1/2 pound, for 7 bucks plus shipping. The bulbs are mostly small with a few larger ones. The large ones will make more small ones and small ones fewer large ones. If they are grown out the first year and all planted the second they will yield a sizable crop for a home producer, or quite a lot of seed for a larger planting. these are the Heirloom Yellow Potato Onions I’ve been growing for years, and from which Kelly Winterton has bred his new varieties. To buy, contact me here.
Seed saver’s exchange: Requires a membership to order starts and seeds from other members. The retail catalog does not have Potato Onions. various varieties are offered by members, though it is hard to say how many are actually different from each other.
Kelly Winterton: Unique new varieties that Kelly has grown from seed. All larger than the standard varieties and seem very promising. I highly recommend trying out the Green Mountain Multiplier. It did very well for me last year. Very limited quantities. Contact Kelly at kellys gar den at gm ail dot com
Fedco/moose tubers carries potato onions. Fedco is my favorite seed company when all things are considered, so check out the seed section as well. http://www.fedcoseeds.com/moose.htm
Maine Potato Lady Sometimes has Potato Onions for sale. https://www.mainepotatolady.com
http://www.Ebay.com There are usually some Potato Onion starts for sale on ebay. I’ve seen some that look like red shallots, so who knows what you’ll get. buyer beware.
Territorial Seed Company: If this link doesn’t work, try googling “territorial seed potato onions” . They are difficult to find on the site because they are listed as a seasonal product and only sold in the fall.
This is an update to my previous post on experiments with fruit tree understories using flower bulbs. I get quite a few page hits from people searching for information about fruit tree understories and bulbs under fruit trees and wanted to get this update out there for anyone who is working or thinking along similar lines. To summarize my project, the goal is to establish an understory for fruit trees which grows up quickly at the start of the winter rainy season to smother weeds, but then goes dormant in late spring/early summer leaving a matt of dead leaves to shade the soil and to slow moisture loss during our long, dry summers. This whole plan is to address specific problems of a Mediterranean climate with wet winters and dry summers, and may not have much relevance to climates with significant summer rainfall.
The bulb growing season is about to start again. I’m digging stuff up and figuring out what the next moves are. The bulbs have not filled in enough to be sure of how the experiment is working quite yet, but I have enough preliminary information to warrant a short post on my experience so far. I’ve planted experiments to just Amaryllis, just Narcissus, Narcissus and Amaryllis mixed, and one that is Snowflakes, Bluebells and Oriental Poppies together. The Oriental Poppies, Snowflakes, Bluebells and almost all of the Narcissus varieties that I’ve tried are now off the list. They either have foliage which is not dense or wide enough, or they die back too late in the season. It is important that the understory go dormant early in the season so that as much water as possible is left in the soil. The Snowflakes and Bluebells die back too late. The Oriental Poppy also dies back late and turned out to make poor cut flowers so it also does not add any economic benefit. The only real contenders I have here at this point are the two original ones- the Chinese Sacred Lily Narcissus in both double and single (see edit below) and the Amaryllis including Naked Ladies and some cool hybrid Amaryllis. Read more »
About half of the Daffodil seeds from my first year’s breeding experiments germinated and grew last winter, including 3 out of 8 Young Love seeds. The plants seemed healthy enough. They grew one narrow leaf each in a flat of soil mix in the greenhouse maturing little bean sized bulbs. The leaves turned yellow in late spring and then brown, wilting down for the summer sleep. By all accounts, Daffodils take a long time from seed to flower, so I have a wait ahead of me until they are ready to expose their pretty faces to the sun the wind the rain the bees and the bugs.
This past blooming season I pollinated yet more daffodil flowers and now have over 400 seeds to show for some minor and mostly enjoyable efforts. I used a lot of pollen from cultivars that I really like, but I was not as selective in regards to the seed parents. I figured there are two basic approaches to this and other plant breeding, careful and sloppy. I have little doubt that an approach using carefully selected stock, keeping precise records, using durable labels, researching the fitness or unfitness of the parents for breeding, and learning to select and breed for desirable genetic traits could greatly increase my chances of ending up with really great offspring. That approach however, sounds about as fun as waiting in line at a bank. I’m sure it’s loads of fun for someone, but I’m not a person that enjoys record keeping overly much. Record keeping and the like are tools that I use to the extent that they are needed, or probably somewhat less than the extent to which they are needed; appreciate it I do, but enjoy it I do not. The other basic approach, and the one I’m currently favoring, is that of sloppy promiscuity and minimal attention to planning, details and after care. You can’t eat daffodils, and I have lots of other projects requiring study time and mental energy, so I’m liking the casual approach for my daffodil breeding.
Daffodils are easy enough to pollinate in general. Some of them are sterile or produce very little or no pollen, but from my experiments so far, most of them appear to be fertile. It takes very little time to run around dabbing some pollen here and there, so I don’t worry about who is or isn’t fertile or sterile, or just plain not in the mood. I didn’t even mark the pollinated flowers, but simply went back in early summer to look for fat seed pods. It seems as though Daffodils are almost never pollinated naturally in this environment, so any seeds that form are almost certainly the results of intentional crosses. A few of the flowers pollinated formed no seed. Whether the failures were due to sterile pollen, sterile stigmas or poor timing I don’t know. I had no success at all with the small narcissus types like Minor Monarch, Grand Primo, Golden Dawn and Chinese Sacred Lily, but most others produced at least a seed or two. I probably spent less than two hours to pollinate and then collect those hundreds of seeds this year. Even if my germination rate doesn’t improve over 50% I’m happy enough with those numbers. I do think that I could get more seeds per pod by pollinating the same flower several days in a row, but I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.
Daffodils are generally easy to grow. Under our environmental conditions, I imagine that I could probably take my little bean sized bulbs, put them into barely better than field conditions this fall and expect most of them to survive with only minor intervention. They might not grow to flowering size nearly as quickly as they would with some pampering, but the point is that they will take no extraordinary care to survive and come to flowering age. The bulbs will probably get a small space in the garden for at least a year to increase the bulb size and therefore the probability of survival in the field. The ease with which Daffodils are pollinated and grown, coupled with the fact that I’m breeding for fun rather than for profit or fame, form the foundation of my new low input Daffodil breeding program. So what if I don’t know who the parents of my illegitimate Daffodils are? So what if they take longer to flower because I don’t pamper them? So what if I have fewer awesome flowers and more ugly ducklings? This is about investment and return, not just how much investment and how much return, but about what kind of investment for what kind of return. Instead of fussing with records and tags which may take as much or more time than the breeding and growing, I’m opting to produce more offspring with less and more enjoyable effort. After all, we reap the experience of our labor as well as the fruits. More life, less paper!
I’m hoping that it will take me only a few hours a year to come up with a couple hundred seedlings and a little more time to get them growing somewhere the following year. I’m hoping for 4 to 6 hours a year for 200 or more seedlings each of which holds the promise of unique genetics. I’m thinking of dedicating an area in one of the orchards to be a treasure chest of daffodil seedlings. If I plant more every year, I could have as many as a couple hundred new flowers to check out each season. Once they start blooming, I reap the pleasure and adventure of seeing more of those seedlings come into flower every year resplendent in all their ravishing beauty, mutated weirdness or stunning mediocrity. And even if most are plain or unsightly, it seems like there must remain a pretty decent chance that if I add more every year I could just end up with a flower worthy of the attention of someone besides me. I doubt I’ll be collecting any Daffodil breeding awards, but I’m sure my flowers will make someone pause or smile. I also get to name them which has to be half the fun at least! OMG, I can’t wait. I think I’ll start a list now. Maybe I’ll change my mind and eventually approach the process with more care. I’ll admit that a few pieces of information about the dominance of genetic traits could prove useful, but I can pick that up anytime along the way and for now the unmethodical approach looks pretty good and more importantly, feels fun instead of stressful.
So the Daffodil breeding blogging saga comes to a pause. Hopefully in a few years I’ll be posting pictures of my motley collection of bastard daffodil seedlings. In the meantime, I don’t feel particularly impatient since my investment has become minimal. I hope the rest of you can stand the suspense though.