Making the Best of It

Eek! Mice (or rabbits)! Not the animals but the damage they have wrought. The bark on virtually all my pear grafts of last year has been nibbled off enough to kill the grafts.

Once I calmed down, I realized that all was not lost. All the chewing was above ground level, leaving a small amount of intact bark still in place. The plants aren’t dead, just their portions above the chewing. The near-ground portions could be grafted again.

Daisy showered with petals (more on this later)

Daisy showered with petals (more on this later)

(Most fruit trees neither come true from seed nor root readily from cuttings, so are propagated by grafting a scion — a short length of one-year-old stem — of the desired variety onto a rootstock. The rootstock is the same kind of plant as the scion variety and could be a seedling or a variety developed for special rootstock purposes. My nibbled trees are pear trees, Highland, Blake’s Pride, and other varieties, each grafted on a rootstock named Old Home X Farmingdale 87, which dwarfs the trees’ final height to about half that of a full-size pear tree, as well as induces it to yield its first fruits sooner.)

Damaged rootstock

Damaged rootstock

Crouched way down at ground level would be a tough position for grafting, not to mention trying to keep dirt and debris off the cut surfaces. So I dug up each plant for “bench grafting,” so named because it’s done at a bench or, more generally, upright and in the comfort and better light of indoors.

My graft of choice for these wounded plants is the whip graft. It’s a simple graft, especially for apple and pear; I typically expect 95+ percent “takes.” With a well-honed, preferably straight-edged (and preferably single-bevelled) knife, I make a smooth, sloping cut about 3/4-inch long on the rootstock. Typically, I would make the cut longer but there’s not that much viable stem above-ground. 

Making the cuts on rootstock and scion

Making the cuts on rootstock and scion

Next, I take a scion of similar thickness to the rootstock, although this is not all-important, and make a similarly smooth, sloping 3/4-inch long cut.

If the cuts are secured face to face and then sealed against moisture loss, cells at the cuts start to multiply, eventually knitting the two pieces together and joining their vascular tissue. If the two plant pieces are not matching in thickness, success can still be achieved if just one side of the two of them is aligned. A piece of rubber, either a cut open rubber band or a bona fide grafting rubber, keeps cut edges of scion and rootstock intimate, and then the wound is sealed with Tree-Kote or similar tree wound material, or Parafilm tape.
Cuts on stock and scion in place
Wrapping the graft

Sealing the graft with Parafilm

Sealing the graft with Parafilm

Keeping the roots moist and the plants indoors for a couple of weeks speeds growth of new cells. After that, the plants will go outdoors, either potted up or planted in the ground.

The Downside to Low Grafting

Grafting so low on the plant does have its downsides. For one thing, a certain amount of rootstock stem above ground level is needed for the dwarfing effect. For full effect, grafts are usually made 6 to 12 inches above ground level.

Also, if a graft is very low on a plant so that over the years it gets covered with soil, the scion is could eventually root. At which point the dwarfing and other benefits of the rootstock are lost.

On the plus side, if any of my grafts fail, the still viable rootstock will undoubtedly send up a new shoot, which can be grafted next spring — and done well above ground level.

So How Do You Get a Rootstock?

The way to get a rootstock is to buy one (ha, ha). But how does as nursery make, for instance, an Old Home X Farmingdale 87 pear rootstock if pears (and most other tree fruits) are so hard to root and don’t come true from seed.

Rootstocks are bred or selected to impart special characteristics to the tree for which they provide roots and a short length of stem — very short stems in the case of this week’s pear grafts. Another characteristic that might be sought in a rootstock is ease of propagation, perhaps even by cuttings.

Whereas a pear variety such as Blake’s Pride is propagated from mature, fruiting wood, a rootstock might be propagated from juvenile wood, that is, wood that that has never grow to maturity. All plants are easier to multiply from juvenile wood. Near the base of a plant that has been raised from seed, the wood retains its juvenility, so a seed-propagated rootstock variety that was repeatedly cut back would provide stems that were juvenile and could be rooted as cuttings.

And there are other ways to coax new plants from an existing plant, such as tissue culture and stool layering. Maybe something about these methods at another time.

Fruitful Near Futures

Even grafted higher atop a rootstock that imparts precocity, my pear grafts aren’t apt to yield their first crop for a few years. My Nanking cherry bushes (Prunus tomentosa), on the other hand, are slated to have bright red cherries arching their stems to the ground in a couple of months or so.

A profusion of Nanking cherries!

The cherries are small, but are very juicy with a refreshing flavor that combines that of sweet and tart cherries. Another plus for these plants is that they are more or less free of pest problems, requiring no care on my part beyond picking the fruit. Read more about them in my book Landscaping with Fruit.

No need to ignore the bushes until payday because payday is also right now, visually. Along the length of my driveway, the hedge of Nanking cherries has turned into a cloud of dense, slightly pink, white flowers. This time of year it’s not uncommon for a biker or walker to stop and ask the name of the plants. “Nanking cherry!”

Nanking cherry hedge

Nanking cherry hedge


Sad, Then Happy

A sad day here on the farmden: the end of blueberry season. Frozen blueberries, that is. Seventy quarts went into the freezer last summer, and a lot more than that into bellies, and now they’re all finished.

A happy day here on the farmden: the first of this season’s blueberries are ripening. These blueberries, and those that were in the freezer, are the large “highbush” (Vaccinium corymbosum) varieties commonly found fresh on market shelves. Also ripening now are “lowbush” (V. angustifolium) blueberries, growing as a decorative, edible ground cover on the east-facing slope near my home.
Blueberries ripening
I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again. After many, many years of growing fruits in my not-particularly-good-for-fruit-growing site, blueberries — a native fruit — have always yielded well. Two most important things are adapting the soil to blueberries’ unique requirements, and keeping birds at bay. Birds at bay? Best is a walk-in, netted area.
Blueberry, netted
Soil for blueberries needs to be very acidic, with a pH between 4 and 5.5, made so, if needed, with the addition of sulfur, a naturally mined mineral. The pelletized form is best because it’s not dusty. Blueberry roots need good drainage and consistent moisture. They thrive in ground rich in organic matter, maintained with an annual three-inch topping of some weed-free, organic material such as wood shavings, wood chips, straw, pine needles, and autumn leaves.

(That’s the bare bones for success with blueberries. For a deeper dive into growing this healthful, delicious, reliable fruit, stay tuned for my soon-to-be-aired blueberry webinar.)

And More Berry-Like Fruits Coming Along

Just as last year’s apples were losing their crispness and tang and I needed a change from oranges, other berries, in addition to blueberries have started changing color, softening, and turning flavorful.

Black currants are another one of my favorites now ripening. They admittedly have an intense flavor not to everyone’s liking. But everyone likes black currants conjured up into juices, pastries, or jam. Variety matters. My favorites are Belaruskaja, Minaj Smyrev, and Titania. 
Belaruskaja black currants
Don’t think black currants taste anything like “dried” or “Zante” currants. Those are raisins, originally made from “Black Corinth” grapes, a name then bastardized to “black currant.”

Like blueberries, black currants are easy to grow. But they have no special soil requirements, they fruit well even in some shade, and deer rarely eat the bushes, and birds rarely eat the berries.

Another tasty morsel now ripe is gumi (Elaeagnus multiflora). Birds usually strip this shrub clean of fruit, except this year the crop is so abundant that neither I nor the birds can make much of a dent in it. The berries are a little astringent if not dead ripe. And not at all if the fruit is processed; last year I cooked them slightly, strained out the seeds (which are edible), and blended it before drying it into a “leather.”
Gumi fruit
The gumi shrub itself has silver leaves, providing an attractive backdrop for the red fruits. The flowers are extremely fragrant, and the roots enrich the soil by taking nitrogen from the air (with the help of an actinomycete microorganism.)

Also now abundant, with plenty for all, is Nanking cherry (Prunus tomentosa), a favorite of mine for beauty and easy-to-grow cherries. The cherries are small, usually no larger than about 3/8 inch. But the single pit is also small. Flavor lies somewhere on the spectrum between sweet and sour cherries, very refreshing especially when chilled.

Nanking cherry fruit and bloom

Nanking cherry fruit and bloom

Another Chance, and Then Another

All is not rosy in the berry-size fruit world. Over the years, I had heard about and tried a new fruit in town, edible honeysuckles. In the past, the plants I tried either died over winter or bore very few, very mediocre berries. Since then, edible honeysuckles have come up in the world, with serious breeding work, and I was given the opportunity to try them again. (As Maria Schinz said, “Gardening is an exercise in optimism.”)

But first, what is an edible honeysuckle, which now goes under better names. If called “honeyberry,” it usually refers to Russian species such as Lonicera caerulea app. kamtshatica or edulis. Haskap is a Japanese name applied the Japanese species L. caerulea spp. emphylocalyx, or to hybrids of this species with Russian species. Pure Japanese species varieties are sometimes called Yezberry, after the Island of Hokkaido, called Yez or Yezo Island where they are found. The Japanese species and hybrids are less susceptible to spring frosts than the honeyberries.

This spring I planted out two Yezberry varieties, Solo and Sugar Mountain Blue. The small, blue berries ripen early, and I was eager to give this fruit another try. Solo is bearing. The taste? Awful! Sour, with no other flavor.

Solo yezberry

Solo yezberry

But I’m not abandoning edible honeysuckles. I’ve learned that the berries need to hang on the branches for a long time before developing full flavor and sweetness. A number of varieties are available, some of which are, according to others, “Delicious when eaten fresh from the plant” and “a bit like a cross between a raspberry and a blueberry. . . sweetness of a raspberry with a hint of pleasant tartness.” Really?!

Many blue berries are still hanging on my Solo bush. I’ll leave them to hang longer there and perhaps morph from “awful” to “delicious,” and will report back. I have hope for this new fruit, not yet high hopes.

At the very least, honeyberries or haskaps might be able to tide me over from the end of frozen blueberries to the first of fresh blueberries.


 Shad, Service, June: All The Same Berry

   I’m not saying where my juneberries — now ripe — are, except to say that they are not here on my farmden. If you don’t know juneberries (Amelanchier spp.), you’ll wish you did. Imagine, if you will, a blueberry look-alike with the sweetness and richness of a sweet cherry along with a hint of almond. The plant is also known as shadbush, shadblow, serviceberry, and, in the case of one of the species, saskatoon.

One bush of my "secret" juneberries, in bloom in April.

One bush of my “secret” juneberries, in bloom in April.

    I’ve planted and grown juneberries, but no longer do so. In the 15 years during which I had 6 plants, I harvested only a handful of berries. Juneberries, although look-alikes for blueberries, are pome fruits, related to apple and sharing many of the same pest problems. Here, apple has many problems, including plum curculio, apple maggot, cedar-apple rust, and black rot.
    But other sites are more friendly to apple and especially to juneberry. Juneberry is commonly planted as an ornamental; I’ve seen it doing well with the sun beating down on a strip of soil between a vertical wall of concrete and a concrete sidewalk near the entrance to a shopping mall, with passing shoppers unaware of the tasty berries dangling from the branches. (“My” secret juneberries are closer than the nearest shopping mall. Here’s a hint: Mine are within 4 miles of my farmden.)

Part of the juneberry harvest.

Part of the juneberry harvest.

Juneberry is also a native plant (in every state, in fact) that, in good years, is laden with fruit. Except, as I said, here on my farmden. It’s well worth planting on the chance that it will thrive. I should have given up on mine sooner.
    As an ornamental, juneberry is valued for it’s neat form in winter, that of a shrub or a small tree, for it’s white or pink blossoms, and, with a variety such as Autumn Blaze, for the crimson color its leaves turn in fall.
    It would be nice to be able to just wander out my back door to pick juneberries, but I won’t complain. A 4-mile bike ride on an early summer morning isn’t too much to pay for the berries.

Nanking, The Easiest Cherry of All

    Right now, I can walk out my FRONT door to enjoy another now-ripe, uncommon fruit. Years ago, I had planted forsythia along my driveway. The yellow blossoms fairly glowed with heat in April, but after that the row of bushes was just a blob of greenery. Not unattractive, but not necessarily attractive either.
    I ripped out the forsythia and planted instead a row of Nanking cherries (Prunus tomentosa), a species of cherry from Manchuria that first made it to American shores — to great enthusiasm — at the end of the 18th century. Gardeners were not sure whether to praise it more highly as an ornamental or as a fruiting plants. When my plants are awash in white blossoms, bicyclists have stopped and asked for the identity of the plants.

Nanking cherry in bloom in April

Nanking cherry in bloom in April

    Nanking cherry blossoms at about the same time as forsythia but does not subsequently recede into obscurity. Right now the greenery is punctuated by bright red cherries, their small (1/2 inch or slightly larger) size offset by their abundance. Enough to almost hide the branches. Enough so that birds can eat them, chipmunks can eat them, my ducks can eat them, and still there’s more than enough for us humans. The flavor varies from bush to bush, but they’re all good, tasting somewhere on the spectrum between sweet and tart cherry.

Note the profusion of cherries!

Note the profusion of cherries!

    In contrast to juneberry, which once joined Nanking cherry in that row along the driveway, Nanking cherries have no significant pest problems. Sometimes branches die back a little but overall production is rarely impacted. In its native haunts, the plants tolerate winter lows of minus 50 degrees F. and summer temperatures soaring to 110 degrees F.
    Mostly I just graze the fruits as I walk up or down my driveway. Last year I harvested enough at once to juice by squeezing them through a strainer. Straight up, one of the most refreshing and delicious juices I’ve ever had.

Pretty Weeds, But They’ve Got to Go

    Warm temperatures and abundant rainfall are giving weeds a heyday. The row of Nanking cherries has become home to two prominent weeds, both ornamental in their own right, but not enough to justify their crowded presence.

A sedate, cultivated variety of Japanese knotweed

A sedate, cultivated variety of Japanese knotweed

    Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica), sometimes called Mexican bamboo, has migrated from a solid stand across the road to the foot of the hedge. The arching stems, heart-shaped leaves, and foaming white flowers, the latter due at the end of summer, explain why the plant was introduced from Asia in the late 1800’s.
    The plants are either male or female, and female plants rarely set seed, making me wonder how the plant got across the street.
    The other weed, bindweed (Convulvulus arvensis), would be as welcome as its well-behaved cousin, morning glory, if, like morning glory, it was an annual, or at least a well-behaved perennial. The flowers look like pale morning glories. Beneath the ground is where bindweed shows its dark side. The perennial roots spread far far and wide, sending up new shoots likewise far and wide from the mother plant, and the plant seeds abundantly.

Bindweed flowers among Nanking cherries

Bindweed flowers among Nanking cherries

   Repeatedly cutting back or pulling either weed should eventually starve the roots of either plant, if not eliminating them at least keeping then from smothering the Nanking cherry bushes. That’s pretty much all the care the Nanking cherry hedge needs beyond some pruning every few years to encourage some young growth and keep the shrubs from growing too large.


 More Fruits to Plant!?

Pawpaw, tastes like crème brûlée

Pawpaw, tastes like crème brûlée

   You’d think, after so many years of gardening and a love of fruits being such a important part of said gardening, that by now I would have planted every fruit I might ever have wanted to plant. Not so!
    Hard to imagine, but even here in the 21st century, new fruits are still coming down the pike. I don’t mean apples with grape flavor (marketed as grapples), a mango nectarine (actually, just a nectarine that looks vaguely like a mango), or strawmato (actually a strawberry-shaped tomato).
    There are plenty of truly new fruits, in the sense of kinds of fruits hardly known to most people, even fruit mavens. Over the years, I’ve tried a number of them. Aronia is a beautiful fruit that makes a beautiful juice, so it’s getting more press these days. I grew it and thought it tasted awful. Goji’s another one in the public’s eye for it’s many health benefits and ease of growing; it also tasted terrible and I also escorted that plant to the compost pile.
    Some lesser known kin of raspberry had greater potential. I planted arctic raspberry, which grows as a groundcover and has been used in breeding for the good flavor it imparts to its offspring. The plant never bore for me. Salmonberry and thimbleberry similarly had gustatory potential but never bore well in my garden. I’ll give these plants another try someday.
    I’m tentative about honeyberries, which are blue-fruited, edible species of honeysuckle that bear young, fruit early in the season, and weather cold to minus 40 degrees F.. The “blueberry-like fruit” is so only in being blue. I planted a couple of bushes about 20 years ago and was not impressed with their yield or flavor — but I admit to neglecting the plants. More importantly, a lot of breeding has been done to improve the plants since I put my bushes in the ground. Stay tuned for my tastebuds’ report on the flavor of recently planted Blue Mist, Blue Moon, and Blue Sea honeyberries.

Some Fruits Are So Easy — And Tasty

    Reading what I just wrote might give the impression that planting any fruit except apples, peaches, and cherries — the usual, that is — leads to either failure or tentative flavor. Again, not so!

Persimmons, nashi, figs, and grapes

Persimmons, nashi, figs, and grapes

 Uncommon fruits adaptable over large swathes of the country that are easy to grow and have excellent flavor include pawpaw, American persimmon, gooseberry, black currant, hardy kiwifruit, Nanking cherry, and alpine strawberry — all documented in detail in my book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden. All these plants grow and bear with little or no intervention on my part (and are available from such nurseries as and

Seaberries on bush in fall

Seaberries on bush in fall

    Seaberry (Hippophae rhamnoides) didn’t make it into the book, which includes only “dessert fruits,” that is, those you can enjoy by just popping them into your mouth. But I’m happy I gave these bushes some of my real estate. Juiced, diluted, and sweetened, the delectable flavor is akin to rich orange juice mixed with pineapple. What’s more, the bushes are decorative and tolerate neglect, cold, drought, and deer.

New Fruits

    This spring I’m planting a new kind of a somewhat familiar fruit, back raspberries. They’re also called blackcaps, and grow wild along woodland borders, which is where I gather my harvest. (A ripe blackcap comes off the plant with a hollow core, like a thimble, in contrast to a ripe blackberry, whose core persists.)
    Blackcaps have perennial roots but their stems are typically biennial, growing only leaves their first year, fruiting in midsummer of their second year, then dying.

Blackcaps, ripe last summer

Blackcaps, ripe last summer

    Two new blackcap varieties, Niwot ( and Ohio’s Treasure (, do this one better: They start to bear on new canes towards the end of the first season, then bear again on those same canes, now one-year-old, in midsummer of the following year. You reap two crops per year, one in midsummer and one in late summer going on into fall. Or, for easier care but only one crop per year, the whole planting is mowed to the ground each year for a late summer-fall harvest.
    These two-crop blackcaps, just like two-crop (sometimes called everbearing) red and yellow raspberries, have the added advantage of bearing their first crop the same year that they are planted. My plan is to plant in mid-April, even though right now more than a foot of snow still blankets the ground.

Vegetables Are So Easy

    Snow or no snow, I’m sowing vegetable seeds, the second wave of the season. (My seed sources are,,, and Today, the lineup includes the new varieties (for me) Tuscan Baby Leaf kale, Tiburon Ancho hot pepper, and Round of Hungary and Odessa Market sweet peppers. With encores for their good past performance are Gustas Brussels sprouts, Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage, Winterbor kale, and Carmen Sweet, Sweet Italia, and Italian Peperocini sweet peppers.

The Unknown Known

   To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, defense secretary under W, there are the known knowns, the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns. Donald, you forgot about the unknown knowns. Lets talk about gardening, not war, and the knowns that need to be better known.
Visitors to my garden (actually workshop attendees) were oohing and ahing over some 18-inch-high stalks each capped with a crown of leaves beneath which dangled a circle of red blossoms. Aptly named crown imperial, Fritillaria imperialis, deserves to be more widely known. No one seemed put off by the skunky aroma that suffuses the air even feet away from the plant; I like it.
Perhaps crown imperial would be better known if the bulbs didn’t go for more than 10 dollars each. My gardens’ profusion of crown imperial stalks is more an indication of my green thumb than my wealth. They all arose from a single bulb my father gifted me more than 20 years ago. I learned to propagate them by bulb scaling, which involves digging down into the ground to remove scales from the bulb, then mixing the scales with barely moist potting soil. After a couple of months storage at warm temperatures followed by a couple of months storage at cool temperatures, the scales can be potted up to be nursed for a season before planting out.
Every year I make new crown imperial plants. Will I ever have too many?
F. michailovskyi
Crown imperial also has some unknown known kin. You have to see Persian lily, Fritillaria persica, to appreciate it. A written description — foot-high stalks lined with nodding, small, plum purple to gray green flowers — doesn’t do justice to the beauty of this bulb. I hope to start multiplying this one also. Another unknown known is Fritillaria michailovskyi, this one with nodding, bell-shaped flowers with yellow-tipped, purple petals.
F. persica
F. meleagris
Among crown imperial’s kin is also a known known: Guinea hen flower, F. meleagris, with large, nodding, checkered flowers. Even White Flower Farm sells these bulbs for less than a dollar each. No wonder they are better known.
Let’s segue over to unknown knowns among fruits. 
Right now, a billowing wave of white blossoms lines my driveway, the blossoms of Nanking cherry (Prunus tomentosum), a shrub that can grow 8 feet high and wide. The show matches that of any other flowering tree or shrub.
What do other flowering trees and shrubs — forsythia, lilac, flowering cherries, and the like — offer after their flower shows subsides? Nothing, nada, zip. Nanking cherry, though, goes on to bear oodles of small red cherries with a flavor somewhere between that of sweet and tart cherries.

And what does it take to get a decent crop of sweet or tart cherries? Pruning, perhaps spraying and bird control. What does it take to get a crop of Nanking cherries? Nothing, nada, zip. The plants bear heavily with little or no care, and bear enough to satisfy birds, squirrels, and humans.
Okay, every rose has it’s thorns. Nanking cherries are small, one-half to five-eighths of an inch in diameter. The smallness is more than offset by plant’s beauty, its profusion of fruits, and its low maintenance .
And one more unknown known: gooseberries (both gooseberries and Nanking cherries warrant a whole chapter in my book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden).
Many people imagine all gooseberries to be small, green, and tart, suitable mostly for cooking. Not so! There are over a hundred varieties of gooseberry in various colors and sizes, and a whole category of them, what the Brits call “dessert varieties,” are for fresh eating. Good flavor is what should warrant gooseberries known known status among fruits.
Most important in growing gooseberries is to choose a good variety, both for taste and for resistance to disease powdery mildew. Don’t plant Pixwell; the berries are small, green, and tart. Do plant varieties such as Poorman, Chief, Hinonmakis Yellow, Red Jacket, Captivator, and Glendale. They’re all tasty and disease resistant.
If you want even better flavor and you’re willing to deal with powdery mildew, plant varieties such as Colossal, Whitesmith, Achilles, and Webster. Dealing with powdery mildew involves spraying, but it could be something relatively benign, such as horticultural oil, sulfur, baking soda, soap, or horticultural oil plus baking soda (1-1∕2 tablespoons baking soda plus 3 tablespoons oil in 1 gallon water).
Right about now, gooseberries can experience one more pest, the imported currantworm, which strips plants of their leaves, beginning at ground level. The leaves will grow back but the plant is left weakened. A spray just as soon as chewing begins will stop this insect in its tracks and, again, benign products such as insecticidal soap or horticultural oil should be effective. I’m training some of my plants as 3-foot-high trees, which might also thwart the worm because there’ll be no leaves near ground level on which the insects can begin their feast.
If all this seems like too much potential trouble for gooseberries, it’s not. The best dessert varieties have flavors that might be compared to that of grape, plum, or apricot, and have a “cracking” texture, a crisp flesh that explodes with ambrosial juice when you bite into them. A writer of the last century characterized gooseberries as “the fruit par excellence for ambulant consumption.” I agree, and you might also if they become a known known in your garden.
Berries of July

Fruits Galore & Georgia O’Keefe

Let’s see, what’s on my plate for today? No, not what I’m planning to do, but what’s on my plate, literally. I have gumis, figs, Nanking cherries, highbush and lowbush blueberries, black raspberries, red raspberries, black currants, red currants, tart cherries, and mulberries. And what a tasty lot they are, and for

so little effort. All that’s needed, for everything except the gumis and Nanking cherries, is pruning and mulching. The gumis and Nanking cherries, both with their branches bowing to the ground under the load of red fruits, need no care at all!

Gumis (Elaeagnus multiflora) are particularly abundant this year, for the first time ever. Either the bushes have grown large enough to pump out a large crop, or birds have been distracted by all the cicadas into leaving the gumis alone. Letting the fruits, which are flecked gold and the size of small cherries, hang on the bush until dead ripe gives time for the sprightly, sweet flavor to develop and the astringency to fade. It’s also a nice ornamental shrub, with leaves silvery on one side that are a good foil for the colorful fruits. Backtracking to a few weeks ago to another asset of this plant, sweet perfume from the flowers was drifting all over the yard.
The early fig crop, known as the breba crop, is also relatively abundant. One of my figs, mislabeled Green Ischia, bears fruit on new, growing shoots as

well as on last year’s stems. The breba crop, ripening earlier, develops on last year’s stems, a few of which I saved on the large tree in the greenhouse. The rest of the plant, like my other figs, which bear only on new, growing shoots, gets lopped back each autumn to 3 or 4 feet high. This crop, and for some figs this is the only crop, is called the main crop.

So right now Green Ischia has a breba crop ripening on the 2 or 3 stems I left from last year, and a main crop developing which will begin ripening around the end of August, along with the main crop on the other varieties of figs. These crops can be harvested from plants in pots or, as is the case for my Green Ischia, plants growing in the ground in a minimally heated greenhouse. The advantage of in-ground in the greenhouse is larger plants and, hence, more figs. Some people spend their money on in-ground pools; I spent my money on a greenhouse for in-ground figs.
The other fruits on my plate, with the exception of Nanking cherries, are familiar to most people. Many visitors have been sampling the Nanking cherries, and all except one were wowed by the fine flavor. The fruits are somewhat small and soft, but, in addition to good flavor, earn their keep for their fecundity, their not needing any care, and for white blossoms that drench the stems in spring.
Soft pink, tubular swirls of calla lily (Zantedeschia spp.) flowers are like having a three dimensional Georgia O’Keefe painting right on my terrace. No, four dimensional, the added dimension being time, because the plants change day by day.
Calla lilies are also easy to grow. Put the bulbs in a pot, and water; enjoy

flowers in summer; bring the pot indoors before the weather plummets below freezing in autumn; store in cool basement through winter; bring out again in late spring.

My main problem with growing calla lilies is that I’d like more of them than the one pot now sitting on my terrace. New plants are thankfully easy to come by, besides being gifted them, in this case from my friend Sara. Beneath the ground, the plants spread by rhizomes, which are specialized, underground stems such as those found beneath ginger, banana, lowbush blueberry, and bamboo plants. Rhizomes have a segmented appearance, just like stems, with each each node sprouting feeder roots as well as an aboveground shoot. Come autumn or late winter, I’ll cut up the rhizomes and multiply my holdings.
So what’s hard to grow around here? Apples. If you wanted to know the most difficult fruit crop east of the Rocky Mountains, that’s it. Apples.
The season started out perfectly, with good fruit set. A few well-timed sprays kept the snout-nosed beetle, plum curculio, at bay, as well as codling moth (the “worm” in an apple) and the fungus responsible for apple scab, whose effect is just what it sound like. But problems don’t end there.
As curculio exits stage left, apple maggot moves in stage right (but can be controlled by trapping) and codling moth stays around. Orange blemishes from cedar-apple rust pock susceptible varieties and scab, despite the sprays, also becomes evident, the result of our incessant wet weather. Fruits are cracking from changes in soil moisture. And still in the offing are summer diseases — black rot, white rot, and bitter rot — that can ruin any fruit that survives other scourges.
I can hear my mulberries, Nanking cherries, black raspberries, and other no-care fruits chuckling at me for all the care I lavish on my apples, to little avail.
Dateline July 4: Cicadas are gone. Yeah!

Rational in Spring? No.

People are funny, and that includes gardeners. Gardening is basically simple: You put a seed in the ground and, backed by millions of years of evolution, that seed grows. Sure, there are a few more wrinkles, like choosing a sunny spot (for sun loving plants), a well-drained soil (except for bog and water plants), and enriching the ground with organic materials, and, perhaps, fertilizer.
But people love to complicate things. Hence, compost tea, biochar, and now, straw bale culture. A recent article in the New York Times about straw bale culture has everyone — or at least the handful of people who told me of their plans for the season — trying out this new and allegedly wonderful alternative to merely dropping seeds in the ground.
Actually, straw bale culture is not “new.” I wrote, over a decade ago, in my book Weedless Gardening, “Straw bale culture of vegetables originated in Europe from a need to grow plants where diseases had built up in greenhouse soils. The idea is to set a bale of straw on the ground and grow a plant right in the bale. You do this by poking a transplant into a hole gouged in the top of the bale and sprinkling some fertilizer on it. Given adequate water and nutrients, the plant roots grow throughout the bale, hardly realizing that they’re not in real soil. There’s no reason why this method could not be used to start a small garden anywhere. Put some paper down on the ground and create mulched paths between the bales.”
Yes, the method could be used “anywhere,” but there are also good reasons not to. First, straw bale culture is not really organic. With this method, plants are fed mostly by soluble fertilizers sprinkled on the bales. The essence of organic gardening is to feed the soil which, in turn, feeds the plants. Plant foods are released from the soil matrix through microbial action. Microbes respond, as do plants, to warmth and moisture, so nutrients become available to plants in synch with plant needs. In straw bale culture, roots are bathed in readily available nutrients whether they want them or not.
Barring diseased soil or trying to garden on a rock ledge, why use straw bale culture in the first place? What’s wrong with dropping a seed in waiting furrow in the ground? 
Not that I’m that rational a gardener, especially this time of year.
I’ve admonished many a person to begin with a site that needs a plant, determine what plant would do well with those site conditions, and then — and only then — to go out and get the plant or order it. All that’s

opposed to wandering into a garden center this time of year, when such places are awash with all sorts of desirable plants, picking out a plant you like, and then running around the yard with it trying to decide where to plant.

I, of course, did the latter. A couple of weeks ago, I read about Concorde pear, notable for having “the beautiful shape and crisp texture of the Conference, which gives it an elongated neck and firm, dense flesh. Its flavor is vanilla-sweet, reminiscent of the supple sweetness of Comice pears.” (Supple sweetness?)
The plant is readily available in Britain, but not here. All of which made it all the more desirable. Did I really need a Concorde pear tree? Aren’t the more than 20 varieties I now have sufficient? Evidently not.
As luck would have it, a nursery an hour away had Concorde. The nursery, of course, had  many other desirables also. So I also bought Black Gem, a named variety of black walnut. Not that there aren’t plenty of wild black walnuts around here, but this was a named variety.
So today I will run around the yard with these two plants trying to decide where to plant them.
The appeal of Black Gem is that it has a name. A “named variety” of plant is one that was either bred or selected from a wild population and found to be superior in one or more ways. Said plant is given an official name and then reproduced by some method of cloning, such as by cuttings or, as is the case with most fruit

and nut trees, grafting. McIntosh is a named variety of apple. Seedling apple trees that pop up randomly along roadsides are not. All plants of the same variety name are genetically identical.

Named varieties are not available for every plant and, for some, pretty much all seedlings are quite good. The hedge of Nanking cherries along my driveway — and now in bloom! — are merely seedlings, but all the plants are beautiful and yield, in a couple of months, great quantities of tasty cherries with virtually no effort on my part. No varieties are available.
Black Gem, according to the tag, yields “huge crops of light-colored, high-quality, delicious nuts that crack in large segments and offer a superior nutmeat-to-shell ratio. Thin husks slip off easily.” How could I resist?

Excitement in some Seeds

There’s still some space left in the March 10th lecture/workshop in Philadelphia. In the morning, I’ll do a photo presentation about pruning fruit trees, shrubs, and vines and then, after lunch, we’ll go out into the real world, at the Awbury Arboretum’s Agricultural Village. For more information and for registration for FRUIT PRUNING SIMPLIFIED, please visit:

And now, on to what’s happening up here on my farmden in New York’s Hudson Valley . . .
Some inch-long, tapering white sprouts — roots — caused quite a stir today. For me, at least. The first was spotted inside a baggie of moist potting soil that I put in the refrigerator a couple of months ago. That sprout was attached to a marble-sized, brown yellowhorn (Xanthocerus sorbifolia) seed. Giving the bag a shake brought more seeds to the surface, all with emerging sprouts.
The other sprouts were in a Clementine tangerine box that, last summer, I had filled with potting soil in which I had sown seeds of Nanking cherry (Prunus tomentosa). The box sat outside along the north wall of my house until a couple of weeks ago, when I brought it indoors to warmth.
Without doing time in the cold, whether outdoors or in the refrigerator, neither batch of seeds would have sprouted. They needed, as do many tree and shrub seeds, a period of stratification, that is, time kept cool and moist. After a certain number of hours under these conditions, typically about 800 hours for hardy trees and shrubs, the seeds can sprout unless temperatures are too cold.
I chose my words carefully when I wrote “cool and moist” above; temperatures below freezing contribute nothing to this so-called cooling “bank.” So, outdoors, those Nanking cherry seeds put time into their chilling bank this past autumn and during any of winter’s warmer days. If that time hadn’t been sufficiently long, hours in the “bank” could have been topped up in late winter and early spring.
A refrigerator is just the right temperature for stratification, too right in some ways. The consistently cool temperatures there fill up the chilling bank hours quickly, so quickly that seeds collected in late summer and stratified there often sprout in December, which means indoor planting at a time when growing conditions are at their worst. That’s why my yellowhorn seeds didn’t get a good soaking and then tucked into the bag with potting soil in the refrigerator until late November.
Forget about the nuts; yellowhorn is worth
growing even just for its flowers
The yellowhorn seeds came from a tree I planted many years ago. I planted it because yellowhorn was billed as a small, hardy tree with a nut very similar to a macadamia nut. Yes, the nut does look like a macadamia, inside and out, and it’s about the same size. But yellowhorn nuts taste nothing like macadamia nuts. The yellowhorn nuts from my tree are barely edible, roasted or raw.
So why am I so excited about the nuts (seeds) sprouting to give me additional plants. Yellowhorn is a beautiful tree with ferny leaves and drooping, large clusters of purple-throated, white flowers that rival and resemble orchids.
Run-of-the-mill, seedling macadamia nuts are not as tasty as named varieties that have been selected over the years. No named varieties of yellowhorn exist. Perhaps a tasty clone may one day be discovered. Perhaps one of the sprouting seeds in my baggie will grow into a tree that will be the one that bears those tasty nuts. 
Nanking cherry is another story, as far as taste. Like yellowhorn, no named varieties of Nanking cherry exist. But I’ve tasted the fruits, which are small, sweet-tart cherries, from many different plants in many different places over many years, and they all taste good.
Like yellowhorn, Nanking cherry also sports beautiful flowers. Each year in early spring, my Nanking cherry shrubs are drenched in such a profusion of pinkish-white blossoms that you can hardly see the stems.
Nanking cherry stems are hidden behind
the oodles of fruit this plant bears 
Another plus for Nanking cherry is that it is pest-resistant and bears reliably every year. The usual pests of cherries — curculios, fruit flies, brown rot, leaf spots, borers — are insignificant on Nanking cherries. And the plant laughs off extremes of temperature: It’s native where winter lows plummet to minus 50°F and summer highs soar to 110°F, and even though the plants’ blossoms open early in spring, spring frosts are never a problem. Did I mention that the plants also grow quickly and bear young, typically a couple of years after planting?
All this is not to say that Nanking cherry could not be improved. Some selection or breeding could slide flavor more towards the sweeter end of the sweet-tart scale. Larger fruit would be welcome. Mostly, the cherries are a mere one-half to five-eighths inch in diameter.
So last summer I collected seeds from fruits that were a little bigger and a little sweeter than the rest. Those were the seeds I planted in that Clementine tangerine box. I’m going to let these plants grow until warm weather settles in spring, then move them outdoors. In 2 or 3 years, I’ll be sampling fruits from these seedlings. I’ll save and plant some seeds from shrubs bearing the largest and tastiest fruits, and plant them. Perhaps I’ll eventually have some better Nanking cherries. At the very least, I’ll have lots of them.