Some Fruits and a Ornamental Veggie

Happy Blueberries, Happy Me

My sixteen blueberry plants make me happy, so I make them happy. (They made me happy this year to the tune of 190 quarts of berries, half of which are in the freezer.) I don’t know how much work bearing all those berries was for them, but I just finished my annual fall ritual of lugging bag upon bag of leaves over to the berry patch to spread beneath the whole 750 square foot planted area.Blueberry fruit cluster

I don’t begin this ritual spreading until the blueberries’ leaves drop. Then, old leaves and dried up, old fruits are on the ground and get buried beneath the mulch, preventing any disease spores lurking in these fallen leaves or fruits from lofting back up into the plants next spring. Rainy, overcast summers or hot, dry summers or any weather in between — my bushes have never had any disease problems.

In past years, I did do two things before spreading that mulch. First, I spread some nitrogen fertilizer: my universal pabulum, soybean meal, at the rate of 2 pounds per hundred square feet. And second, I spread some sulfur, at about the same rate, to keep the soil acidic. After many years of mulching, the soil has built up an ample reserve of organic nitrogen — evidenced by the plants’ 2 to 4 feet of new stem growth each year. So I no longer add extra nitrogen.

With all those years of mulching, levels of decomposed and decomposing soil organic matter have greatly increased the soil’s buffering capacity for acidity. That means that I no longer have to pay such close attention to acidity, so I rarely add sulfur anymore.

Sammy also likes the mulch

Sammy also likes the mulch

Besides all these other benefit, the mulch has created a soft root run that retains moisture, just what blueberries’ thin roots really like. Fruit is borne on shoots that grew the previous season, so each year’s vigorous new growth translates into a good crop in the offing for the next year.

New York Bananas

Although the crop seemed paltry at first this year, by the time autumn came around, pawpaws were in abundance. This uncommon fruit is the northernmost member of the tropical custard apple family, and the fruit does indeed taste very tropical — a flavor mix of banana, mango, avocado, and vanilla custard — even though it’s easy to grow and native throughout much of the eastern U.S..Pawpaw, like crème brûlée

Two trees would be adequate for most households; I have about 20, just so I can learn more about them and their individual differences. That makes for a lot of pawpaws! (I test market most of them.)Row of pawpaw & black currant

Pawpaw fruits are very variable in both size and flavor even among the branches of a single tree. One year, I tried thinning the fruits to see if that would increase size of remaining fruits, as it does with apples and peaches. Pawpaw has a multiple ovary so each blossom can give rise to as many as 9 fruits. The small fruits are hard to see because they match so closely the green color of the leaves, so I didn’t thin as many as I had hoped. That said, at season’s end, fruits on thinned clusters seemed no larger than fruits on unthinned clusters.

Beginning around the middle of September, I began harvesting the first fruits. I picked some up from the ground and picked some softening ones from the trees, all of which continued through October. By putting them immediately in a cooler at 40°F, I still had good fruit into the middle of November.

Scarlet Runners

Every year I fear that at season’s end I’ll remember something I forgot to plant. This year it was scarlet runner beans.Scarlet runner bean flower

Despite the “bean” in the name, I’ve grown this vining bean, as do most people, primarily as an ornamental, for its scarlet blossoms. I occasionally eat the fat, hairy, yet delectable green beans.

Every year I collect some of the matured black and pale purple, calico seeds for replanting the following year. One year, I decided to cook up some of these seeds and taste them. Scarlet runner bean seeds are quite tasty (and, I learned prior to eating, nonpoisonous). Scarlet runner beans
Next year I’ll remember the scarlet runners. My yard will be aflame in scarlet flowers and, because the plant is pest-free  —  even to Mexican bean beetles — I expect to reap a bumper crop of beans.


Korean Giant Pear, In Training

    Stepping down the two stones at one end of my bluestone wall, a friend looked up and asked, “Are you torturing or training this tree?” He was referring to the tree on one side of the the stairway, one long stem of which was arching overhead, held in that position with a string tied to a stone on the opposite side of the stairway.
    “Training,” I replied. The stem was being coaxed into this seemingly submissive position both for form and function. Not to inflict pain.Pear branch, bent in training
    But first, something about this tree. It is an Asian pear, the variety Seuri Li that I created many years ago by grafting a Seuri Li stem on a semi-dwarfing rootstock (OH x F 513). It’s initial training was as an en arcure espalier. Deer found the young pear trees sitting high enough on the backfilled soil behind the wall a convenient smorgasbord; they didn’t even have to bend down to nibble at them. So the espalier became a deer-modified en arcure.
    Seuri Li never bore as well as the other Asian pears — Yoinashi, Yakumo, and Chojuro — trained above that wall. Last year I lopped back one major stem of Seuri Li and grafted a stem of the variety Korean Giant onto the stump. The graft “took,” and fueled by the established root system, buds from the grafted stem soared skyward.
    Growth from the graft was vigorous enough to start a large arch over the two stone stairway. A very big en arcure.

Hormonal Control

    Training to en arcure entails bending the single stem of a young fruit tree over to its neighbor. Typically, a bud near the high point of the arch will grow out into a vigorous shoot which is then bent in an arch in the opposite direction, to its neighbor on the other side. The vigorous shoot growing from the high point of that second arch is trained back to the next tier of arch  of first neighbor. And so on, as high as desired.
    The end result is a flat plane of adjacent trees decoratively linked as a living fence.
    The fence might be considered functional, but the truly functional aspect of en arcure is physiological. Enhanced vigor of the highest buds can be traced to a plant hormone, auxin. Auxin, present in all plants, is synthesized in the uppermost growing points of a plant, either the tip of a vertical stem or the high point of an arched stem. But this auxin also puts the brakes, to some degree, on growth from buds below that high point.
    Growing fruit takes energy, as does growing stems; more fruit means less stem growth, and vice versa. (Left to their own devices, plants more or less balance these needs themselves, although not always to our satisfaction, which is why you have to pluck off peach fruitlets so that a peach tree can pump more energy into the fewer — and resulting — tastier fruits that remain.) Bending a branch over quells its growth, coaxing it to divert more energy to making fruit — except for the uppermost bud, which puts out a vigorous shoot.
    My plan, then, is to have that long stem of Korean Giant pear festooned with flowers in spring and fruits in autumn as it arches over the stone stairs. Plants don’t read plant physiology books and tow the line to all this theory, but I’m confident in a fruitful, decorative future for my plant because Asian pears generally are very eager to bear fruit.

Uncommon Autumn Color

    Speaking of physiology, I wrote last week about the carotenoids, tannins, and anthocyanins that make autumn so warmly colorful, and especially so this year here in the Hudson Valley. A few plants, not commonly planted, are contributing boldly to that warmth.
    •Japanese Stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia) earns its keep year-round, with rich, red autumn leaf color right now, bark mottled in hues of gray and brown in winter, and camellia-like flowers in early summer.

Stewartia in autumn

Stewartia in autumn

    •Fothergilla (Fothergilla major) also earns its keep for much of the year, with bottlebrush clusters of fragrant, white flowers in spring and leaves that turn brilliant shades of yellow, orange and red in autumn.

Fothergilla in autumn

Fothergilla in autumn

    •Korean mountainash (Sorbus aucuparia) bears flat-topped clusters of white flowers in spring. In autumn, leaves take on a yellow color enriched with some brown and hints of red. Clusters of red fruits also ripen in fall. They’re small, but edible, a nice nibble.

Korean mountainash in auatumn

Korean mountainash in auatumn

    •Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) bears large leaves that have lost their summer-y, tropical look and have turned a clear yellow. The large fruits, also with tropical aspirations, have been ripe for a few weeks, with flavors akin to vanilla custard, banana, or crème brûlée. Take your pick.

Pawpaw, autumn leaf color

Pawpaw, autumn leaf color


 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 Eternal (Fruit) Optimist

   We fruit growers get especially excited this time of year. On the one hand, there’s the anticipation of the upcoming season. And on the other hand, we don’t want to rush things along at all.
    Ideally, late winter segues into the middle of spring with gradually warming days and nights. Unfortunately, here, as in most of continental U.S., temperatures fluctuate wildly this time of year. Warm weather accelerates development of flower buds and flowers. While early blossoms are a welcome sight after winter’s achromatic landscapes, late frosts can snuff them out. Except for with everbearing strawberries, figs, and a couple of other fruits that bloom more than once each season, we fruit lovers get only one shot at a successful crop each season.Some berries of summer
    How did all these fruits ever survive in the wild? They did so by not growing here — in the wild. Apples, peaches, cherries — most of our familiar fruits — were never wild here, but come from climates with more equable temperatures, mostly eastern Europe and western Asia. We favor them because they are part of our mostly European heritage.
    The fruits that I never worry about here are the few that are native: pawpaw, persimmon, grape, mulberry, lingonberry, and blueberry, to name a few. (Also raspberry, gooseberry, and currants, cultivated varieties of which are hybrids of native and European species.) After decades of fruit growing, I’ve hardly missed a harvest, no matter what the weather, from any of these native fruits. (I cover native, non-native, common, and uncommon fruits in my books Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden and Grow Fruit Naturally.)
 Some fruits of fall   Still, I can’t deny the delicious flavor of apples, peaches, and other non-native fruits, especially those I grow myself. So I do grow them, do what I can for them, and hope for the best. I may even put a thin coat of white kaolin spray on these trees to reflect the sun’s warmth and further delay awakening of the buds.
    Last year was a very poor year for many tree fruits, and I’m not sure why. (Recovery from the previous years cicada attacks could be part of the reason.) Nonetheless, every year about this time I’m bursting with optimism for a bountiful fruit harvest.

Veggies, As Usual, Chugging Along Nicely

    I consider vegetables relatively easy to grow because most are annuals and because, with most of them, I can sow and harvest repeatedly throughout the growing season. Let cold or some pest snuff them out, and I can just replant.
    The first of my lettuces, sown early last month in little seed trays, are up and growing strongly, each seedling transplanted into its own APS cell (available from Ninety-six seedlings take up little more than a couple of square feet and, with capillary watering from a reservoir beneath the APS trays, I need check the water only about every week.Seedlings in APS trays
    My next wave of indoor seed-sowing will take place in the middle of this month. That’s when I’ll sprinkle pepper, eggplant, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and cabbage seeds into the miniature furrows of miniature fields of my seed flats.
    I’ll also sow another batch of lettuce seeds indoors, this batch for eventual transplanting outdoors. The first batch is soon to be transplanted into greenhouse beds.

Fig Prophylaxis

    Buds on fig trees planted in the ground in the greenhouse are showing hints of green and swelling ever so slightly in spite of the cool night temperatures in there. The scale insects that I battled last year  are undoubtedly also coming to life on those plants. In the past, I’ve kept these insects at bay by scrubbing the bark in winter with soapy water or by spraying it with insecticidal soap, or, during the growing season, wrapping the trunk with a sticky Tanglefoot barrier to stop travel of ants that herd the insects.
    I’ve never gotten rid of scale insects, only kept them from gaining the upper hand. And some years it’s been a neck and neck race as to who would win out before the end of the season.
  Spraying oil on dormant fig tree  I’ve already begun this season with prophylactic sprays of oil. Oil has a long history of controlling insects and some diseases, with the advantage of causing little collateral damage to the environment, including beneficial insects. Because it’s main effect is to clog insect breathing ports (spiracles), there’s little danger of insects developing resistance.
    Oil’s major hazard is its potential to injure plants, mitigated by spraying when temperatures aren’t too hot or below freezing, or when rain is likely, all easily avoided in a greenhouse. Various kinds and formulations of oil — kinds include vegetable, mineral, and neem oils — differ in their hazard to plants. I’m using a high-purity mineral oil (Sunspray) from which I expect no damage, especially since the plants are still leafless.
    Scale insect eggs should be hatching about now. Brutal as it may sound, I hope to suffocate the crawlers before they settle down to one spot to cover themselves with their protective armor and literally suck the life from the plants. Weekly sprays should cover successive hatches.

New Video

Check out my new video on “pricking out” seedlings!

Free Book!

Book giveaway! Write a comment here telling us which is the most difficult fruit you grow, and why, and why you grow it, and you’ll be entered in a drawing to get a free copy of my most recent book Grow Fruit Naturally. Comments must be submitted no later than noon, March 23rd.Grow Fruit Naturally, front cover of book

Upcoming Lectures

Check out the “Lectures” page of my website for some lectures I’ll be giving in the next few weeks.


Horse Manure: Not Guilty, So On To Pruning

    A dark cloud no longer hangs over my horse manure, that is, the horse manure that I occasionally truck over here to add to my compost piles. I wrote a few weeks ago about the possibility of herbicide that, when applied to hay, retains its toxic effect when an animal eats the hay and even, for a long time, after that animal’s manure has been composted or spread on the ground.
    My herbicide residue concerns were soothed with a simple assay that showed satisfactory growth from bean seeds in both hay that was suspect and hay of known integrity. Also, the bedding in the horse manure is mostly wood shavings rather than hay.
    But another ugly dragon kept raising its head above the manure. Another chemical, this time, Ivermectin, a de-worming medication given to horses (and other animals). Ivermectin or its metabolites might pass through the animal and injure soil dwelling creatures such as beneficial nematodes and earthworms. Past studies have shown negative effects on, for example, “dung fauna and degradation of faeces” (to quote a research paper from 2006).
    Ivermectin is, admittedly, a very useful material, even useful in humans to combat lice, bedbugs, and some more frightening tropical afflictions such as river blindness and elephantiasis. Agriculture is always a balancing act, but I like to keep my soil-dwelling partners happy.
    So I was gladdened when a veterinarian recently directed me to a Stanford University publication that summarized research findings on the environmental effects of Ivermectin. To whit: Ivermectin is excreted and it can affect earthworms, springtails, and other fauna. But it degrades quickly at summer temperatures (1-2 weeks, but much longer in winter) and within a day or two of exposure to bright sunlight. With temperatures within my compost bins reaching 150°F., or more, with the compost sitting many months before use, and with the compost being spread on top of the ground, little Ivermectin would end up in the soil. And soil anyway naturally has low levels of this compound.

Snow Makes Me Taller

    Let’s look aboveground, at stems; there’s pruning to be started. With well over a foot of snow on the ground, I turn my attention to taller plants. The snow is actually an advantage because, with snowshoes on, I can reach more than a foot higher into the branches without a ladder.

Sammy (the dog) and I pruning pawpaws

Sammy (the dog) and I pruning pawpaws

    For now, I’m going to start with the easiest pruning, mostly with plants that don’t need regular pruning beyond removing dead, diseased, broken, and grossly misplaced branches. Right here, such plants include pawpaws, plums, cornelian cherries, and a teenage honeylocust tree. Light is important for fruit production from the fruit trees and, generally, to keep diseases and insects at bay, so I also prune away enough branches to let remaining branches bathe in sunlight.
    I go at the pawpaws with one more goal in mind, to keep fruit from forming either too high in the tree or two far out on the limbs. Pawpaw trees will grow 15 to 25 feet high but I harvest fallen fruit from the ground. By my estimation, fruit can make a soft landing, undamaged, from a height of about 10 feet onto mulched ground. So I lop back the tops to weak side branches at about that height.
    Each pawpaw flower is a multiple ovary, potentially spawning up to nine fruits, each of which can weigh more than half a pound. That’s a lot of weight perched onto the end of a branch, so I shorten long branches to decrease leverage of that fruit load.
    (More about all types of pruning on all kinds of plants in my book, The Pruning Book.)

A Beautiful Climber

    I actually did begin pruning a few weeks ago, before the first snow fall. The plant was hydrangea — no, not the common bigleaf hydrangea which has many people scratching their heads about how to prune, but climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris).

Climbing hydrangea in summer

Climbing hydrangea in summer

   Climbing hydrangea is one of the most beautiful vines, even right now as the peeling, pale cinnamon, bark is in focus among the leafless stems. All summer long, the stems are clothed in lustrous green foliage and, in early, summer clusters of white flowers twinkle against that backdrop like stars in the dark sky.
    As expected, the vine took a few years to get firmly established. Now it threatens to engulf my brick home except that I want to restrict it to only the north wall. Every year now, I prune back stems creeping like groping fingers around the east and west walls. And each year the flower stems reach further directly out from the wall, so I also shortened them.

Climbing hydrangea, partially pruned

Climbing hydrangea, partially pruned

    The present pruning doesn’t permanently subdue the plant. This summer, I’ll again shorten the wandering stems, and I’ll be back at it again next winter and for winters to come.

Fruits Galore, But Not Apples

Check out, a new video is up about me and my cat pruning kiwi vines.

Growing fruits is one of my specialties but, sad to admit, I may be the worst apple grower I know. What’s worse is all the time and effort I put into growing my apples, even way before they begin to fruit.
Mine are all super-dwarf trees, planted because these small trees yield more from a given land area than large trees and they eliminate the need for ladders. Usually, dwarf trees are made by grafting the

desired variety onto special dwarfing rootstocks. Mine are M.27, M.9, and Bud.9. But dwarfing rootstocks have weak root systems that barely support the trees and cannot forage far for nutrients and water. So the trees need staking and the best of soil conditions.

My super-dwarfs are special. They are interstem trees, each of which I made by grafting a desired variety onto a foot-long stem from a dwarfing rootstock variety (the stem piece itself can confer dwarfing) which, in turn, I grafted atop a seedling rootstock. The roots, then, are of seedling apples (made by planting any apple seed). Seedling apple roots forage well and make sturdy trees.
Despite the robust root systems, I still provided excellent soil conditions. The trees grow in a mulched strip 8 feet wide and drip irrigation automatically ministers to their water needs.
With all this, the trees began the season well, a few sprays and some traps keeping insects and diseases at bay followed by careful thinning out of the swelling fruit so that the trees’ energies could be channeled into fewer and, hence, better fruits.  Beautiful fruits hung from the branches going into early summer. And then, the bane of my apples struck. Summer diseases, such as white rot and black rot, started to erode away fruits with telltale rotted areas. By August, whatever fruits were still on the plants were mostly rotting.
Why my repeated failures with apples? Everyone else seems to have decent enough apple crops this year, although one’s sense of decency for their own backyard fruits is sometimes shaded through rose-colored lenses. How about blaming the weather, the wet June? No, everybody around here had it. I blame my site: It’s backed by 6000 acres of woods (not mine) in which lurks plum curculio and other pests. Also, all summer, cooler air collects in this low-lying valley; moisture condensing out of cooling air promotes pest problems.
Moving to an upland site, ideally on sloping land bathed in full sun, would go far to spelling apple success for me. Still, pests make apples among the most challenging of fruits to grow almost everywhere east of the Rocky Mountains.
By right, I should just abandon apple growing. But I don’t.
Perhaps it is the eternal optimism of a fruit grower. Next year . . . I’ll prune more carefully trying to rid my trees of overwintering innoculum for summer diseases. I’ll try out a new, organic fungicide, such as Regalia, safe to use and extracted from — of all things — that fierce weed Japanese knotweed. Perhaps I’ll be lucky.At the very least, growing apples gives me some failures to write about.
The other reason I persist is for taste. There are over 5,000 varieties of apples and knowing how to graft makes it relatively easy to create a tree of virtually any of them. Or to lop off the top of what was

My Hudson’s Golden Gem this year

thought to have been a promising tree to quickly create a tree of a new variety. Buying apples limits you to the dozen or so varieties selected, in large part, for good shipping, good looks, and other commercial qualities.

Which brings me to Hudson’s Golden Gem, a golden apple, not yellow, like Golden Delicious, but truly golden, its russeted skin bouncing off light as if coated with flecks of gold metal. Inside, the flesh has a coarse, chewy texture and sweet, rich flavor that hints of pears and walnut. This variety seems to bear a bit more reliably than many others.
Hudson’s Golden Gem is one of a dozen varieties that I grow for their outstanding flavor — when I get fruit.
When people talk of planting “fruit,” they usually mean planting apples. But apples are not the only fruit.
Notwithstanding my poor luck with apples, I am inundated with other fruits. Right now, baskets are

overflowing with the likes of American persimmons, pawpaws, and kiwiberries, and there are plenty of grape bunches and figs to be plucked and pears waiting to be ripened and eaten.

People often ask me what I do with all the fruit that I grow. I eat it! Not right now, of course, so much of it has to be stored.
No refrigerator could accommodate all my fruit, so enter CoolBot ( CoolBot makes it possible to use a room air conditioner to cool an insulated storage room to the near-freezing temperatures suitable for storing fruits.

This electronic device, when paired to an air conditioner, “fools” the air conditioner into thinking that it has not yet reached 60°, which is the

lowest temperature those units normally wants to go. All you do is set the CoolBot for the temperature to which you want the room to cool. CoolBot also uses less energy than a standard, walk-in, cooler compressor.

My storage room consists of a trailer the inside panelling of which I removed, added foam insulation, and replaced. Right now it’s stacked high with boxes of fruit.
Perhaps one year, some of those boxes will be filled with apples. 

Rye cover crop at Chanticleer Garden

Who’s Got a Pretty Garden?

The Liberty Bell was not the goal of my recent visit to Philadelphia. Instead, I made a bee-line for Chanticleer (, a public garden in Wayne, just outside Philly. It’s one of America’s great (as in fabulous, exceptional, matchless) gardens. Like other great gardens — the ones that I consider great, at least — flowers are not the main attraction at Chanticleer.
The beauty of Chanticleer rests, in large part, in its “structure.” That is, the enduring qualities of the views, the shape of the land, the large trees, the paving that leads your eyes and your feet, and the walls.
One special structural feature of Chanticleer is its ruins. Yes, ruins! Not actual ruins, but a stone mansion, roofless and apparently falling apart — all built to look that way. Why? Because ruins add a romantic air to a garden. Dilapidation. Plants re-enveloping the decrepitude, much like the lush trees ready to gobble up oblivious humans frolicking in Fragonard’s Roccoco landscapes. A return to the primitive, to Eden, Nature regaining the upper hand.
Chanticleer’s ruins may look like Nature is gaining control but it’s not so. After all, this ruin was built. The plants, likewise, are planted. So dripping out from crannies among the rocks are chains of succulent plants. Water gathers in nooks (constructed, of course) in which grow water plants. In one “room” that could have been a main hall in this ruined mansion, if it had ever began life as a non-ruined mansion, is a large, stone table with a mirrored surface. The edges of the table actually form a lip which hold the pool of water that makes the table’s mirrored tabletop.
Chanticleer is not all ruin, just one little section. Another distinctive feature of the garden is its sweeps

of grasses. Lawn sculpture, of lawn. So there is mown lawn within which are splayed large sections of tufted, tawny, clumping grasses (fescues, I believe). Cover crops, which are used on farms for soil improvement, are used decoratively at Chanticleer, perhaps also for soil improvement. One 70-foot-long by 15-foot-wide, leaf-shaped bed had been tilled and was sprouting “veins” of rye(?) plants along its length.

Chanticleer sports many annual or cold tender plants distinctive for the size, color, or shapes of their

leaves. Some grow in pots, attractive and distinctive in their own right. In response to my query about how they store all those tender plants in winter, I was told that most were discarded. Chanticleer closes for the season November 3rd.

Oh, and they do have pretty flowers also at Chanticleer.
Returning to my own garden, has Chanticleer now provided inspiration for here? No. My garden is a very different kind of garden from Chanticleer. Chanticleer provides a thoroughly enjoyable feast for the eyes, but not something I need to take home.
The main emphasis here on the farmden (see, it’s not even a garden any more) is edibles, albeit used more or less decoratively, depending on where you look. A feast mostly for the mouth, somewhat for the eyes.
The goal is to produce an abundance of flavorful, nutritious foods pretty much the year ‘round. Year ‘round food is made possible in this climate — here at the farmden, at least — with freezing (many vegetables), common storage (e.g. cabbage, apple, pear, onion, squash), fermentation (cabbage, radishes), drying (tomatoes), one 5’ by 5’ coldframe (lettuce and other salad greens), and a 400 square foot, minimally heated greenhouse (lettuce and other salad greens, kale, chard).
But wait, now that I look around, things look pretty good around here also. Right now, golden Chojuro

and Seuri-Li Asian pears hang from the branches of espaliered trees sitting atop a stone retaining wall. Atop another retaining wall along the east and north side of the house is a lush, green groundcover of lowbush blueberries, soon to turn a fiery crimson color. Mingling with those blueberries are low-growing lingonberries, whose red fruits are highlighted by the backdrop of the plants’ glossy, evergreen leaves.

(My book, Landscaping with Fruit, details ways to make a fruitful landscape that looks nice and tastes good.)

Way in back, running down the field is a row of pawpaw trees, their large, lush tropical-looking leaves hiding the mango sized fruits now ripening. The creamy white fruits have taste and texture along the lines of vanilla custard or crème brulée. Some of the leaves have begun to shed their tropical look as they turn a clear yellow.
My persimmon trees aren’t hiding their fruits. Those fruits, which give their name to the color persimmon orange color, liven up the trees, and will persist — decoratively, like Christmas ornaments — and

remain edible even after the leaves drop. The fruits, the varieties Mohler, Dooley, and Yates, are delicious, akin to dried apricots that have been plumped up with water, dipped in honey, then given a dash of spice.

And on and on. Very tasty. And nice to look at. But Chanticleer is admittedly nicer to look at.

It (Could Be) Cold

I see a lot of gardens under wraps this morning, plants covered with upturned buckets or flowerpots, or blanketed under . . . well . . . blankets. Day after day of balmy temperatures have made it hard to hold back finally getting vegetable and flower transplants out of their pots and into the ground.
But temperatures just below freezing were predicted for last night (May 13th) and everyone got a wakeup call: Freezing temperatures, which could kill tomato, marigold, and other tender plants, are still possible. It’s all about averages; around here, there’s about a 10 percent chance of a frost the middle of May.
The likelihood of cold, frosty, or freezing temperatures has been detailed — see — for locations throughout the country. The closest weather station connected to that site around here is in Poughkeepsie, and in mid-May that site has a 50% chance of experiencing cold weather (36°F.) and a 10% chance of of experiencing frost (32°F.). Cold air, being heavier than warm air, sinks to low-lying spots on clear still nights, such as last night, so my garden in the Wallkill River valley is usually a few degrees colder than surrounding areas, such as Poughkeepsie. Fortunately, temperatures last night here dropped only to 31° F.
Not that lower temperatures would have done my vegetables or flowers any harm. I took the advice I’ve been doling out to others for the past couple of (warm) weeks, and held off planting anything that could be harmed by frost. So tomatoes, peppers, melons, and the like are still in pots that I moved into the warmth of the greenhouse last night.
I’d like to plant out all these cold-tender seedlings but chilly temperatures are predicted for the next few night. Even chilly temperatures, let alone freezing temperatures, are not good for tender plants.
Still, anyone looking out over my garden this morning would have seen white blankets over some beds and overturned flowerpots over a few plants. Because my garden is in a cold spot, temperatures well below freezing were not out of the question for last night. Cold enough temperatures could damage cabbage and its

kin, lettuce, onions, and other cold-hardy transplants that have been growing out in the garden for the past couple of weeks. I had some row cover material readily on hand, so why not, methought, throw it over some of the beds anyway? Just in case.

Throwing covers over plants at 7 in the evening is a lot more pleasant than waking up at 3 am with the sinking feeling that temperatures have really plummeted and then, if they in fact did, running outdoors in the cold darkness to cover plants.
Fruit trees, shrubs, and vines present another story. A freeze won’t kill the plants, but low enough temperatures could kill flowers or developing fruit, as it did on many fruit plants last year. One frigid night and you have to wait a whole year for the next crop. Unfortunately, not much could be done about this situation. Fruit plants here are too many or too big to cover. My tack is to keep fingers crossed.
Critical temperatures for fruit damage vary with the kind of fruit, the stage of flower or fruit development, the depth of cold, and the duration of cold. Probably other things, too, such as humidity and plant nutrition. 

An excellent table of “Critical Temperatures for Frost Damage on Fruit Trees” can be viewed at So, put simply, 25°F would spell death to 90% of my apples, which are in full bloom, and pears, which are post-bloom, and 28% would do in 10% of their fruits. Plums, also post-bloom, tolerate a bit more cold.
In addition to crossing fingers, my tack is also to grow a variety of fruits, and especially native fruits.

Pawpaw blossom, from below.

(Apples, pears, peaches, and most plums are not native.) It’s not a chauvinistic choice; it’s just that these natives — American persimmon, pawpaw, blueberry, grape, and gooseberry, to name a few — are better adapted to our conditions. And not just the weather here. Pests also.

This spring has been the most perfect spring in a long time, with plenty of clear, sunny days and gradually warming temperatures that kept blossoms from jumping the gun. Playing the averages, the critical cold periods should be pretty much be behind us. As with the stock market, though, “Past performance is no guarantee of future returns.”
Update, May 17th: Warm days and nights that are not too chilly are predicted for the next few days, so I planted out tomatoes and peppers today. I’ll still keep an eye on temperatures because there’s still a 10% chance of temperatures dipping to 36° as late as May 28th according to records at the nearby Poughkeepsie weather monitoring station.