Ginger on the Way

   Now that summer-y weather has blown in and is here to stay, it’s time to plant the greenhouse. Plant the greenhouse?! This time of year? Yes. No reason to let all that real estate go to waste through summer.
    Ginger plants that I started from supermarket tubers a couple of months ago were crying out to be released from the confines of their 4-inch pots. Warming their bottoms on the seed-starting heating mat pushed them along even when early spring skies were overcast and the greenhouse relatively cool. Ginger is a tropical plant that shivers even when temperatures drop below 55°F.Planting ginger
    I never could see the rationale for the current interest in growing ginger in northern regions. That is, until I tasted freshly harvested, baby ginger. This far north, ginger rarely has time to develop the mature, tan-skinned roots you see in supermarkets. No matter, because immature, or “baby,” ginger, which is ginger harvested before it matures, is better — a white, tender, tasty tuber. It doesn’t keep or ship as well as mature ginger, which is no problem for backyard growing or local sales.
    So 4 ginger plants went into two greenhouse beds. I’ll dig up the ginger in September, freeing up space for lettuce, celery, kale, and other cool weather salad makings that will inhabit the winter greenhouse.

Early Curcurbits

    One can eat only just so much ginger. (We’re still using last year’s harvest which, for long term storage, was sliced thin and put into jars with vinegar.) What about other greenhouse beds that are being vacated as the last of winter’s lettuce, celery, kale, and chard get harvested and cleared away?
 Greenhouse in June   Cucumbers and melons love heat, so a few extra plants that I started back in early May went into beds.
    The permanent fixtures in the greenhouse, the plants that really help the greenhouse earn its keep, are the four fig trees — Bethlehem Black, San Piero, Brown Turkey, and Rabbi Samuel — planted right in the ground. The largest of these has a trunk 7 inches in diameter. All yield bountiful crops daily in August and September, and less bountiful ones going into October.Figs growing, last of greenhouse lettuces

Tropicals and Subtropicals Summer Vacation

    In a reversal of fall, tropical and subtropical plants that had been moved into the greenhouse and house are now lined up outdoors, ready to offer fresh black mulberries, Pakistan mulberries, pineapple guavas, pomegranates, Golden Nugget mandarins, olives, dwarf Cavendish bananas (probably no fruit from this one, just a very tropical look), and a few other varieties of figs, in pots.
    (My black mulberry is the species Morus nigra, one of the best-tasting of all fruits, but is not cold hardy here. Black-colored mulberries that grow all over the place outdoors here are, despite black fruits, species of red or white mulberries, or their hybrids.)
    Any of my tropical and subtropical plants, given their druthers, would reach 8 feet, 10 feet, or even more feet skyward, and spread their roots many feet in all directions. Here, they can’t do that or they would be too big to move or to house in winter.
    So I mixed up a batch of potting soil, and started root pruning. It sounds brutal, and it is, but plants recover nicely and then happily have new soil to explore. Basically, I slide a plant out of its pot, stand it upright, and then start slicing off the outer edges of the root ball. Pruning shears take care of any roots too large to slice with a knife.
    The finished root ball is an inch or two smaller in diameter than it started out. How much to remove depends on the initial size of the root ball — larger plants get more removed — and, to a lesser degree, the kind of plant. Figs, for instance, tolerate especially brutal treatment.
 Root pruning   So much for the roots. To keep it manageable, the plant also needs stem reduction. Some stems get shortened, some are removed in toto, and some are left untouched. Who gets what treatment depends, for fruiting plants, on their fruiting habit — just where and how they bear fruit. Figs that bear on new shoots can be pruned rather severely; pineapple guavas bear on new shoots growing off older stems, so only moderate pruning is tolerated so that some older stems are preserved, etc.
    After root and shoot pruning a thorough watering, plants are ready for a year or two of good growth before they will again feel constrained.


 Curing my Olive Harvest

   My olive harvest, about which I recently wrote, was such a success that I want to up my production beyond this year’s bountiful 6 fruits. Those 6 fruits, once cured, were truly delicious. (Yes, the halo effect — my assessment of them veiled by my having grown them — could come into play.)
    Part of the reason for the fruits’ high quality was how I cured them. Not very complicated: I just let them sit and dry out. After about two weeks, they had lost their bitterness, and, without the distraction of salt, oil, or spices, their rich, olive flavor shined through.

New Roots, New Shoots

    Part one of my twofold plan to increase production is to put the plant into a larger pot. A larger pot makes for a larger plant; a larger plant has more branches on which to hang more fruit.
    Looking more closely at the plant told me that re-potting was necessary immediately! New flower buds are already beginning for the next crop. Because the plant is moving up to a larger pot, no root pruning is necessary. I put some potting soil in the bottom of a pot, set the exposed root ball on top of the soil, loosened some roots along the outside of the root ball, and packed new soil in the space between the root ball the the side of the pot.My potted olive tree, pruned
    With soil firmed and a thorough watering, the roots have a happy home — for a year or two, when root pruning and re-potting become necessary. If moved up to a yet larger pot, the plant would be too unwieldy to muscle indoors and out.
    Part two of my plan to increase production is pruning. To prune any fruit plant for best yield and quality, you  have to know something about how the particular plant bears its fruits. For instance, peaches are pruned very differently from apples because peaches bear only on one-year-old wood and apples bear on wood a couple of years old on up to a decade or older. One of the goals in pruning peaches is to coax enough new growth this year for a good crop next year.
    To figure out how to best prune an olive, I referred back to The Pruning Book (which I wrote, and also details pruning of apples, peaches, and just about every other plant). “Fruits form in leaf axils along, but not to the end of, the previous year’s stems (and sometimes from dormant buds in one- or two-year-old wood).”
    So olive fruits something like a peach, on young wood. Actually more like an apricot, which bears fruit on wood from one to three years old.
    My ploy was too shorten some stems, focussing on those making the plant look gawky. Without sacrificing yield, shortening stems has the benefit of encouraging new, branching growth. More branching will make the plant look prettier and provide more young stems on which to hang fruit next year.

Sleep, Sweet Fig

    Going from the sun-drenched window, in front of which my olive tree basks, all the way down to the basement, I check out another Mediterranean fruit, my potted fig trees. What’s happening with them? Nothing, I hope.
    Now is a crucial time of year for a potted fig tree. The goal is to keep them dormant. Unfortunately, just a bit more warmth or a bit more light and they’ll start to awaken. If awakened, new growth will be soft and sappy, even if the plants sit in front of a sunny window. Then, when the plants finally go outdoors, intense sunlight, wind, and cooler temperatures are apt to burn back such growth.
  Figs buds, still dormant in basement  Temperatures stay relatively consistent and cool (40-45°F.) in my basement and it’s dark down there, so the plants generally stay dormant until sometime, probably next month, when I can set them outside. Keeping the plants slightly on the dry side also helps hold back growth.
    Last year was perfect. I moved the dormant figs outdoors while the weather was still cool without temperatures dropping too low below freezing. (Dormant figs tolerate temperatures down to the low 20s.) Growth began in synch with increasing temperatures, culminating in branches draped with soft, ripe figs by summer’s end. I’m planning for a repeat performance.