Five-Six-Pick Up Sticks!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Fun in a January garden setting anyone? Can you have fun in a January garden setting? Of course you can -- provided you like working outside in cold weather. If that's not quite your cup of tea -- well -- a hot cup of tea does help take the winter sting away somewhat.

January in the garden is a busy time. There are things to prune back. There are things to plant. There's always an annoying patch of weeds to take care of. And January happens to be the perfect time to add to your fruit tree collections.

Flavor Supreme Pluot Scion
I've been planting fruit trees in the Bird Back 40 for seven plus years so far. Usually it's one or two trees. But sometimes -- like last year -- it was three pear trees in a Backyard Orchard Culture setting. Point is? I'm starting to run out of room. I'm not quite there yet -- but there will come a day when it will be awfully tough to cram yet another fruit or citrus tree in the Bird Back 40.

So what does a fruit fanatic do when he or she runs out of room? Plant them in the neighbor's yard without them knowing it!

Flavor Finale Pluot Tree-Bird Back 40
No -- that's never a good idea. Especially if you want to keep your good neighbors on a "good neighbor" basis. The best way to add fruit to a yard already full of delicious fruit offerings is to graft different varieties of fruit onto trees that are already growing.

I've been quite successful with the pluot tree -- as profiled last year with The Tree That Bethany Built. And -- true to her word -- my work-friend came through again this year with a selection of pluot offerings that had not been added to my rather Frankensteinish Flavor Finale Pluot Tree.

Last Year's Successful Grafting Results
Did you think the Tree of 40 Fruit was impressive? How about the Tree of 40 Pluots? Now -- I'll be honest. I'm not quite there yet. I may never be there. But thanks to Bethany's kind offering of scion wood -- the Flavor Finale now holds grafts for the Splash and Flavor Supreme pluots.

If there's one thing I can brag about, it's this: Bill Bird can graft pluots. It's idiot proof. I can't graft a peach, cherry, apple or nectarine worth a hoot. But when it comes to pluots? I am the Flavor King of grafters. That's because it's really hard to screw up a pluot tree graft.

Handy Dandy Grafting Tool
As the author of numerous grafting failures -- just trust me on this.

I will get more experience with other grafting efforts -- and soon I might add. As luck would have it, the Sacramento Chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers (CRFG) holds its annual scion exchange tomorrow at a new location in Carmichael.

What are scions? Scions are essentially nothing more than sticks that have been harvested from various fruit trees around California. You like peaches? Nectarines? Are cherries your bag? How about apricots? Do plums tempt you? Does the letter A make you think of apples?

Sacramento CRFG Scion Exchange 2010
At the scion exchange you'll find hundreds of scion offerings featuring varieties that you've probably never heard of. Do you want a Tree of 40 Peaches? Tree of 40 Cherries? The scion exchange can make it happen.

The event has moved because it basically outgrew the old location on Branch Center Road. That room would get so crammed with fresh fruit enthusiasts that it could be a challenge to move from place to place. Although I haven't visited the new location yet, I'm told by "those in the know" that I'll like it.

Nectarines Anyone?
That said -- this years Sacramento CRFG scion exchange will be held Sunday (TOMORROW), January 18th at the La Sierra Community Center, Smith Hall. It's located at 5325 Engle Road in Carmichael. Anyone and everyone with an interest in growing fruit is welcome. Admission is $5. Doors open to the public at 10:30 sharp -- which should get you home just in time for the start of the NFL Championship Games. 

Hey, we've got to keep the important stuff in perspective here -- even if my beloved San Francisco 49ers missed out on the dance this year (so long Jim Harbaugh).

Happy Gardening New Year!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Good morning and welcome to 2015! Wait, the clock says 12:12 PM! Did I really sleep that long? I've got to stop watching those New Year's Eve broadcasts on Univision. That's right, I said Univision. Even though most of the programming flies right over my head (I don't speak the best Spanish), I do like the fact that they put live crews at Disneyland in Southern California to ring in the New Year.

That's much better than watching one of the major networks repeat a New York City ball drop that took place three hours earlier, don't you think? Univision also isn't afraid to highlight singers who are over the age of 30. Jeez, when did I get so old and crotchedy?

Disneyland Rings in 2015
The new year means a new start to gardening efforts. And you thought time slowed down for gardeners during those winter months? Perish the thought! Winter time is planning time. If you're into serious gardening like me and the wife that is Venus (plus countless others) -- winter is just as important as spring, summer and fall. For it's the steps we take right now that either assure our success, or spell our doom, come summertime.

So what is on Bill Bird's gardening agenda for the first day of 2015? More than one or two items actually. Here is just a smattering of some of garden planning that takes place during this non-slow period of the year.

Seeds from Lockhart Seed
SEEDS, SEEDS, SEEDS: If you grow your garden from seeds, as we do, now is the time to start ordering seeds for the coming spring and summer. My work on this front actually started weeks ago. Our first stop was to the Mother of all seed stores in the San Joaquin Valley: Lockhart Seed in Stockton. There you will find most of everything you need for a full scale garden -- but not everything.

Seed catalogs that arrive by the dozens during this time of year plus seed websites offer the selection you can't find at seed stores. Most of my heirloom tomato seed -- for example -- comes from two or three different sources. Tomato Grower's Supply offers a warehouse selection of many major heirloom and hybrid tomato offerings. I'm also a fan of the breeding efforts of Bradley Gates, who runs Wild Boar Farms in the heart of the Napa Valley.

Tomato Selections from Wild Boar Farms
The Gates operation doesn't offer heirlooms. But he does offer selections that he's created on his own -- such as the Pink Berkeley Tie Dye and Cascade Lava. Other seeds come from other gardeners who save seed from the particular plants they liked in 2014. This is how I obtained seeds for the Ukrainian Heart tomato. They came as a trade that I engineered with Davis gardener and California Rare Fruit Grower (CRFG) member Marta Matvienko. Marta send me seeds for Ukrainian Heart. In return, I sent her seeds for Black Cherry -- a volunteer that sprang from the garden last year.

I also owe Marta a smattering of Blue Lake Pole Bean Seeds. Why? Because I was dumb enough to buy a pound of these seeds from Lockhart Seed. And I won't be planting a pound of pole bean seeds. Ever.

Ordering seeds is also the first step in the process. Tomato fanatics like me and the wife that is Venus will start planting these seeds indoors starting in February. Seed starting efforts for hot peppers, like the Ghost pepper for example, start even earlier. Some people have already started seeds for the Ghost and Scorpion peppers. This is because these types of varieties demand long growing seasons. Starting hot peppers in January means a nice harvest in July or August -- right when the tomatoes ripen.

Salsa anyone?

FRUIT TREES: The next two months are premium months for bare root fruit tree season. Major fruit tree suppliers like Dave Wilson Nursery in Hickman are already in the process of shipping tens of thousands of every fruit tree variety you can possible imagine to nurseries all over the West Coast and elsewhere. I'm not sure how big the DWN footprint actually is (I've never asked). But since they are the primary supplier for all things pluot, plumcot and other recent fruit tree introductions, I can imagine they get a lot of business.

And you thought Christmas season was busy?

One of my favorite activities is to browse the fruit tree selections on the DWN website. There you will find photos and entries about every fruit tree they offer. Not sure if you want a plum or a pluot? Torn between apples and apricots? Should it be a pear or a pomegranate? The DWN website, plus planting recommendations might answer some of those nagging doubts.

And there's nothing like a bit of fresh fruit pulled from a backyard or front yard tree during the summer. Bare root season is also the best time for planting because there's not as much stress placed on the tree as it's hauled from nursery site to that premium spot you've picked out for it in your yard.

Flavor Finale Pluot Tree in Winter
FRUIT TREE CARE: Now that the leaves are off the multitude of fruit trees I have scattered about the Bird Back 40 -- it's time to start thinking about winter care to prevent spring problems. There's a lot to worry about -- from peach leaf curl to the dreaded fire blight. Spraying early for insect control might erase or even lessen the expected bug invasion during the spring and summer.

I've come to discover that there's a particular bug that enjoys my Flavor Finale pluot tree as much as I do. If I fail to do anything to control it -- this invading army will infect and destroy every leaf on the tree. The most effective control I've found against this bug is to treat the tree once in the winter and again in the spring -- AFTER it has stopped flowering (we don't want to be spraying the helpful pollinators -- now do we?).

Grapevines in Need of a Haircut
Winter time is also pruning time -- especially for items such as wine or table grapes or fruit trees planted together in a Backyard Orchard Culture setting. Some fruit trees -- like the Granny Smith apple for example -- need a little "convincing" to enter that needed winter slumber. While many apple tree selections gladly shed every last leaf during the first blast of arctic weather -- the Granny stubbornly holds out like a petulant child who isn't quite ready for bedtime.

So how does one "convince" a Granny Smith apple tree to shed every last leaf? Yell at it? Call it bad names? Insult it? No, nothing that dire. Simply put on your winter gardening gloves and pick every last leaf off. Granny will get the message.

Finally -- winter time is a perfect time for fruit tree GRAFTING. This is why many CRFG Chapters hold scion exchanges during the months of January and February. The Sacramento Chapter is no different. This year's scion exchange will take place on Sunday, January 18 from 10:00 to 1:00 at La Sierra Community Center (5325 Engle Rd., Carmichael 95608).

And here you thought winter time was a "slow time" for us gardening fanatics. I'm tired already!