Fruits

How to Grow Aronia for Both Health & Landscape Appeal

aronia berries

Tiny powerhouses for health.

A beautiful and nutritious perennial border?
Yep, you can grow that!

There are a number of varieties of chokecherry, AKA Aronia; we chose the black ‘melanocarpa’ because it has higher levels of anthocyanins, the substance that both produces the dark color and brings up the level of health benefits. These berries are reputed to have the highest antioxidant levels of any fruit.

The specs on it are below, but basically it is a fairly cold hardy plant that will make a border that is both beautiful in the spring with its pretty white flowers, and then healthy later in the season, with bright green leaves that turn color in the fall.

aronia plant

A little bitten, but none the worse.

This is the first year for our plant, and we did get a few of the deep purple colored berries shown above. They were on the tart side, which is why they are often processed into syrups, jams, and such.

It did get a wee bit of some of the smaller leaf eaters’ attentions, but nothing that caused much damage.

We’ll watch it come spring to make sure things don’t get out of hand. This is certainly something the bunnies would love, and we’ll keep an eye out for that as well.

Botanical name: Aronia melanocarpa
Hardiness: Zones 3-8
Size: Up to 5 ft high by 8 ft wide.
Planting: Enjoys full sun but also does well with larger trees.
Harvest: When the berries turn blackish-purple, usually towards the fall.
Storage: Can be frozen; best processed into a more palatable product. We’ve heard they are good added to chili. Hmmm.

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How to Grow – Grapes

So pretty at the garden gate.

So pretty at the garden gate.

Grapes are relatively easy to grow, though they do take up quite a bit of room. It is best to let them vine up an arbor or fence, and they do look lovely this way as well.

Two year old Reliance grape plants.

Two year old cold hardy grape plants.

Choose a variety that will do well in your area, and that you like the taste of. Reliance, pictured here, does well even in cold regions like we have here in the northeast. We also have concord grapes planted and they have been growing well for about 10 years now.

Grape cells.

Grape cells.

You’ll notice your vines have little cells on their skin, this is completely normal.

When the weather has warmed dig a hole slightly deeper than the plant’s container and wide enough to spread the roots. We fill the hole with water until it stops draining.

Spread the roots out and refill the hole with soil. Grapes aren’t terribly picky about soil type, but they do enjoy lots of sun. Pat the soil down and you’re good to go.

Bringing in some of the grapes.

The grape harvest is suffering.

You can just stop here, and harvest what you get each year. That is what we did, until we noticed the berries were getting smaller. A little research was done, and we learned that if you want to get more fruit, and larger berries, a little pruning goes a long way.

How you prune depends on how old your vine is, at least for the first few years. It also varies some depending on how much room you have to grow; you’ll have more if you are growing up an arbor, less on a fence, and even less on a stake.

Come spring, we will make a video showing what we are doing. For now, this article describes the correct way to train and prune a grape vine.

There are two things we learned the hard way:
1. Deer love tender grapevines.
2. Grape vines can be hard to get rid of, choose the spot wisely.

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2 Things to Know About Non-Standard Fruit Trees

A colorful variety all form the same tree.

A colorful variety all from the same tree.

Whatever type and size fruit or nut tree you decide to plant, get as much information as possible. If space is a consideration, you may well be looking into dwarf and semi-dwarf trees.

There are two main things to know first:

What is most important is the information that these trees actually are a graft between a dwarf or semi-dwarf root stock and another tree chosen for its fruit variety.
The reason this is so important is because when you plant the tree, you need to be sure the area where the graft is remains above soil level. If it becomes buried, the tree may revert back to the size of the top portion; in other words, you could end up with a standard sized tree.

A basic graft.

A basic graft.

It is pretty easy to see where the graft is, most often it is an obvious knobby area that comes out at a bit of an angle from the base of the tree. Some companies even will mark the spot with a bit of elastic tape.

The second thing you need to know is whether your tree needs a friend or not.
For many fruit trees, it is important to have another similar tree but of a different variety to insure good pollination of the fruit.
We know this is the case for apples and sweet cherries, and although not required, is better for our pear trees.
Here is some really good info for you from Colorado State University.

A second type of pear grafted onto the same tree.

A second type of pear grafted onto the same tree.

A simple solution, and especially if you do not want multiple trees, is to look for trees that have more than one variety grafted onto the same fruit stock. We have a ’3 in 1′ Pear tree that produces bartlett, anjou, and bosc pears. We also have a ’2 in 1′ which is newly planted.

One tree, three kinds of pears.

One tree, three kinds of pears.

We are really looking forward to the first fruit from our ‘all in one’ apple tree.

Even in just a small area of garden space, you can produce a wonderful variety of fresh, and hopefully organic, fruit.

Thinking of looking into fruit trees?
Grow for it!

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Think Outside the Big Box

So far, so good.

So far, so good.

A few weeks ago we went to Home Depot for flooring. Not only did we come home with that, we bought a dwarf plum tree as well.

I couldn’t resist, what can I say.

We had a space open where an almond tree we bought from a reputable company online did not survive.
That poor tree had been pruned so severely before it was shipped, that it never recovered.
They were nice enough to give us a full refund, but that left us without almonds.
Well, temporarily anyway.

But back to the reason for this post…

Not around here.

Not around here.

We didn’t ask for help at Home Depot, nor was it offered.
And that’s okay, because this is not the first fruit tree we have purchased; we know what we are doing.
Apparently a little better than whomever made the instructions for this tree.

First off, fall is not the best time to plant a tree in the North, spring is.
But it can be done, and there was still enough time for the plant to get established before the winter comes.

And then some of the particulars were listed incorrectly as well.
Dwarf trees usually grow to only 8 ft. tall, not 12 ft.
They should be spaced 6-8 ft apart, not 12.
If you have a small yard, that’s a big difference.

Not exactly.

Not exactly.

Also note that where it reads “Dig a hole twice as wide and as deep as the pot” what it means specifically is as deep and twice as wide.
It could easily be misunderstood to mean twice as deep.

That would be bad because this is a grafted tree. You can easily see where the tree was grafted onto the rootstock, there’s a knobby spot near the base of the tree.
If this gets below ground level, the tree will revert back to a full size tree.
Instead of 8 ft. tall, it will grow 25-30 ft.

So the point here is wherever you purchase plants, especially anything perennial, be sure you know what you are doing.
Ask questions, and check the answers you get.

To be honest, this is why I usually like to go to a nursery, if only for the first time I make a specific purchase.
They tend to know what grows best in our area, and offer suggestions and hints to help things grow better.

Nothing against Home Depot, their plum tree is faring far better than the online almond tree we bought.

But if you are out and you make a spur of the moment decision, check the facts before you plant.

Fortunately we learned our lesson the hard way with oregano, and again with horseradish; and not with a tree.

Now… all we need is a good source for an almond tree.
And a new spot.

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Fruit Trees in Small Gardens -You Can Grow That!

Not long ago we looked at the espalier method of growing fruit trees. The photo on that post was of a huge garden at Kylemore Abbey in Ireland. The trees were grown against a wall as a way of increasing how much heat they received.

But the espalier method, a simple pruning and staking technique, also serves well to save space.
Here is a picture taken by my friend Jack Goldfil of allotment plots in Paris:

Jack Goldfil's allotment garden.

You can see how the trees have been pruned, allowing only the side branches to grow. These are further controlled by tying them to wires running across the whole area. Even in a garden plot this size there can be fresh fruit.

Now of course our garden areas are much larger. Still, we like to get the most from the areas we have growing. An additional concern is the squirrel population that took ever single piece of fruit from our trees last year.
Every. Single. Piece.

So we moved a few of the trees that were only put in last year and purchased a few more.

Growing fruit trees in small spaces.

What we now have are 8 semi-dwarf fruit trees, one dwarf almond tree, and 3 bush variety cherries in a bed about 22′ by 4′. Since everything was just planted this spring, we won’t prune until after the harvest.
We are also going to build a structure above to drape netting over, in an effort to keep the squirrels out.

Remember to never prune more than 1/3 of the tree branches at one time. We will prune some in the fall, and a little more in the spring, containing the area they take up.
You can also plant crops below, as pruned trees don’t cast much shade. This year we planted potatoes and covered them with straw, additionally cutting down on the need to weed.

One other thing to keep in mind is that some trees, pears for example, need more than one variety to produce fruit. You can purchase “2 in one” of “all in one” trees that have been grafted with another variety. Just be careful when you prune to keep some of each variety growing on your tree.

Here’s Jack’s gardening page:Jardiniers du 4ème, where she shares more of her beautiful photos.

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How to Grow -Prickly Pears

This post is the result of a strong desire to grow something different here in the Northeast US, and a great deal of research.
For some reason there is a lot of confusion, misunderstanding and misinformation on the internet when it comes to this plant.

eastern prickly pear cactus

Eastern prickly pear cactus.

And that’s understandable- after all, who would think a cactus could grow wild in Michigan?
Well, okay… maybe people from Michigan.

So here’s what I have found:

1. The Prickly Pear fruit that you find in the markets is from the plant Opuntia ficus-indica and grows where you would expect cactus to grow. Not in the East.

2. There is another relative to this one, known as Opuntia humifusa or Eastern Prickly Pear that also has edible fruit. This plant is hardy to at least Zone 2, some say Zone 1.
And that’s what I am growing.

eastern prickly pear cactus

6 weeks later

3. It can take heat and drought, it can also handle shade.

4. While it is recommended that you plant it in sand or cactus potting medium, I used potting soil and it’s growing fine. Soon I will be transplanting it to the garden.

5. You can grow it from seed; or propagate by cutting one of the pads off and placing that in about an inch of (choose 1) sand, cactus soil, potting soil. I would bet that if it is growing wild in Michigan, and I understand in the Buffalo, NY area as well, you could start it in any kind of soil.

eastern prickly pear cactus

Propagated plant.

Botanical name: Opuntia humifusa, perennial.
Yield: One seed will produce an endless supply of pads, or nopales, which are also edible.
Each pad will also produce fruit, but it can take up to three years before it begins to flower and produce.
Storage: The fruit can stay on the plant throughout the winter months. It is reputed to taste like a cross between watermelon, kiwi, and bubblegum. Most often it is turned into jelly and canned.

NOTE: Always wear gloves when handling this plant.
More on Prickly Pears

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The (Accidental) Strawberry

new strawberry bed

the new (by accident) strawberry bed

Strawberries, which aren’t actually berries at all (but that’s getting technical) can reproduce in two main ways:

1. A berry, which is covered with around 200 seeds, falls to the ground and the seeds germinate. Often birds will eat berries, and drop those seeds right where someone doesn’t want them. This happens a lot around here with wild raspberries (but that’s another story.)

2. When done flowering and producing, a strawberry will send out a runner with another small plant.

3. (I know I know…I said ‘two ways’.) Strawberry plants can also be encouraged to form more than one ‘crown’, which then can be divided into more than one plant (but that’s a topic for another post.)

transplanted strawberry

free plants (from the pathway)

Now I’ve mentioned (I think I have?) that Mandolin is building some new raised beds.
I think I might be using the word ‘awesome’ when he’s done (we’ll see, but so far it’s looking that way.)

Now he goes by the old adage “Measure twice, cut once” and he did, but his measurement was incorrect (he subtracted when he should have added) and was left with 4 sides that fit each other perfectly, but were incorrect (a long story, but trust me- it was more than aesthetics.)

And I ended up with an unexpected new bed.
I also knew there were strawberry plants growing in the (needs to be weeded) pathway outside the current strawberry bed (I know, because like any gardening maniac would, I was carefully NOT stepping on them.)

So after properly filling the bed with the right combination of soil and amendments, I (carefully) removed the (flowering, in some cases) strawberry plants from the (needs to be weeded as I said) pathway, and (really carefully) transplanted them in the (new and accidental) strawberry bed.

(Oddly and coincidentally) the bed could hold 25 (recently transplanted from the (still needs to be weeded) pathway) and there were (exactly, no kidding) 26 plants in the (let’s not get into this again) pathway.

strawberry plant budding

I see berries (in my future)

So I figured there were just enough plants (with one for good luck) after all (because I couldn’t leave one to sit in the (still needs to be weeded, I know- I’ll get to it eventually) pathway).

More on Growing Strawberries (with recipe links)

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How to Grow – Cranberries (part 2)

You Can Grow That!

You know you can.

You Can Grow That is a campaign started by C. L. Fornari to encourage Garden Bloggers to get more people interested in growing – it doesn’t matter what, to just get started.

What a great idea – I’m in.

On the 4th. day of each month garden bloggers will post something that can be answered with “You can grow that!”
“Do you love fresh basil? You can grow that!” You get the idea.

Unfortunately I found this out just after the 4th of last month, so for these past few weeks I’ve been trying to decide what to post about.
After all, I do this pretty regularly.

There’s been posts about growing Gourds to make Birdhouses, Vases Bowls and Fairy Gardens, and we expect to be growing Broom Corn come season.
Veggies? Don’t get me started.

Then it came to me. Literally.

cranberry plants

inspiration by mail

4 new Cranberry plants.

Now of all the things I grow, Cranberries surprise people the most.
“Really? I thought you needed a bog!”
“No bog needed…” I tell them “you can grow that!”

cranberry plants

ready for planting

Part 1 is linked below, but here’s the basics:

-No bog needed.
-They like acidic soil, good moisture and grow as a ground cover.
-They are perfect planted with blueberries.
-It’ll be 3 years before you start to get cranberries in the fall.

Like many of you addicted to gardening, this year I decided to expand.

blueberry and cranberry bed

ready to transplant blueberries

The 6 Blueberry bushes were moved to a new bed, and a walkway was built so I will have plenty of room to harvest my abundant crop (you got to have hope).
The one and only cranberry now shares the same bed- after all, they both like acidic soil, and well- they’re family.

blueberry and cranberry bed

And a little prayer never hurts.

The only problem?
Now I need more cranberries and more blueberry bushes to fill the bed.
So 4 cranberries have already arrived and a few more are on their way- and a couple of blueberry bushes to keep them company while they grow.

Bad planning on my part?
I don’t think so! :-)

The links (so you don’t need to go back and look for them)

How to Grow Cranberries, Pt. 1
Birdhouses, Vases, Bowls and Fairy Gardens
C. L. Fornari’s Blog- Whole Life Gardening
You Can Grow That!

Categories: Fruits, You Can Grow That!

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How to Grow- Red Summer Raspberries, part 2

If you’re new to raspberries, please read part 1 first.
Also note that there are ever-bearing raspberries that will produce a small crop the first year.

raspberries in the home garden

over sized and over grown

Raspberries like good composted soil and a lot of sun.
Soaker hoses are the best way to give them the water they need.

raspberries in the home garden

downsizing

What they don’t like is overcrowding.
Mine were a few years old and I kept expanding the bed, to the point where I could hardly walk between that and the next one over.
It was time.

raspberries in the home garden

for the greater good

I really hate any kind of thinning that involves killing plants but it was long overdo.
I also wanted to make them look prettier by adding a trellis of sorts.

raspberries in the home garden

a first year cane in early spring

The canes were just coming up so the time was perfect.
By reducing the length and the width of the bed, the overall size was almost half what it had become.

raspberries in the home garden

it wont be long now

I also added fresh compost, and the canes seemed to rally and thrive.
In fact, I got more berries this season than I did the past.
I guess sometimes less yields more.

the garden in early May

smaller but more productive

But then, I couldn’t just have an empty spot.
So I planted another dwarf pear tree.

pear flowers

they even look sweet

Mmmm…Pear-Raspberry Brandy.

Here are some great Q’s and A’s on Raspberries from the Extension Office of North Dakota State.

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How to Grow – Strawberries

how to grow strawberries

A self-planted strawberry.

Strawberries are easy to grow once they are established, but many die because of improper planting.
The strawberry above planted itself from a runner that landed in a mulched pathway.
You can see how shallow the root system was, just barely below ground level.

how to grow strawberries

strawberry crown

This picture is a close-up of a strawberry crown.
When you plant, be sure to keep the crown above ground level, or the plant will die.

Been there, done that.

how to grow strawberries

delicate and pretty strawberry flowers

If you pinch off the strawberry flowers the first year, your plants will put more attention into their roots.
These are second year plants and are loaded with flowers.

how to grow strawberries

It won't be long now.

Then all you need to do is thin out your plants every few years so you have more room for new growth.

Botanical name: Fragaria ananassa
Yield: Multiple berries per plant.
Spacing: At least 4″, best to leave room for the plants to spread.
Harvest: Spring through summer as the berries ripen.
Storage: Freeze, can as juice, jam, etc., dehydrate

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