- Author: Alison Collin
Reading books about pioneer families I noticed that ground cherry pie often played an important role in fall festivities. Priding myself as a "fruitarian" I was surprised that here was a fruit I had never seen or tasted. That had to be rectified!
Ground cherries belong to the genus Physalis and are closely related to Cape gooseberries (Physalis peruviana) and tomatillos (Physalis ixocarpa) which they resemble. Many Physalis species are described as ground cherries, but I chose to grow one particular variety — Physalis pubescens var 'Pineapple' — since it was said to have a superior flavor. Two other highly recommended varieties are “Aunt Mollie” and “Goldie” which are said to have good flavor and are a little larger than “Pineapple”.
I sowed the seeds indoors six weeks before the last expected frost and had no trouble germinating or transplanting them. The plants grew slowly at first but more rapidly once soil temperatures had warmed up. At this point the foliage became laced with tiny holes which looked consistent with flea beetle damage. I used some insecticidal soap with little affect before deciding to let them take their chance without any further intervention. The plants quickly developed into a lax, multi-branched, 18-inch high, sprawling shrub with many of the stems running along the ground. Numerous tiny yellow flowers developed into husk covered fruits. None of them approached the promised ½-inch diameter but were more like the size of a large green pea. Toward the end of the season the husks turned brown and the fruits inside became bright yellow/orange before dropping to the ground. Harvesting was accomplished by raking up the fallen fruits.
Unlike tomatillos, the bottom of the fruit does not protrude through the husk, so there is no way of telling if the fruit is ripe until the husk has been removed. Green fruits should not be eaten since they contain a toxic alkaloid. There are numerous very tiny seeds inside the fruit, and occasionally this can give the impression of eating grit! The flavor is hard to describe, but ripe fruits are sweet, pleasant to eat out of hand and add interest to fruit salads, but they really come into their own for making preserves since they produce a wonderful, unique-flavored jelly or jam. One great advantage of ground cherries is that they have a tremendous shelf life, and can hold for up to 3 months if left in their husks and stored in a cool place.
It was four years ago that I planted my first crop and although I was not smitten by this fruit and had no intention of growing it again, it has volunteered in my garden ever since, so I usually leave a couple of plants to mature and welcome the change of flavor from the eternal grapes and pears!
You can find ground cherry seeds in many gardening catalogues.
- Author: Alison Collin
We have all grown something, whether a flower, fruit or vegetable, that looked so good we wished we could share the pleasure with others. Well, why not do just that by entering the Tri-County Fair, August 28-31 this year?
I always look forward to this fair with some nostalgia since much of my childhood in the UK was spent attending horticultural shows. There, even the smallest village supports an annual show where residents vie with each other in friendly competition to win the trophy for the largest onion, and where there is quiet jubilation all round if Mrs. Blogs finally wins the Rose Bowl, having been runner-up to the local squire for the past ten years.
What exactly is involved? The first step is to get the schedule from the show committee (also may be available for download from the Tri-County Fair website) and to study it carefully to ascertain which of the dozens of classes one might enter. Read the rules carefully. You may feel that you have nothing worthy but it is surprising what you can find if you look around – perhaps you have a spider plant that has done well, or you have some particularly good roses, tomatoes, melons, or some nicely grown sprigs of rosemary or sage. Root crops pose more of a problem since it is impossible to see what they are like and one does not want to pull up an entire row of carrots in order to find three matched specimens!
The entries are usually due a couple of weeks before the show, which gives one a chance to assess what will peak at the right time. Make sure that you get your entries in before the deadline. There is a nominal fee for entering.
What will the judges look for? They will expect well-grown, clean, unblemished, mature, fruits or vegetables. Consistency is also important, so exhibits should be matched for size, shape and color and they should also be typical of the variety they represent. This is more important than mere size unless the class is specifically for the largest specimen. There should be no evidence of insect or mechanical damage.
The schedule calendar gives times of when to take your items. Produce and flowers are taken either the night before, or early on the morning of the judging. Harvest your items carefully, clean and trim them and devise some method of avoiding bruising during transport. Take a few extras in case of mishaps. Quilt batting makes a soft bed for items such as peaches. (I still cringe at the memories of unwrapping my mother's peaches from yards and yards of toilet paper when she exhibited at the Royal Horticultural Society show in London).
Many shows prepare some guidelines as to exactly how to prepare your produce for judging, e.g. should tomatoes have the stem attached or removed? Do you remove carrot tops, should they be washed, how much of a rhubarb stem is exhibited, how long should zucchini be etc.? In the absence of these guidelines locally, I have found a couple of websites of other county fairs, and since they seem to offer consistent guidelines, I have followed those. Links to them are at the bottom of this article.
When you arrive, you give your name to a volunteer at the entrance to the hall, and they will explain how to stage your exhibit. Vases are provided for flowers, and baskets for fruit and vegetables. Make sure that you put the required number in the container – if it says 3 stems then don't use 5. If it says 6 tomatoes, then don't put 10 because you cannot decide which ones to discard! Make them look as attractive as possible. I have found the volunteers at the Tri-County fair to be very helpful and friendly, so the process is not at all intimidating.
All that you have to do then is wait until the Fair opens and see if you have won an award! However, fairs represent so much more than a chance to win a ribbon. Without exhibitors there would be nothing for the public to see. It is educational and often inspiring to see what other people have successfully grown in our area. Many volunteers devote hours to bringing the Tri-County Fair to our community. As gardeners, we can do our part by entering a few things. You never know – you might just win a blue ribbon and if you don't, better luck next year!
http://www.tricountyfair.com/fair. Details of entry deadlines etc. will be posted here around the middle of June.
- Author: Alison Collin
As you pore over seed catalogs and dream about what is possible in your 2014 garden, have a look at the bounty that Master Gardener Alison Collin received from her garden last summer. Thanks, Alison, for the detailed records and for the notes on what worked and what didn't. All this for $80 in supplies, plus - I suspect - a few hours of labor!
Yields from 17 x 30 veggie plot in Bishop, CA
Green Pole Beans, Fasold. (6) 11.6lbs
Onion Sets (12) 9.48 lbs
Onion Seed, Golden Grandee (17) 17.84 lb
Summer Squash, Magda (2) 74.83lb
Summer Squash, Golden Egg (2) 31lbs
Summer Squash, Zephyr (2) 8lbs
Winter squash, Sunshine (1) 22lbs
Winter Squash, Early Butternut (2) 9.64lbs
Slicing Cucumber, Tanja (2), Burpless(1) 42lbs
Tomato, Pineapple Cordon (1) 6lbs
Tomato, Pineapple unpruned (1) 14.78lb
Tomato, Juliet (1) 29lbs
Tomato, Golden Gem (1) 12lbs
Ground Cherry, Pineapple (4) 5.8lbs
Snap Peas, Oregon (8ft) 3lbs
Sugar Peas, Sugar Bon (8ft) 2.3lbs.
Early Potatoes, Victoria (5) 8.6lbs
Early Potatoes, purple (2) 3.5lbs
Early Potatoes, Red la Soda (5) 4.21lbs
Early Potatoes, Cal White (5) 10lbs
Carrot, Tendersweet (8ft) 4.5lbs
Carrot, Danvers Half Long* (8ft) 10.37lb
Parsnip, Gladiator, Albion* (17ft) 12.9lbs
Leeks, American Flag* (12ft) 3lbs (trimmed)
Cabbage, Wakefield* (1) 2.34lb
Pepper, California Wonder.(3) .75lb
Melon, Amy (3) 12.56lb
Produce from rest of garden
Strawberries, Chandler (12) 4.34lbs
Strawberries, Sparkle (12) 6lbs
Rhubarb (2) 2.59lbs
Black Currant, Crandall (2) 0.9 lbs
Peach, early (1) 149.4lbs
Peach, late (1) 109.72lbs
Pear, Bartlett (1) 82.76lbs
Grape, Thompson’s Seedless 26.62lbs
Raspberry (12) 2lbs
TOTAL WEIGHED PRODUCE: 759lbs!
() denotes number of plants or length of row.
- *Denotes that there are still several plants to be harvested over winter.
- Although I tried to weigh everything, occasionally produce was given away prior to weighing, and grandchildren (and I) snacked on a good deal of produce out of hand which has not been included!
- Weights were after trimming such things as carrot tops.
- There was some waste which has not been included e.g. many of the carrots did not get harvested early enough and became split so were unusable and thus not included. Many peaches could not be reached, or were damaged.
- Crop failures included beetroot, spinach, apples, Contender and scarlet runner beans. (some produce but very small total).
- Potatoes were harvested as “new”potatoes, and yields would have been considerably higher if they had been left to mature.
- $80 spent on seed (have enough for more plantings).
- 1 pouch of Miracle Grow used during season, using up “left overs”. Otherwise, only compost was used.
- Author: Dustin Blakey
As our nation expanded from sea to sea, homesteaders took apples with them. And eventually some of those settlers ended up in bear-infested Arkansas. The hilly terrain of the Ozark region wasn’t well suited for row crops, or much else for that matter, but it did grow apples well. At one time Benton County was the known as a leading apple producing region and not as Wal-Mart's headquarters.
Arkansas's heyday of apple production has long since passed, but there are a few remnants of the past that are still around Ozarks including a annual festival in Lincoln, whose orchards have since been converted to houses. It may sound surprising but there is a large following of enthusiasts of antique apple varieties, all of which seem to have a backstory. (Well, maybe it's not that surprising. If there are folks that get excited about daylilies, anything could be interesting to someone out there.)
Gardeners interested in heirloom varieties should consider growing ‘Arkansas Black’ apples. This apple was found in a nursery in Benton County around 1870. Most experts in these sorts of things believe that this variety was a chance seedling of ‘Winesap’, another favorite with heirloom aficionados.
‘Arkansas Black’ is named for its famously dark skin color. Other than color the other defining characteristic of this variety is its extreme firmness. At harvest in October, ‘Arkansas Black’ could probably substitute for a baseball. Ozark farmers would raise this apple and then store it in straw-lined pits for months before attempting to eat it. Long storage was definitely a positive attribute in those days, and in January the fruit was soft enough for the dentally challenged to enjoy the flavor of this apple.
My grandfather grew this apple in his front yard in Lake County. He lost his teeth in WWII and couldn't bite this apple with his dentures, so several times he tried to graft it to a softer-fleshed variety. As far as I know, his tree still survives.
Today 'Arkansas Black' has reemerged as a popular hobby variety. While not everyone appreciates an apple that bites back, like fine wines the unique flavor and firmness of ‘Arkansas Black’ mellows with age.
I have this variety in my back yard in West Bishop. It seems to do fine in the Owens Valley, assuming your kids don't do you a favor and harvest your crop in July. As it ripens in October, it probably isn't the most reliable choice at higher altitudes. Last year mine were perfect November 15, but they probably should have been harvested before Halloween.
The widespread planting of apples in this country is testament to the simple demands of the apple tree on the gardener. Like roses, a gardener can make apple growing a complex endeavor with spraying and pruning, or they can elect to let nature run its course and see what happens. Of course the most satisfactory results are usually found in well-tended orchards.
As a rule, apples need to be planted with a pollinator in order to set fruit. Most apple varieties will suit this purpose so if you already have an apple or crabapple, you should get good pollination assuming you do not kill bees with insecticides during the bloom period. If you need to get a pollinizer and can't decide which to use, I would suggest ‘Golden Delicious’. While it is not the most remarkable or unique apple variety, it has a long bloom period and produces a lot of pollen.
Apple trees will grow in all sorts of light levels, but if you want any fruit, you will need to plant them in a place they will continue to get lots of sun. A good rule of thumb for a home orchard would be to space trees as far apart as the canopy will be tall. An apple tree on its own roots can easily get 30 feet tall so this wouldn’t leave a lot of room in most yards.
The solution to finding enough room for an apple tree comes from selecting the correct rootstock. Gardeners can easily find rootstocks that can keep a tree 11 to 18 feet tall and pruning could further influence the ultimate height.
Most garden catalogues sell dwarf plants which are usually on a rootstock called M9, but home gardeners seldom have the option of selecting a specific rootstock. While full dwarfing is a nice convenience, home gardeners would be well-advised to select one of the taller semi-dwarf rootstocks such as M106 or M111 if given the option. They provide better anchorage and drought-tolerance: a real benefit here with our wind and dryness.
There are as many opinions as to the best way to train an apple as there are apple growers, but generally the best results come from a tree shaped like a Christmas tree. Whatever shape you choose the important thing is to be consistent every year. It's hard to go from a vase to a pyramid.
‘Arkansas Black’ is a unique heirloom variety that has a lot to offer the amateur orchardist. Excellent storage, great fresh flavor, and good cooking characteristics make it an apple well-suited for gardens. And it tastes different from what you'd get at the store.
- Author: Dustin Blakey
Selecting Fruit Trees
Dustin Blakey, Inyo-Mono Farm Advisor
Fruits are always favorites in the garden. Eat a fresh peach or plum and you’ll be obsessed with getting your own source of ripe fruit that you can share with the crows. If you are interested in growing your own fruits, fall is the season to get started.
Impulsive acquisition of fruit trees and berries while out on a shopping trip often leads to disappointing results. Not every variety of fruit can be grown on the Eastside. Plants bought on a whim or chosen because you recognize the name may not thrive in our climate or produce the best possible fruit. I am always amazed by how many ‘Red Delicious’ apples get planted in gardens each year, yet I have never met a person who actually likes to eat them!
There are two tried and true ways to get fruits (trees or berries) for your garden: you can go to a local, knowledgeable nursery in spring and buy containerized plants, or you can order bare-root plants in fall for shipment in spring. If you elect to order fruits from a mail-order nursery, you should make your selections in fall. If you snooze, you lose! Variety choices become meager as spring approaches.
As a rule, bare root trees are cheaper and because you can choose from many vendors, selection is best. The nurseries know when to ship, and you will get your plants still dormant. The disadvantage is that you need to be ready to plant when they arrive or they may die.
Some fruits will need to be cross-pollinated. Most catalogues and websites will mention this and will provide a pollination chart to help you choose.
The following are helpful hints in selecting what fruits to plant:
- If they are adequately watered, brambles (canefruits) are probably our best fruit crop. Look into planting modern cultivars. You may reminisce about a certain berry you once ate in your youth—and it may be great—but great breeding work has been done on blackberries and their kin in the past 30 years.
- Stone fruits are the least reliable of our fruit choices. They tend to flower early and get zapped by cold. Apricots and almonds are especially bad. Try to choose late-flowering types; these tend to be late-bearing as well.
- Apricots, peaches, nectarines, and sour cherries do not require cross-pollination. Sweet cherries do. Apples, pears, and most plums need cross-pollination.
- Even if a crop doesn’t require cross-pollination, having more than one variety can extend your season and a few self-fruitful crops like blueberries do better with cross-pollination.
- Most table grapes do fine here. We don’t raise them, but muscadine grapes will grow here and are a unique treat. ‘Carlos’ and ‘Noble’ are good muscadines to start with.
- If you order figs and they arrive before nights are consistently over 40°F, pot them up and keep them inside until it is safe. ‘Mission’ is not reliably hardy here.
- In most cases, when you have the option to do so, choose a dwarf rootstock.
- Pomegranates are hardy in the Owens Valley but may have issues with frosts and too short a growing season, especially in Bishop, for some varieties. Plant with caution.
- Remember that grocery store fruit is not being grown locally. In most cases, the variety you should grow in your garden will not be the typical ones seen in the produce department.
- Common California varieties and growing information can be found at The California Backyard Orchard.