Community Gardening Alone

Since we, in Washington State, are under orders to “Stay Home, Stay Healthy,” the gardening group is not having weekly work parties. But the garden must go on. So, we are all working individually in the garden at separate times, when we can. There is planting to be done, and weeding as always.

Last Saturday, Nate and I worked on weeding the blueberry patch.

The empty garden.

I’m not used to being in the garden by myself.

Here is the blueberry patch we were working in. See those funny green stalks sticking out of the ground? That’s horsetail. It grows super fast and spreads like crazy, and can practically drown the blueberry bushes by the end of the summer if we let it.

Below is a photo of the other blueberry patch. It used to have tons of horsetail too. We spent several work parties last spring pulling horsetail out of there, and then laying thick layers of newspaper and bark chips on top. We had to pull out a spattering of horsetail throughout the summer, but – at least so far – there’s not a single horsetail coming up here this spring, so all that work was worth it. (Those little green shoots in the mulch that you see are quackgrass, which is a-whole-nother story.)

We spent about two hours weeding that day.

Nate pulling horsetail

And here’s what it looked like when we were done:

Ahhh…so satisfying….

We need to get some newspaper and bark chips laid down here soon, otherwise that weeding will be all for naught. Hopefully we can get started on that this coming Saturday.

P.S. Dad – apparently horsetail is edible.

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

Here in Washington State, the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival happens every spring, usually in April. This year, due to COVID-19, things are either being rescheduled or cancelled altogether (visit tulipfestival.org for up-to-date information). I am glad we were able to go last year when we had the chance.

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Skagit Valley Tulip Festival 2017 © Richard Probst / Flickr

The weekend we chose to go, the weather was terrible. Nate and I drove up to La Conner, and then biked around to a couple of tulip farms. It was very windy and cold, and it sleeted (slat?) all morning. On our bikes, it felt like we were biking straight into the wind with small chunks of ice hitting our faces. Either that or the wind was blowing at us sideways and trying to tip us over. (Type II Fun at its peak.)

But the tulips (and daffodils) were beautiful, and the weather definitely made the trip that much more memorable.

These tulips are growing out of a tree branch!

I didn’t get any bulbs because I don’t have anywhere to plant them, but it was fun to admire them and dream. The double tulips are my favorite!

Pruning Figs

A couple weekends ago, I helped my dad prune his fig trees. He has about seven fig trees, which I believe he got by propagating cuttings from one really old tree that was on the property when he bought it.

Before

The propagated trees are pretty young (mostly < 5 years old). Above is a “before” shot of one of them. He prefers a bush-type structure with 4 or so main branches coming out from the ground, as opposed to a tree-like structure with one main stem. We removed dead, diseased, or damaged branches, and then cut out any crossing branches to keep the structure of the tree open.

Here is the after photo:

After

In addition, he wants to keep the trees relatively short so it’s easy to harvest the fruit.

With this next tree, we did something he calls “stubbing” to (hopefully) keep the tree from getting too tall. Here’s the before photo:

Before

And here’s the after:

After

We cut the taller branches back, but instead of pruning them all the way back to a branch point, like we normally would, we left a couple of inches above the branch point — leaving stubs. This photo highlights some of the stubs:

Stubbed branches highlighted

The idea is that stubbing will encourage more growth out to the sides just below the stub to make a bushier, shorter tree, so as to have lots of branches for fruit production that are easy to reach without a ladder. But we’re not 100% sure that this strategy will work. Some sites say that stubbing — also known as topping trees — is bad (examples here, here and here). But it’s not clear that we’re talking about the same thing. Their examples are of people lopping off really thick large branches to make the tree shorter. The anti-stubbers say it’s ugly and will encourage “water shoots” — meaning more growth upwards. However, we were cutting pretty small branches, not big thick branches.

I found a different article that talks about stubbing in a way that sounds more in line with what we’re doing (see here, “A stubbing cut…” under the Branches and Pruning Terminology section). (Side note: that article was written by Dr. James Schupp, PhD, Professor of Pomology. Who knew you could get a PhD in the study of fruit?) The pictures and description he gives look and sound kind of like what we were going for….I think? I hope we did it right.

This is all an experiment. If anyone has any information about stubbing or advice for pruning fig trees in particular, leave a comment or send me an email (apracticeofgardening@gmail.com).

Will My Lemon Trees Produce Fruit?

I have to admit: Nate is driving the citrus-propagation train. He has lemons and kumquats and – I think – Meyer lemons and clementines. I also gave him some of my blood orange seeds to try to grow as well. Compared to my two measly lemon trees, his citrus plant collection is much more extensive in numbers. But these plants are slow growing. His biggest lemon trees, which have been growing for about one and a half years are not quite a foot tall.

Nate’s biggest lemon tree

As for myself, I haven’t jumped onto the citrus-propagating train quite so whole-heartedly. I’m a skeptic, and I have a few questions…

First of all, I’m not so sure the trees will actually produce fruit. I’ve been told that if you plant, say, an apple seed, it’s not a clone of the parent and will likely never bear fruit, or if it does, the fruit won’t taste as good.

Another concern I have is how tall the plants will get. We don’t have space outside to plant these trees, nor do we live in the right climate for citrus to grow outside. If the lemon trees aren’t able to reach their full mature height, will they still produce fruit?

Let’s do some research….

Photo by Ryan Baker on Pexels.com

The internet is confusing. Many sites, including gardeningknowhow.com, told me that lemon trees planted from seed won’t necessarily produce fruit (“However, trees produced via seed are not carbon copies of the parent and may take five or more years to fruit, with the resulting fruit generally inferior to those of the parent.”)

But according Plant Parenting (and confirmed by other reputable sources), many citrus varieties are actually apomictic, which means they form seeds asexually, and thus the seeds are genetic clones of the parent trees. (Side note: apomixis is apparently rare in the world of crop plants, and only seen in tropical plants like mangos and citrus.)

In regard to the size of the trees, according to (seemingly-reputable) sources on the internet, the most common types of lemons in the grocery store are Lisbon Lemons and Eureka Lemons, which account for 90% of the lemons we see in store. The Bearss Lemon is a variety more commonly used in commercial lemon products. Lastly, we see Meyer Lemons in the grocery store, but these aren’t really lemons (I’ll talk about that more later). 

Image taken from crfg.org

Lisbon Lemons originally came from a Portuguese variety of lemon that was then cultivated in Australia and finally made its way to the US in the mid-1800s. Lisbon lemon trees, like essentially all lemons, can be grown outdoors in zones 9 and 10. They are drought tolerant and pretty productive, which is why growers like them. They can grow up to 30 feet tall.

The Eureka Lemon is a native of Los Angeles, California. The tree is less thorny than the Lisbon lemon, and is everbearing, which makes also it quite attractive to growers, but it is not quite as hardy and vigorous as the Lisbon Lemon. This tree reportedly grows up to 20 feet tall.

If you buy a lemon tree from a nursery, you’ll likely have the option to buy a Eureka or Lisbon lemon tree grafted onto dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstock, so that you can grow a smaller tree. In addition, certain rootstock may convey more vigor to the tree. True dwarf rootstock comes from the Flying Dragon Orange, an orange that is supposedly edible, but sour, and grows about 6 feet tall. Semi-dwarf rootstock would give you a tree that wants to be 15-20 feet tall.

A Meyer Lemon is actually a hybrid between a lemon and a mandarin. It originated from China, but was named after Frank N. Meyer, a man who the USDA sent over to China in the early 1900s to bring plant new and interesting plant species. The tree is naturally on the smaller side: 10-15 feet tall when mature.

Most kumquats are also naturally smaller, growing up to 15 feet tall. A standard blood orange tree seems to want to reach a similar height of 10-15 feet tall. (All of the mature tree heights I give are based on a compilation of a variety of websites; each one says something slightly different, but the numbers I give seems to be about the average.)

With all of these trees, if we keep them in containers, they will grow slower and will not grow as large as if they were planted in the ground, but they will eventually outgrow the largest pot we can put them in.

My next question about growing lemons from seed was whether the tree will produce fruit before they reach their mature size.  Laura from GardenAnswer grew a standard variety of Meyer Lemon, which she says wanted to grow 13-15’, and I was surprised to see it produced about 10 lemons when it was only a few feet tall!

Planting video: Summer 2019
That same plant produced about 10 lemons that winter!
(The Pink Lemonade lemon is a variegated, pink-fleshed variety of Eureka Lemon)

Although she planted is a Meyer lemon, which is naturally smaller than a Lisbon or Eureka Lemon, this gives me hope that in 5 (or 10) years, we will see fruit on the citrus trees that we’re planting.

Laura’s advice for growing lemons in containers is to keep them on the dry side (allow them to almost, but not quite, dry out completely between watering) and to give them as much bright sunlight as possible (8-12 hours minimum, south-facing window). She recommended planting the trees in generic potting soil if planting in a terracotta pot, which dries out faster, or, if planting in a plastic pot, using cactus potting soil, which has a bit more drainage than traditional potting soil.

In one of her later videos, she collects seeds from her Meyer Lemons to try growing more lemon trees.

Skip to minute 11:07 to see her plant the lemon seeds from her homegrown Meyer Lemon

She just plunked the seeds straight from the fruit into potting soil and covered it with a cloche to keep the humidity in. This is similar to my set up.

It will be fun to see how Laura’s lemon trees do! We’ll be harvesting lemons and oranges in no time!

I kid. I couldn’t find a good source for this information, but some people on the internet say it can take 3-6 or 5-10 years for the plant to produce fruit. Hmmm….patience is not my strong suit.

Well, that’s all I have for you today, but be sure to check back in with me in 2025, and I’ll let you know how it’s going.

Welcome to the Community Garden

While I don’t have a space for a garden at my house, I am a member of a local community garden.

A panorama of the garden space

This community garden was started about 10 years ago (I think) by a group of people who saw an area of empty Parks Department land and asked if they could use the space to grow food. The Parks Department said yes, and after a few years of careful planning, we now have a large amount of space in which to grow food.

There is no cost to join the community garden; to be a member, just come to the garden work parties and help out. The produce that we harvest is split amongst the work party members and about half of it is donated to the local food bank.

The photo above is just of the garden space. There is also a separate orchard area that has a number of fruit, nut, and berry trees/shrubs (including figs, crabapples, plums, quince, chestnuts, aronia berries, medlars….). I wasn’t working in the orchard last Sunday, so I don’t have any photos of that space to share with you, but I hope you enjoy these photos of the garden space (info in the captions below the photos):

“Bermuda’s Triangle” / Pollinator garden / ???
Last year this was a pollinator garden. We haven’t decided what we’ll plant in this space this year — maybe beans and peas?
Raspberry bushes. Bermuda’s Triangle is to the right of this photo
These are some of the raised beds.
The white tent in the back has picnic tables where we have our potlucks.
On the top right side of the photo (the metal hoops) is one the blueberry patches.
For perspective, the raspberry patch is on the right side of the photo
One of the blueberry patches
Here’s the other blueberry patch. It was damaged in a snowstorm a year ago
On the back left side of the photo (the wood pallets) is our compost area.
The black plastic on the left side of the photo is suppressing weeds in area we call “the long beds.” We grow asparagus and strawberries there every year. Plus additional crops as we can fit them in.
Another photo of the long beds and the compost area
More of the raised beds
The long beds would be to the right of this photo.
The picnic tables and canopy and more raised beds

We meet every Sunday for a two hour work party and have a potluck afterwards. The potlucks are on hiatus in an effort to keep the coronavirus at bay, but we are still meeting for our weekly work parties. We’re working outdoors, not in a small enclosed space, and we try to spread out at as much as possible, keeping ideally 6 feet between each other. I’m really glad the work parties haven’t disbanded. Personally, I find the work to be a nice distraction at a time like. More importantly, the food banks are going to need the donations now more than ever.

[Update: Gov. Inslee issued a two-week “Stay at Home” order starting on 3/23/20, so work parties for the next two weeks may not happen.]

Last Sunday, we planted potatoes and onions, and did some weeding.

Potatoes planted in trenches in one of the raised beds.
We covered the ptoatoes with 1 inch of dirt and will cover with more dirt as the potato plants grow.
Onions!

Hope you enjoyed seeing a bit of our community garden.

(Note: In order to respect everyone’s privacy, I’m intentionally not showing identifiable faces in any of the photos I take.)

Starting Citrus from Seed

Remember my dead kumquats?

Yes, it is finally time to put them to rest.

RIP Kumqats

And plant some more citrus!

Mama Meyer

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve saved some Meyer lemon seeds and blood orange seeds.

I’m doing a test to see if pre-germinating them with the paper towel method is any better than planting directly into soil.

In Plants from Pits, Holly Farrell says to plant citrus seeds directly into soil, but Leslie Halleck, in Plant Parenting says, “Seeds of stone fruits, such as peaches and apricots, nut trees, or citrus seeds, will root more successfully if you pre-sprout them” (emphasis mine). She suggests chitting seeds. I didn’t know what chitting was before reading her book, but I was familiar with “the paper towel method,” which, as it turns out, is the exact same thing. Another term that means the same thing is “greensprouting.”

The paper towel method, for those of you who are not familiar, goes like this:

  1. Wet a paper towel
  2. Fold the seeds up in the wet paper towel
  3. Place the wet paper towel into a plastic bag
  4. Place plastic bag with seeds in paper towel in a warm place
  5. Wait until you see a sprout
  6. Plant the sprouted seeds

People claim this makes for more efficient germination. We shall see…

For my experiment, I planted half of my seeds directly into potting soil, and did the paper towel method with the other half.

Here are the potted seeds — blood orange seeds in the left pot and lemons in the right:

Blood orange seeds in the pot on the left, and meyer lemons on the right

I planted the seeds on one half of the pot, and I’ll put the pre-sprouted “chitted” seeds on the other half, so I can see their side-by-side growth.

Dots illustrate where I direct-planted seeds

I also added a plastic bags over the pots as Plants from Pits recommends.


And now, here’s the chitted version.

I placed the seeds on damp paper towels…

…folded them up and stored them inside of plastic bags.

I started the seeds on March 17th, and have been checking on them every couple of days. No growth to date on either front.

I suspect the chitted seeds will do better, but it’s a little more work to chit seeds, so I’m hoping this experiment will prove me wrong.

Rhododendron Clean Up

(And snow in March)

I was visiting my dad last week, and decided to do a bit of work in his yard. There is a rhododendron on the backside of his house near the shed. There are also a couple of azaleas nearby – I didn’t get a good photo of them, but you can see the edge of one in the bottom right corner of this photo.

This bed sits underneath the canopy of a giant oak tree that sheds tons of leaves and acorns in the fall, and this rhododendron bed was thick with leaves. The leaves were also stuck in the azalea branches weighing down the azaleas. (No photo, but believe me when I tell you they were looking pretty sad.)

I raked out the leaves and then pruned the rhododendron to clean it up and get it out of the way of the pathway. Here’s the blurry *after* photo I took (I need to work on my camera skills if I’m gonna to keep going with this site…):

And then this happened:

Snow!
…in March!

Here’s the post-snow non-blurry *after* photo of the rhododendron:

It’s a little hard to tell in the photos, but all the leaves have been raked out the bed — 3 wheelbarrows-full of them — and a lot of the lower branches that were hanging over the walkway have been pruned out. Very satisfying in person.

I’ll try to remember to get a photo of it when it’s in bloom.


On a completely different note, I’ve started germinating my Meyer lemon and blood orange seeds and will have more to share with you on that later…

Welcome to my Garden

A garden without a gardener is a jungle waiting to happen. But a gardener without a plot to till is likewise a very sorry sight.

— Margaret Roach

The last frost date for my city, according to Farmer’s Almanac, is Mar 17th. So I thought it was only fitting to start this blog on March 17. We also happen to be in the midst of a coronarovirus outbreak (COVID-19), which is completely unrelated and occurred after the mental conception of this blog, but is information worth noting for posterity’s sake.

My current garden — or lack thereof — looks a little like this:

Wandering jew (Tradescantia zebrina), avocado grown from pit, pothos, snake plant (Dracena trifasciata)
Ctenanthe (tee-NANTH-ee) aka Prayer plant (Ctenanthe burle-marxii)
Bad lighting. Same window as –>
Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum) flanking lemon trees
Croton (Codiaeum variegatum)
Kumquats grown from seed (probably dead, but I can’t bring myself to get rid of them), a pothos cutting, two pomegrantes grown from seed, and the mother pothos

I live in a walk-out basement apartment and four of my five window sills house plants. Two of windows face south, and one faces west, so the lighting is pretty good for being in a basement.


The majority of my plants were cuttings from various other plants or plants grown from seed/pit. #frugalgardener The only plant I paid for is the croton. I think it was $5 at Swanson’s Nursery in Seattle. When I first bought it, it was about a third of the size it is now. That was maybe 3 years ago? I’m happy with how it’s done so far, but I’m worried it might be at the end of its lifespan. When I first got it, I transplanted it into the black plastic pot that you see it in now. I paired it with a colorful yellow saucer to match its colorful leaves. Aside from water and a bit of fertilizer, that’s all I’ve done for it.

The spider plants are from my dad, as is the ctenanthe. I got the ctenanthe when my dad’s ctenanthe was getting too big for it’s pot, and was split. Spider plants are super easy to grow and propagate from spider babies. I used to have five of them, but have been paring down recently. My dad cuts all his spider babies off – he says it’s bad for the plant. I like the look of them draping over the side of the window sill, and the plants seem to be doing just fine, so I’m leaving them. 

Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum) flanking lemon trees planted from seed

The avocado, lemons, kumquats, and pomegranates are grown from seed.  The kumquats are pretty much dead.

Pomegranates
Definitely dead.

Lastly, there are two pothos (cuttings taken from a friend’s roommate’s plant and from a plant at work), a wandering jew (cutting taken from my boyfriend’s coworker’s plants), and a snake plant (stolen from a plant at work, shhh!).

Pothos #1
Pothos #2

Well, that’s all I have to share today. I think it’s time to get rid of the kumquats and plant something else in that pot — I have some Meyer lemon and blood orange seeds that I’d like to try. Stay tuned if you’re interested in seeing how that project turns out, and subscribe below to get notified when I post more.