Update on the Citrus Seeds!

It’s been 26 days since I planted/chitted the citrus seeds, and the update is….well…mixed.

None of the seeds that were planted directly in soil have sprouted yet.

One of my chitted blood orange seeds rotted.

The seed at the bottom of this image is just soft white mush inside a seed coating

But….. one of the chitted Meyer Lemons has sprouted! Hooray!

A sprout!

The photo above is from 3 days ago. Nine days prior to that, I had removed the outer shells on the Meyer Lemons, after seeing no changes to the seeds for 14 days.

This, according to Plant Parenting, is called scarification.

While most annual vegetable seeds do not require pre-soaking or any special preparation for germination, seeds of some natives, perennials, and fruits with hard coats will require a bit of extra work on your part, whether it be a longer chitting/soaking period, scarification, stratification, or inoculation with rhizobium bacteria…. Seed scarification involves scraping away part of the hard coating to expose the seed to water and gases that trigger germination. In the natural environment, temperature, soil microbes, and even fire can break down seed coats. Animals eat seeds, which are then exposed to stomach acid which breaks down the seed coat.

Planting Parenting by Leslie Halleck

She has some very interesting suggestions for how to scarify seeds.

I just pulled off the seed coating using my finger nails. It’s hard to know if the scarification helped, or if the seeds just needed more time…

Now that I have a sprouted seed, I need to plant it! But how soon do I plant it? Should I plant it right away, as soon as I see a sprout? Or do I wait for the sprout to get bigger?

I couldn’t find any consistent solid guidance on this, so I decided to wait for the sprout to get a little bigger. Here it is two days after I first noticed the sprout (yesterday):

It grew a tiny bit more.

I decided to plant it at that point. I put it in the same pot as the direct-sown Meyer lemon seeds. As you can see there is no growth of the other Meyer Lemons (at least from what I can see above the soil). After planting the seed, I covered the pot again with a plastic bag to keep the humidity in, and crossed my fingers.

What is this flowering hedge?

I go for a lot of walks around the neighborhood these days. The other day, I came across this bright flowering hedge on one of my walks:

These tiny orange flowers are so pretty, but what is it?

After a number of other google searches, I came up with Darwin’s Barberry! Hmmm…interesting…. This plant gets its name from Charles Darwin, who first discovered it in South America.

The flowers will eventually develop into berries, which are edible and (FYI, Dad) apparently high in nutrients!

Berberis darwinii – PlantRight
Image from: https://plantright.org/watch/berberis-darwinii/

But don’t get too excited — it’s not native to the PNW, and, in fact, it’s considered an invasive species in some areas, such as New Zealand. PlantRight.org says it’s on the “watch” list of potentially invasive plants in California, and suggests planting Oregon Grape (Mahonia) instead, which is also in the Barberry family. The Oregon State University website doesn’t mention anything about it being invasive in Oregon or Washington, but they do point out that it’s not native. Too bad.

Oregon grape is fine, I guess….I just don’t particularly care for its bright yellow flowers ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What Is Oregon Grape? Uses and Side Effects
Image form: healthline.com
Tall Oregon Grape, Mahonia aquifolium | Native Plants PNW
Image from: nativeplants.com

Work in the Blueberry Patch Continues: Newspaper and Wood Chips

Whew! I am tired. I’m writing this on Saturday afternoon after spending 4 hours this morning pulling out more horsetail from the blueberry patch at the community garden and then laying down a thick layer of newspaper and wood chips.

Here’s what the blueberry patch looked like when we left it last week:

After pulling out any horsetail that had sprung up since we were last there, we laid down newspaper — 4-6 sheets thick — and then a 4-5″ thick layer of wood chips.

Since the blueberry patch is enclosed in a wire mesh cage, we have to hand carry all the wood chips in using 5 gallon buckets. This is no easy feat. Nate filled two buckets at a time with wood chips from a pile sitting at the far end of the other blueberry patch, and carried them over to me. I weeded the blueberry patch as we went, and then laid down the newspaper and woodchips.

It took us four hours, and by the end, we were exhausted.

But here’s how it looks now:

We’re so proud!

This next photo is perhaps a better perspective.

Left side: Not weeded Right side: weeded, Newspapered, and wood chipped

This is where we ended – we only did about half of the bed. The blueberry bushes are mostly only planted that half (I’m not sure if that was intentional or not — I wasn’t part of the garden group when the blueberries were originally planted). In the other half, we’ve planted squash in years past, but last year it was just too overrun with weeds to do anything with it.

Our main goal this week was to mulch around the blueberry bushes. Mission accomplished! We are exhausted, but doing projects like this is my favorite way to spend a day.

Maybe next week we’ll try to tackle the weeds in the other end of the bed….

Making A Bushier Avocado

My avocado plant is growing pretty tall, and everything that I’ve read about avocados tells me I should cut down the stem to encourage side shoots.

I tried this once with a different avocado. Something that I read said that once it gets to be about 6 inches tall, cut off the stem to encourage side shoots. I tried that, and this is what happened:

Not exactly what I had in mind.

I ended up giving that avocado to my dad. It’s doing fine, but just looks a little funny with the kink in its trunk.

So, with my current avocado, I decided *not* to cut it off when it got 6 inches tall.

….But then….the peer pressure got to me. It seems like everyone says you should prune it to encourage bushier growth. And I do want a bushier plant.

This excerpt is from Plants from Pits (it’s not my favorite book, but I got it from the library before COVID-19 happened, and now the libraries are closed, so I’m working with what I’ve got):

My tree now has 14 leaves, so I decided today is the day to prune it.

Eeek

Be brave…

Blurry again. My camera is focusing on the wrong thing.
I’m trying to take a picture of the plant, obviously, not the side of my neighbor’s house.

I initially just took one leaf and the top off, like the book said. But Stuff You Need to Know says “Prune the tree in such a way to leave many leaves, but prune enough above a leaf so that there are budding areas around the stem.” There were two other leaves very close to the cut I made, and I’m not sure there were any “budding areas” around the stem up there.

So, I took off a little more:

That should leave plenty of stem with budding areas, right? Let’s hope so.

Here’s the final product:

Do you think my avocado tree will ever look like this?

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.

33986723560_02e8b6d44d_b
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.

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!

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.

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.)