Some Like It Hot

They thrive in hot weather and intense sunshine. They convert all of that wonderful sunlight into sugars that they use to grow and make food. The high temperatures help ripen the fruits of tomatoes and cheer-on the swelling of green bean pods. Tomatoes, zucchini, basil, and peppers are all classic summertime veggies. There is a reason that fresh vegetables like these taste best in summer- they like it hot!

Watering is Key

During hot spring and summer months, it is crucial to make sure you are watering your plants consistently and sufficiently. Getting to know your plants’ water requirements can take a little bit of research and a lot of time in the garden to fully understand your garden environment. Water needs can vary depending on how much sun your garden gets, how wind it might be, and what type of soil you use. Some soil can hold water more effectively than others, and that can impact how often you need to water. 

Water moisture meters are usually readily available at hardware stores and garden centers. They can come in handy if you prefer a measurement to determine water needs. Your fingers are another great and even more readily available moisture gauging tool. Surface level soil moisture does not always tell you what you need to know, so dig down a few inches with your hands or a trowel and feel the soil. It should be as wet as a wrung out sponge. If it is any wetter than that, you may be watering too often, and if it is any drier than that, you may need to increase the amount or number of times per week that you water.

Certain plants have specific needs such as drying out completely between waterings or being constantly moist, so get to know your plants a little better to know if this is the case. Start with reading the tag or seed packet your plant came with. Oftentimes sun and water requirements will be written there on the tag. Consulting a gardening book such as the Sunset Western Garden or looking up your plant online is another simple way to learn more about the species you are caring for. Bonnie Plants website has a great educational section, and Old Farmer’s Almanac has some good articles, too.

The best time to water your garden, especially in hot weather, is the early morning before it gets too hot. The plants will be the most receptive to water at this time, and the roots and soil will have the opportunity to soak in the water before the intense heat dries everything out. If you are watering by hand, be sure to direct the stream at the base of the plant near the roots. The roots are the plant organs which take up the majority of a plant’s water and nutrients, so near the roots is where the water you apply will be the most effective and efficient. 

Unnecessary moisture left on the leaves and the soil can make plants more vulnerable to fungus and bacteria. If you do run sprinklers, be sure to have them run early in the morning. This way the excess water will dry in the milder part of the day as it starts to heat up. By the time the sun is at full strength, the excess water will have evaporated. Drip line systems are generally very efficient and deliver water at a slow, steady rate to the roots of the plant.

Garden Update

These ‘Chadwick’ cherry tomatoes are almost taller than me!

Over the past few days, it has been fun watching our plants grow in leaps and bounds. I swear some of our tomatoes grew a few inches taller overnight! With some of the tomatoes growing up and over their cages, I am planning to start pruning the tops of the tomatoes to help keep them a more manageable size. Additionally, I prune the bottom leaves off of the tomato plants, so that none of them are touching the soil. Pruning some of the dense inner leaves of the tomato plants can also be nice for creating greater airflow between the leaves of the plant. The climate in and around a tomato tends to be hot and humid, which is great for tomatoes but also for fungus. 

Sungold and San Marzano tomatoes.

Our zucchini has put on its first fruit, and I am eagerly watching it grow. Even though I suspect we’ll soon be swimming in squash and wishing we weren’t, that first harvest of the season is always something magical to look forward to. Somehow the veggies taste extra delicious when you grow them yourself! 

‘Black Beauty’ zucchini on the left and cucumber on the right.

We are trellising our cucumber vertically with a tomato cage to help it maintain a social distance from the zucchini. Cucumbers have a vining growth habit and can quickly grow over and around your other plants if you let them. By intentionally training our cucumber onto a vertical trellis, we are keeping the other veggies’ health and safety in mind. Not to mention it also makes them easier to harvest! 

‘Jedi’ jalapeno

The ‘Jedi’ jalapeno peppers we planted have already started to put on fruit. While I don’t know if these peppers will be strong in the force, I do suspect they will be strong in spice!  

Italian Basil growing against a backdrop of ‘Walla walla’ oninons.

Our basil plants are lagging somewhat behind the rest. They stayed inside longer than most of our other seedlings because they were small, and now they continue to grow more slowly than the rest. We gave them a dose of fish and kelp emulsion liquid fertilizer, so hopefully they will start to catch up soon. Fingers crossed for some delicious pesto in my near future. 

Hope everyone is keeping cool and staying safe out there! Happy gardening!

Culinary Herbs

I am so excited for the brand new herbal additions to our garden! We transformed the bare patches of dirt on either side of our concrete walkway into a culinary herb garden. It is just feet away from our kitchen, so we will be able to easily access and harvest fresh herbs for our culinary creations!

Newly planted herbs just feet from our kitchen door!
From foreground to background: English thyme, Italian oregano, broadleaf sage.
From foreground to background: lemon verbena, silver-leafed thyme, rosemary, lemon thyme, and lavender.

They may not look like much now, but pretty soon we’ll have herbs to spare! I can’t wait to start cooking with these. I see compound butter and simple syrup in my future! 

Thanks, of course, to Josh for installing the drip line! Looking forward to watching this part of our garden grow. 

Planting Seedlings for Summer

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” -Audrey Hepburn

In spite of all the stay-at-home orders, cancelled events, and closed businesses, the spring season blooms on. As I have seen in many posts and newsletter these days, “Gardening is not cancelled.” In fact, as people have more time to spend at home and many garden centers remain open on a curbside pick-up or delivery basis, gardening has become a more popular pastime than ever. Even more than a pastime, people are turning to the act of growing their own food to help support their families during this time.

I am grateful now more than ever for the garden box we built and the beautiful backyard space we have to enjoy and utilize. All of the time spent at home has opened up more opportunities to spend time in that space and appreciate it. 

We’ve been enjoying more meals outside since the shelter-in-place order.

Even before the shelter-in-place orders, we were planning to plant a vegetable garden, however, it became more urgent once businesses and offices began shutting down. In fact we got to our local garden center to buy seeds one day before they began a temporary closure to reevaluate their retail strategy. It was a relief that we got our seeds and some seedlings from them before their indefinite closure.

We picked up a beefsteak tomato seedling and planted it in the garden bed probably a little earlier than advisable. For variety we picked up a few seed packets of sungold and red cherry tomatoes and San Marzano tomatoes which are good for turning into sauce. We also picked up a few herb seedlings- broadleaf sage and oregano and marigolds. Another exciting find was a variety of jalapeno seedlings called ‘Jedi’.

Sparse beginnings with pops of color from the marigolds.

We started a few other seeds indoors including ‘Black Beauty’ zucchini, Serrano peppers, Italian basil, ‘Rainbow’ chard, and ‘Nickel Filet’ green beans. In addition to the purchased seeds we also planted a ‘Delicata’ squash seed that we saved from our kitchen. The containers we used to start the seedlings were recycled containers from other plants we had purchased in the past. We also had an organic potting soil mix from past planting projects, so we used that as our seeding medium. Labeling your seedlings helps to keep track of what you planted and where. The date is also useful so that you know about how old your seedlings are. 

Planting seeds and labeling them as we go.

To ensure the seedlings would get adequate light and attention, we set them up under an LED light on top of a bookcase in our home office. We bought a simple spray bottle that we could keep next to the seedlings to give them a nice, gentle dousing of water in the mornings and evenings. Some of them germinated within days, and others didn’t show any signs of sprouting until a week or two after planting them. 

About one week after planting the seeds.

This past weekend we decided to transplant the tomato, zucchini, and green bean seedlings outside. We also scored a free cucumber seedling on a walk around our neighborhood, so we decided to plant that, too. Our seedlings were about three weeks old when we transplanted them. Some of the indicators that the seedlings were ready to be transplanted were their size and the number of leaf sets they had. The green beans were the most precocious of the bunch and were about 5-6 inches tall with a full set of adult leaves. The zucchini was 3-4 inches tall, and it had set its adult leaves as well. The tomatoes were also about 3-4 inches tall. The tomatoes were on the smaller side, but this is partly because we seeded two seeds per container to increase the chances of success.

‘Black Beauty’ zucchini seedling.

The tomatoes will take up their own half of the garden bed, and even that might be somewhat tight spacing. The zucchini and cucumber plants will also get quite big. We were worried the green beans would be crowded out in the garden box, so we transplanted them into a separate container. We also put some of the jalapenos into pots instead of the large garden box for the same reason. Additionally, our plan for the chard is to transplant them into a container we currently have potatoes growing in. So when the potatoes come out, the chard will go in.

Tomato seedlings with trellis cages fitted over them.

Daily waterings are important when plants are young because their root systems have not yet developed. Once plants have a more developed root system, they can typically go longer between waterings because they can reach further down and around for available water, nutrients, etc. 

Sungold tomato seedling.

To give the plants a little boost, I’ve also fertilized them with a dose of kelp and fish emulsion. The fertilizer I have been using has a 2-2-2 nitrogen-potassium-phosphorus (NPK) ratio, or in other words, it has equal parts nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. This is a great, balanced blend. Fish emulsion by itself is usually very high in nitrogen but not the other two (P & K), however, plants need all three to be strong and healthy. Nitrogen is great to apply when plants are in their vegetative growth stage (i.e. getting taller, putting on new leaves), but it is best to cut back on the nitrogen once plants enter the fruiting stage.

Fish and Kelp Fertilizer.

That’s all for now! I’ll most likely post again after we do the next round of planting. Hope everyone is staying safe and well, and I hope that you are getting the chance to garden.

Learning to Grow

When I was in college, I started gardening out of containers in my mom’s backyard. I was late to the gardening game, but I was hooked after I harvested that first tomato. Can’t say that I was super successful, but that first try whet my appetite for more.

My hobby turned into a major in college, which then led to a series of jobs on farms and gardens. When I started down this path, I never suspected it would take me into the field as an organic farm-hand or put me behind the steering wheel of a tractor. I eventually found myself leading gardening classes, teaching other people how to start seeds, and all the while doubting myself and my level of expertise.

There are so many others with more knowledge and experience in farming and gardening than me. Being aware of that, I continue to read, experiment, and watch videos about gardening. I’ve joined gardening groups on Facebook, and I’ve attended a local gardening classes. There is always more to learn!

Read

  • Sunset Western Garden Book– this book is a great go-to for gardeners on the West Coast. It covers edible as well as ornamental plants. Sunset divides regions into growing zones and gives advice on what to plant where.
  • How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons- this is a great read with a lot of detailed plans on how to become self-sustaining on a small amount of land. It is also an excellent reference for soil building, companion planting, and more. Not all of us can be homesteaders, but there is still a lot of valuable information to take from this book.

Watch

These vloggers have a fun and entertaining style. Plus they know their stuff!

  • Roots and Refuge– Jess and her family have a beautiful homestead farm in Arkansas. Jess’ videos are fun to watch, and I always learn about a new variety of vegetable when she does her garden tours. She is a wealth of information about tomatoes, specifically, but she gives great tips on other plants as well.
  • The Gardening Channel with James Prigioni- Based out of New Jersey, James specializes in Food Forests. He’s very entertaining, and I believe he’s very good at what he does. We actually came across his channel while researching garden boxes and different sorts of lids.

Visit

Visiting local farms, purchasing products from them, and attending classes or workshops that they offer is another great way to learn and support a local farm.

  • Yisrael Family Farm-is an urban farm owned and operated by the Yisrael family in Oak Park, Sacramento. The Yisraels have outreach and educational programs to help others learn about farming, nutrition, and how to better support themselves from the land. Their offerings include garden consultations, garden builds, and artisan soap and skin products. They also offer awesome workshops and farm tours.
  • Soil Born Farms– a non-profit educational farm, Soil Born focuses on offering programs and classes to the Sacramento community. They offer cooking, herbalism, gardening, fitness classes and more for all ages. They also host community-focused events and have a seasonal farm stand.

Building a Raised Garden Bed

Moving into a house with a big yard last year, we knew we wanted a dedicated space to garden. I’ve been getting by on container gardens and houseplants to soothe my gardening urges these past several months, but now thanks to my studly guy and help from my awesome mom, we now have a raised garden bed in our yard.

My boyfriend, Josh, and my mom, Tamra , unloading soil into our garden box.

After getting some inspiration from YouTube and a community garden class we attended, Josh designed a 4’×8’×20″ garden bed. Our thinking was that the depth should ideally be between 12-24″ since we are planning to plant tomatoes, and tomatoes like to set deep roots.

Here’s a run down of the supplies we used:

  • Four 2x10s at 8′ in length
  • Four 2x10s at 4′ in length
  • Four 4x4s at 15-18″ in length
  • Two 2x4s at 8′ in length
  • Two 2x4s at 4′ in length
  • Box of 3 1/2″ deck screws
  • Power drill
  • Square
  • 1″ mesh wire” enough to cover the bottom of the bed, 32 square feet
  • Staple gun w/ staples
  • Cardboard or weed cloth to line the bottom
Our supplies from Home Depot.

We purchased our supplies from Home Depot, and cut most of the boards at home with a chop saw. We decided to construct the garden bed on our covered patio to be on a flat surface. Josh pre-drilled the holes for the screws to help prevent splitting the wood and to make each screw easier to put in.

We constructed the short ends first. We used two 4′ 2x10s and two of the 4x4s. The 4x4s are the stabilizing posts at each corner of the box.

The first 4′ 2×10 attached to the 4×4 posts.

We then attached the 8′ long 2x10s making sure everything was square as went.

The first 8′ 2×10 connecting the two end pieces.
All of the bottom corners have been connected.
All sides completed!

After the construction of the garden bed, we took a pest management measure and lined the bottom of the garden box with wire mesh. This will help prevent ground squirrels and other burrowing creatures from digging into the box from below.

My mom and Josh attaching the wire mesh with an electric staple gun.

In lieu of weed cloth, we lined the bottom of the garden box with cardboard. The card board will eventually break down, and it will hopefully help slow weeds down!

Mom fitting the cardboard to the box. This was a step to measure how many boxes we needed.
We then moved the boxes out to the lawn and turned the box over on top of them.
FYI: It was very heavy to move after constructed. It took three of us plus a handcart to move into place. Building it in place could’ve been another way to go, but we wanted to be close to a power source for the tools we used

For the soil, I found a local rock and soil yard that delivers in our area. I ordered 1.5 cubic yards of their planter mix- a 50/50 blend of topsoil and compost. The compost will lend nutrients and structure to the soil while the topsoil helps keep the soil a looser consistency.

Dumping soil into the garden box.

The finishing touch was to add a lip to the box with the 2x4s. This was an optional step, but the lip on the box will give us a place to sit and lean into the box or to set things around the edge. It also polishes the garden bed off aesthetically.

Our finished garden bed!

In addition to the garden bed, Josh designed a lid to keep larger pests such as birds, cats, and large rodents out of the garden bed. It is an experimental design, and it will hopefully provide our plants some protection while still allowing light, air, and water through. The lid will fold out from the center of the box on a set of hinges. Still in the construction phase, but I’ll let you know how it goes!

Me posing with the garden box and half the lid.

Meal Prepping

So,  last time I shared a new strategy I’ve learned for meal planning. This time, I want to share more about the meal prepping side of things. Meal prepping is the actual preparation and cooking of ingredients and meals that you want to eat in advance of when you want to have them.

Seasoning broccoli before roasting

For example, we’ve found we can save ourselves time on weekday mornings if our breakfasts and lunches are packed ahead of time. This is where the majority of our meal prepping energy is put to use. We also like to cook meals that are large enough to produce leftovers for a day or two. I’ll walk you through a typical week for our household to paint a picture of our meal prepping. 

Taco salad with carnitas, one of my favorite salads to bring to work for lunch!

Let’s start on Saturday. This is when we usually do our grocery shopping. After we’ve created our list, we’ll go to one of our local stores. When the weather is nice and we have some extra time, we like to visit farmers markets as well. 

A rack of lamb from Costco after we thawed and seasoned it.

We like to experiment with cooking and seek out high-quality, whole foods. We also try to balance the cost of some of the expensive ingredients with buying in bulk some of the items we go through more frequently. We make a visit to Costco about once per month. 

Butter, cooking wine, and olive oil are some of our monthly Costco items.

Our Sundays are typically for meal prepping. This usually includes making an egg casserole that we can cut up into squares for our breakfasts throughout the week and another large meal that produces leftovers for 2-3 days. Mondays we tend to cook dinner as well so that we can alternate Sunday and Monday night leftovers throughout the next couple of days. Sometimes we will prep salad makings and roasted vegetables ahead of time to use up as sides throughout the week. The middle of week is where we are the least consistent. Sometimes we eat leftovers, sometimes we eat out, and other times we cook one-off dinners. It all depends on our schedule and what sort of plans come up. 

Denver-style egg casserole or egg “bake.” This usually gets us through three weekday breakfasts each.

Meal prepping is definitely easier with two people. We usually split up tasks and one of us chops veggies while the other trims and seasons meat. We also try to clean as we go. So, if Josh is actively cooking for example, I might be putting away ingredients which were already used or wiping down a counter top. I find that we cook more elaborately more often now that we are living and cooking together. On my own, it was hard to find the energy and will power to cook a more elaborate meal for just myself. 

Josh seasoning the veggies we will roast for the week

Some nights, convenience wins out, but other nights it can be nice to indulge in a more decadent meal. It can be hard to balance cooking creatively and experimentally with cooking efficiently and affordably. I think these are the areas that we can still work on. 

In the meantime, it’s a delicious journey!

Meal Planning & Prepping

Up until about a month ago, meal prepping felt like the worst part of my week. I absolutely dreaded it. Josh and I would get into arguments over meal prepping even though we both agreed that when we did meal prep, it made the rest of our week a lot easier. However, it was easier said than done. We decided we needed a system, so I started researching meal prep tips and dug up some useful information. 

Meal planning is the strategy, and meal prepping is the execution.

Meal Plan Club by Kitchn

(No endorsements, just a fan)

I have browsed Kitchn for recipes in the past, but their Meal Plan Club was a new resource to me. The Meal Plan Club features a series of articles, interviews, and guides on how best to plan and prepare meals for households of all different sizes. They also have a Facebook group with over 14,000 members that share recipes, tips, tricks and challenges with meal planning and meal prepping. 

Meal Plan Club helped teach me the difference between meal planning and meal prepping. It was an important distinction to me. It made me realize that Josh and I needed a better system for meal planning, not meal prepping. Once we had a grocery list hashed out, we were able to grocery shop and cook meals with relative ease. The hard part was coming up with the list of meals and ingredients that we wanted to shop and cook for. 

Seasoning a rack of lamb before cooking it

Meal planning and meal prepping are worth mentioning separately because they are two different processes- both of which you need in order to reach the end goal (i.e. saving time, effort, and money). Meal planning is the process of taking stock of what you have in your pantry and fridge; selecting meals and recipes; and figuring out how many meals you need for the week. It’s the strategy, and the meal prepping is the execution. Meal prepping is shopping for and preparing ingredients and/or whole meals in advance of when you’ll need them.

Prepping ingredients

Inspired by Christine Gallary’s article, I created a list in Google Sheets that included a weekly meal calendar and a grocery list split into categories. It is convenient to have all our meals written out for each mealtime of each day. I reference the meal calendar when I write the grocery list below it. My grocery list is split into the four categories recommended by Ashley Pardo: 1) Produce; 2) Pantry; 3) Meat/Freezer; 4) Dairy/Fridge. I have found this immensely helpful in organizing the grocery list.  It feels like a more thorough way of listing out ingredients, and it also makes me feel more organized when I am at the grocery store. I can cross off one section at a time (incredibly satisfying for someone like me who loves the feeling of accomplishment from checking off a to-do list).

Meal planning spreadsheet week of 2/24-2/28.

Another piece of advice I’ve adapted from the Meal Plan Club is to keep a list of grocery items that we buy weekly. The items that we tend to buy and use up weekly include carrots, onions, celery and lettuce for produce items, and eggs, milk, and chicken thighs for dairy/fridge items. Having a standard list of groceries helps reduce the number of grocery decisions we have to make each week. In turn because we make fewer decisions about groceries, we reduce the amount of energy we have to put into making a grocery list. Since we wrote the standard list and started the routine of taking stock of the fridge and pantry, the process has started to become easier. 

Meal planning calendar with ingredient columns

Our meal planning process has come a long way in one month. It still isn’t perfect. I’ve made a few tweaks to the set-up of the spreadsheet. At first I listed out individual ingredients for each meal in the calendar, but I decided that was redundant and removed that section. The format of the calendar now looks much cleaner and straightforward. I’ll admit we haven’t stuck to our grocery list or meal calendar 100% of the time. Nonetheless, we’re working towards building up those time and effort saving habits by using our meal planning tools.

What are your meal planning and prepping strategies? Is it something you’ve tried or ever wanted to try? Let me know! Maybe we can trade tips and tricks!

My top 3 Resolutions for 2020

Happy New Year, all! I took a break from the blog at the end of November and December due to the busyness of the holidays. However, with a new year comes new year’s resolutions, so I figured I would tell you some of mine! I have to admit that they are not particularly original, but it will hold me accountable to share them. Plus, I think it will give you a preview of what’s to come on the blog in 2020!

#1: Write at least one blog post per month in 2020

When I started writing this blog I was in between jobs, and I had some extra time on my hands. Now, I am working full time, and the blog posts have been coming out slower and slower. I realized that I missed writing my blog last month, so starting now, I want to commit to writing a post here at least once a month. 

#2: Build garden boxes in the backyard with Josh

Last summer, Josh and I moved into a house with a big backyard. There are a lot of ornamental trees along the fence line including a large redwood. There is also a decent amount of open lawn space. I have been keeping a container garden in the meantime, but come springtime, I would like to install some raised garden beds over a section of the lawn. Right now, the garden boxes are in the research phase, but I think when the weather warms up, Josh and I will make it into a weekend construction project. And then I’ll probably write about it!

#3: Meal prep more consistently

Our meal prepping isn’t perfect, but it is a habit Josh and I are working on. In addition to saving time on weeknights, meal prepping also helps with spending less money on food out. By preparing the food ourselves, we get to choose what goes in our meals instead of letting a restaurant or a food manufacturer decide that for us. Depending on what we cook, it is probably healthier for us than a meal out, too! We try to do our grocery shopping either Saturday or Sunday, and then we meal prep on Sundays and Monday nights. This doesn’t always work out 100% of the time because, well-life, but when it does work out, it sure makes our lives easier for the week!

What are some of your resolutions, goals, dreams, etc for 2020? If you have some you’d like to share, feel free to comment or send me a message! 

A is for Apple

A is for Apple Hill

Pumpkin spice, fuzzy socks, and bulky sweaters…the calling cards of fall are many, and this list wouldn’t be complete for me without adding a trip to Apple Hill to it! 

For those who are not familiar, Apple Hill refers to an association of apple growers, wineries, fruit and vegetable farms, and other businesses in Camino, CA that has become a hot spot for fall fun and year round activities such as wine tasting and berry picking. Camino is just off of Highway 50 between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe. According to their website, Apple Hill was established in 1964 and started off with just 16 apple growers. Now their members number over 50 businesses.

Before Apple Hill was Apple Hill, the area was primarily pear orchards. However, the area suffered a devastating pear blight, a potentially catastrophic bacterial disease, and the growers on the Hill turned to apples instead. Through combined years of experience and growing their businesses and orchards, the grower association was able to transform Apple Hill into a fall day-trip destination for Northern California. 

If you’re thinking about visiting, consider downloading the Apple HilI app to help navigate your trip. The app includes vendor lists and locations by type. It also provides mapping and weather information. It helps to plan ahead when you’re going to visit Apple Hill, or at least pick out a couple of top choice locations before embarking. Plan for traffic and check business hours. 

Apple butter for sale at High Hill Ranch.
Fresh chestnuts for sale at High Hill Ranch.

My most recent trip to Apple Hill was with my boyfriend, Josh, and two of our friends, Ashley and Cody. We were pre-celebrating my birthday since my actual birthday was on a weekday. I picked out three different locations to visit, but ultimately, we pared it down to one, High Hill Ranch, which is probably the best one-stop-shop in Apple Hill. We were able to score the coveted apple donuts I had my heart set on. Next we perused the craft booths which showcased everything from jewelry and photography to metalworking and crocheted clothing. Afterwards, we purchased and ate our lunch on site as well. There were of course plenty of apple orchards on each side of us although apple-picking is one thing High Hill does not offer. However, High Hill also features a country market where they sell local goods and products such as fresh apples, apple butter, chestnuts, frozen pies, cook books and apple-themed merchandise. 

Apple cider donuts from High Hill Ranch.
Josh and I about to enjoy our apple cider donuts.

Considering traffic can be pretty heavy at Apple Hill on the weekends, not having to move our cars throughout the day was very convenient. We ended the day with wine tasting which was only a quarter mile walk away at Madrona Winery. The walk takes you past some of the vineyards used to make Madrona wines, and their cozy tasting room is settled back under some large redwood trees. It was a wonderful day, and a great way to kick off my 27th year!

Madrona vineyards sign.
Madrona Vineyards sign outside of their tasting room.

A is for Apple Breeding

Now, this is a gardening blog, so this post would not be complete without talking plants! Specifically, apples! Malus domestica is the apple’s scientific name, or in other words, it is called the domesticated apple. The apple’s wild ancestor is from the mountains of Kazakhstan (Pollan, p.11). Apples spread from Kazakhstan to Europe, and then European settlers brought apples to the New World. They were consequently spread across the country largely with the help of John Chapman, the real Johnny Appleseed which the folklore is based on. Johnny Appleseed planted and sold apple trees across the westward frontier as his business and livelihood. Settlers welcomed him with open arms because apples were their main source of alcohol in the form of cider (Pollan, p.14-15). 

Most apples in frontier times did not taste very good on their own.  When planted from seed, apple offspring are very different from the parent trees. This quality makes the apple a plant that adapts well to new areas, such as the expanding western frontier, but there is no consistency between parent and child generations of apple trees in taste or size of fruit (Pollan, p. 9-10).

Jonagold and Granny Smith apples for sale at High Hill Ranch.

Apple varieties that are beloved today have been bred and selected over centuries and kept consistent through grafting. Grafting is the only thing keeping specific apple varieties alive past the lifespan of a single apple tree. Grafting is a technique used to join a piece of fruiting wood from a tree variety that produces desirable fruit onto another piece of wood called the rootstock (UNHCE). The variety of rootstock will affect the size of the tree such as whether the tree is standard sized or dwarf sized, for example. The rootstock also determines the hardiness of the tree such as how tolerant it is to frost and disease. The fruiting wood, also known as the scion, is spliced into the rootstock and it will determine the fruit produced. Generally, grafting only works within species (apple to apple; pear to pear, etc).

Grafting is a technique that can be used by home gardeners; however, if you are buying an apple tree from a nursery, this process has likely already been started for you. There are so many varieties of apples that their sun, water, and soil requirements may vary greatly. If you are going to plant an apple tree, I recommend researching varieties that do well in your area before buying one. Some nurseries and garden centers will carry varieties that are well-known but not necessarily well-adapted to the area they are being sold. 

Malus domestica is a deciduous tree meaning that it loses all of its leaves each year after its growing season (Sunset, p. 154). Most varieties of apples need cold winters (or a certain number of chilling hours) to achieve maximum productivity; however, there are some apple varieties which will produce under warmer circumstances. Some of the low-chill varieties recommended by apple expert Kevin Hauser out of Riverside, CA are ‘Rubinette’, ‘Anna,’ ‘Dorsett Golden’, ‘Arkansas Black’, ‘Fuji’, ‘Granny Smith’, and ‘Pink Lady’ (Sunset p. 161).

A if for Attention

Apples do require some attention to produce a healthy crop of fruit. One tip that I’ve read is to plant at least two apple varieties, so that the trees have a chance to cross-pollinate and have a good fruit set (Sunset p. 154). Newly planted apple trees will need fertilizer prior to budding-about ¼ lb of fertilizer with a 10-10-10 NPK ratio (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium ratio is usually printed on the bag). In subsequent years add a ¼ lb fertilizer to the feeding dose until trees are bearing well and producing 6-8 in of annual new growth, and then they may not need annual feeding (Sunset p. 160).

There are a variety of ways to prune apple trees. If you have dwarf trees, a pyramidal shape may work best; however, espalier is a popular style as well. Mature trees should be pruned late in the dormant season. The purposes of pruning include shaping the tree, developing strong scaffolding for fruit, and to remove dead, damaged, and diseased branches (Sunset p. 161). Pruning is a good maintenance practice that will help your tree to thrive. 

A is for Anecdote

Fun fact that I learned from Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan, but that I couldn’t find a place to put in the rest of this post: “Apple a day keeps the doctor away,” was a campaign created by the apple industry to promote the moral goodness of apples when their morality was under attack. Since apples were often used to make cider, an alcoholic beverage, prohibitionists were not particularly keen on the fruit. 

Sources:

Apple Hill Growers Association. “Our History.”

Lord, William G. and Amy Oulette. Revised by Becky Sideman, 2017. Growing Fruit: Grafting Fruit Trees in the Home Orchard. University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.

Pollan, Michael. The Botany of Desire. New York, Random House, 2001. 

Sunset Western Garden Book of Edibles: The Complete A to Z Guide to Growing Your Own Vegetables, Herbs, and Fruits. Menlo Park, Sunset Publishing Corporation, 2010.

Washington, Kate. “The Ultimate Guide to Apple Hill.” Sac Town Magazine, October-November 2017.

Oh, Kale Yeah!

The curlier your kale, the better. However, if you have minimally ridged “Dino” kale, that’s ok, too. 

Beans and chives on the left and mixed kale varieties on the right.

I started off by harvesting some kale that I grew in my backyard container garden. Although you can pinch off the leaves at the stems with your fingers, it is gentler on the plant to use some sort or shears. Even clean office scissors will do. With kale, start harvesting from the outer leaves, in. You want to take off the more mature leaves and keep the younger, smaller ones so they can continue growing. 

“Red Russian” and “Dino” Kale washed and drying.

Rinse the kale well after harvesting, and pat dry with towels. You are going to drizzle your kale with olive oil, so it is better not to have too much water on the leaves. Trim off stems.

Oiled up!

Preheat your oven to 350 F, and line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Lay out your kale in a single layer on the baking sheet. Drizzle about 1 tbsp olive oil and massage gently into the kale. Sprinkle kale with salt, and bake until crisp for about 15 mins. 

Kale chips with roasted squash seed

I had roasted some seeds from a spaghetti squash several nights before, and the combo of roasted squash seeds and crispy kale chips made a delicious and salty snack to eat while unwinding in the evening.

Enjoy!

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