Three New Crops: Part Three

Several years ago a horticulturist friend of mine gifted me with a paw-paw fruit to taste. It had been grown by another friend of his and he thought I’d appreciate giving it a try. I liked the taste and was impressed with the large, beanlike seeds. Since I’m always trying to grow random things, I potted up the seeds in some number one nursery containers I had sitting around and waited to see what happened. If I remember correctly–this was eight or ten years ago–they actually took over a year to send shoots up. When they were a couple feet tall or so I planted them along the west fence in the back garden which was the brightest spot at the time but still shady. Those are the conditions paw-paws like.

Fast forward to the spring? of 2017 when I was looking at the garden and noticed something weird on the largest of the trees. When I got closer I could see it was the pendulous maroon cup of a flower. Closer inspection revealed that there were several more on the tree. It was finally blooming!

As luck would have it, our next-door neighbor also has paw-paw trees and when I told them we had blooms, he suggested we cross-pollinate them since they are supposed to not be strongly self-fertile. We traded pollen back and forth between our trees several times as more flowers became receptive and I tagged mine with the dates. The flowers were also being visited by what may have been small flies. The flowers are not sweetly scented but are rather more carrion-ish.

Not all took and some that started forming small fruits failed and fell off.

In the end there were two that looked promising hanging just above head height.

Paw-paws fall off the tree when they’re ripe and ready to eat so I rigged mesh bags below them to keep them from just becoming squirrel and chipmunk chow.

I think that would have worked, but somehow one of the little buggers managed to chew a fruit through the mesh and ruin one end of it. Not wanting to lose them completely, I picked them a little early and cut them open after trimming off the damaged bit.

The flesh was soft and sweet-smelling, though maybe not as much as if I had been able to leave them on the tree longer. If you haven’t tasted paw-paw you should if you ever get the chance. It’s the most northern growing of the members of the custard apple family and definitely has a tropical flavor sort of akin to banana or mango but unique.

Now that I had some, what to do with them? Two of our best besties were in town that weekend and we were going to dinner at their place so I offered to take care of the cocktail course. I found a recipe online for something called a Paw-Paw Rum Runner that called for both fruit-infused rum and puréed flesh.

They were good, but I think the rum overpowered the flavor of the fruit. Additionally, I felt like I was wasting some of it in making the infused rum. That bit of fruit became inedible and didn’t really impart much flavor to the booze.

Just as before, those many years ago, I saved the seeds from both fruits and potted them up in my homemade compost. There are now seventeen pots sitting in my propagation area waiting to possibly, slowly, eventually bring this tropical-flavored native fruit to the gardens of my friends and neighbors.

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Sowing Schedule Supplement

Someone requested a look at the chart I’m using for my garden schedule so here it is.

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If you click on the image you’ll see that next week I’m going to be starting the first of the succession crops, e.g. “1 Broccoli.” Two weeks later will be “2 Broccoli”, etc. Feel free to share any ideas or suggestions you may have for making this better.

Sorting the Sowing Schedule

The leeks are reaching up and ready for their first haircut—right on schedule!

Photo Mar 04, 6 08 07 AM

I’m trying something different this year with my garden planning. In the past I’ve used different schedules for starting seeds, transplanting, and sowing in sort of a mishmash blend. These are spread out on different calendars and tables from a variety of sources ranging from completely local to vaguely regional to purely theoretical. Recently I sat down with all this information and attempted to wrestle it into a simpler, more usable schedule specific to what I actually grow. The biggest source of inspiration is a chart I got from a local market farmer at a workshop on making a garden produce like a farm.

The most helpful thing I got from this chart is the scheduling of succession plantings. I’ve got a track record of planting an entire crop all at once, then having, for example, more lettuce than we can eat followed later by the dreaded lettuce lack. The farm’s chart shows numbered, regularly-timed sowings of crops in an easy to understand system. I used that system to transcribe all my different sources into one chart of my own that I’ll test out this year. Each week has a separate section for seed starting, transplanting and sowing. My intention is to make notes and adjust as I go along, if necessary. I might even make some notes of harvests just for reference. Next winter I can look it over for what worked and what didn’t, make the adjustments I need and apply it again the following growing season. For now, I’ve got thirty weeks of the year all planned out. Consulting the schedule it says it’s week 4 and time to sow the peppers!

Enlightenment of a Sort

As I write this the wind is howling and freezing rain is pelting the windowsills. Still, there has been enough decent weather recently that I’ve officially emerged from the “do nothing” months of winter and started tackling the larger projects I’ve been contemplating for months. So far this year I’ve managed to arrange a contractor to fix the front sidewalk, get married, make a dent in some of the junk purging, and start picking out the materials for a kitchen update. I’m anxious to get gardening now that I’ve got some forward momentum.

With a few dozen pots of plants to observe growing away under one of my new fluorescent fixtures something has occurred to me.

Under the Lights

I noticed the plants at the edges of the tray were leaning in toward the bulbs more than I’ve seen in past years. You can kind of see it in that pot of tomatoes to the right of the orangeish label. (Ignore the horribly leggy cilantro in the back, there. I started it on the windowsill and didn’t get it under lights soon enough.) It occurred to me that my previous light fixtures were quite a bit wider and the bulbs were spaced farther apart than in these new ones.

Light from Above

From above I can see they don’t even provide full coverage for the width of one flat when they’re low over it. I have another hanging parallel to this one and I was planning on placing flats perpendicular to them to get four under each pair of fixtures. Not sure what to do at this point. I wish I’d thought of that when I bought them. For now I’m just going to rotate the rows of pots within the tray. This is going to be a pain when the plants get larger and go into larger pots.

Indigo Apple and Amish Paste

In better news, the tomato plants are growing well enough that they may be getting potted up by next weekend. Here’s a fun comparison. On the left is ‘Indigo Apple’ and on the right is good old ‘Amish Paste.’ Indigo Apple has been bred to have high levels of anthocyanins and even the leaves are dark with a purplish tinge. The reviews of their performance and flavor are mixed but I thought they’d be something interesting to try this year.

Spinach

The official opening day of the community gardens was yesterday but I was up there a little over a week ago to check on things. Under the leaf mulch the overwintered spinach was looking excellent if a little muddy. I covered it up again because I knew this temporary return to wintry weather was coming.

Artsly Garlic

This week I visited again and found garlic poking up through the mulch. My favorite spring bulb! I couldn’t see what I was doing and the photo turned out blurry so I ran an artsy Photoshop filter on it. Edgy, huh? OK, I’m not an artist or a photographer but, hey, I was excited.

Seed Starting for the Poorly Prepared

I can’t believe it’s been nearly a month since I shared any of my fascinating goings-on here. Believe me, I haven’t been just sitting around–much, at least. March is the month when I seem to emerge from the winter inertia along with the plants and critters outdoors.

American Flag Leek

Seed starting actually commenced weeks ago with the onions, shallots and leeks. Here are the American Flag leeks waving their seed coats up toward the shop lights. Today they got their first haircut.

In the time since the leeks and their ilk were sown I started a few other things as well. Then last weekend I got started on my favorites, the tomatoes and peppers. In the past my system was to sow a couple of seeds together in a tall, 2” pot. I have tons of these around from back when I grew Paphiopedilum orchids. If both of the seeds germinated I would just snip off the weaker one. If neither germinated I’d have wasted the space that barren pot was taking. This year I decided to sow multiple seeds in 4” pots and since they shouldn’t be in there too long and need a lot of root room, I cut the pots shorter for easy access. Or, at least I started doing that after I realized what a pain it is to get to seedlings in a pot as tall as they are. (See left-hand pot of leeks above.)

Early Jalapeno

Anyway, after potting up a few kinds of peppers as seen above, I realized I didn’t have nearly enough pots. Either I hid them very well from myself or I purged a little too aggressively last fall. As I was contemplating driving out to the garden center yet again, I was hit with a brainstorm…

Paper Pot

Paper pots! I quickly rolled and folded up a bunch and I was back in business.

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See how meticulously I placed the seeds in the potting mix? I also labeled the tags with the number planted in each pot.

Paper Pots in Use

Once the plants have reached the size where they can be transplanted I’ll move them up to individual 4” pots. Those will be plastic pots because they will be more durable for moving around under the lights and transporting out to the garden when they are ready. I’ll have plenty of time to get out to the garden center before then. I’d better start making a list.

Shooting Toward Spring

A few weeks ago I started testing dozens of packets of seeds and was pleasantly surprised at the results. Most had high rates of germination including the ones most near and dear to me, the tomatoes. Another survivor, which came as no surprise, was the snap peas. Once the testing was over, I just couldn’t bring myself to discard the sprouted seeds so I potted them up. They’re a nice little bit of early gardening and when they’re a little larger I’ll enjoy adding their tender shoots to a salad.

Pea Shoots

Truth in Labeling

You pay your money and you take your chances.

Not Amish Paste

I was so excited to pick my first reddening-up “big” tomato yesterday. I’ve gotten a few little cherry types so far and most of the plants are setting fruit but this is the first of the non-cherries to show color. It stood out among the  others in the bed like a beacon. Stood out a little too much, in fact. It was in the Amish Paste bed. Well, I thought, maybe I mixed some other tomatoes in for variety. Nope. I checked my plan and it’s supposed to be Amish Paste but there’s no way it is.

Amish Paste

These are real Amish Paste from a few years ago, back when I was growing them from seed. That’s the key, I guess. This year all my seed-started tomatoes and peppers were a failure so I had to resort to buying plants. I can’t recall where I got this mislabeled one. It could have been mixed up by the grower or a careless shopper could have accidentally swapped the label. In any case, it’s renewed my determination to start my own plants next year from reliable seed sources. Now I just hope my Mystery ‘Mater tastes good because it looks like it’s going to be productive.