The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

January 28, 2016

Conservation District tree sales underway across Michigan

Filed under: Uncategorized — bob @ 12:27 pm

Every year, for as long as I can remember, the Soil Conservation District in my area has hosted a spring tree sale. Nowadays the soil part of their name is gone and are now known as the Conservation District because they are involved in so much more than controlling soil erosion.

Nearly every county in Michigan has its own Conservation District and just about every district holds some kind of plant sale. The plant selections may vary slightly from district to district but they all offer plants used for conserving soil and encouraging wildlife.

At these sales you can order conifers like spruce, pine and fir. Common deciduous trees like oaks, maples and cherry are available as well as the lesser known hackberry, persimmon and others.

Each district decides for itself which plants to sell but often  you’ll find shrubs such as American plum, elderberry, cranberry, currents, hazelnuts and other varieties.

Native grasses and perennials are offered by some districts. At those sales you can buy big or little bluestem, indian grass, switchgrass and milkweeds.

Tree sales are a major source of funds that go toward conservation projects in the local districts. To find a Conservation District in Michigan, click on this link. Do it soon because plants often sell out early.







January 26, 2016

Fall planted plants off to a good start

Filed under: Planting,Weather — bob @ 7:50 am

Now that normal cold weather is here, it’s easy to forget about the mild fall and early winter we had. That mild autumn and early-winter will probably turn out to be a real bonus for gardeners especially for those who did any kind of fall planting.

The roots of most fall planted plants continue to grow as long as the soil is not deeply frozen. A long, moderate fall and early winter like the one we had this past season, was ideal for fall root growth. That means the plants are now well established and will be raring to go this spring.

Garlic is one crop that is normally planted in the fall. I’m going to predict that this year your garlic crop will be better than normal. We should see larger than normal bulbs with larger and more cloves per bulb at harvest time. That’s assuming all other factors such as weed control, fertilizer and soil moisture are the same as usual.

Our tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and crocus should produce great flowers this spring too.

The same hold true for trees and shrubs. Any woody plants planted this past fall should be in great shape to make excellent growth in the spring. Anyone who planted fruit trees this fall will have effectively  gained nearly an entire growing season — as far as root growth goes.

If we have one of those springs where we quickly jump from winter right into hot weather (which sometimes happen around here) those fall planted tress will be able to shrug off the stress. On the other hand, spring planted trees under hot, dry conditions will not fare as well.

Keep in mind that spring is still the best time of the year to plant tree and shrubs. This year however,  el nino helped us out by allowing a moderate fall and early winter.

The US Department of Agriculture has developed digital tools that farmers can use to track developments like those of el nino and others, allowing farmers to make better planting, harvesting, storage and marketing decisions. As gardeners we can piggy back on that research and apply it in our own little corner of the world.

I plan to make a note in my garden journal to keep an eye for the next developing el nino and plan accordingly.



January 12, 2016

Bitter pit spots on apples in storage

Filed under: Disease,Fruit — bob @ 2:15 pm

One of our goals in gardening is to grow as much as we can for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, I bet you do that too. Even if we end up with only enough servings for just Thanksgiving dinner, I call it a successful harvest.

Judy needed to come up with a dessert for Thanksgiving this year so she decided on homemade-from-scratch, gluten-free apple cobbler. Of course you need apples for apple cobbler so I went to my storage bin for the apples.

They were not the pristine apples I usually have, these were covered in small, unsightly spots. I’ve seen those symptoms before in years past. They had  ”cork spot” sometimes called “bitter pit”.

To me, cork spot is a more accurate description than bitter pit. For one thing, apples don’t have a pit, they have an apple core. The other reason is because of the corky appearance and texture of the affected area. On the other hand, the spots do have a bitter taste, so “bitter pit” works too.

The corky spots develop just under the skin of the apple.

The corky spots develop just under the skin of the apple.

Some scientists separate bitter pit and cork spot into two different disorders with the difference being the timing when the spots show up. If they show up before harvest, it is cork spot. If it develops in storage they call it bitter pit. Either way it is not caused by any disease organism or insect.

Even though the disorder may not show up until Thanksgiving time, it has its beginning way back during the growing season when the apple was still on the tree. As the apple grows, there is some competition for water between the developing fruit and the growing leaves. That water competition may cause a calcium imbalance which weakens the cell wall in the fruit leaving it open for the symptoms to develop.

Pruning, of course, has a big effect on the number of leaves on a tree. So the proportion of apples to leaves can be different from year to year.

Rain or lack of it determines the amount of soil moisture available and that can change almost weekly during the growing season. So it is a complex set of events that contribute to the problem which is why you may not see it every year in your home grown apples.

Improper storage will often lead to bitter pit. In my case, I’m guessing it was because I did’t get the apples into storage quickly enough. That can cause the spots to show up before you have a chance to use the apples.

I had a few different varieties of apples in storage and some apples had spots and others didn’t — some varieties are more prone to bitter pit than others.

The corky texture of the spots made it much harder to peel the apples. Also, I ended up with smaller pieces because I had to cut away the affected area to get rid of the bitter taste.

Judy’s apple cobbler turned out great and was a big hit at the dinner, you couldn’t even tell it was gluten free!

I spared everyone from the convoluted story about the apples and their bitter pit spots.






December 18, 2015

Getting your daily USDA fruit and vegetable requirements

Filed under: Economics — bob @ 3:02 pm

I think I’m  pretty good at getting my USDA daily fruit and vegetable recommendations, especially during the growing season. I must admit though, I’m not so good about it during the winter.

I have a good amount of my harvest from the garden frozen, canned and dehydrated so it should be easy enough for me to do. My problem is that I think I won’t have enough to get me through the winter so I try to parcel it out evenly week by week. By summer I usually end up with things left over when I could have been using them to get my daily requirements. After all, there’s always the grocery store if I get low.

I have canned tomatoes, frozen tomatoes and dehydrated tomatoes from this years harvest.

We have canned tomatoes, frozen tomatoes and dehydrated tomatoes from this years harvest.

Most people eat just a fraction of fruits and vegetables of what is recommended.  If it weren’t for french fries and ketchup, some people won’t eat any vegetables at all. I know of some people who wear that as a badge of honor.

But what would happen if everyone decided to start eating their fruits and vegetables like they’re supposed to? A recent USDA survey found that there would not be enough fruit and vegetables to go around. Our population as a whole would increase its consumption of fruit and vegetables buy 132 percent while farmers would need to increase acreage by 137 percent — from 6.5 million acres to 15.3 million acres.

That leaves a lot of potential demand for those who want to get into farming. A person could start out on a small scale selling their produce at local farmer’s markets and roadside stands.

Gardening could also make up part of this demand. A separate study done in Flint in 2009 showed that people in urban areas who participate in in a community garden are 3.5 times more likely to eat fruit and vegetables five times a day. That makes perfect sense to me, who wants to do all that work and not eat the fruit of their labors? That doesn’t even take into account the extra produce that was given away to family and friends.

How did you do this year, are you still getting part of your daily requirements from your 2015 garden harvest? Let us know in the comment section below.


November 5, 2015

Best tasting brussels sprouts ever with some help from El Nino

Filed under: Vegetables — bob @ 3:35 pm

I had someone ask me last week when she should pick her brussels sprouts. Most experienced gardeners will tell you that Brussels sprouts are best after a hard freeze, and that is certainly true.

Cool temperatures help the sprouts develop a complex flavor with more sweet notes and less bitterness. We’ve had a hard freeze a few weeks ago — the one that put an end to the gardening season. That was probably enough to start improving the flavor.

Brussels sprouts can tolerate fairly cold temperatures. Many years, I’ve been able to leave the plants out in the garden at least until Thanksgiving and during strong El Nino years, until Christmas.

The cool damp growing season this year was not good for tomatoes and peppers but was perfect for brussels sprouts. Ours are nearly four feet high.

The cool damp growing season this year was not good for tomatoes and peppers but was perfect for brussels sprouts. Ours are nearly four feet high.

Since a strong El Nino has developed,we most likely will have one of those seasons where brussels sprouts can be left out in the garden well after Thanksgiving. This is important if you want to get the absolute best tasting brussels sprouts possible.

Brussels sprouts start losing their flavor just three days after picking. On the other hand, the flavor keeps improving as long as the sprouts stay on the plant. So you can see the advantage of leaving the sprouts on the plants until you are ready to cook them.

There are millions of people who will never eat brussels sprouts because they were forced to eat them when they were a child. They wonder why they were ever invented in the first place.

At one time, brussels sprouts were always picked by hand and those old commercial varieties tasted halfway decent. Then in the 1970′s and 80′s machines were engineered to harvest the sprouts. That meant physical changes had to be made to the brussels sprout plant itself in order to accommodate machine harvesting. In the rush to breed machine harvest-able plants, the cost came down drastically but the flavor was lost in the process. They became strong-flavored and bitter.

Things have changed in the past 20 years or so. Big improvements have been made by plant breeders to improve the taste of brussels sprouts, they’ve gained back the flavor that was lost during the early years of mechanization. It may be time to re-try brussels sprouts if you haven’t tasted them since you became an adult and now make your own food decisions.

Pick brussels sprouts by snapping them off the plant with a twist. Remove the outer layer of leaves. Some gardeners dig up the whole plant and save the sprouts on the stalk to pick off later.

The best way to cook brussels sprouts is to steam them until they are tender enough to be pierced by a fork, about 7-14 minutes. Some people cut a small “x” in the bottom of each stem to help them cook more evenly. Overcooked sprouts turn mushy and loose flavor and nutrients.

I plan to leave my plants in the garden as long as possible this season. And when very cold weather finally arrives, I’ll pick the remaining sprouts, blanch them and store them in the freezer.

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