Friday, March 18, 2011

Apricots and Peaches

When my father was transferred from the east coast to Mather Air Force Base in California in 1954, it was a permanent move that meant looking for housing for our family of nine, with one more on the way. I will be forever grateful that he settled on a two-story house in a new subdivision with ¼ acre plots. Before we even got a fence built around the backyard, Dad had planted a mini-orchard with every available fruit and nut tree he was able to find. The mix included an apple, apricot, cherry, crabapple, French prune, fig, nectarine, almond, plum, and two peaches. For the next decade, Mom was busy in the kitchen during harvest season canning the fruit and making cobblers, pies, jams, jellies, and fruit filled cookies. The smells coming from the kitchen were wonderful!

But the orchard slowly deteriorated. The apple tree died first, then the nectarine and cherry. The other trees were declining at a slower rate but by the time they were around 15 years old, they were pretty much done. The fig and the almond were the last of the trees to go. The fig just fell over on its side one day and had to eventually be cut apart and removed. That left the almond, which gave us our beautiful “snow” every year when the blossoms fell. The tree had made it to a very old age, over 40 years, when a 50 mile-an-hour gust of wind took it down on a soggy, rainy night. The last of Dad’s orchard was gone.

Over the years the backyard became home to a number of shade trees to cool our home in the hot Sacramento summer: silver maple, sequoia, privet, camphor and loquat. Last fall a few of those trees had to be removed for being too close to the utility wires. That left some wide open spaces along the fenceline. I immediately thought of putting in some new fruit trees.

So just before the bareroot season was over, I bought a ‘Fantastic Elberta’ peach, with very showy double pink flowers in the spring, and a ‘Harcot’ Apricot which will give us a sweet, juicy fruit with an “especially rich apricot flavor”. Both have been planted with a mixture of soil amendments to add more nutrients and microbes to the soil. Our constant spring rain should help get the root system settled in and ready for the warmth of spring.

Now there is only one open space left. I’m seriously thinking about putting in another almond. Nothing beats having your own personal “snowfall” every spring and having a reminder of the magnificent orchard Dad planted many years ago.

almond blossom photograph courtesy of Yolo Farm Bureau

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Seed Order for Summer Crops--Territorial Seed Company

Although I have many packages of vegetable seeds, there are always some irresistible descriptions in the seed catalogs for vegetables I haven’t tried. I rationalize that some of my seeds are getting past the 2-5 year cutoff point for viability and I need to get replacements right away.

When choosing a seed company, the first thing I look for is whether they have signed the Safe Seed Pledge. The pledge states that the company will not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. If they do not have a statement to that effect in their catalog, the catalog is tossed.

Thankfully, more and more seed companies are taking that pledge. One such company, Territorial Seed Company in Cottage Grove, Oregon,, was one of the first to sign up. Their pledge reads:

“As charter signers of the Safe Seed Pledge, we pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. We wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems, and ultimately people and communities. All of our seed is untreated”

Because I buy seeds from about a half-dozen seed companies, each order is a portion of the final inventory of seeds I want this year. I like that Territorial has ‘Sampler’ packets with a small amount of seed that can be used up within 1-2 years. Since I’ve bought from Territorial in the past, and have been very satisfied with their seeds, they are getting my first seed order this year**:

Corn ‘Honey & Cream’—“…old-fashioned flavor…bicolor corn. …sweet, 7 inch ears form rows of the most flavorful, creamy kernels. …7 foot tall plants exhibit disease resistance.”

Cucumber ‘Green Slam’—“…one of the first slicers to ripen, and it continued to pump out cucumbers all summer long. …6 inches long…nice clean flavor, without a hint of bitterness.”

Okra ‘Star of David’—“…heirloom variety…extra plump… …distinctive, tasty okra flavor. Cut one in half and its fascinating cross section reveals a geometric, six-pointed Star of David. …5-6 inches long (or smaller)… productive plants when kept picked.”

Pumpkin ‘Jack Be Little’—“Terrific for decorations and eating. These charming little orange pumpkins are 3-4 inches across, somewhat flattened and ribbed, with small, strong stems. Short 5 foot vines produce 6-12 of these fascinating miniature pumpkins.”

Tomato ‘Early Girl’—“A widely adapted variety for early tomato production. …plants bear 4-5 ounce red, globe-shaped tomatoes…

Tomato ‘Stupice’—“This cold-tolerant tomato ripens sweet, red, slightly oval, 2 inch fruit that make an excellent choice for first-of-the-summer salads, lunch boxes, and juicing. Stupice consistently gets high marks for taste throughout the summer. Pumps out fruit over the entire season. Bred in the former Czechoslovakia [and is pronounced “stu-peach-ka”]. Indeterminate potato leaf variety.”

The corn, cucumber and okra all sounded like really tasty varieties to try. With the tomatoes, I’m going with two early varieties since we’ve had more than two years of unproductive tomato plants in the heat of the Sacramento Valley summer. The variety ‘Stupice’ sounds especially good. I can’t wait to see how it performs. And the pumpkins are just for fun. After growing the ‘Sugar Pie’ pumpkin last year, and finding how easy pumpkins are to grow, I just had to grow some more.

Pumpkins are a great crop for the wee gardeners to start with, too.

**permission given to use photos from Territorial Seed Catalog