Tag Archives: plants

Geranium Revival

This is a picture from last spring of the Geranium maderense in front of Chicken Coop 3.0. This beast is a mutant sibling of all the sweetly sized geraniums that one usually finds in the landscape. It is a biennial that grows with great vigor and little care here in Zone 9. The first year you get a mound of fantastic foliage- a single leaf makes an impressive arrangement in a vase. The second year the leaves are pressed to the ground so that the thick stems can support the absolutely gigantic inflorescence of flowers that springs forth. After the show is over this guy reseeds with enthusiasm and babies pop up all over the place. This particular plant was indeed a volunteer from prior years.

Please excuse the crappy picture. This plant was struck down in its prime, before any good pictures were taken.

That sprinkling of pink flowers above was just the beginning of the huge bouquet that was soon to come. This is a plant that is hard to kill. It loves everything- sun or shade, wet or dry. We found out that it can be be thwarted, however, by the crushing weight of a 5″ diameter redwood limb falling from the heavens upon its head. The bouquet was severed in half and we figured the whole plant was a gonner as it had already begun to set seed.


In a form that befits the spirit of this plant, it came back twice as fiercely. Letting this happen has meant multiple years of having to shimmy our way in to the door of our coop, but you just can’t disturb a plant that takes a death blow just days before it should have died of natural causes and springs back better than ever.

Finally this spring we have the double flower explosion I’ve been waiting for.


Each a little smaller than the daddy, but pretty great all the same.

That little mound to the right, by the way, is a normal sized geranium called ‘Ann Folkard’.


Here’s to meeting the next crushing challenge that lands on our heads with double bouquets of fierceness!  Happy Spring!


Growing 50 Plants From a 6 Pack

Although I will certainly lose some of my street cred as an urban homesteader by revealing that I do not start all my edibles from seed, this info is important stuff for the newer gardeners among us. As a beginner veggie grower I assumed each cell in a 6 pack held one plant and should be plunked right into the dirt. My friend Claire Woods, who also happens to be a propagator at the beloved Annie’s Annuals Nursery and an all around expert plant lady, set me straight on this situation.


In fact, each of these cells holds about 10 viable kale plants.


If you put each cell right into the ground you’ll end up with 10 big plants trying to grow in 1 square inch of dirt- no good! The trick is to tease each seedling apart so they can be planted at a proper distance from one another and mature to normal size. I usually start by pulling out a cell and tapping the side against my palm to loosen the dirt and roots. In cells that are as congested as these, it is then usually necessary to make one drastic tear down the middle to get the untangling process started.


After that, with more gentle tapping, shaking and teasing apart, you can pull out each individual seedling. Go slow and be gentle! Doing this with bare hands helps a lot. I was trying to keep my hands clean to take pictures, so I have gloves on here. Some seedlings will end up without enough roots to support themselves- compost those guys.


Just be sure to pick starts that are not too old or the roots will be so tangled you won’t be able to separate them. These kale starts are about as tangled as I can handle. If you don’t have any choice and are facing a complete snarl of roots, just snip off all but one of the babies at soil level, gently loosen the outside of the snarl and plant. Plants like kale, broccoli and cabbage can be planted deeper than they were in the cells to help support those reachy little stems. I usually put them in so the soil level is just below the cluster of leaves.

This process is terribly satisfying. After a good amount of culling, I ended up with 50 kale plants from this particular 6 pack. Pretty good for a few dollars worth of starts. Doing this also makes me feel far less guilty about not having started my own seeds at the right time. Next year all will be on time and my garden will be perfect! Next year!

A word of caution: don’t do this to baby plants with roots that hate to be disturbed, like melons and squash. They will struggle and pout.

Grow 23 Fruit Trees On No Acreage

I admire people that landscape well. Follow a plan. Make a plan to begin with! I am far too much of a crazy plant collector to accomplish these tasks. I get so excited about particular plants that I have a hard time adhering to the basic rules of good design. I stuff things in wherever I think they might survive and rarely buy more than one of anything, much less the odd numbers of things that work well for groupings. I sacrifice cohesion for the delight I get from the individuals. This past week I literally gasped to see that one of the bulbs I planted in Fall 2011, that did nothing of note last Spring, is suddenly in sparkly bloom.


Nope, I didn’t plant it in a drift or next to anything that will provide a complementary color or contrasting texture. Totally worth it.

So this never ending desire to collect, combined with our limited sunny space for growing, has spilled over into our edibles and made me a devout follower of Backyard Orchard Culture. Instead of one large fruit tree that will grow too tall to harvest from the ground, make lots of shade, and provide way too much fruit for one household at the time of ripening, you plant perhaps 4 trees in the same space. The key is controlling the size of each tree, ending up with what are essentially large fruit shrubs that can easily be harvested and pruned from the ground. Size control is achieved by severe pruning at the start of the tree’s life, root competition between the trees, and pruning while the tree is in leaf to limit photosynthesis. You can easily extend your harvest by choosing varieties that will ripen at different times in the season.

Late Winter, 2010

Late Winter, 2010

There are many different ways to configure one’s orchard- for more info check out Dave Wilson Nursery’s website. In our space we chose to plant trees about 6 feet apart along a metal pipe fence. We loosely espaliered them to keep them from getting wide and taking over the path beside them. Their roots compete with one another, as well as being limited by the concrete retaining wall of the fence. We have 16 trees along this fence line, 4 citrus trees bordering the veggie beds, and 3 more citrus in pots on a deck. 23 varieties of fruit on our tiny homestead! Miraculous!

Early Summer, 2012

Early Summer, 2012

This year we are replacing six trees that proved to be less fruitful or required extra work to keep healthy. It’s survival of the fittest on this homestead! In our mostly frost free area January is the time to plant for a successful Backyard Orchard Culture. The trees come dormant, with their roots bare of dirt. The first pruning cut is the most important. Whack those buggy whips off at about 18″ to promote the development of very low branches.


Not only does this make sense for all the future development of the above ground part of the tree, but check out what you have to put under the ground:


Ak! The size of the root ball on bare root trees is totally anxiety producing. How can that meager clump support a whole tree? In truth, it can’t do it very well. If you let a tree push new growth all the way up a 6 or 7 foot trunk the first year after it has been dug out in this fashion it will likely be a sad, stressed out tree. That’s why it’s better not to buy the trees later in the year that have been potted up by the nurseries without real pruning. Best to wait until next year. If you get to the nursery very soon, however, whack away and feel good about it! Balance that shoot to the roots.

You’ll be glad to know I had the family members who are not 38 weeks pregnant helping with the digging and heavy lifting. I had one especially enthusiastic helper:


Good times!