Garden log, 3.11.15

Moved two blueberry bushes today. They’re loaded with buds, so I might have planned the timing of this project a bit better, but I hope this new location will be, um, fruitful.

Moved and divided Christmas ferns yesterday. Amazed at how brilliantly these plants grew with absolutely no help from me. Now they’re in a spot where they’ll get more attention. Can’t wait to see what becomes of them next.

On a walk-around late this afternoon, I spotted this:

Do you know what these wormy little things are? The unfurling leaf buds of Sanguinaria canadensis, also known as bloodroot. One of my very favorite spring epherals. It’s a bit early for them, I think, but I am glad to see them anytime.

Growing unusual fruit: Lingonberries

My growing obsession with unusual fruit reached its tipping point a few weeks ago, when I placed an order for a few new edible landscaping items: A cornelian cherry, two honeyberries, and two lingonberries. Friends, this is just the beginning.

fruit plants arrived

They’re here!

I started with the lingonberries. Lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) are native to the northern reaches of North America, Europe, and Asia. As such, I’m taking a bit of a risk with these plants, as I live at the very edge of their heat-tolerance zone. They’re extremely cold-hardy. If I’d planted them last fall, they’d have shrugged off our polar vortex as a mild winter. With luck, they will spread by rhizomes to form a nice, tidy mat.

Like most Vaccinium species (blueberries and cranberries share the genus) they require moist, acidic soil. They also appreciate a bit of shade. I hope they’ll become an edible groundcover beneath my Southern highbush blueberries, which perform very well here.

They arrived in good condition. Inside the larger container, the plants came shipped in tall cardboard sleeves to keep the foliage from being crushed.

The lingonberries came packaged in tall cardboard sleeves.

The lingonberries came packaged in tall cardboard sleeves.

The 4-inch pots came wrapped in plastic to keep the soil moist and inside the pot.

The pots, but not the foliage, were shipped in plastic to keep the soil moist.

The pots, but not the foliage, were shipped in plastic to keep the soil moist.

Interesting looking moss came along for the ride.

interesting moss in lingonberry pot

I prepared the planting holes by digging them about six inches deep (the height of the pot) and about eight inches wide (twice the pot’s diameter). This is tricky to do because blueberries’ roots are shallow and brittle, and they don’t appreciate having their roots jostled and broken. Into the holes, I mixed a little homemade compost and some soybean meal. Soybean meal, available at feed stores, acts as a slow-release fertilizer high in nitrogen. It will release its nutrients to the blueberries and loganberries over the course of the summer. I don’t expect to need to feed them again this year, particularly because my acid clay is already high in phosphorus and potassium, though I’ll monitor the soil using free soil tests from the county extension service.

Soybean meal is typically used as a feed stock for poultry or pigs, but it's an excellent slow-release source of nitrogen.

Soybean meal is typically used as a feed stock for poultry or pigs, but it’s an excellent slow-release source of nitrogen.

I slipped the plants out of their pots. The roots look healthy, although they”ll need to be loosened a bit.

Plant roots should be loosened before planting, especially if they begin to grow in circles around the pot like this. But I'll need to be careful with the brittle roots.

Plant roots should be loosened before planting, especially if they begin to grow in circles around the pot like this. But I’ll need to be careful with the brittle roots.

I placed the plant in the hole, gently spreading out the roots, and covered with more compost. I watered it in, and spread up some of the existing pine bark mulch. I later mulched the entire bed with three inches of shredded pine bark.

The blueberries and lingonberries grow in a raised bed composed of native acid red clay and decomposed pine bark. The lingonberries will enjoy the dappled shade of the blueberry foliage, and will receive some additional shade from the side of the deck. Between this and regular deep watering, I hope they’ll get the break from the summer heat that they need.

The lingonberries and blueberries grow in a raised bed of native clay and decomposed pine bark.

The lingonberries and blueberries grow in a raised bed of native clay and decomposed pine bark.

Lingonberries typically produce two crops of fruit per year, in late summer and again in late fall. I’d be surprised if they fruited this summer, but perhaps I’ll get a crop around Thanksgiving or Christmas. Once the fruits begin to form, I’ll shelter them in my blueberry fortress.

Here’s a guide from Cornell University on growing lingonberries.

Grow Write Guild #11: Grow Your Own

The Grow Write Guild’s current prompt is Your Edible Rewards.

The last thing I ate that came from my own garden was mint, which I prepared in a sauce for a delicious North African pork tenderloin recipe. My collection of edibles is meager; having a garden of large oaks means wonderful shade for our semi-tropical summers, but they do cut down on the prospective edible landscape. My edibles, except for some blueberries, reside in pots on the deck.

I am, however, planning to experiment next year by intermingling more food crops with the sun-hogging shrubs and perennials on the south side of my garden. Okra, I know, will do very well; I love a good grilled summer squash but fear that if I’m not careful about the selection the plant may overtake not only the shrubbery but my neighbor’s driveway as well:

exuberant mystery squash

This is a vining-type squash that has overrun the small community garden I oversee. I apologize for the poor-quality photo. I don’t know the variety–the seeds came in a seed-swap and were labeled “squash.” I am reminded to be less frugal with information whenever I share seeds with friends.

I also hope to expand my collection of container-grown veg by delving into the world of bush varieties: bush beans and tomatoes, peas (challenging with our volatile spring weather), compact peppers, and eggplant, and by researching and experimenting with more exotic vegetables from Africa or Asia that perform in hot, humid climates.

Every gardener faces challenges when growing her (or his) own food: if it’s not the infernal weather, it’s plagues of insects, varieties that don’t live up to their promises, pollinators that don’t show, or the wildlife that is so charming when it’s beyond the fence, but less so when it takes precisely one bite out of each tomato on the vine, which of course we were planning to harvest tomorrow. So for me, I try to find my rewards in the process of growing, of observing nature in its cycles, and if I have anything to snack on at the end of it all, then that’s cause for celebration in itself. So it’s a good thing that I have mint for the mojitos.

Shock and Augh!: When garden labor goes unappreciated

Gardeners will go to extraordinary lengths, sometimes, to prevail over Mother Nature.

Exhibit A: The Blueberry Fortress

blueberry fortress

I wish I could take credit for inventing this contraption, but I cannot. I saw it in a recent issue of Fine Gardening.

I like blueberries, but I live with someone who LOVES blueberries. I can’t grow many food crops because of the deep shade that covers most of my garden, but in this 15′ square little plot off the edge of our deck, I manage to grow three little blueberry bushes. The rest of the space is a large nursery bed for everything else I’ve acquired but don’t know where to put.

Blueberries are a painless plant to grow, but saving the fruit from our woodland neighbors is not so easy. In the past I have put up tall tomato stakes and attached netting to them, but my technique with this equipment is insufficiently refined. Tired of entangling myself in bird netting every time I wanted to harvest, I knew when I saw this article in a recent issue of Fine Gardening, I had to act.

The walk-in cage (that doesn’t sound dodgy at all, does it?) is made of 8 lengths of 8 1/2′ long, 1/2-inch PVC pipe, joined at the top by a 90-degree elbow. The uprights are anchored in 1-foot lengths of 1-inch PVC, hammered into the ground. The bird netting is anchored onto the frame with twist-ties. The whole edifice cost less than $20 at the local hardware store, and the only tools I needed were a hammer and a small saw.

When I presented The Fortress to the blueberry aficionado-in-residence, all he said was, “Wow.”  It didn’t sound like the awe-stricken “Wow” I was hoping for. It sounded similar, actually, to the “wow” I got when, eleven years ago, the same Aficionado came home from a late-evening grad school class to find a 9-week-old sitting happily in his swing, having not napped for 17 hours, and I, lying on the floor, laughing ridiculously to a Baby Einstein foreign language video, greeted him with a hearty “Konichiwa!”

If it’s going to be like that, we’ll see who gets the blueberries on her cereal.