I actually didn’t get as many new edible plants and trees this winter or spring as I have in past years, but I still probably got more than I really have room for. Basically, my small urban backyard is getting too full and the family isn’t ready to give up the front yard lawn yet. Since many of the neighbors on the block are changing over their lawns in the city’s Lawn to Garden program, our front yard has become one of the few left that are ideal spaces for kids to run and play on. At any given time, there is six or seven kids out there running around in the shade, and sometimes none of them are even mine. Therefore, for now, in order to put in new a edible landscape plant, I prefer to pull out something already growing, but I hate intentionally killing plants. Never the less, I do have to do it sometimes.
This winter I did something drastic and ripped out my pretty Black Mission Fig tree. I had good reason for doing it; it got really enormous, despite summer pruning. It is a delicious variety, it just kept getting too big for my yard. I took the time to propagate the Black Mission Fig through cuttings first, and managed to clone about 8 baby figs, so technically I didn’t kill it. The new little figs trees went off with other gardeners and I made sure to forewarn them “Black Mission Fig turns into a very big tree.” I still have one left in a pot, but it won’t stay a good fig for a pot for much more than a year or two. It was a poor choice for us from the beginning, espcially for the espaliering I was trying to do to it. When I first planted the Black Mission years ago, I didn’t realize that figs have different growth potentials. Without summer pruning, some figs get huge, like the Black Mission, some are standard sized like Brown Turkey or Strawberry Verte growing to about 25 ft tall, and some stay a little smaller in the 10 to 15 ft range, like Black Jack, Celestial, and my little Violette De Bordeaux. My 3 year old Violette de Bordeaux Fig is much better behaved for the purpose of espaliering. The VDB has grown really slow in comparison to the Black Mission which seemed to grow a foot every time I took a day or two off from gardening.
This winter I was generously given a Tena Fig and some cuttings of Mary Lane Fig by a fellow edible enthusiast, Kathy. However, I don’t know a lot about either variety yet, like if they prefer inland heat more than my cool coastal conditions or how big they get without summer pruning. I don’t mind doing some summer pruning on them, but I also don’t want to sacrifice production for size control. For now, they are in pots in the driveway, getting watered regularly with my other plants from propagation projects. Kathy said the Tena fig came from a cutting from the U.C. Davis germplasm and the Mary Lane Seedless fig originally came to her from her husband’s childhood home, having grown there from 1960 to 2006. That tree was burned badly in the “Old” Fire in 2003, but they took cuttings prior to it finally dying in 2006. I love that figs can be easily shared and passed on in families, carried from one home to the next. I have yet to find room for the figs yet. I doubt I can keep them happy in pots long enough for the kids to get all grown.
On a whim, I bought a Parfianka Pomegranate. It was an impulse buy because I found it by accident for $6 at Sprouts natural foods grocery store of all places. I had previously read (but not personally tasted) that it is one of the best flavored varieties and it is also supposed to be one of the smaller varieties of pomegranate trees. So of course when I saw it so cheap, I just had to pick it up. I am skeptical about the smaller size, but hopeful it is true. For now, I planted the little 2 quart sized tree in a giant pot. Yes, I did say 2 quart size; I am a patient gardener and don’t mind waiting a year or two to save a little money. I may end up planting in near the Sweet pomegranate and let the two grow together. In the month I have had it is had doubled in size. Anyone else grow Parfianka and knows if is a bit smaller than other pomegranates or has an opinion on taste?
One fun new plant I got is a Kiwi Berry, or Hardy Kiwi. I splurged on a Issai Hardy Female Kiwi in a one gallon pot. It pained me to spend $17 on it, but it is reported to be self fruitful. Even if it isn’t able to self pollinate, I figure since I already have a male Fuzzy Kiwi, which actually can pollinate Hardy Kiwi, I could give it a try. My daughter loves Kiwis, and the one time we bought a box of hardy kiwis/ kiwi berries at Trader Joes, we liked them. However, we don’t know what variety they were so it is a gamble if we will like the taste of Issai Kiwi. I was surprised when I noticed this morning that it actually is flowering already. I have read this variety is precocious, but wow! It isn’t even here for a full season and it wants to get started making fruits. My Vincent took 6 years and my male Fuzzy Kiwi took 8 years to flower. The Issai will get big, although not as big as my Vincent Fuzzy Kiwi, so I am going to have to build another trellis for it.
And last but not least, is my new Neptune Grape, a hybrid of Vitis labrusca. It is part of the Celestial series of grapes released by Univ. of Arkansas Department of Agriculture. My all time favorite seedless purple grape, Jupiter, is one of their varieties, so I am hopeful I will like the Neptune just as well, especially since it is a little later ripening. I really would have preferred to get a different new variety of Hybrid grape called Gratitude, based on the University’s description,but it isn’t available from any retail growers that can ship to California yet. I am hoping someone in California Rare Fruit Growers has connections and can get their hands on it to see how it is around here. I plan to put in the Neptune grape where my Fantasy Grape was over on the side yard by the hopscotch path, which is also where the Interlaken and Concord grow in the long narrow strip of yard.
My Fantasy grape was the last of the European grape varieties, I planted a decade ago, that was still left in my yard. Over the last four or five years I have been removing all the vitis vinifera one by one. Most of them were unpredictable in their productivity here. In the years that we had plenty of early summer fog, they did poorly, suffering from mildew, were less productive in producing fruit, etc. As I replace the European Grapes, I choose varieties that have been reported to do well around humid or cooler climates like Puget Sound Washington, Oregon, or New York.
The Perlette was the first to go. Although it produced huge crops, it rarely sweetened up enough before it would have a few grapes crack, and then it would quickly be plagued with green fruit beetles which further damaged the fruit. I tried picking the grapes on the Perlette a little on the early side, but they were slightly sour. The Flame grape was the next to get the axe. It wanted to grow what seemed like a half a foot a day, eventhough it consistently suffered from powdery mildew by late summer. Despite the mildew, it did produce a fair amount of grapes in some years. The two year old Interlaken Seedless now occupies the spot where the Flame was originally. The Fantasy and Black Monuka never set big enough crops to justify the amount of space they were taking up, and both were very vigorous. Due to our lack of summer heat, neither was overly productive for us. However, I did love the few grapes that they did produce and was sad to see them go. When I wanted to plant my first Jupiter grape, I took out the Black Monnuka that occupied the same area. The flavor and quality is just as good and it is doing so much better in that spot, so much so I probably will have to thin the crop this year. To date, since choosing new hybrid grape varieties that were reported to do well in cool or coastal locations specifically, I have had much greater success with grapes.
Hanbury House Grapes ( all seem to be good choices for our cool coastal weather, especially our foggy summers:)
- Interlaken Seedless (a very early season green hybrid grape in late June to early July)
- Eastern Concord ( seeded purple grape that we usually pick in mid August)
- Jupiter (seedless purple we usually pick from late July to Mid/late August.)
- Canadice (seedless red, really sweet and early season, in early to mid July, but they continue to keep good quality of the vine for another month or so.)
- Neptune (seedless green, supposed to be a mid season grape, ripening after Jupiter.)* Brand new/ No Report yet on how good it does in the local area.
* My neighbor, K, has good results with Glenora and Niabell
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