Although we are barely into June, and the Summer Solstice is still two weeks away, the weather went from a sort-of spring like season to the dog days of summer overnight. The bulk of our gardens are in: 15 tomato plants this year and about the same number of peppers ( a mixed lot this year – jalapeños, Bulgarian carrot, Hungarian hot wax, and Wisconsin Lakes), the corn/squash/beans are in, spuds, lots of onions and leeks, direct seeded okra, collards, cabbage, Asian cabbage, bok choy, beets, turnips, garlic, herbs and other perennials. We are trying to do a lot more succession planting this year, so when the spring peas are done, in goes more beans and turnips (or beets, greens, or more radishes). Our gardens are always an experiment and we are always trying new ideas, techniques, and varieties of plants. Here are a few examples: this year I am mulching some of our garden walkways with cardboard buried in wood chips. The cardboard will help to suppress the weeds, the wood chips will hold in moisture and help break down the cardboard, and both will add organic matter and nutrients to the soil throughout the coming years. Another new addition to the garden are trellises for growing squash. One is a vine habit butternut squash, and the other is a vine habit zucchini that can be used for summer or winter squash recipes.
Up next are some updates on one of my new hobbies, grafting apple trees. As mentioned in an earlier post, I went to a grafting workshop this spring at the Seed Savers Exchange farm down in Iowa and was completely inspired to learn this skill. Since the time of the workshop, I mail-ordered rootstock, received a ton of apple genetics(scion wood) from a comrade in California, and have proceeded to graft another 13 trees. I am learning that grafting is a craft and not an art. Yes there are numerous ways to graft a tree, but there is not really room there for individual expression. Whether you are bud grafting or using the whip and tongue method, there are right ways and wrong ways and right tools and wrong tools. So far, from the three trees that I brought home from the workshop, only one graft has taken and is actively growing, the other two are either still dormant and healing or they are dead. The other thirteen trees were grafted about two weeks ago and just potted up today. I am a little more confident with the success rate with these ones than with my first three. My technique and patience got better with more practice .
One mistake I have made has been using the wrong kind of knife. A true grafting knife is beveled on only one side which allows for a very uniform flat cut. I have been using a pairing knife that has a sharp bevel on both sides of the blade. This makes for more of a chopping cut rather than a clean slice. Between now and next year I will hopefully either have bought a proper grafting knife, or grind down and resharpen (with only one beveled side) my current pairing knife. Overall I give the skill of tree grafting an A plus. This skill allows you to create and build new trees for a fraction of the cost of buying already grafted trees and will provide food for you and your family for years to come.
Staying on the subject of apple trees, grafting, and saving money; producing my own clonal rootstock for grafting apple trees has also become a fascination of mine. Why purchase rootstock when you can grow it yourself. After seeing instructions in the Raintree Nursery catalog, The Apple Grower by Michael Phillips, and talking to a few experts on apples, I realized that this too was within my skill level.
The Prairie Fire crab apple that I got this spring is grafted onto some kind of apple rootstock (most likely full sized apple tree rootstock), and it is sending up sucker shoots like no one’s business. Rather than cutting them off, I am leaving them and piling up rotted wood chips around the growing suckers. The idea is this: by adding a layer of organic matter that promotes root growth, these suckers will turn into next years rootstock. They will start growing roots where there are wood chips, I will add more rotted chips throughout the year, and next spring cut them free and graft onto them. At this point it is still just an experiment, but we should know in the next few months if roots are growing where I want them to, we’ll see.
Last up for right now is horseradish. Armoracia rusticana is a hardy, vigorous perennial most likely originating in Russia. Well adapted to cooler climates, we thought horseradish would be a good addition to our Minnesota garden. We first planted it last year and have now moved it to its new location due to horseradishes ability to spread and take over. Horseradish propagates itself through its roots; any root that happens to get cut off and left in the ground will form a new plant. To solve this problem, we cut out the bottom of a giant plastic pot, dug a nice big deep hole, and buried the open bottomed pot in the hole. This should do a good job of containing the horseradish roots and prevent it from spreading. We will harvest for the first time this coming fall and will make a number of recipes with it. Mixed with white wine vinegar, sugar, spices of your liking, and whipped cream or mayo, you have a traditional sauce eaten with roast beef. Horseradish grated into a tomato based sauce (ketchup) is great with fish and shrimp, and one of my favorites is using it in the filling for deviled eggs. Horseradish also has traditional medicinal uses for coughs, toothaches, and many more. If using medicinally, always remember to do your homework, check with numerous sources, and if you still have questions consult with a professional.
Going into June most of my spring projects are done. The gardens are in, the chickens have a good home, my trailer is finished (so I can start hauling stuff), and the heat has been turned on. The temp right now is about 93 degrees and tomorrow will be about the same as today. I will be a happy gardener if we can get one good rain a week this year, I am keeping my fingers crossed. I hope everyone has a good growing season this year with bountiful harvests. Cheers!