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Posts Tagged ‘plant propagation’

Here is a slip

Here is a slip

There are many reasons I live my life the way I do.  As a husband and father part of my responsibility in life is to help insure that my family has what it needs to survive, ie, food, water, a roof over our heads, and some simple (but very much appreciated) indulgences from time to time.  I found in Urban Homesteading a way of procuring some of these necessities of life through my own hard work, persistence, innovation, and a spirit of experimentation.

Throughout the last decade I have tried  many hands on, DIY skills – gardening, beekeeping, building stuff, fixing stuff, breaking stuff, making soap, homebrewing,  learning about mushrooms, learning about website development, and many other crafts, hobbies, and obsessions!  More than any one project, my biggest teacher in this time has been failure.  Not failure in the way it can make you give up, but failure that makes you dig deeper and try again until you get it right.  Failure as inspiration.

Sweet potatoes are one of those failures turned into a success.  I think back to the winter of the multiple and massive polar vortices (‘13-’14) and how I came across a youtube video of someone who was growing sweet potato slips.  Put simply, sweet potato slips are genetic clones of the “mother” sweet potato that are produced through rooting vegetative cuttings.

Nothing could be simpler right?  Actually it is pretty simple, but there is one major thing I learned from that first attempt 2 winters ago.  The sweet potatoes I used were most likely treated with  Chlorpropham or a related chemical that prevents the natural growth of a starchy tuber in its quest to reproduce and pass on its genes.

Fast forward to this year and I made sure to start with a higher quality, organic sweet potato that we got from the local co-op.  This simple step, using an untreated sweet potato, has made all the difference in success versus failure.  While it has taken almost two months to get to where we are at, 3 of the 5 sweet potatoes are exhibiting vegetative and root growth.

Here they are chillin' in the dim February afternoons...

Here they are chillin’ in the dim February afternoons…

Aside from a few sweet potatoes. you will also need a few jars, toothpicks, and water to grow your own sweet potato slips.  Stab the tubers about halfway down their length so the toothpicks are sticking out like arms (3 of these in a roughly triangular arrangement).  This will allow you to suspend the bottom half of the tuber in the water.  I keep mine in a south facing window, and top off the water whenever they need it.  Then all you have to do is wait!

Once the sweet potatoes are actively growing, and each slip is at least 3 inches long, you can remove the slips and the little chunk of tuber where they are growing out of with a small sharp knife or razor.  Pot this up in a nice mix of compost for another month or so and then plant out.  Or atleast that is what I have read and watched.

At this point the experiment is still live, so I will be doing an update on them as the season progresses.  But so far a few key points to get started with are 1) Use an organic sweet potato 2) Start early.  I believe I got mine started in mid February, next year I will start them in January. 3) Have fun and experiment.  Try a few different varieties and compare growth rates, vigour, and eventually taste.  Maybe you will find a new passion and geek out on sweet potatoes for a few seasons and collect as many exotic sweet potatoes as you can find!  Until then, Peace and Cheers!

 

 

 

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A true Minnesota grown fig!

A true Minnesota grown fig!

This has been a topic I have wanted to write about for a long time.  But due to a slow progression in this experiment, lack of actual results, the loss of some of my original photos of this project’s inception, and my habit of starting something and then setting it on the back burner for a while, an aritcle about growing figs in Minnesota has been well over three years in the making.

 

Back a handful of years ago when I was really starting to get into growing perennials, permaculture, and basic plant propagation, I came across a video of a guy somewhere in New England who was propagating and growing his own figs.  I watched that video, and subsequently, many more about folks who had fallen in love with growing fig trees.  My interest was piqued!

 

It seemed like an interesting project.  Even though the prospect of growing a plant in Minnesota that originated somewhere in the Middle East seemed like a fools errand, I easily located fig cuttings through the North American Scion Exchange and the experiment began.

 

I learned rather quickly, that there were an awful lot of people like myself growing figs in all sorts of different climates, and many of these folks take it pretty seriously.  Northern climate greenhouses dedicated to this Mediterranean delicacy, and collectors who seek out rare and exciting varieties from throughout the world.  Just like apples (or any other fruit for that matter), the folks growing figs do it out of love and a sense of horticultural adventure with a dedication that I find inspiring.

 

I am not going to go through and show you step by step on how to root fig cutting or the best way to over winter a fig in a cold climate.  There are already plenty of other folks out there doing these things with much greater success and with more knowledge than I have to learn from.  But what I am going to do is share my excitement, my small victory, and the short story behind my adventure of figs thus far!

 

While my love affair first started because of youtube videos and those first few fig cutting I received in the mail, it wasn’t until my short stint working at a Trader Joe’s that I got my first taste of a “fresh” fig.  They were small little things, picked before they were ripe and shipped thousands of miles to end up in the produce section.  I knew these were less than perfect specimens, but once ripened on the counter they were still good and I could catch a glimpse of what a truly delicious fig must taste like.

 

Adrianno's backyard orchard.

Adrianno’s backyard orchard.

Fast forward to this summer.  At the end of June, I was lucky enough to participate in a family vacation to the North eastern part of Italy.  The small town of Polesella where we spent the majority of our time, is located in the Po river valley, and is the main fruit growing region of the country.  Adrianno, one of the family friends we went to visit, has a backyard orchard the likes I have never seen.  Apples, pears, plums, apricots, nectarines, persimmons, grapes, currants, gooseberries, and yes, figs all had a home in his backyard paradise.

 

My son Owen with a basketful of fresh, Italian figs!

My son Owen with a basketful of fresh, Italian figs!

And it just so happened that the time of year that we found ourselves in this northern, mediterranean region was peak fig season!  It seemed that almost all yards had a fig tree (along with gardens and other fruit and nut trees).  We were spoiled for 9 days with some of the best food I have ever eaten, and my curiosity with figs bloomed into an exotic passion.

 

There is no way I can quite explain how good those figs in Italy were, but I will just say that there is nothing quite like them.  I know I will never be able to grow figs like that here in Minnesota, but it doesn’t mean I can’t try, right?!

 

Figs in Minnesota!!??

Figs in Minnesota!!??

So as this summer progressed, I realized there was a good chance I may get a small handful of figs from my half a dozen small fig trees.  While most of them have aborted and dropped off before they fully ripened, I finally grew a fig to near perfect ripeness!  It was great!  It was small, but it was a real fig, from a tree I started from a cutting oh so long ago.  And the taste?  While not quite the figs from Italy, it was juicy and sweet, and contained all the curves and mysteries that seduces a new lover!

 

As of this writing it looks like we may get three more figs from our trees.  While I am smitten by figs, I truly know very little about what they need to thrive when grown in containers in a northern climate.  The information is out there, so really it is just setting aside time and energy and focusing on some of the finer details about what figs really like.

 

But I can say one thing, figs are one of my motivations for building a four season greenhouse.  If the day ever comes that I find myself with a badass bio – shelter, a fig tree or two will find a home on the interior north side.  Until then, I will keep growing, propagating, and experimenting with figs in the expectation that climate change may be slowly making these northern climes more hospitable to these wonderful trees.

 

So there it is, my love story with figs.  It is an incomplete story, and one that I hope to add many pages, and maybe even chapters too.  Luckily we live in an age that is overflowing with information.  So what follows are some of the more interesting things I have come across concerning figs.  First, anyone who gets bitten by this fruit and has a question, check out the forum, Figs For Fun.  It is a great resource for the amatuer and expert grower alike.  There are comprehensive variety lists, discussions on all aspects of figs, and most likely you will be able to find plenty of folks who will be willing to help you get started for very little money.

 

Another source that I found helpful was on episode #89 of The Agricultural Innovations Podcast.  While a bit of it was a little esoteric for my liking, the main body of the interview was very informative and helpful.  This podcast has a lot of other stuff to offer as well, so check out The Agricultural Innovations podcast for more brain food!

And I will finish with a video my friend Little John made of his adventures foraging figs in southern California.  So if you are one of the lucky ones to live somewhere that figs grow without the freezing temps of the north, please enjoy them and know that there are others of us out there who are a bit jealous of what you have!  If you find yourself in a climate like mine, know that it is not completely impossible to enjoy this exotic fruit, you just have to work a lot harder to realize a harvest.  Peace and Cheers…

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Haskap Berries from our Garden!!

Haskap Berries from our Garden!!

Recently my friend John who is a fellow fruit enthusiast like myself and helps run the NASE with me, sent me an email with a link to a program entitled The Fruit Hunters.  Documenting the history of fruit and the industrialization of the food chain, The Fruit Hunters takes us on a journey through history and around the globe.  From the jungles of Borneo and Bali, to a banana breeder in Honduras, and the flat northern plains of Saskatchewan, people around the globe have made it their mission to preserve, propagate, and share exotic, rare, and often times threatened species of fruit.

 

Whether it is the Wani white mango, the quest to breed a more genetically diverse and resilient banana, or introducing the sweetly tart haskap berry to the culinary world, humans love affair with fruit is older than written history.  Since the days when we climbed down out of the trees, our symbiotic evolution with fruit has been many things – a culinary desire, a poetic muse, and a forbidden love.  Fruit has adorned the artwork in the halls of kings, and been the foundation in ceremonies for tribal people.  It is the favorite summertime snack of a smiling, messey 6 year old, and a common culinary ingredient in so much cooking from around the world.  Fruit is a global desire – something we can never get enough of when it is in season, and something we long for in the cold, dark days of winter.

 

Those of us who are a part of the modern homesteading movement are carrying on traditions that were a part of everyday life only two generations ago.  We grow food, we preserve it, and we pass on all that accumulated genetic wealth and history to the next generation.  But modern, industrial agriculture has done such a good job of separating people from the land and these homesteading traditions, that most people do not think twice about where their food comes from anymore.  It only makes sense that apples, oranges, and bananas come from the grocery store, right?

 

This has been made possible by creating a “Global Summertime” that is powered by massive inputs of energy dense fossil fuels.  The global supply chain of fruit production, from the field to the shelf, has very little room for genetic diversity and unique traits amongst all that is grown.  If you were a piece of fruit – a strawberry, an apple, a lime – and you were to be shipped halfway around the world in February, there are only a few things that the global fruit supply chain cares about.

 

The first is ripening time.  If you and all your brother and sister fruits do not ripen at the same time, whether that is on or off of the vine, shrub, or tree, you would never be considered for the circumnavigation of the globe.  Second, if you are too difficult to harvest efficiently, sorry, maybe next time.  And third, if you do not have thick skin and a body that cannot be roughed up a bit and look better for the wear over a journey of a few thousand miles, than that will not work either.

 

Notice how flavor and aroma are not on that list.  Neither is the fruit inspired passion and ecstasy that comes from a just picked raspberry, or the first bite of an intensely flavored Rubinette apple, or a tree ripened plum.  Global fruit does not care about human passion and desire, and it definitely does not care about genetic diversity amongst the plants that we grow for our food.  Every banana you find at the supermarket is the same Cavendish banana that is being grown worldwide on every banana plantation.  Highly prone to disease, the fate of the global monoculture of the banana rests uneasily on a regiment of fungicides, insecticides, slave-like labor and a hope that a global pandemic like the one in the late 1960’s can be avoided today.

 

Another example of intolerance towards genetic diversity within the global food production system is the apple.  Quite possibly the most well known fruit in North America, Europe, and other temperate regions throughout the world, the apple has a long history that began in the mountains of Kazakhstan and has spread the world over.   Ranging in color from greens, reds, yellows, and infinite combinations of the three, and with flavors as diverse as banana, pineapple, cinnamon, anise, honey, sweet, tart, and acidic; apples have been a historic treasure trove of genetic variation and unique characteristics.

 

Beautiful Apples – Courtesy of Steven Edholm – Turkeysong Blog

Even their names are evidence to the genetic wealth contained in the species Malus Domesticus – Brown Snout, Etter’s Gold, Black Oxford, Redfree, Hudson’s Golden Gem, King of Tompkin’s County, Smoke House, Sweet Bough, and Chestnut Crab all come to mind.  Apples have taken their names from their physical appearance, flavor, place of origin, and the person who found or bred that particular apple.  They have become local legends and have had festivals dedicated in their honor, and until recently, almost every region of America (and elsewhere in the world) have had their hometown heros.

 

Worldwide there are about 7,500 varieties of apples grown today.  In America there are about 2,500 varieties that are grown throughout backyards and home orchards, and about 100 of those are commonly found in small, commercial operations.  Out of all of those apples to choose from, only about 15 varieties of them are grown on an industrial scale to supply the world’s taste demand for this wonderful pomme fruit.

 

Just like so many other varieties of plants that have been molested to fit the industrial model of agriculture, apples have been stripped of their unique identities.  Apples were made famous because of their great cider making traits, or their superb storing ability using traditional methods.  Some were used for drying or baking or making sauce, but all of them were valued for their own unique reasons.  Now an apple just needs to be sweet, without that much real flavor, and have the stamina to withstand the rigors of travelling the globe.  It is a truly sad story to witness the destruction of a vast gene pool like the apple to the hands of convenience.

 

While industrial agriculture is stripping the world of genetic diversity, there is a movement of individuals and groups throughout the world who are fighting back to protect it.  Backyard and hobby orchardists, nurserymen,  and globe trotting scientist and fruit hunters are on the front lines trying to preserve, protect, and spread all of these threatened genetics.  University arboretums, private collections, and orchards are all home to historic and endangered species of fruit.  And there are also networks that have formed to help spread these genetics.  In America there is the North American Scion Exchange (new website coming for the 2014 season!) and the Seed Savers Exchange, and in Europe there is Fruitiers.net.  There are real life scion exchanges at farming conferences and get togethers , and online trading through gardening and sustainability forums.

 

There is only so much that we as individuals can do, but the more of us who are actively participating in growing fruit, propagating genetics, and sharing what we have with the world can make a huge impact on preserving this rich history that belongs to all of humanity.  The further we progress down the road of industrial civilization and the agriculture that makes it possible, the more genetic wealth we will lose forever.

 

Every lost fruit whether it is an apple or a mango or a grape, not only represents millennia of evolutionary adaptation thrown to the wayside, but also a loss of human connection with the Earth.  Genetic diversity within our food systems not only ensures security against disease, drought, famine, and other challenges we face as an agricultural society, it also roots us in traditions that are entwined with the food we grow and that in turn nourishes our bodies.

 

Fruit is not just a food for the body, but also of the soul – the place where passion and poetry are born.  Eating fruit that you helped to grow or forage from the wild can be a sensual experience, and is one of the things that make us human.  Being inspired and moved by the sweetness of the flesh, the curvy shapes, and soft textures of fruit, we can connect with a part of our nature that has also been lost with the industrialization of food and the world.

 

So while we all can’t travel the globe searching for endangered fruits, we can all help preserve fruit genetics by growing fruit locally.  If you are a property owner try to plant as wide of a selection of fruit as possible.  Plant old varieties and new ones, things that are proven winners for your climate, and try pushing gardening zones if your heart (and taste buds) desires something more exotic.  Do not only grow these fruits, but help to spread their genes through scion exchanges and other plant swaps.  Learn propagation techniques like grafting, rooting and air layering.  If you do not have access to land to do this yourself, volunteer to help out those who do, or start planting your own Guerilla Forest Garden!

 

Whatever role you can play in the preservation, propagation, and sharing of fruit genetics, it will be a net benefit to human culture and for the biodiversity of the planets edible plant population.  With climate change and the the ongoing destruction and pollution of traditional agricultural and wild lands, any and all help is needed to help protect these species of fruit – even the ones that seem to need no protection at all today.  It will be a sad day indeed when an apple like the Honey Crisp or the Concord grape are no longer available because we could not take care of our planet!  Peace & Cheers

Part 1 of The Fruit Hunters

Part 2

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