Friday, February 25, 2011

Learning from my mistakes

Sure isn't that what life is all about - learning from your mistakes?  I'm a graduate from that school of philosophy, for sure. One thing about doing the Master Gardeners program is that as I sit in lectures, learning how to garden correctly, I realize how many things I've done wrong!

Take planting fruit trees for example.  I planted five cherry trees too low in the ground and added organic matter to the hole before putting in the tree.  Wrong, wrong, wrong - on three counts!

1) Make the hole wide, not deep.  Plant the tree so that  the "delicate crown" (where the roots meet the trunk) is slightly above the grade.  Build a small trench at the drip line for irrigation. Here's a rough (very rough) sketch of what you should do.
And here is a picture of what you should NOT do!

The crown is too low compared to the level of the original soil. That red lava rock has to go, but even with it removed, the tree will still be too low.

2) Put only the native soil back in the hole - no amendments.  The tree will sink as these decompose.  Guess what I did...  Steer manure, compost and fertilizer! Another shot of what not to do...

The tree will be two foot under by the time its all over!

3) Plant trees suitable for your climate.  For example, cherries need on average 600 hours of chill time (temperatures below 45oF) and we tend to get less than 400 hours.  So what did I do?  Yep - I just planted me five sweet cherry trees that will probably never fruit!

But here's the up-side.  All the trees I planted were free.  All of them volunteers in some shape or form, so at least I'm not out of pocket.  They've all broken dormancy, so I plan to wait until next winter to dig them up and replant them if they are worth replanting.  I can also buy some more suited to this climate and at least plant them right.

And to add insult to injury we've been given a frost warning for the weekend!  A frost warning - what's all that about?  Hey, Arney - you never mentioned this is all your ads inviting us to come to California.  

I'm also sure that the rest of the northern hemisphere has little sympathy for central Californians crying about a touch of frost, but when it hits after an unseasonably warm spell, like we just had, (though I can't really figure out what unseasonable means here anymore) the trees have pushed out their buds and some have even blossomed, making them all the more vulnerable.

I swing between panic and complacency. My nectarine is in full bloom.
The predicted lows vary between 31oF and 27oF.  So my garden may be okay...
First off, it seems that the temperature has to reach 27oF to harm 10% of my nectarine tree, (read peaches) according to the Michigan State University Extension. This website has a really easy to use table of what temperature will kill which stage of growth on a variety of fruit trees. How much damage a tree suffers depends on what stage it is at in its blossoming and fruiting cycle .  

So, my cherries are safe to 23oF, the plums, with their first bloom, safe to 27oF, and although almonds are not mentioned on this website, they are related to plums and thus technically a stone-fruit, so I guessed that 27oF is the magic number there too. Having learned not to make assumptions, I checked this out with The Almond Doctor, (yes - there is such a guy!) and found that in fact 28oF is the lower limit for those.  I have one really young almond tree, so I will protect it tonight by draping a sheet over it supported by two unused tomato cages - I'm sure the squirrels will appreciate that!

It seems that the rain we are getting today will help too.  I read somewhere that if you water the soil well it helps, BUT then when I researched my temperatures for citrus, the UC Davis pdf said that humidity could make matters worst!  This is something I have no control over now that it has rained all morning anyway.

However,  29oF will damage my ripe oranges, so I'm going to have to do a big emergency harvest, juice 'em and freeze the juice, or I may loose the lot.

On a more uplifting note, I'll direct you to the photo at the beginning of this post.  That is the arbor that my Mum bought and helped erect, together with my Godmother and husband,before the visitors departed for home this week.  I'm dreaming of all the beautiful vines I will grow over it.  When I'm in the garden, I'm never far from my Mum.

Byddi Lee