How to grow persimmons (Diospyros)

Persimmon flower

The small yellow bloom of a Japanese persimmon

There are two types of persimmon commonly grown in gardens. The American persimmon (Diospyros  virginiana) is a large tree that does best in zones 7 to 10. It isn’t fond of either extreme heat or extreme cold. This tree can easily grow to 60 feet tall and has a rather informal habit of growth. Both wood and fruit was harvested by the native Indians across the southeastern third of North America. The fruit is considered astringent and must allowed to soften before it can be eaten.

The Japanese or Oriental persimmon (Diospyros kaki) has non-astringent fruit as well as astringent varieties. ‘Fuyu’, ‘Jiro’, ‘Gosho’, Izu and ‘Suruga’ are non-astringent; astringent varieties include ‘Hiratanenashi’, ‘Hachiya’, ‘Aizumishirazu’, ‘Yotsumizo’ and ‘Yokono’.   These trees vary in height from 15 – 60 feet. Try the smaller-growing types like the Izu or Gosho for smaller spaces. Fruit bruises easily so clip the stems rather than twisting or pulling off fruit. Non-astringent fruit can be consumed when it is fully red and firm. Astringent fruit should be picked at the same stage and allowed to soften off the tree. Otherwise it can rot on the tree. Astringent persimmons can be stored in the refrigerator for a month, but should be taken out and given a few days to soften before eating. Soft fruit of both kinds are perishable.

Both types of persimmon have decorative fruit that looks like red-orange tomatoes. They are high in vitamin C and iron. Persimmons are likely to take 3 to 8 years before they begin to harvest. (The American varieties are slower to crop.) Give both varieties regular water and plant trees in full sun or light shade. They prefer fertile soil but are forgiving so long as they have good drainage. Once established, persimmons can be reasonably drought-tolerant. If the crop sets too thickly, thin it to keep the individual fruits large and healthy.

Persimmons are in the ebony tree family so don’t be surprised to see the roots are a dark black color. The trees grow a deep tap root so they are good trees to plant on hills or around foundations or cement work. They don’t have the damaging, spreading roots some other trees grow that can lift or crack hardscapes (permanent features). Because of these deep tap roots, persimmons are not suitable for pots or shallow soils.

American persimmons produce either male or female flowers so you will need both to pollinate blooms and set fruit. You can plant several of these trees in a group to make sure you have both kinds in your garden. Most varieties of the Japanese or Oriental persimmons are self-fertile. The latter are most commonly grown in landscapes, tend to be grafted to American persimmon root stock, and usually top out at twenty feet tall.

Use persimmon trees in a desert landscape or a Japanese garden to add color and productivity. They have rich green foliage that can blend in with more traditional style landscapes, too. The habit of growth creates a wide umbrella so they make good shade trees in the landscape, too.

Quick tips on growing radishes

root radish

Once a radish puts up a flower spike the root becomes too tough and stringy to eat.

Radishes are some of the fastest-growing vegetables you can plant. That makes them ideal for marking out rows where you seed other, slow-germinating vegetables. They also make an ideal choice for a child’s garden. The radish is the quickest and easiest root crop you can grow, so don’t let them stay in the garden too long.  Harvest them as soon as they are big enough to be eaten.

There are a wide assortment of radishes from long to short, in reds, whites, blacks, pinks and bi-colors, some hot and some mild. If you can’t decide which you want to grow, try some of the seed packets that give you an assortment or buy several packages of different kinds to find out which you like best.

Like most root crops, radishes are not fond of being transplanted. Many grow small enough that they won’t stunt their neighbors if planted closely, but try not to seed them too thickly. They often germinate in as little as a week under good conditions. Give them full sun, a rich soil and plenty of water.

Pull radishes as they are needed. They are good raw in salads, make colorful garnishes and some people even like them cooked.

Urban Farming serves Los Angeles first

School community garden breaks ground

Pimp My Ride's Slice and Urban Farming's Taja Sevelle attends Triscuit and Urban Farming Community-Based Home Farm Groundbreaking on March 11, 2010 in Los Angeles, CA. (Casey Rodgers / AP Images for Triscuit)

March 11th marked the Los Angeles ground-breaking ceremony for the first of fifty community-based urban farms slated to be developed across the country in 2010.   The event was hosted by HGTV’s “The Gardener Guy” Paul James along with Taja Sevelle, founder and executive director of  Urban Farming Founder, and Jim Low – Director of Wheat Snack Crackers at Kraft Foods.

The program’s goal is to introduce community gardens into local, urban neighborhoods so people can learn to enjoy growing their own healthy food.  Chances are that once people start getting their fingernails dirty, they’ll discover just how many benefits there are in gardening — physically and emotionally — as well as all that fresh, tasty food for the  kitchen.

The late season harvest

Canning

Producing garden produce

As the weather starts to cool at the end of the summer, it’s time to think about the late season harvest and how to preserve the good stuff still remaining in your garden. Fruits, vegetables and even your favorite flowers can offer edibles that will keep into the cooler months and seeds that will allow you to grow your favorite plants again next year. Sometimes over-zealous birds or wasps may encourage you to crop your edibles all at once or a little before their time.  And maybe you grew a particularly fine-looking plant from which you’d love to harvest seeds for next year. All these are great reasons to find ways to preserve the late season harvest.

Drying, freezing, canning and storing are the most popular ways to preserve your late season harvest.  Some materials respond better to one way or another and some are more labor intensive.

Drying: if you have a cool, dark, airy place with very low humidity, you can often tie leafy plants like herbs in bunches and hang them upside down to dry. There are many different styled dehydrators  that will aid with drying, especially if you don’t have a perfect area available. In the case of juicy fruits and vegetables, a little extra help with drying makes a lot of sense. Certain plants are particularly amenable to drying, like tomatoes (the new Tomaccio variety is supposed to dry well right on the vine) or varieties of grapes that are grown to dry as raisins or plums grown for prunes. Most grapes will still dry to quite decently-flavored raisins, though some can be tastier and larger than others.

Drying is the only viable way to preserve you seeds for planting next year. Most seeds need little special treatment once dried on the plant or off. But they will last longer if kept in glass jars. I like to use little baby food jars for medium and small seeds. You can label and stack a lot of jars in a small space.

Freezing: if you have room in your freezer, freezing can be a very easy way to extend the life of your late season crops. In most cases it’s advisable first to parboil fruits and vegetables to destroy bacteria and other elements that will encourage breakdown of stored food. Make sure you seal your frozen food well and label it clearly.

Canning in glass jars: this can become a little more involved, but well-canned food can often last for years. If you use glass jars, make sure to boil them in a double boiler until they are sterile. Sealing with melted canning wax is still a good idea, though not all recipes require it. The fun part of canning is that you can pack your food in water, oil, preserve it cooked or raw or even cook up some tasty recipes before preserving it.

Storing: this is the age old way of keeping root crops fresh through the winter. Some old homes still have root cellars where root crops could be kept cool, dry and dark without fear of frost. It still works well, particularly for crops like yams, potatoes, beets, carrots and other root crops. The concept is simply to copy leaving these plants in the ground in a frost-free soil while they are in their dormant, winter rest. Layering your vegetables with soil or sand in boxes should keep them fresh until they come back to life at the end of the winter. You will want to use them up before they start to germinate again or the roots will become soft and shriveled. There are ways to store and preserve sweet foods in sugar and other edible preservatives, too.

These are the most common ways to lengthen the useful time you can get from your garden produce. And there are hundreds of variations on how to dry, freeze, can or otherwise store your crops. Some can be fun projects to entertain the whole family. There’s no reason to let any of your late season harvest go to waste. And if you don’t want to be bothered with preserving your surplus fruits and vegetables, look to local sources that will be more than happy to take your extras to help feed the hungry.

Plant views: A closer look at grapes

flame grapes

Ripe ‘Flame’ grapes

Grapes send up buds soon after breaking dormancy. After growing only a few inches, new shoots carry the beginnings of clusters of buds that will later bloom and set fruit.

grape buds

Grape buds


Grape blooms

Flowering grape vine

 

 

 

Look at grapes as they first form. The flower buds are tiny and because of their narrow petals, almost look fuzzy when they open into flowers. Late frosts can injure the buds and flowers at this early stage and can burn or even destroy the grape crop. Moist air and too much rain can encourage fungal problems as buds and flowers swell with fruit. If your fruit is prone to developing a dull white sheen (most common in European grape varieties), this is mildew — a problem best treated early by dusting the young fruits with sulfur dust soon after plants have finished flowering.

 

 

grapes forming

These grapes grew to 1/4″ in only one week.

Small fruits form like clusters of tiny pearls and grow rapidly. Tiny grapes swell and will mature depending on weather and variety. Harvest grapes when they are sweet. Most grape varieties will hold their fruit well on the vines for weeks. But beware vanishing fruit since wildlife – especially squirrels and birds – will love dining on your grapes.

 

 

 

Dried grapes

These ‘Flame’ grapes dried into tiny, but tasty raisins on the vine.

If left to dry on the vines, grapes will dry into raisins, but varieties that are not bred specifically for raisins are likely to produce very small or unimpressively flavored dried fruit. They are all still edible.

 

 

Both grapes and raisins are toxic to dogs.

Thompson's seedless grapes

Thompson’s seedless grapes ready to pick

 

Growing artichokes in the garden

Artichoke flowers

Artichoke plant in flower

Lots of people are familiar with the artichoke at the grocery store. The artichoke head is nothing more than the bud of the artichoke flower. With heavy feeding and watering you can even coax your artichoke to produce those great big round heads now selling commercially from the globe artichoke variety. Sometimes, however, forcing large buds are done at the expense of flavor. But even without much care, the artichoke can grow excellent buds for eating. Some people feel smaller artichokes are more flavorful. There are even varieties now available that are best grown as annuals and pulled after harvesting.

The artichoke is a bold plant that not only can provide you with many delicious meals, but will still reward you with giant electric blue-purple, brush-like flowers when the last of the artichoke buds are left un-cropped and allowed to open into these curious, but showy flowers. Some artichoke varieties — especially those with the  rich purple coloring  more commonly grown in France or Italy — are even decorative in bud. They make interesting dried flower arrangements, too. You can spray paint the dried flower heads or let them stay natural, removing all the fluffy parachute-equipped seeds before they go floating off around your household.

The artichoke likes plenty of full, baking sun and will grow willingly with less water than many other vegetables (though it won’t object to more water, either). Watch out for the aphids that cluster beneath the scales of the flower buds. They will draw lots of ants, which will then farm more aphids. I recommend spraying with water and using Safer’s horticultural soap. Feel free to release the dramatic artichoke from the vegetable garden to the flower garden or even use it as a solitary focal point.  (Be prepared to disguise it after it has faded because there is a pretty raggedy period between the end of flowing and when the new foliage comes up).

A tough plant for drier, hotter climates, the artichoke has impressive leaves that can almost look tropical. With its fast-growing, wide-spreading habit it can fill an empty space quickly with decorative foliage, fascinating flowers and tasty, nutritious buds. This is one vegetable that is probably best left OUT of the raised vegetable garden as it doesn’t need the coddling most other vegetables prefer and it will take up too much room. And since it should look great in many other parts of the landscape, growing artichokes in the garden is both easy and ornamental.