Posts filed under Garden Stuff

Peasant King and My Tree Collard Selection Project

About 5 years ago, a friend gave me some tree collard seeds from Montenegro.  Some years since planting those seeds, I’ve selected one seedling that stands out from the rest to name, propagate and distribute.  I is ostentatiously and awesomely dubbed Peasant King. 

Tree collards are a perennial vegetable also variously known by other names like Tree Kale, Palm Cabbage, Walking Stick Kale, Tree Cabbage and no doubt more.  They are something like collard greens or Broccoli leaves, except that they grow all year for multiple years without flowering eventually becoming very tall.  They could be compared to regular collards, but generally are heavier in texture and maybe stronger flavored.  I also suspect they might be more nutritious, but who knows without an analysis, and I don't know that it's been done.  Tree Collards are a member of the species Brassica Oleracea, which includes, Broccoli, most Kales (not siberian or red russian, which are Brassica napus species), Cauliflower, Kohlrabi, Brussel's Sprouts, Cabbage and Collards.  Many people are surprised to find out that these are all the same species of plant and and as such can inter-pollinate.  The only reason they look and act so different is that they have been bred in different directions for a very long time.

"In Jersey, the Palm Cabbage is much cultivated, and reaches a considerable height. In La Vendée, the Cæsarean Cow Cabbage grows sixteen feet high."  
PLANT LORE, LEGENDS, and LYRICS, RICHARD FOLKARD, JUN. 1884 http://www.gutenberg.org/files/44638/44638-h/44638-h.htm

Tree Collards are traditionally grown in various parts of the world as fodder for both humans and animals.  They probably originating in the British Isles.  A variety referred to locally as Purple Tree Collard has been grown in my area by old and young back to the land types for a long time, but they are generally propagated by cuttings, not seeds.  That is because the purple tree collard that is grown around here rarely sets any seed.  Flowering is not very common to start with and they flower only weakly when they flower at all.  Also, they don’t seem to pollinate themselves and may only set seed when pollinated by another genetically unique variety of tree collard or other member of the Brassica Oleracea group. 

When I got these rare and unique seeds, I saw it as a chance to find out if the trait of resistance to flowering was transferable, with an eye to selecting out some new perennial varieties worthy of propagation by cuttings.  I grew up around 35 new plants in some out-of-the-way long term test beds.  I was impressed early in their growth that many of the plants seemed more vigorous than the standard tree collard I had been growing for years.  I wondered if our tree collards had picked up virus or genetic damage that caused them to grow more weakly.  I won’t be 100% sure if the average plant is more vigorous unless I grow multiple varieties side by side with the old type. What I'll probably do instead is yank out all of my old Purple Tree Collards so that they don’t infect my new varieties if they are carrying something infectious.

   Peasant King shows much darker purple and more completely colored leaves than the average seedling in the group.  The leaves also average much larger.  More average leaves are to the left.

Peasant King shows much darker purple and more completely colored leaves than the average seedling in the group.  The leaves also average much larger.  More average leaves are to the left.

Out of those 35-ish plants, I have selected just one so far that is clearly superior by a combination of leaf size, color, shape, vigor, uprightness and resistance to bolting.  It has beautiful, large, dark purple leaves.  While most of the seedlings more or less resemble the purple tree collard grown here, they vary in color, with a few being more or less purple.  The old cuttings everyone grows here are partially purple, but probably average 50% or more green.  My new selection is among the most completely purple of this seed population, though, like all of them, there are green patches.  Keep in mind that the color trait will vary somewhat with weather, soil and culture.  The leaf shape is a little more frilly and rounded as well.  All in all, it stands out from the crowd in it's physical attributes, and if random leaves are picked from all of the plants, it's leaves are easily distinguishable from the rest

The original plant is now about 7 feet tall at 4 years old.  it is not the tallest, but that may be just as well.  I think a combination of tall and short types might be best scenario in terms of design options for gardens.  It has resisted flowering through at least two hot California summers with no water, and two of the worst drought years in living memory.  Those trial beds have also gotten very little fertilizer past the initial establishment.  The conditions I’ve grown these in shows out just how tough these plants are.  We have no significant rain for usually about 5 or 6 months of the year, depending on the year, yet the percentage of plant loss to drouth was not all that high.  Heavy environmental stress often causes plants to flower, probably as a reproductive imperative- as in, "I might die, I better make babies to pass no my genes".  Growing these under these challenging conditions creates heavy selection pressure to weed out the weak.

I named the variety Peasant King because it is tall, with a beautiful crown of royal purple leaves, and tree collards are the epitome of healthy old school peasant food.  My home girl Sophia Bates acquired these seeds, which were gifted to her by the Matron of the farm she was staying at in Montenegro.  She said that they are a regular staple among the farming folks of that region and are grown in every nook and cranny of the homestead that is not used for anything else.  They are pretty neat.  A tough resilient plant that is easy to propagate from cuttings, nutritious and grows with little care in out of the way spots.  To boot, it looks cool.  I think further trial will show Peasant King to be more upright and handsome than the usual collards.  Only further trial will tell us for sure, or whether it will show out some other problems such as susceptibility to pests or disease.

So what’s the down side?  Some people don’t like them for one.  They are also not very hardy.  John Jeavons of Ecololgy action, a long time promoter of tree collard growing, says the usual purple tree collard can freeze out below 18 degrees Fahrenheit for extended periods I do not recommend trying to grow them in areas where they don’t really want to grow, but see below for possibly more hardy options.  Being perennial, they can be host to long term pests, like aphids.  I have gotten aphids and if I recall, maybe some fungal disease on my Purple Tree Collards in the past, but they always seem to outgrow everything eventually.   Once I can grow more of them and get them to some other people, we will find out how they fare in the long run.  I hope to have cuttings of Peasant King to offer in the next year or two.  I should be rooting cuttings within a couple of months to grow more plants, to make yet more cuttings to distribute.  The first available cuttings will go to a combination of influencer types and content creators and as usual my patreon supporters.  Sometime after that I’ll probably distribute cuttings for at least a year or two as long as it keeps performing well here.

 

THE FUTURE

In doing research I ran across a blog comment somewhere by Chris Hommanics saying that he has been working with tree collard hybrids for some time.  He had actually contacted me last year about getting me some apple scions, which I unfortunately wasn't able to take advantage of.  Anyway, small world.  It turns out he is offering a population of hybrid Tree Collard seed that he’s been working on.  It is a randomly mixed hybrid pool of tree collards mixed with Kales and other oleracea types.  The seeds are available for experimentation and can be acquired here.  This seed offers a much more diverse genetic range, with improved texture and varying form.  This looks like a really promising project.  I also ran across a video by Plant Abundance on YouTube, showing a kale, tree collard hybrid which he grew from chance pollinations with Kale in his garden.  I think the future of tree collards is likely more along these lines than the more traditional inbred line I’m working with.  Only the future will tell if that is all good, but I’d say expect to see an explosion of tree Brassica diversity soon.  The internet makes spreading knowledge and plant material so much easier than it used to be and new people are inspired every day to do backyard breeding and selection.  Even a few years ago when I started this project, there wasn’t all the much about tree collards out there on the web.  Now there are lots of videos and blog post.  The internet has been good to the humble tree collard.

   The seeds are still viable and I planted two flats this spring

The seeds are still viable and I planted two flats this spring

My plan from here is to germinate a bunch more of this Montenegran tree collard seed.  This time, I’m going to do a pre-selection in the flats, choosing only the healthiest looking vigorous seedlings.  Then I’ll plant those in trial beds on a close spacing, of maybe 6 or 8 inches to do a second selection.  The winners will be transplanted to trial beds and once established, I’ll neglect them, just like I neglected the current trial beds and see what survives and thrives.  I would like to select out three or more plants worthy of naming and propagating from cuttings.  After that, if I continue working with them, it will probably be to hybridize in some other Oleracea varieties, like kales and maybe purple cabbage, and start growing those out.  I think Chris Homanics said that about 25% of hybrids inherit the perennial trait of seeding resistance and I think my seedlings might show about the same.  Transference of perenniality was my biggest question going into this project.  Now that we know that the trait is transferable, it opens up a huge window of opportunity to work with perennial tree Kales and Collards.

If you want to experiment with breeding and or selection, tree collards should cross with other members of the Brassica oleracea group mentioned above.  There are hybrids of Brassica napus with Brassica oleracea, but I'm not sure how easy that is to achieve.  The idea of a cross with the napus Russian or Siberian Kale is very intriguing though.  Read more about those inter-species hybrids here.

Please don't contact me about cuttings unless maybe you are a collector or breeder that will in some way ultimately benefit others by distribution, education, research or breeding.  If I have cuttings, they will be offered in the web store as they become available.  Since the variety is named, it should get into circulation from other sources eventually, as long as it proves it's merit over time.  I still have to look into options for release to the public.  I'm going to check out the open source seed initiative, an organization which one of my gardening heroes Carol Deppe is involved in, but I still need to think about whether I think their whole concept is a good idea or not.  My intuition tells me there is something wrong with it and that is usually the start of something lol.  I'm also not sure if they do vegetatively propagated varieties.  I have my own ideas about what the future of seeds and perennials, plant breeding the legal stuff involved, the plant breeding community, and the broader gardening and orcharding culture could look like, but that's another bag of worms.

A Locally Discovered Rare, Late Hanging Apple, Pomo Sanel

P1030448.jpg

The fable I heard is that someone discovered a late ripening apple on a local homestead, took cuttings, named it Pomo Sanel and it shows up occasionally at scion exchanges.  Like any such apple, it may be an older named variety, but I don't know that anyone has identified it as such.  Although I'm not crazy about the Banana overtones, it's late hanging and richness of flavor have impressed me, and I think it would be found worthy of propagation by some.  If nothing else, the genes that allow it to hang late into the winter are worth preserving.

Very late hanging apples are one of my great apple interests.  Walking out to my trees crunching through the frost to munch on a sugary, juicy, flavorful apple is something I've become attached to.  I recall in previous years that Pomo Sanel is usually my second latest apple, ripening in January, between a group of Christmas apples like pink parfait and Katherine and Lady Williams ripening February 1st.  This year it is earlier.  Apples from storage can be quite good at times, but they can also be less than optimal and may pick up off flavors.  Besides, letting apples hang does not preclude storing them as well, even the same variety.  I think this apple may be better if picked at some point and then stored.  By that I mean that it may be more reliable and I might have fewer losses to rot in the stem wells or the occasional cracked apple, and that ultimately the apples would last later.  Even for a durable apple, hanging through rain and freezing weather an take it's toll.  But I would still let a few hang, because I like having them off the tree.  Another thing to consider is storage space.  I have no root cellar.  I have unheated rooms and a small fridge.  Storage of apples is not convenient for me.  And I was just last night trying to stuff things in the fridge because the crisper drawers are mostly full of apples.  In the end, I think a combination of both hanging late apples and storage, will prove the best strategy to carry fresh eating apples through.  Some varieties will keep long, but will not hang late.  I suspect that most long hangers will store well if picked at the right time.

Pomo Sanel is well above average for winter durability. It will show cracking on some fruits though.  It also frequently shows separation of the skin from the stem down in the stem well.  It also seems to dehydrate naturally on the tree a little bit.

As long storing apples go, I suspect that many others may do better than this one.  Dehydration and resultant shriveling are commonly considered a fault of storage apples and Pomo Sanel is already showing signs of shriveling on the tree.  It is not always a deal killer though.  Sometimes they will retain an acceptable texture as they lose water.  A good example is that some Russet apples will wrinkle up and become rubbery in storage.  Given the tough flesh and somewhat rubbery tooth of some of the specimens on the tree now, I suspect it will have a partial tendency toward that effect.  Other apples will soften in their own ways.  Some become what might be called tender, but without being at all mushy or mealy.  I personally enjoy coarse grained tender apples.  This one also seems to have a tendency in that direction.  Although they were clearly picked too late for best storage life and quality, I do have some put away in the fridge now, and am interested to see how they do.  I must have stored a few in the past, but I don't recall.

My general impression of Pomo Sanel is that it's a gem in the rough.  It is not a highly bred apple, like modern specimens of perfection being created now.  It has some character with it's freckles and somewhat uneven matte colored skin.  The dense flesh requires a little jaw work, something modern people don't get enough of anyway, so that could be a plus. 

The flavor is pretty complex, with maybe something like a fruit smoothie effect.  The most prominent flavor is banana. It's not a sickly sweet banana flavor, but it's definitely there on top, like it or not.  The sugar is  not overly high, but very adequate and compliments the level of acidity well.  Intensity of flavor is definitely above average.  It's no Suntan, but it asserts itself for sure. 

P1030412.jpg

Pomo Sanel's very late hanging characteristics got my attention.  I've been meaning to make some crosses with it, but this is the first year I did.  I crossed it with the queen of late hanging apples (in my orchard), the sleek, durable, beautiful, highly flavored, well behaved Lady Williams.  She impressed someone, because she is one of the parents of Pink Lady, an excellent late hanging apple in it's own right that I've eaten off the tree here at the new year.  Another potential cross would be Gold Rush and Pomo Sanel.  Gold Rush is by all accounts an outstanding storage apple and has disease resistance genes.  The ones I'm eating out of storage now are quite good around Christmas.  They both have Banana as a prominent flavor when ripe, but other flavors differ a little.  Gold Rush has more spice in it.  Gold rush is not durable on the tree though, where it cracks and declines in quality.  Both seem productive.  Gold rush has Golden Delicious and given the characteristics and appearance of this apple, it wouldn't surprise me if it comes from the Grime's Golden/Golden Delicious line.  Other late hanging apples that come to mind as possible candidates for crossing are Whitwick Pippin, Allen's Everlasting, Pink Parfait, Grenadine, Granny Smith, Katherine (of Etter) and Pink Lady.  Since I've made crosses using some of those late apples already I also hope to have seedlings that could potentially provide breeding material.  Who knows what the limits of quality, hanging and storage apples might be if we keep crossing these late lines.

I'm saving some seeds from this interesting apple to distribute this winter, but I can't send out scions of Pomo Sanel, or anything else, due to disease issues in the orchard.  I may at some point try to sleuth out a new source of scions to distribute to people that might grow it and share it out.  I have no idea what level and duration of cold it can stand.  Even if picking it for storage, it has to ripen into at least late November here.  It's okay to pick apples early for storage, but they should be fully sized up.  The picture below shows Pomo Sanel in mid November still looking a little lean and green.  Your mileage may vary of course.

 Pomo Sanel looking a little bit green on November 14th here in Northern California

Pomo Sanel looking a little bit green on November 14th here in Northern California

One thing I feel sure of is that this variety is worth saving, and it is certainly not remotely safe at this point.  Maybe the longest standing, most knowledgeable and well connected local fruit collector/experimenter I know asked me for some mosaic virus infected scions a couple of years ago.  I'm sure there are more copies out there among the local fruit collectors somewhere, but if it's not distributed much by any of us, it will fizzle out like so many others have.  That is assuming that it is a unique variety and just an unidentified more common named variety.

My Hand Watering Tool of Choice, the Fan Sprayer, and Cheap Hoses Just Got Cheaper

My watering nozzle of choice is the fan sprayer.  Unfortunately it's hard to find a good one these days.  Read more below, or watch the video. 

Also, the hoses I just recommended in another video and blog post, Craftsman 50 foot, 5/8 inch rubber hose, just went down in price further for the next day.  They go off sale TODAY.  Someone commented that Sears is in financial crisis and may go under, so it might be a good time to buy some.  They're like "WE'RE GOING DOWN, QUICK, SELL ALL THE HOSES!"  They are 17.99 with free shipping on orders above 50.00,  or free in store pick up even if they aren't actually on sale in the store.  The 100 foot are about twice that much, so same per foot price.  http://www.sears.com/lawn-garden-watering-hoses-sprinklers-garden-hoses/b-1024024

The package says the hose contains lead and chemicals known to cause cancer as everything must in California.  I did a brief search and found this hose to actually score very well against most tested for toxic compounds including lead, of which none was found.  http://www.ecocenter.org/healthy-stuff/samples/50-ft-craftsman-premium-heavy-duty-rubber-garden-hose

Quite a few people commented on the video with positive reviews of this hose, including people that have used them for over 10 years.

I like fan sprayer nozzles because they deliver a lot of water and deliver it gently if designed well.  The other major reason I like them is that the spray pattern and water delivery can be adjusted by tilting the head side to side.  I can cover a 3 to 4 foot wide swath 8 feet away by holding it horizontally, or concentrate most of that water in a one foot circle at the same distance by simply tilting the head vertically.  In between those extremes, you can adjust the width by adjusting the tilt.  This versatility and the wide horizontal coverage make them especially good for watering wide beds as well as for variable conditions.  nothing else I know of delivers this amount of water in that sort of versatile pattern.  Unfortunately good ones are hard to find and I can't recommend a new one, though I can recommend some old ones.

Hole size is a major design issue with these.  If sprayers with small holes are available new at all, they will be the exception.  Small holes mean finer streams of water, which equals less trauma to seedlings and seedbeds as well as the fragile soil surface.  High volume and gentle delivery are hard to find in one package.  The older fan sprayers seem to have small holes for the most part.  THE ROSS is the brand I've used most and they are not that uncommon to run into.  THE ROSS #10 shown in this video was patented in 1924.  There are at least two models I can recommend, the #10 and #11. Both have similar holes, but different construction.  Examine old ones for leaks at any soldered or folded seams.  The cast metal body of the #11 can corrode through in some cases, so examine them closely as well.

   Three good fan sprayers.  THE ROSSes #'s 10 and 11 and a no name short brass one that is every bit as functional, if a little less durable.

Three good fan sprayers.  THE ROSSes #'s 10 and 11 and a no name short brass one that is every bit as functional, if a little less durable.

 

A common design feature in new models is a valve in the handle of the sprayer.  I think that is a mistake.  The valve will fail eventually and can't be replaced.  From my experience with hose shut off valves, it will probably fail rather sooner than later.  Most people will want a hose shut off valve on the end of a hose anyway for switching appliances and such without going back to shut off the valve at the spigot.  I have one on the end of every hose, which makes a valve in the sprayer body not only an unnecessary failure waiting to happen, but it's also an unneeded restriction in the line.

   Most hoses should have a shut off valve already.  Putting a valve on the sprayer is usually going to be a disadvantage, let a lone redundant.

Most hoses should have a shut off valve already.  Putting a valve on the sprayer is usually going to be a disadvantage, let a lone redundant.

The vintage ones can be found on ebay or etsy.  Etsy seems to have quite a few, but I had to search "garden sprinkler" and sort through a bunch of results to find them.  They are not super cheap, but given what is usually available on the market now, it might be worth spending 10.00 to 15.00 on a vintage one.  I've found quite a few of them over the years at flea markets and such, but most of mine came from one single estate sale where I found a pile of them.  Lucky me :)  I have excellent thrift store/yardsale/flea market juju though.  Just ask my mom, or my pile of all clad cookware.

   My second hand juju is strong.  Pray to the flea market gods all you want, some of us are just born with it.

My second hand juju is strong.  Pray to the flea market gods all you want, some of us are just born with it.


A Tale of Three Watering Cans and a Hose Recommendation

I got two videos on watering for ya today.  One is about three quality built watering cans and watering can design.  The other one is recommending the Sears Craftsman rubber hoses on sale now and seemingly every spring at 20.00 for 50 feet.  My friend Mark Albert recommended them saying they are good for 30 years (also confirmed by a youtube viewer).  I've been using them for a few years and plan to keep buying them.   I haven't met a plastic hose that will last yet and If there is one I'll bet it's not this cheap.  If they aren't on sale in the actual store, you can ask for the online price with free delivery and they'll let you walk out with them for 19.99 each.  That's all you really need to know, so you don't even have to watch the video!

How to Graft onto Existing Fruit Trees, Frameworking and Topworking Explained

I've reached #10 in the grafting video series.  I'm looking forward to finishing the last 2 or 3 segments and moving on to something else.  It's quite an investment to watch it all, and I know it is not needed just now by a lot of people, but it will be there when it is needed.  It will be really great to finally have a grafting resource to refer people to in my writings and videos and it is long overdue.  So here is #10.  I've talked about a lot of the material covered in this video in a blog post about frankentreeing some time back, which can be read here  And here is the video playlist for this series.  The summary below is an outline of what's in this video, mostly for search engines.  The information is covered better in this video and in the blog post linked above.

A distillation of this video:

Grafting onto exsisting trees is approached in one of two basic ways, either by topworking or by frameworking.  Topworking cuts most of the tree off and regrows it, while frameworking retains the main tree structural wood and replaces the fruiting wood with the new variety.  Framework grafting has the advantage of producing fruit more quickly and is less damaging to the tree.  A well frameworked tree may suffer no permanent injury, while a top worked tree is much more likely to have ensuing problems with decay due to the large open wounds created in cutting off large branches or trunks.  Also, it is possible in one year to add many varieties to a frameworked tree.  On a good sized tree you might add 50 to 90 varieties in one season, whereas you would have to wait for the top of a top worked tree to regrow in order to graft on more than a few varieties in the first year.  I favor frameworking in almost all cases except where damage done has to be remedied by growing a new top, or by some other special circumstance.  It does require more scions and more time, but unless the scale of operation is large it is a no brainer to choose frameworking in most cases.

A frameworked tree can be grafted in one year with very little or none of the old fruiting wood left on.  Some sources will recommend leaving some of the old wood and that is okay if you are concerned, or if you are not sure your grafts will take well.  I would not hesitate to work over an apple tree completely in one year if it is healthy.

A common mistake in frameworking is to graft onto smaller wood near the outside of the tree's canopy.  It is better to go back in to wood nearer a limb or large branch, thereby replacing and regrowing all of the fruiting wood.   Don't worry about grafting into stubs the same size as your scion, just set the scion to one side, and if the stub is large, set to scions, one on each side.

Another common mistake is to add a scion, but leave old fruiting and leafing out wood crowded around it.  There is a good chance that the new graft will not grow well if it is not given some room by removing proximal fruit/leaf wood. 

A spacing of about 18 to 24 inches is pretty good between main offshoots on one side of a tree.  If they are 24 inches apart, each only has to grow 12 inches to the side until they are touching.  Branches on the other side of the tree can be the same spacing, but staggered between the branches on the opposite side when possible.

There are many grafts that can be used, but cleft and whip and tongue are good mainstays to use on smaller stubs and on stubs over an inch you can start to think about using rind (bark) grafts, covered in an earlier video.  It is possible also to add a graft into the side of a bare limb or large branch by either cutting into the side of it and setting in a wedge shaped scion, or by using a rind graft of some kind.  Those operations are less likely to succeed than the familiar grafts already mentioned, but if it doesn't take, it can just be grafted again the following year.

Aftercare is similar to other grafting.  Wrap grafts very tightly and very well to prevent movement of the grafts during a couple months of critical healing time.  Seal the scions to prevent drying out, and check them in mid summer to make sure that rapid growth is not strangling the grafts where they are wrapped.  If the grafts are strangling, either remove the tape, or unwrap it and re-wrap around July sometime.

Scions for framework grafting can be much longer than those used for most other grafting.  I like to use scions with 8 or more buds personally.  Very long scions can be used if they are splinted firmly to immobilize the grafted section, but I'm not sure there is any real advantage to doing so.

Tools required are just a sharp knife, pruning saw, pruning shears, some kind of grafting wax or paint or seal and something to wrap with.   See the Tools Video for more on that stuff.  Don't forget to tag them too!

No Brush Left Uncharred! The New Scorched Earth Policy!

It's not much harder to make a big pile of charcoal out of a burn pile instead of just burning it to ashes.  The short version is that you light it from the top and then put it out with a hose.  There is a little management involved and I do like to stack it neatly myself, but you can cut all kinds of corners and still end up with a lot of charcoal.  The charcoal lasts forever, and works amazingly well in my garden, so it's a pretty good deal!

Final Selections are in For the Bulgarian Giant Leek Seed Saving Project

I recently went through and picked the final winners in my seed leek trial.  This time I went for some short stout ones, but all were still probably at least 18 inches long.  I think size and up to almost 3 inches diameter are probably a little more practical than the really tall and somewhat more slender ones.  the leeks will now flower in their new home and seed should be ready by fall.

Permanent Soil Improvement Experiments w/ Biochar Continue, Catch Pit for Artichokes

This is the fourth such experiment in long term deep soil modification using a simple system of trenches or pits.  For now I'm using the term catch pit.  The basic concept is a hole where you toss in stuff that builds soil and feeds plants, backfilling with charcoal and dirt as you go.  It's cool.  Everyone should do it so we can find out how well it works.  I think default thinking these days is to let someone else prove things first, but I think that is backwards and everyone's context is different anyway.  I'm not just interested in how the finished soil performs, but how it ends up fitting into people's lives.  To me that part is just as interesting.  A society that feels an obligation not to waste soil nutrients and to build soil for the future is the one I'd like to live in, so that's what I'm doing.  I don't really know about the state of the rest of the world, but I think America would benefit from picking up a shovel more often and investing in an uncertain future.

Of Tan Oak Leaves and Rural Myths, Will They Poison Your Garden?

Here is a look at my first fruit from an intentionally cross pollinated apple seedling!

Now onto today's business.  I've been told for years that you can't use tan oak leaves on a garden because they are toxic.  I've used tons of them for over 10 years without observing any related problems.  This video is about that assertion and the odd tendency for people to latch onto and propagate negative information.

Making Top Shelf Seed Starting Mix From Common Stuff

This is how I make my seedling mix.  I rarely put anything purchased in it and It's great stuff.  Seedlings grow well and can get quite large before they start running out of nutrients.  Because of the high organic matter, it holds water, yet drains quickly and remains well aerated.

Tending the Leekage, Bulgarian Giant Leek Project, Weeding, Cultivation and Mulching

Some overdue tending of my seed leek project.  From here out I just need to keep fertilizing and watering till spring when I select the best leeks and allow them to go to seed.  The seed should be ready for sale in fall of 2017  Related videos linked below.

Some related videos...

Potato Onion Series Part 3: Harvesting and Curing

Here is my second to last video in the series on potato onions.  Once these bulbs are cured, they go on ebay August 15th under the Paleotechnics account.  The next video will be on cooking with them.

Much Improved Growth of Leeks in Biochar Test Bed

About three years back I set up my first biochar test bed.  I divided the bed into three sections of 10% charcoal, 5% charcoal and 0% charcoal.  The sections were all treated the same, except the 0% section was amended with a small amount of wood ash in an attempt to approximate the amount that would have been added incidentally with the charcoal.  I even dug the 0% section exactly the same as the 5 and 10% sections.

The first year the char sections of the bed performed poorly.  Lettuce failed to thrive in the char sections, but did fine in the 0% section because the charcoal sapped the soil of nitrogen and who knows what else.  several growing seasons later though, it's a different story.  I forgot to mention in my leek planting video that the bed I used was this test bed.  now that the leeks are established and growing, there is an obvious difference in the three sections with the 10% doing the best and 0% by far the worst.  While there could be some other factors involved, it's pretty clear that the charcoal is having a very positive effect.  I would say that the 10% section could be doing as much as 600% better than the 0% section.  The weeds look a lot happier too.

What the exact effect is, I don't know, and while I'd like to know, I don't necessarily need to.  It is just working and that is the important thing.  It seems that the charcoal amended sections are making better use of whatever resources are put on them.  We'll see how the leeks progress through the season.

What I learned from this experiment so far is that 10% is better than 5% and 10 inches deep makes a difference.  I'd like to put in a similar experiment with 10%, 15% and 20%.  I'd also like to do sections of a bed at a constant percentage, but one dug to 2 feet and one dug to only 12 inches.  And there are many more experiments I could do.  Each bed I install will be a different test of some kind.  It is easy enough to set them up and I could potentially learn from them for years.  I hope some of you out there will start collecting or making charcoal and setting up your own experiments.  If you already are, leave a comment and tell us about it.

 

A Few Juicy Accounts of Biochar Use in 19th Century N. America and Europe

Some of you that have been around a while will remember a research piece I did on the use of charcoal as a soil amendment in 19th century America and Europe.  I'm always trying to push this information out there, so In this video I read a few of the more interesting passages, which I'll also paste in as text below if you would rather read them..  This is the information that really compelled me to jump into biochar experimentation with both feet.  I have quite a few experiments installed now and quite a few more I'd like to do as soon as possible.  I have accumulated a pretty good pile of charcoal, so now it's mostly a matter of some planning and digging.  Also down the page is a video that I published last Wednesday of peeling a tan oak stump with a few comments about the historic tan bark industry here in California.

 


 

Every observing farmer who has been accustomed to raise wheat cannot have failed to notice the luxuriant growth of cereal grain round about the places where charcoal has been burned, even more than thirty or forty years ago. The growing stems of wheat that are produced on such old charcoal-beds are seldom affected with rust; and besides this, the straw is always much stiffer than that which grows where there is not a dressing of charcoal.

& from the same publication

The field was sown with barley in the spring previous ; yield small (eighteen bushels per acre). I turned in the stubble the last week in August, harrowed it over, then took about eighteen bushels charcoal crushed fine, and top-dressed a strip through the middle of the acre over about one-third of its length; I then sowed on my wheat broadcast and harrowed it over twice. The result was, the heads when ripe were at least twice as long as where no coal was put on. I harvested all together; the yield was forty-three bushels. I think by applying about fifty bushels of coal to the acre as a top-dressing, made fine by grinding in a common bark mill, it would increase the yield at least four hundred per cent., if the soil is poor.

The American wheat culturist: 1868

 


 

By keeping the surface of the earth well stirred, no crops appear to suffer by drought that are manured by charrings, but continue in the most vigorous health throughout the season, never suffering materially by either drought or moisture”.

“A Dictionary Of Modern Gardening” 1847

 


 

In the midst of the disastrous drouth of last summer, while crossing a field in Moriah, occupied by Mr. Richmond, in pursuit of some Durham cattle I wished to examine, I observed a lot with its surface deeply and singularly blackened. -Upon inspection I found it thickly strewn with pulverized charcoal. The field presented a rich verdure, strongly contrasting with the parched and blighted aspect of the adjacent country.
The following detail of this experiment, supplied at my request, attests the value of this material as a fertilizing principle. “The soil is loamy. The charcoal was applied on four acres of dry land, and one acre of moist soil, by top-dressing. The amount used was about one thousand bushels to the acre, spread on so as to make the surface look black, but not to incumber or obstruct vegetation. It was applied in September and October, 1850, at an expense by contract, of forty dollars. It was procured at a furnace, from a mass of pulverised charcoal left as useless, and was drawn one mile and a half. The effect was immediate. The grass freshened, and continued green and luxuriant after the surrounding fields were blackened by the early frosts. Although the last season had been so unfavorable for vegetation, Mr. Richmond realized one-third more than the ordinary yield of hay, and sufficient to repay the whole outlay. He thinks that he cut nearly double the quantity of grass upon this lot, that he did upon any similar meadow on his farm, and that the quantity of the hay is improved.”

 

“I began the use of it in the year 1846, and first employed it as a top-dressing on a strong clay soil, which was plowed in the fall of 1845. I spread on about fifteen wagon loads of the dust to the acre, after the wheat had been sowed and harrowed one way. I was surprised to find my crop a heavy one, compared with my neighbor’s, raised on the same kind of land. The wheat was of better quality and yielded four or five bushels extra to the acre. I have since used it on similar land, sometimes mixed with barn-yard manure, and sometimes alone, but always as a top-dressing, usually on land seeded for meadow. ‘ The results were always the most favorable. I find my land, thus seeded, produces more than an average crop of hay and always of the finest quality.
“I have also used the dust on loamy and interval land, with the potato crop. During the series of years in which the rot almost ruined the potato crop, I scarcely lost any potatoes from that cause, and supposed it was owing to the coal dust I used. My manner has been to drop the seed and cover it with a small shovel-full of the dust, and then cover with earth. In this way I have used all the coal dust I have been able to save from the coal consumed in a forge of five fires, and which amounts to about 250 loads per year.”
In the colder regions of the Adirondacks, charcoal dust has been used with great advantage. The note of Mr. Ralph presents the experiment in tho following language: “As a top-dressing for meadows, charcoal dust and the accumulation of ashes and burnt earth left on old charcoal pit bottoms have been used here with remarkable results, and I judge from the trials which have been made, that this application has added at least one-third to the hay crop, where it has been used. It was remarked during the past very dry season, when vegetation was almost burnt up by the long continued drouth, that those fields which had been dressed with this substance were easily distinguished by the rich green color of their herbage.”

The cultivator, 1853


 

“NEW” FERTILIZER FOR GRAPES.  Our impression is that the benefit to be derived from the use of chopped up cuttings has been greatly over-rated. We tried the plan once, selecting out the smaller shoots and cutting them up with a straw cutter, while the larger we cut with a small hatchet. We applied the prunings of ten vines to the roots of five, and then we invested the amount which we thought we ought to have for our labor, in charcoal which we applied to the remaining five. We thought the charcoal produced the best results.
Since that time we have disposed of our prunings of all kinds by converting them into charcoal and at the same time burning with them a quantity of heavy clay. The greatest difficulty is to make the heap sufficiently compact to allow it to be covered conveniently. This we accomplish by means of a few stout hooked stakes. After all the rubbish from the fall, winter and spring prunings, has been collected together, we lay a few stout branches or poles on the top. These poles are then pegged down by means of two or three hooked sticks applied to each pole, and in this way the mass is rendered so compact that it is easily covered with sods and similar matter. The heap after being kindled is allowed to smoulder away, more earth being thrown on as the fire progresses. Several days generally elapse before the work is finished,
but at the end of that time we find ourselves in possession of several tons of material of the very best kind for fertilizing vines or any kind of fruit trees. It consists of a mixture of ashes, charcoal and burned clay, and our present opinion Is that there are no better fertilizers for fruit trees, and especially grape vines and peach trees, than just these three articles.

Country gentleman, Volume 33
 1869


 

his trial on a field of four acres with potatoes in 1847, was very remarkable. They were planted in ridges, or, as termed here, ‘lazy beds;’ one-half the field manured with farm-yard manure, the other with peat charcoal only, about a handful thrown on each seed. The result was more than a double crop from the charcoal; and he informed me that he was himself so astonished at the fact, that he requested Lord Donegal to see and vouch it. At my suggestion he planted oats the next year On the whole field without any further manure, and he assured me the increase on that portion manured with charcoal was nearly in the same, ratio as the potatoes.  In February last he planted a large field in drills, manured as usual, not then having charcoal; but in. April he got some, and, before the potatoes being earthed, he top-dressed a few yards at the foot of all the drills as far as he had charcoal. He authorizes me to state that the result was not only very nearly a double crop, but that there was not a taint in one of them, while all the rest of the field was more or less diseased.

I must tell you his reply to my inquiry as to his experience of its value for grass land. He said,1 Nothing can exceed it; and there is little or no labour in using it.’ My friend Fenwick swears by it, and he declares he will write his name on the best grass in the country with black charcoal, and it will be the greenest part of the field in ten days.”

The Plough, the loom, and the anvil, Volume 2
 1849

 




Comparative Merits of Charcoal and Barn-yard Manure as Fertilizers.

In the year 1788, my father purchased and removed upon the tract of land in Hanover township, Morris county, N. J. The land, owing to the bad system of cultivation then prevailing, was completely exhausted, and the buildings and fences in a state of dilapidation. The foundation of the barn was buried several feet beneath a pile of manure, the accumulation of years: little or none ever having been removed upon the lands. Even the cellar, beneath the farm-house, was half filled with the dung of sheep and other animals, which had been sheltered in it. The former occupant of the farm had abandoned it on account of its supposed sterility

The barn, before referred to, was removed to another situation soon after its foundation was uncovered, by the removal of the manure to the exhausted fields; and its site,
owing to the new arrangements of the farm, became the centre of one of its enclosures. During the seventeen years which I afterwards remained upon the farm, the spot could easily be found by the luxuriousness of the grass, or other crops growing thereon; though the abatement in its fertility was evident and rapid. On revisiting the neighbourhood in the autumn of 1817, I carefully examined the corn crops then standing upon the spot, and was unable to discover the slightest difference in the growth or product, upon that and other parts of the field. This was about twenty-eight years after the removal of the barn.
Upon the same farm and upon soil every way inferior, were the remains of several pit-bottoms, where charcoal had been burned before the recollection of any person now in the vicinity, and most probably, judging from appearances, between the years 1760-70. These pit-bottoms were always clothed, when in pasture, with a luxuriant covering of grass, and when brought under tillage, with heavy crops of grain. Eleven years ago I pointed out these facts to the present occupant, and his observations since, coincide with my own, previously made; that they retain their fertility, very little impaired, a period probably of about seventy or eighty, certainly not less than sixty-five or seventy years.
Here then is an excellent opportunity of observing the comparative value of charcoal and barn-yard manures, as a fertilizer of lands. The former has not, after at least sixty or seventy years exposure, exhausted its powers of production, while the latter lost its influence entirely in twenty-eight years, and most probably in much less time.
I have since had many opportunities of’ observing the effects of charcoal left in pitbottoms, upon vegetation, one of which only,. I will relate. The last season, in the northern part of Ohio, was one of uncommon frost and drought . In May, the wheat fields, when promising a luxuriant crop, were cut off by frost;—especially in the valleys, and very much injured in the high lands—which was succeeded by the most severe drought ever experienced in the West. The moiety which escaped both these scourges, was afterwards very much injured by rust. Near the village of Canton, upon a farm on high ground, which had been mostly cleared of its timber by its conversion into charcoal, it was observed that upon the old pit-bottoms, the wheat grew very luxuriantly—was clear of rust—and had ripened plump in the berry; while in the adjacent parts of the field it was short in growth, the stem blackened with rust, and the berry light and shriveled..

The Farmers’ cabinet, and American herd-book, Volume 11 1847

 


 

CHARCOAL AS A FERTILIZER.
For two years past I have used some fifty loads each season of refuse charcoal, and being fully convinced that it pays, I wish to recommend it to my brother farmers. I have tried it on grass, corn and potatoes—hare tried it alone and in the compost heap, and in all situations it has proved faithful to its trust. As a top dressing for grass, it gives a green color and luxuriant growth.. Applied to half an acre of early potatoes the last summer, the yield was 75 bushels of as fine healthy potatoes as could be desired, that sold readily for one dollar per bushel, and yielded the best profit of anything raised on the farm.

..It absorbs from the air those gasses offensive to the nostrils, but the main food of plants. And this it will do, not once only, or for one season, but very possibly for a century. Where an old coal-pit has been burnt, the land never seems to wear out, and the first settlers point to the coal bottoms that are fifty years old, still by their exuberant vegetation marking well the spot where the wood was converted into coal.

The New Jersey Farmer Vol. II, No. 1, September 1856

 



CHARCOAL AS A FERTILIZER.
It will be recollected by our readers, that in our last two volumes we have published several able papers upon the virtues of charcoal as a fertilizer of the soil, and of its supposed efficacy in the preservation of wheat from rust. One of these papers, by Judge Hepburn, particularly points out cases in which lands which had been dressed by charcoal had grown wheat free from rust, when wheat grown on other lands, contiguous, which had not been so treated, had suffered greatly from that cause. We allude to these circumstances now, with a view of introducing the subjoined paragraph to the notice of our readers ; by which it will be seen, that in France the same virtues have been ascribed to charcoal as in our own country. 

We have been astonished at the enormous increase of the wheat crop in France within the last eight or ten years, and have devoted some attention to the investigation of the subject. It appears that charcoal—an article that can be obtained here for a tithe of its cost in France—has been extensively used, and with marked effect, in fertilizing the wheat lands in that kingdom. A correspondent of the New Farmers’ Journal, an English print, states that during a sojourn in one of the central departments of France he learned that some of the most productive farms were originally very sterile; but that for a number of years their proprietors had given them a light dressing of charcoal, which had resulted in a large yield of wheat of excellent quality. Since his return to England he has tried the experiment upon his own lands with the same happy effect. The charcoal should be well pulverized, and sown like lime, after a rain or in a still, damp day. Even in England, the writer says, “the expense is a mere trifle, in comparison with the permanent improvement effected, which on grass is truly wonderful.”— He states one other very important result from its liberal use. “I am quite satisfied that by using charcoal in the way described rust in wheat will be entirely prevented; for I have found in two adjoining fields, one of which was coaled and the other manured with farm-yard dung, the latter was greatly injured by rust, while that growing in the other was perfectly free from it.”—Buffalo Commercial Advertiser.

Southern planter, Volume 3 1843

 


 

ln striking cuttinps or potting plants, fine charcoal is a valuable substitute for sand, plants rooting in it with great certainty. Plants will flourish in powdered charcoal alone with considerable vigor, and, added to the other materials used in potting, it is found greatly to promote healthy growth in most plants.)

Fruit recorder and cottage gardener 1875

 


 

there are two features connected with its use which have always commended it to my favor. One is its mechanical effects upon the soil, rendering it more open and friable, and consequently more easily worked, and more open to the action of the atmosphere. The other is the warming effect produced where it is applied in any considerable quantity. A dark soil, we all know, has the power to a greater extent of absorbing heat than a light-colored one. This, in many locations, is a great desideratum. Many plants which it is desirable to grow, but which, for the want of a sufficiently warm soil, is next to impossible, may be cultivated by the use of charcoal....   In gardens, therefore, I esteem it highly, and have found it, for the purposes briefly named above, most excellent

The American farmer:  1861


 

Charcoal is undoubtedly a powerful fertilizer, and one of great duration, as is shown by the continued fertility of places where the aboriginal inhabitants of New England built their camp-fires more than two hundred years ago, while nothing peculiar to those spots can be discovered beyond the admixture of large quantities of charcoal and clam-shells with the soil.

Annual report of the Commissioner of Patents, Part 2 1855

 



Charcoal as a Fertilizer.
Mr. Bateham:—Sometime since there was an enquiry in your paper, respecting the use of charcoal as a fertilizer. I have one word to offer on the subject, which is this: some 15 or 20 years since, while owned by another individual, there was much coal burned on my farm while in the act of clearing the land. The land since that time has undergone much tilling, with little or no manure and not much rest until lately; and notwithstanding the time that has elapsed, the places where the coal pits were burned, produce the best of crops of every kind whenever the fields in which they are found are tilled. I am so much pleased with it that I wish my farm was covered I 3 or 4 inches thick with pulverized charcoal. I think the benefits of it could never be exhausted.

Ohio Cultivator vol. 3 No. 1 1847

 


 

CHARCOAL AS A FERTILIZER.
We have all noticed that where a charcoal pit has been burned the soil remains good for a long time. On the mountains of Berkshire we have seen white clover growing luxuriantly on the bed of an old charcoal pit, making an oasis in the desert of ferns and briars that surrounded it, and on inquiry we found that the coal pit must have been burned half a century ago. On digging into this soil we discovered the charcoal with little if any appearance of decay, and promising to do good service for half a century more.

Agriculture: twelve lectures on agricultural topics:1871

 


 

The first day of our trip, we saw the farmers engaged in burning stocks of millet, &c., in heaps of earth, as it is done in the manufacture of charcoal, in order, we supposed, to bring out their fertilizing properties. It a very likely then, that, in China, they have known the value of charcoal as a fertilizer long before us, It’s use for that purpose being among us of a recent date.

 

Commercial relations of the United States with foreign countries 1872

 


 

Refuse Charcoal.  The refuse charcoal, obtained from the rectifiers of spirits, from the Railroads where wood is burned in locomotives, from old charcoal beds, &c., is a very useful material in the garden. As a mulching about fruit trees I consider it very valuable. It keeps out frost in winter: it keeps the soil loose and moist in summer, and it does not afford a harbor for mice or insects. In the soil, it assists to promote moisture in a dry season;........ It is an excellent mulching for Strawberries, in winter or summer.

The Gardener’s monthly and horticultural advertiser, Volume 9  1867

 

Potato Onions Part 2: Planting and Culture

This is installment number two on growing, storing and eating potato onions.  All of this is pretty much covered in writing elsewhere, and then some.  Here is a link to posts tagged with Potato Onion if you want to know a lot more.  I'm playing around with logo/branding ideas, just trying this one on for size.  The concept is basically kid-with-a-stick which is kind of the genesis of what it's all about to me.  And honestly, I think in a lot of ways part of me will always be a kid with a stick!  Let's hope so anyway.  It's brushed with some ink I made from soot (lampblack) and hide glue.  I'm not much of an artist, but I actually think I like the unpolished effect here and I like doing all my own illustrating with homemade art materials.  I'm also liking the black and white color scheme.  Now I'm looking into making my own fonts.  Yes, you can do that!  The point is to have an instantly recognizable look to all my thumbnails and stuff, so no matter how small or buried in other content they are, I'll stand out instantly.  Feel free to comment.  I like input and constructive criticism, because the way I perceive what I do is not the same as how you guys perceive it and you're doing most of the perceiving!  Cheers!

Video, All About Potato Onions #1 and Multiplier Onion Giveaway

Video

This introduction video is the first in a series on Potato Onions.  Future videos will cover planting, culture, harvest, curing and eating.  I forgot to address a couple of things.  One is the difference between potato onions and shallots.  I think there is probably not all that much.  My suspicion at this time is that they evolved along different lines, but it's hard to say.  I would be wary of any expert opinion on this matter.  The other is the disadvantages of potato onions.  They are really neat, and you dont' have to grow or save seed.  All that is cool, but you also have to save part of your crop, which means you don't get to eat it.  Since you can save mostly small bulbs to grow large ones for eating, that helps, but it's still something to consider.  I've been growing them for over ten years and they work for me.

Onion Giveaway

Also, I promised it and here it is, the great multiplier onion giveaway!  Yay!  What I'm giving out is packages  of 4 different multiplier onions that I sell on ebay. (THIS IS OVER NOW, SORRY...) 

Copper Shallot: Is a very nice true shallot, presumably of French origin.  It has pink tinged flesh and a coppery skin.  I really like this variety which I got in trade a few years ago.  It has done very well, keeps like a rock, shows no winter damage in our relatively mild winters and no seed stalks to speak of, even when overwintered.  Most (all?) commercial shallots these days are grown from seed, so if you plant a shallot start from the store, it will almost always run to seed.  True shallots like this are becoming rare.
Yellow Potato Onion: This is the standard old school potato onion.  It is very hesitant to flower under most conditions, it is very cold hardy and it keeps extremely well.  It resembles a shallot, but with more under-the-skin division (a negative trait) and it may be sweeter and milder, but I'm not sure of that.  I like to use them whole in stews and roasts, roasted in the skin over coals (yum!) and if you're patient, they are truly excellent when carmelized properly (properly meaning thoroughly cooked and not burnt!  Patience grasshopper, good things take time...).
Green Mountain Multiplier:  This is a newer variety bred from the yellow potato onion by Kelly Winterton of Utah, a champion of potato onions.  This is very rare and Kelly has people lined up to get his limited supply of bulbs every year.  I'm the only other person I know who has them available, though that is bound to change pretty soon.  It is larger than the yellow potato onion, with fewer under-the-skin divisions and generally with more compact uniform bulbs on average.  The down side is that it flowers readily, though it doesn't flower if spring planted here.  I have much higher loses to mould and rot during curing and storage with this onion than with the yellow potato onion and am phasing it out this year.  It's still worth a try, especially if you do a lot of canning with onions in the fall, in which case you can use the suspect ones up by september, and save the best for storage.  Though there are losses in storage the bulbs that do make it seem to keep very well.   It is earlier than the Yellow Potato Onion.  More on this and the yellow potato onion in the video
I'itoi's Onion:  A very small multiplier onion grown by the O'odham people of the SouthWestern U.S. for hundreds of years.  It is said to have been brought by Spanish invaders.  It can be grown as chives, or harvested as green onions.  The bulbs are very small, but if well grown are certainly worth peeling and putting whole into dishes.

Okay, so this is how it's going to work this time.  First, be subscribed or following on RSS.  Instead of first come first serve, which is not very equitable considering all the times zones and such, I'm just going to collect emails through Sunday midnight and do a drawing out of a hat (or some other opaque object, no, make it a hat, I have a black hat, that's opaque :).  Then I'll contact the winners and send you instructions.  This needs to happen relatively fast, so I can get them sent out.  You pay shipping, which should be under 4.00, but lets just make it 4.00 so I'm covered for sure.  

Email me through the "SAY HI" contact link at the bottom or top this page with the subject line  "Potato Onion Giveaway",  so that I can sort all the emails out easily.

Good luck!  I'm not sure exactly how many sets I'll be doing yet, but at least 8.  Fall planting is not uncommon with potato onions.  The yellows are cold hardy, the others I'm not entirely sure about.  I wouldn't recommend trying to save them till spring because there are always some losses in storage.

Good Luck!


Virtual Garden Tour and Seed Packet Give Away for Subscribers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZqScKgvX0Q

Here is a quick tour of my garden this early summer (not super quick, but my version of quick relative to the hours I could have spent).  It is not what I’d like it to be, but it’s pretty tidy and growing well, much better actually than the last two years.  We are in year two of a pretty bad drought, but I think the ever flowing spring is going to trickle on through this one too.  So, I am undaunted.  Of course many of the things touched on in these videos will be revisited in future videos and blog posts.

Some News, and Videos on Scion Storage and Cleaning Black Trumpet Mushrooms

A couple of videos and a little news on apples and flowers! It's grafting season.  A lot of people have probably already finished their scion trading, but here is my take on storing and shipping scions.  I was so caught up in the details that I kind of forgot the basics, like store them in the refrigerator.  If it were more comprehensive, it would also include storing the scions without refrigeration, which maybe I'll do later, but same basic concepts apply.  Mostly, I was trying to address the potential of excess water and the use of paper to cause problems.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bx5UwS3SmlU

And for those of you who are lucky enough to have black trumpet mushrooms in your neck of the woods, this video is on how I clean them really fast, and dry them. It also includes a (what in my opinion is an all too short) rant on efficiency and work as a symbolic activity.  It is a long video for how to do something really fast, but I think the stuff about intention and mental attitude is just as important as the physical part, and it will save your a lot of time in the long run if cleaning large quantities.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iezTiOBXDc

DOOOOODS!!!  Two flowers from the first batch of Daffodil Seedlings grown from seeds pollinated in 2011 have put forth flower buds!  The bulbs arestill rather small, so I wouldn't be surprised if they are under-developed, but that's still pretty exciting, especially considering that I haven't taken stellar care of them.  I figured I was at least another year off from seeing anything.  I seem to pick breeding projects that take a long time.  Daffodils typically take about 4 years or more, and apples 5 or more years.  They should open within the week, at which point I may have to update the Daffodil Lust series with a new post.  Even more exciting, one of the seedlings is from Young Love, the daffodil that inspired it all!

Young Love seedling
Young Love seedling

I just recieved 50 apple rootstocks in the mail for grafting up my latest round of red fleshed apple seedlings, and last year's pollinations are sprouting up in the greenhouse.  Good news, I just talked to my friend Freddy Menge, who is sort of my apple guru or early inspiration.  We talk about apples on the phone about every other year.  He's getting results from his apple seedling trials, which I believe are mostly open pollinated, but he has a good collection of quality hand selected varieties growing, not just some random stuff.  He say that he gets more apples that are worth eating than ones that aren't.  That's just what I suspected when I started my breeding project and what Albert Etter seemed to be saying.  It also is totally at odds with what passes for common "knowledge".  He has sent me two of his seedlings that I'm trying out, one I've been calling King Wickson (not sure if he has a name for it) which he thinks is a King David x Wickson cross.  The other selection is Crabby Lady a small, more intensely flavored version of the latest ripening apple here, Lady Williams, also thought to be crossed with Wickson crab.  Crabby Lady ripens at the same time as Lady Williams, and sounds like a real improvement on an already very good and super late apple, so that really got my attention.  I'm hoping King Wickson will fruit this year, but I just grafted Crabby Lady this past week.

Freddy also said that about 1/4 to 1/3rd of his red fleshed apple seedlings have red flesh.  I was hoping for a little higher percentage than that, but such is life.  I may do some crosses between red fleshed apples this year to try to reinforce the red fleshed trait.  Another amateur plant breeder just contacted me through the blog who is also gearing up to do some red fleshed apple breeding.  Yay for grass roots apple breeding for the masses!

I'm off to get ready for the farmer's market in the morning.  Not much in the way of vegetables to sell anymore, but I cleaned up selling Erlicheer narcissus flowers on Valentines day and have a new batch ready to go.  It's nice to have that plan working out.  The Erlicheer are planted along both sides of a row of oblique cordon apple trees, so they require no extra care other than what I already do in taking care of the apples.  By the time the apples are leafing out, the flowers are thinking about going to sleep, so they have nearly opposite seasons

Flowers for market.  !Kaching!
Flowers for market. !Kaching!

Simple, Efficient, Cheap, Flexible Biochar Trench Video, and Frankentree Trailer

Coming next weekend!  I guarantee the actual video is less exciting than the trailer, but it is much more edifying!  This video will just be an introduction to the idea, and the benefits of frankentreeing.  I will certainly put together a much more technical video in the future.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FoVp4eMrYXo

Below is my second fast motion video on the two simple biochar methods I've been experimenting with.  A few notes...

Fuels:  I suspect that pieces larger than about 3 inches are better either split down or charred by another method, and chips might be better done in a TLUD or some such device.  I haven't tried either in the trench though, so that's just speculation.  I doubt that large wood will char well in the trench because it takes so long to char all the way through, but chips might be just fine if fed pretty constantly in thin layers.  As long as everything you're putting in turns to charcoal and you're not getting a lot of ashes or a lot of smoke with it, you're doing well.  I've done green and dry wood.  Dry is better of course.  I think the jury is still out on green wood.  The one I did mostly with pretty green wood was a very hot, large pit and the wood was brushy allowing for the ingress for large amounts of air.  It was still pretty sluggish and I'd certainly tend to let the stuff dry for a summer first if possible.

Wood size and shape:  It's hard to say without actually measuring things, but the trench seems to have a very efficient conversion ratio (wood to charcoal with low ash production) if the material is of a nature that it can be laid thickly and flat onto the coals, and of course if it is tended adequately.  This method takes a little more effort than last week's open burn, since you have to dig a hole, but it handles certain materials better.  I've done a number of these now and have found that they don't handle tangly brush all that well.  I did pretty good with douglas fir limbs, but not with oak, madrone and similar branches that have a lot of twigs poking in every direction.  The fir limbs are pretty linear and stack into the trench closely enough to get by.  If the fuel doesn't lay into the trench well, it will allow too much oxygen to reach the coals and result in more ash formation.  So, really tangly stuff that takes up a lot of volume of space might be better burned in an open pile, or reduced in size and shape to fit into the trench better.  When I take trees down, I typically limb up the 2 1/2" to 3" branches and larger, setting them aside, while anything smaller is brush for burning.  So, I'll usually end up with a pile of each, larger stuff with little to no brush for the firewood pile or the trench, and small tangly stuff for the open pile method.

A trench burn using mostly untrimmed douglas fir limbs worked adequately well.  Better than very spreading tangly type branches, but not quite as well as lengths and chunks of wood without any small branches.
A trench burn using mostly untrimmed douglas fir limbs worked adequately well. Better than very spreading tangly type branches, but not quite as well as lengths and chunks of wood without any small branches.

Trench v.s. Pit Shape:  You could just dig a round pit, and that might be good for small wood, and especially small chunks like lumber cutoffs, but the long shape allows burning of long wood without cutting it up which can be a huge savings if long wood is what you've got.  It of course works fine for short wood too.  I haven't done a burn in just one end of the trench, but it seems like it should work fine as long as the open end of the fire has wood added to it same as the top.  If nothing else, the trench could be blocked with dirt of bricks for small burns of short stuff.

Other options:  FYI, this is based on the Japanese Cone Kiln concept, and you can also do it in other containers, like a webber BBQ for micro scale (be sure to seal any holes on the bottom).  I think you could also use an old wheel barrow body.  You can see Backyard Biochar for more on the cone kilns and other simple methods.

The burn requires maintenance, but not constant maintenance, so bring a book or a project to work on.

Summarizing:Between this and the open burn pile method in last week's video, a lot of wood types that most people have access to can be charred easily, with a minimum of preparations, planning or technology.  Considering the simplicity and low inputs of these two methods, there seems little reason not to turn the woody resources that accumulate around a homestead, or even backyard, into charcoal instead of ash.   That is my main message here.   You could of course turn smaller stuff into compost, but since charcoal can serve some of the purposes of organic matter in the soil (nutrient reservoir, microbe housing, moisture holding and soil texture changes)  but permanently with a one time applications, it's worth considering charring it in your webber for a while, or some of it at least.  It's not a complete substitute for organic matter, but it should, in theory, help you get more out of the organic matter and other nutrients you add to the soil in the future.  I add some organic matter to the soil, but I consider the most important the plant roots that are left behind after every crop.  

Anyway, that's more than enough said.  Most of what you need to know is in the video...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1jAo7qd_Q8

Posted on October 4, 2014 and filed under BioChar, Forestry, Garden Stuff.