In praise of astringent persimmons: 5 reasons you should grow them

In praise of astringent persimmons: 5 reasons you should grow them

The native American person (Diospyros virginia) is a common tree across much of the eastern half of the U.S. The tree is easy to grow and the small fruits of the American persimmon are edible and palatable when soft, which normally occurs after the first good freeze. But have you ever tried to eat (or been offered by a cruel prankster) a slice of firm American persimmon? It’s a brutal experience, with face contortions as your mouth suddenly feels like its been stuffed with dry cotton balls.

But…don’t discount astringent persimmons just yet. While the American persimmon is astringent, many varieties of cultivated Japanese persimmons are also astringent. What gives? Why would someone want to grow a fruit like that?

The answer is that the fruit of the American persimmon or most varieties of Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki) are perfectly pleasant to eat if the fruit is handled properly. As long as the fruit of these persimmons is soft and fully ripe, the persimmons are as useful as any other fruit. With a little patience, the gardener can enjoy one of the easiest-to-grow fruit trees available.

So here are 5 reasons to grow persimmons (including and especially astringent ones):

They’re easy to grow. This is kind of a broad statement, but it’s true. For gardeners in the southern half of the US (and many part of California) and similar climates around the world, persimmons are fuss-free trees that demand little and yet produces plenty. They generally need minimal chill hours (usually under 400) and they bloom late, which means they usually avoid late spring frosts. And best of all, pollination from other varieties usually isn’t necessary in the South, due to the climate and how it impacts persimmon tree sexuality (that part should probably be listed as NSFW…)

They live a long time. The average number of productive years in an average modern peach tree is around 10-15 years. After this time, production tends to decline for peaches. This isn’t the case with persimmons. A persimmon tree will begin producing fruit at 3 years of age, and will begin heavy yields at about 6 years of age and continue production for 40+ years and probably longer.

They have few pests. In the US, persimmons are an easy fruit tree to grow organically because they have few insect pests or disease issues. And if insects or disease do happen to show up, such problems are easily controlled with organic sprays.

They aren’t picky on soil type. Most Japanese persimmons in the US are grafted on American persimmon rootstock. This means that Japanese persimmons will generally grow in any soil where American persimmon is comfortable. I’ve seen American persimmon growing in heavy soil and in sand. The root stock also has a wide tolerance for soil pH levels.

The fruit taste great! Even the astringent varieties, if ripened fully, taste great and can be dried, candied, or made into fruit leather and jelly. The only trick to getting astringent persimmons to become edible is to let them get soft. This can be accomplished by picking the fruit from the tree after the first freeze and placing it in a window for it to get soft. Persimmons will keep on a tree outdoors well into the winter – they can be picked and enjoyed as needed.

Some great astringent persimmons are:

Eureka – Developed in Texas and one of the best for the Gulf Coast, including down into Florida; drought and frost resistant; consistently self-pollinating.

Tani Nashi – An old favorite; beloved in Japan for drying; seedless and self-pollinating

Hachiya – Another favorite for drying; almost seedless; needs another astringent persimmon for pollination.

Tamopan – A uniquely shaped persimmon that came to the US from China over 100 years ago; a consistent bearer; fruit is astringent until fully ripe, when it becomes really sweet; seedless and self-pollinating.

A fast guide to planting onions fast

A fast guide to planting onions fast

It’s onion planting season in much of the southern United States, so I thought I would offer a guide to how to quickly obtain and plant onion plants for gardeners in the South (and other places when the season is right). So here we go with a quick list:

Get the onion plants. Onion plants can be purchased from us or from other places. Onion plants are grown from seed and harvested when immature to be bunched and shipped to nurseries, feed stores, and customers across the U.S. We’ve got them and we are shipping them to people within 24 hours of ordering. About 90% of the onion plants in the United States come from a single farm in south Texas!

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Till the ground. Onions need loose, well-tilled soil to produce the largest bulbs. They generally aren’t picky when it comes to soil type as long as the soil is well drained. Remove any rocks or roots that may deform the onions, and make a row of soil above the typical soil line, especially in areas with poorly drained soil (such as clay). Raised bed also work nicely.

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If there is some question on the soils fertility, till organic matter into the soil. Composted animal manure and/or compost is a good choice. Even though it’s usually associated with green leafy growth, onions need lots of nitrogen to make big bulbs. Composted poultry manure in particular is usually  high enough in nitrogen to promote healthy onion bulb growth.

If you’re planning to grow onions using conventional fertilizer, try placing some high phosphate fertilizer 2-3 inches below the soil where the onions will be planted. For best results, use about half a cup of high phosphate fertilizer (such as 10-20-10) per 10 feet of row.

Plant the onions! So you’ve got the onions. Unwrap the lovely rubber band from around the plants. Most onion plant bundles have about 60 onions in them. I generally like have a slightly elevated row, with a trench already dug down the middle of it.

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Some of the onion plants will be smaller than others – these will grow into onions, but they will probably be smaller than some of the others. If that bothers you, then they grow into excellent green onions.

For green onions, plant the onion plants 2-3 inches below the top of the soil. For bulb onions, plant then small bulb of the onion plant just below the soil line, being sure to cover it completely with soil (and with the roots down, obviously).img_8651

For larger onions, plant the transplants 4 inches apart. If you want to enjoy green onions, plant the onions 2 inches apart and pull every other plant over the next month, using the pulled plants as green onions. With either spacing, you can plant a bundle of 60 onions in prepared ground in just a few minutes.

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Wait and fertilize! Onions needs nitrogen so they should be “side-dressed” with a cup of high nitrogen fertilizer per 20 feet of row every month while they’re growing. High nitrogen organic fertilizer is also an option, though it will most like take more organic fertilizer to have the same effect on the onions. Composted poultry or dairy manure is usually relatively high in nitrogen.

Onions are easy to grow in containers too….

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Mulch! Mulch those onions – because nothing is more annoying or tedious than weeding around onions. Pine needles, leaves, and compost are all good options.

Harvest! Onions should be ready for harvest as soon as the tops die back. If the onion plant flowers (“bolts”) then it is still good – just use it first, since it won’t store well.

Store the onions. Onions do best when left to dry out in dry place with plenty of ventilation. More pungent onions keep the best; sweeter onions don’t keep as long. Onions will keep in a dry place in a mesh bag for an extended period of time. It’s also been reported that they will keep in a refrigerator for up to a year if the tops are clipped and the onions are wrapped in foil.

I planted 120 onions the other day with 2 four year olds and an 8 year old helping me and we were done in less than 10 minutes – including the tilling and fertilizer prep. I’ll spend a little extra time adding a mulch of composted forest leaves, and I’ll add some fertilizer, but the hard work is done. And it was done fast! 🙂

Onions and many other easy edible plants are included in The Lazy Gardener’s Guide to Easy Edibles, available on Amazon and, this spring, in bookstores! 🙂

Five Native Edibles Anyone (in North America) Can Grow

Five Easy Native Edibles Anyone (in North America)  Can Grow

Wild plums are any number of Prunus species that are native to North America and produce small edible fruit in the summer and fall. American plums, Chickasaw plums, and Mexican plums are common names for the most popular varieties of wild plums. Wild plums tend to form thickets when left to grow, spreading by root shoots and seeds. Chickasaw plums (Prunus augstifolia) grow best in the southeastern United States; American plums (Prunus americana) grows best in the northeastern and central parts of North America; and Mexican plum (Prunus mexicana) grows best in the South. Once a thicket of wild plums are established, they will generally produce a consistent crop. They will also prevent soil erosion and shade out competing vegetation. Wild plums are tasty fresh, or made into jams, jellies, and pies.46809278

Wild pear is a type of European pear that has escaped cultivation in North America and now grows wild in woods and fence rows. The wild pear is extremely easy to grow, requiring virtually no care. The fruit of the wild pear varies in quality, since each tree is seed grown and genetically different. The fruit may be hard and only suitable for processing or cooking, or the pears may be sweet and edible from the tree. They are sometimes called deer pears because they are loved by deer and other types of wildlife. They almost always have beautiful blooms in spring.

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Crabapple is a type of native American apple tree that produces small, very sour apples. There are over 35 distinct species of crabapple, all native to the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Depending on the location where the crabapple is grown, the native crabapple for that particular region is the easiest to grow. Malus fusca is native to the Pacific Northwest and grows the best there; Malus angustifolia is the southern crabapple and it grows best in the southern U.S. Crabapples can help pollinate other apple trees in an orchard setting. Crabapples are not edible when fresh, but they can be made into jams, jellies, and pies.

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Red mulberries are produced on native American trees in the genus Morus. Red mulberries are native to the central and eastern North America, from the South up to Canada. They readily hybridize with the imported Asian mulberries (Morus alba), producing hybrid trees. They are fast growing, and heavy producers. They will begin producing berries at a young age. The trees tend to stay bushy while small, and may need to be pruned when young to shape them into a nice tree. Mulberry trees are easy to grow over a wide part of North America and have virtually no pests. The berries can be eaten fresh or used for jams and jellies.

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Serviceberry is the common name of numerous small trees in the Amelanchier genus. Most serviceberry species are native to the eastern half of the United States, from Texas to Florida, and up the eastern part of the country into Canada. Two species are native to drier, Western climates. In the southern U.S., Amelanchier arborea is the most common species. Though unknown to many people, serviceberries were once a common wild food for Native Americans and early European settlers. At least one species of serviceberry was used in the Native American food staple pemmican. Serviceberry, also called Juneberry or saskatoon, grows in deep acidic soils, often in moist habitats. The berries taste similar to blueberries, with the addition of an almond-type flavor imparted by the seeds. The berries can be eaten fresh, dried, or used for pies and jams. Numerous species of birds and mammals use serviceberry as a food source. The serviceberry itself is a pome, and not a berry as its name implies. In the wild, serviceberry is often the first fruit of the summer, ripening in June in many parts of the southern United States and later in more norther regions. The serviceberry is highly nutritious and contains high levels of vitamin B2, iron, and fiber. Serviceberry grows into a small tree or large shrub in the wild. The wood is extremely hard and was historically prized for ax handles.

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For more on easy edible plants, check out The Lazy Gardener’s Guide to Easy Edibles!

thelazygardener

 

Recommended fruit tree varieties for different regions of Texas

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Since the blog on Legg Creek Farm is on temporary hiatus, I’ve decided to post it here, since in many ways it does fit the theme of lazy gardening…

(Updated 1/4/2017 to include cherry trees, native trees, and West Texas region trees)

Here is a list of the different regions of Texas and recommended temperate (non-citrus) fruit tree varieties for each:

Amarillo/Lubbock/Panhandle

Apples: Red Delicious, Yellow Delicious, Gala, Fuji, Winesap, Jonathan, Arkansas Black, Honeycrisp

Peaches: Red Skin, Elberta, Ranger, Belle of Georgia, Sentinel

Plums: Burbank, Ozark Premier, Bruce, Morris

Apricots: Blenheim, Royal

Nectarines: Karla Rose

Pears: Bartlett, Ayers

Figs: Celeste

Cherries: Bing, Black Tartarian, Montmorency

Natives: Wild pear, red mulberry, southern crabapple, (maybe) chickasaw plum

Dallas/Fort Worth, North Texas, Southern Oklahoma

Apples: Red Delicious, Yellow Delicious, Gala, Fuji, Winesap, Jonathan, Arkansas Black, Granny Smtih, Pink Lady, Honeycrisp

Peaches: Elberta, Belle of Georgia, Red Skin, Loring, Red Globe, Dixieland, Tex Royal, La Feliciana

Plums: Methley, Santa Rosa, Ozark Premier, Morris, Bruce

Apricots: Blenheim, Royal, Moorpark

Nectarines: Karla Rose, Sunglo, Red Gold

Pears: Ayers, Warren, Orient, Bartlett

Figs: Celeste, Brown Turkey, Texas Everbearing, LSU purple

Pomegranates: Wonderful, Dwarf

Cherries: Bing, Black Tartarian, Early Richmond, Stella

Natives: Red mulberry, southern crabapple, pawpaw, wild pear, (maybe) mayhaw, American persimmon, chickasaw plum

Houston/New Orleans/Southeast Texas/South Lousiana

Apples: Ein Shemer, Anna, Dorsett Golden

Peaches: Tex-King, Tex Royal, Florida King, June Gold, La Feliciana, Harvester, Dixieland, Tex Prince, Rio Grande, Florida Crest

Plums: Santa Rosa, Methley, Bruce, Morris

Apricots: Early Golden, Moorpark

Nectarines: Early King, Red Gold

Pears: Ayers, Moonglow, Warren, Orient, Keiffer

Figs: Brown Turkey, Texas Everbearing, LSU purple

South Texas and Rio Grande Valley

Citrus (basically any variety)

Apples: Anna, Dorsett Golden, Carnival, Ein Shemer

Peaches: Rio Grande, Tex-King, EarliGrande, Red Baron, Floridacrest, Florida King, Tropic Snow, any peach with under 350 chill hours

Plums: Santa Rosa, Methley

Pears: Orient, Pineapple, Monterrey, Keiffer

Figs: Texas Everbearing, LSU Purple, Brown Turkey

Pomegranates: Wonderful, Nana (dwarf)

Persimmons: Fuyu, Hachiya, Eureka, Tani Nashi

Cherries: possibly Stella (400 chill hours), possibly Early Richmond (400 chill hours)

 

Natives: Mayhaw, pawpaw, red mulberry, southern crabapple, American persimmon, chickasaw plum

Central Texas (including Austin, Temple, Killeen, San Marcos)

Apples: Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Mollie’s Delicious

Peaches: Elberta, Loring, Red Skin, June Gold, Red Barron, Belle of Georgia, Frank

Plums: Methley, Santa Rosa, Bruce, Morris, Rubrum, All red

Apricots: Blenheim, Early Golden

Nectarines: Surecrop, Karla Rose, Red Gold

Pears: Orient, Monterrey, Ayers, Warren

Figs: Brown Turkey, Celeste, LSU Purple, Alma

Pomegranate: Wonderful, dwarf

Persimmon: Fuyu, Hachiya

Cherries: Stella, Early Richmond

Natives:  pawpaw, red mulberry, southern crabapple, American persimmon, chickasaw plum

Northeast Texas (Nacogdoches, Tyler, Longview, Texarkana)

Apples: Dorsett Golden (Nacogdoches/Lufkin area), Red Delicious Yellow Delicious (Tyler/Longview and north only), Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Honeycrisp

Peaches: Elberta, Harvester, Dixieland, Frank, Red Skin

Plums: Methley, Morris, Ozark Premier, Bruce, Allred, Santa Rosa

Apricots: Blenheim, Moorpark

Nectarines: Sunglo, Red Gold, Karla Rose

Pears: Moonglow, Warren, Orient, Le Conte, Keiffer

Figs: Texas Everbearing, Brown Turkey, Celeste, LSU Purple

Pomegranate: Wonderful, Dwarf

Persimmons: Native, Fuyu, Hachiya, Eureka, Tam-o-pan, Tani Nashi

Cherries: Stella, Early Richmond, Bing (in Texarkana to Paris area only)

Natives: Mayhaw, pawpaw, red mulberry, southern crabapple, American persimmon, chickasaw plum

West Texas (El Paso, San Angelo, Midland, Odessa, [and maybe Big Bend Country])

Apples: Pink Lady, Granny Smith, Mollie’s Delicious, Dorsett Golden, Gala, Fuji,

Peaches – Harvester, Tex-Royal, Belle of Georgia, Red Skin, Dixiland,

Plums: Methley, Morris, Ozark Premeir, Rubrum, Allred, Santa Rosa

Apricots: Blenheim, Moorpark, Royal

Nectarines: Red Gold, Karla Rose

Pears: Bartlett, Orient, Perdue, Le Conte, Keiffer, Moonglow

Figs (sensitive to temps below 15 degrees for extended periods of time): Texas Everbearing, Brown Turkey, Celeste, LSU Purple

Pomegranates: Wonderful, Dwarf

Persimmons: Fuyu, Eureka, Tani Nashi, Tam-o-pan

Cherries: Bing, Black Tartarian

Natives: Red mulberry, southern crabapple, chickasaw plums, American persimmon

5 Fast and Easy Ways to Get Your Fruit Trees Ready for Winter

Winter is officially here – thanks to the winter solstice on Wednesday – and fruit trees, like other deciduous plants, are finally dormant. Even though the winter means colder temperatures and less outside work, the fruit trees in your yard, garden, or orchard will benefit from a few simple things that can be done during the winter. These activities will help the fruit trees grow and produce during the rest of the year.

 

  1. Clean up fallen fruit, leaves, and branches from around the base of the trees.

Fallen fruit, twigs, and leaves can harbor fungal spores or even insect eggs. These diseases and pest will hang out in fallen fruit or leaves over winter, and then back full force once the weather warms up in spring. By removing the overwintering location for these pests and diseases, you help break their life cycle at that particular location, reducing the instances of disease/pest recurrence.

Remove the fallen leaves/fruit/twigs by raking them from beneath the tree(s) and either bagging them for off site removal or burning them someplace on your property.

2. Mow around the base of the trees.

After the growing season, if you’re like me, there are a few (maybe more than a few?) weeds that have grown up around the base of the trees. And over winter, other weeds may appear. After the fallen fruit tree debris is removed, mow around the base of the trees, being careful to avoid injuring the tree with the mower. If the trees are smaller, the weeds can be removed by hand or with a gardening hoe.

3) Apply a layer of mulch around the trees.

After the fallen debris and weeds have been removed from beneath the fruit trees, apply a layer of mulch around the base of each tree, leaving a space of 2 inches or so from base of the tree. The mulch can be any dried, plant-based substance: compost, dried leaves, hay or straw, dried grass clippings, or pine needles. The layer of mulch can be 3-4” deep when it’s applied. The mulch will help the soil in many ways: it will provide a stable soil temperature, micronutrients, and enhance the environment for beneficial microorganisms.

4) Apply dormant oil.

Dormant oil is the generic (and somewhat antiquated) name for certain horticultural oils applied to trees and other plants while they are dormant. The winter is the time to apply dormant oil to fruit trees; it’s best not to apply horticultural oils to fruit trees after the buds break in spring. Dormant oil is an excellent option for gardeners who plan on growing fruit trees organically. Even if the trees are going to be grown organically, dormant oil reduces the insect pest population in the spring by smothering the overwintering immature stages of certain insects. Dormant oil can be purchased online or a most home improvement stores.

5) Prune trees at the correct time.

There’s a right time to prune fruit trees for every location under heaven; this time varies depending on how cold it gets for during the winter. In the southern U.S., prune fruit trees during the winter, preferably in January or early February. In the northern half of the U.S., prune in early spring, while the leaves are still off the trees and before the buds sprout. Apples, cherries, and pears should be pruned with a strong central leader; plums, peaches, and nectarines should be pruned with an open center, kind of like a bowl. Fig trees don’t need pruning, except to remove dead or diseased limbs. For an excellent tutorial on easy pruning, check out this page from Modern Farmer: http://modernfarmer.com/2015/02/right-cut/

Pruning gives you the opportunity to remove dead or diseased branches from the trees; take these off site for disposal or burn them.

Now comes the hardest part of fruit tree care in the winter….waiting for the trees to bloom in spring! 🙂