Mary Cook

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since Jan 27, 2015
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Recent posts by Mary Cook

Barbara, I freeze persimmon pulp after extracting the seeds; I cook with it mostly rather than eating it raw, but that's partly due to digestive issues--not wanting to risk contamination of ones I pick off the ground. My neighbor freezes whole fruits, he just picks off the cap and tail and puts them in a bag in the freezer. These are grafted, large seedless ones. He likes to smash a persimmon between bread with peanut butter.
1 week ago
I live in West Virginia (which I do have posted next to my name, because I agree, I often want to know that to put a post in context). Here, persimmons prefer to grow on ridges, so if you are in the bottom you might not have any wild ones. But a transplanted one would likely thrive. As for germinating seeds, perhaps they need cold scarification. When I separate the seeds (and caps and tails--that little thing sticking out the blossom end) I've learned not to throw the wad in my compost, because persimmons are very difficult to eradicate--they send down taproots which often angle off to the side. So you need to transplant them very young.
1 week ago
Derek--I've sure noted that phenomenon with advice books about livestock! I'd never have gotten chickens if I'd read the books first. I'm reading one now that talks about four kinds of worms, five kinds of external parasites and a few diseases and suggests checking each chicken daily. Another one listed even more diseases and gave instructions for doing an autopsy if one dies--I am NOT doing amateur chicken autopsies!
1 week ago
My wild trees may be fifty feet tall; one has had several hundred fruits on it some years. They don't bear well every year. The ones growing in woods have a long trunk with the top way up high, like a lollipop; the ones in my  clearing have touchable lowest branches. They have been in the clear for at least fifty years. Yes it's a very different climate; we get deeper cold in winter but more heat in summer. Moschata squash grow well, maximas don't, probably because of borers (we normally get rain evenly through the year). We don't have hot nights here--I'm at 1000'--but typical summer nights are in the 60s. I've noticed that most of the grafted trees are more rounded in shape, although there is one grafted 40 years ago that never sets all that many fruits, but they're all large--its crown is way up there. Several different cultivars are involved but I don't know who is which. I've wondered if the Asian-American hybrids would survive here and bear well. Do they have seeds?
1 week ago
I'm copying this response, John, to send my neighbor who will find it of interest. Thanks!
1 week ago
"Native American persimmon." But there is Diospyros virginia--which grows wild around here, and prefers ridges--and apparently there is also a Texas species, and I've read that the reason the grafted trees bear much bigger, seedless or near seedless fruit is that the two species don't have the same number of chromosomes. I've wondered whether males are needed for the wild ones to fruit though--apparently not so maybe I should remove most of them. I don't know anything about the Texas species.
In my experience a tree flowers at something like 8 to 10 years--the cream-colored flowers are not hard to see, in early June here, but the gender difference is a bit subtle, The thing to do if they turn up male is to graft a female cultivar onto them, not the wild ones but a named variety that will yield bigger, seedless fruit. The wild ones, of the virginiana species anyway, are the size of golf balls and loaded with seeds. I've found no easier way to deseed them than to pick through them by hand, and I wind up with equal size piles of seeds (and what I call tails, and caps) and usable pulp. My two big wild trees often yield huge quantities of fruit...but the tradeoff is the deseeding, and the fact that I have to wait for the fruit to fall and then risk contamination from the ground (on the other hand, fallen fruit is ripe and what you pick may still be astringent). These two trees are growing in heavy clay with dubious drainage in one case...doesn't bother them.
I had a seedling in front of the house, that we ran over twice while building the house...I didn't remove it because it had an elegant shape, and recovered so well from being run over. When it flowered, it was male...so we grafted it, and it is now my most reliable tree, though still fairly small. It also shades my greenhouse some, which is not ideal--at least in spring--but it earns its place with its fruit. Maybe eventually it will get big enough that I can remove all the lower branches so it will shade only the roof of the greenhouse, which is solid anyway, tin, because of hickories dropping their hard nuts.
1 week ago
I had read that you should isolate black raspberries (no mention of whether they're wild) isolated from other raspberries because of a virus they carry, never that you shouldn't put blackberries and raspberries together. And 500 feet is unrealistic for most people. But here's my experience:
I never used to plant either because there are a lot of wild blackberries and raspberries, they're mostly unhealthy and unproductive, and I figured they'd give the diseases to my plants. But then I saw my neighbor's highly productive red raspberries, and got starts from him. These are everbearing, that is, they put out a little fruit halfway up the canes that bore last year if you don't cut them all to 6" in fall; then, starting in August they bear until it frosts, even if that is November 1st. Unfortunately I don't know the variety name as my neighbor doesn't pay attention to that. Over the last 14 years, I've moved my patch twice--this seems to benefit them. Each time I gave away quite a few extras, including to the neighbor I'd originally gotten them from. Propagating them is actually easier than the previous poster said--no need to bother with trenching and layering, they do it themselves, just dig up the extras that are in your pathways.
So a few years ago, I decided to try thornless blackberries as my neighbor was doing well with them, but someone else offered me starts from her huge plants. I put them next to the new raspberry patch. It takes them three years to produce. After three years, they were productive, but the berries were extremely sour, so I ripped them out and replaced them with starts from my neighbor. Last year was the first year they flowered--but the berries withered and turned black before ripening, all of them. By then they were actually partly interwoven with the raspberries, but the raspberries were productive as usual, unaffected. I got no response to my query to the Extension about what could have caused that--it was a drought year, but that didn't affect the raspberries, and the blackberries were ripening in July, the only month that had normal rainfall. Maybe it was the dread virus you read about. I'll have to see what happens this year. Incidentally, the neighbor had the two about ten feet apart and never had this problem.
1 week ago
Well Sean, must be nice to have a plan for IF you get disease in your tomatoes, I get it every year, for which reason I don't save seed from tomatoes. Mostly early blight and sometimes late blight. I've learned how to get enough tomatoes for the 50 quarts of tomato sauce I like to can each year--grow mostly resistant varieties and several kinds so I get plenty of fruit for a month or two, and then dwindling amounts for salsa. Tomato disease is my most intractable gardening problem (unless it's the squirrels stealing my tree fruit). Some years I get disease in my peppers too.
Yes, sunflowers can be allelopathic, so can fennel and also rye, so after killing the rye, when used as a cover crop, you're supposed to wait three weeks to plant small seeds--but you can transplant bigger plants in right away, especially if you planted the rye in rows so you don't have to remove the dying plants to put their successors in. I've read that some tomato growers like to do this as the allelopathic quality of the rye gives the tomatoes a head start on weeds.
Jim, soil amendments depend on what you can get your hands on, and your soil's needs. For example, my soil is clay, and I add both organic matter and sand. Sand is controversial--there's a whole thread here about that--but it works for me. Compost is always good. In addition to the two bins above my garden, and one pile at the top of each other garden, I have several piles of half rotted logs, branches etc in the woods, which take longer to compost but eventually do--and I dump urine on these piles in a rotating sequence (most of the nitrogen and phosphorus we void is in the urine, and it's sterile, so this is great for kickstarting a slow  compost). We also have humanure but that goes on the fruit trees, and if there's any left, the flowerbed.
I also use a fair amount of leafmold. I gather leaves from most of our mile-long lane in the fall, shred them, and fill three wire bins. Shredded leaves take a year to turn into leafmold; unshredded leaves take two years. I keep a map where I mark what crops I have in each bed, and use colored pencils to mark amendments--so I determined that if anything, the crops like leafmold even better than compost.
Manure is good, but if you use it excessively, can lead to very high phosphorus. Rabbit, sheep, goat and alpaca manure are richer than cow, horse or chicken manure, yet can be used sooner. The latter should compost six months before use.
Other amendments depend on what's available to you, If you can get a load of wood chips, they make a lovely mulch after a couple of years of composting. If there is crop residue in your area, or from some kin d of organic processing like spent hops and barley from beermaking, or spent coffee grounds from a cafe, those are good but may have pesticide residues if the crop was not organic. There are questions about the sustainability of peat, but peat moss is the best way to reduce the pH of your soil, for blueberries or if your soil is alkaline naturally (or you can scatter sulfur or gypsum). If your soil is too acidic, lime or wood ashes will raise it, and tend to loosen clay soil as well.
I'm going to attempt a comprehensive answer even though you don't say where you are--could be important--or what cover crop you have in mind.
I am in West Virginia, zone 6. I have two gardens with permanent beds, all of them 12 feet long and varying between 2 and 4 1/2 feet wide. I pooh pooh the "grow perennials" suggestion--there are few perennial vegetables (unless maybe you live in California--pretty mu ch all fruits are perennial, but that doesn't help with vegetables.
Here, onions come out about July 1st so it works to plant them around the edges of vine  crops like summer squash or melons. But my carrots need at least another month and would be drowning under the vines. Actually, I plant my carrots in two beds in rows across the bed, alternating with onions--the onions go in in March, and are up marking the rows when I plant carrots in April. I once read this allows each to repel the fly that bothers the others--I don't know but it seemed I got better crops after I started doing this so I still do. But we eat a lot of onions so I also plant a solid bed of onions, and usually a few tucked into the corners of beds with slow crops. Sometimes I plant garlic in the fall in a grid pattern: a double row down the middle of the bed, then short rows across the bed, so that in the spring I can put tomatoes, peppers or sweet potatoes in the spaces between, and the garlic or onions come out just when the rampant crops needs the space.
I believe in crop rotation unless your garden is so tiny it makes no difference--but the permanent bed system makes it more meaningful. And I have three garden spaces a  couple of hundred feet apart. This, by the way, is useful for two reasons--one is effective rotation of disease-prone crops (tomatoes and peppers for me, mainly, tho I have had problems with cercospora on chard and feathery mosaic disease on sweet potatoes. The only insect I have significant trouble with is the two kinds of worms on brassicas, which show up every year, repeatedly. The best solutions there are tulle fabric (netting) over the crop if you can find a frame work big enough, and Bt--bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally occurring bacteria that kills soft-bodied bugs. I have enough weeds, and I allow several wild, ornamental plants to grow in my garden--mullein, butterfly weed, yarrow--that the predator bugs and pollinators are content and effective.
One issue with cover crops is that they are mostly used over winter but you seem to be saying you'll grow them NOW. You also mentioned winterkilled crops; living roots in the soil all winter is better for the soil health, but a winterkilled type makes sense for a spot you pan to put an early crop, which wouldn't get any spring growth before you turn it under and plant. Daikon radishes are good to plant once in each area, because they drill down into the subsoil, then die around 15 or 20 degrees, leaving a bit of organic matter extending into the subsoil. Especially good for subsoil.
I mostly use hairy vetch and winter peas in my main gardens, because they're easy to rip out in spring. Rye and wheat do a better job of building biomass in the soil, but if you dig them out in spring, it's hassle to try to shake the dirt out of the roots, especially if you have clay soil like I do. However, if you wait until they're shedding pollen, about the start of June here, you can cut them and almost all will die and you can plant a couple weeks later. So I generally have a bed or two in one of those, with plans for a late crop--some kind of beans, or peanuts, a fast melon...to follow.
One of my gardens is left flat, and tilled once or twice a year. That's where I grow corn and sorghum. I try to get rye and vetch in there in fall, before the corn/sorghum is harvested so it gets a decent start--then I don't have to till in fall.
I've never used  commercial fertilizer--my clay soil is often a pain to work with, but it's rich in nutrients, deficient only in sulfur. I try to put an inch of some organic matter everywhere every year--compost, leafmold, manure, maybe woodrot; and use mulch, mostly hay, almost everywhere.