Mummy Apples

Yesterday I worked in my apple orchard removing mummified apples.
Mummy apples are apples that turn brown, shrivel and do not drop from the tree.

A Mummy Apple

A Mummy Apple

Mummy apples contribute to certain disease and fungus cycles in apple trees. Fire Blight and Bitter Rot are the two main diseases that my apple orchard is prone to.

Bitter Rot Apple

An Apple Infected With Bitter Rot

Good sanitation plays an important part of my orchard management program. Lots of orchard headaches can be avoided with careful and timely attention.

Last year I had some trouble with Bitter Rot and Fire Blight on my apple trees and our wet summer weather contributed to the problem.  But I also think the situation was made worse because I didn’t remove the old brown apples in the early part of last spring.

To stop to spread of disease it’s imperative to remove mummified fruit before the spring. When shriveled apples are removed from the trees they should be burned; and burned well away from other apple and fruit trees. That’s because smoke from burning Fire Blight limbs or dried up apples can re-infect the orchard. No sense going through the trouble of picking mummy apples off of trees just to have the trees become re-infected again.

Collecting Mummy Apples

Mummy Apples

Garden Bedding Plant Success

The other day I planted a six-pack of Romaine lettuce in my garden. I thought you might like to see how I do it.

First dig a hole and stir up the soil so that it’s crumby. The hole should be much bigger than the root system.

Plant In Hole

Plant Set Into A Large Hole

Make sure the hole is deep enough so that the plant will be set a little deeper than it was growing.
Carefully remove the plant and place it into the center of the hole. Next pour water into the hole so that it fills the hole.

Bedding Plant

Fill Hole With Water

While holding the plant upright fill in the hole with dirt. The soil should be mounded up gently but firmly around the plant so that no mud or water is visible.
I usually use a 3 prong hand cultivator to scratch the soil and back fill the hole. But a garden rake or hoe works just as well.

Romain Lettuce

Transplanted Romain Lettuce

Bedding plants transplanted by this method suffer less transplant shock and there is little chance of an air pocket to form. The water provides moisture for a few days and aids in pulling the roots down into the hole.
Happy gardening!

The Care & Feeding Of Asparagus

Asparagus care and feeding is pretty simple. Every year in mid spring the green spears of asparagus emerge from the soil ready to be picked off by hand or cut. Once an asparagus bed is established it will continue to grow for years and years in the same spot with minimal attention.


Tall Asparagus. The White Fence Post Is 48″ Tall

In my garden asparagus grow tall and healthy. I think it’s because I never weed the rows of asparagus and because the asparagus are top dressed every year with up to 8” of hardwood ashes .

Feeding Asparagus Wood Ashes

Red Arrow Points To Wood Ashes That Have Been Dumped On A Bed Of Asparagus

Hardwood ashes are a rich source of potassium and asparagus are heavy feeders of potassium.

I almost never feed the asparagus plants anything but ashes. But every 3 or 4 years or so, I’ll dump a load of well-rotted manure on top of the snow-covered beds. As the snow melts in the spring, the goodness of the manure is pulled down into the soil.
I don’t weed my asparagus beds after the first year they are put in.
Life is too short for that kind of nonsense. The beds will certainly grow weedy.

Young Asparagus In May

Young Asparagus In May

But in the fall I burn off the asparagus fronds and the weeds after a hard killing frost. It’s an easy way to maintain the beds and the asparagus seem to thrive on being burned off in the fall.
In the spring I rake out the heaps of wood ash across the beds and sprinkle a small amount of loose agricultural or livestock salt. Salting the beds helps to keep the weeds down before the first asparagus spears appear and gives a month or two of perfect weed control.


Borage – A Popular And Beautiful Potherb

Borage is an annual herb with coarse hairy leaves and stems. It grows between 2 to 3 feet tall and often spreads as wide.
Borage (Borago officinalis) is also known as “starflower” and is sometimes called “bee bread”. That’s because of the sky-blue star shaped flowers and because borage is a bee magnet.

Borage In Early Summer

Borage Growing In A Small Kitchen Herb Garden In Early Summer

The honey made from borage flowers has a reputation for being very fine and tasty. Many people plant borage in the vegetable garden for pollination purposes.

I grow borage in my herb garden mainly for the beautiful flowers. I like the color blue and if you ask me you can’t get enough good blues in either the flower or herb garden.

Borage Flower

A Star Shaped Borage Flower

Borage is considered to be a “potherb”.
If you don’t already know, a potherb is a plant whose leaves, stems or flowers are cooked and eaten, or used fresh to season food. Fresh mint is considered to be a potherb. Kale, spinach, beet greens and many other leafy plants are examples of potherbs that are usually cooked.


Borage Plant

At one time fresh borage flowers were preserved by being candied and during the middle ages wine was infused with borage to banish gloominess and melancholy.

Back in the 1960s it was popular to freeze the star-shaped blue flowers into ice cubes to make pretty summertime drinks. Borage flowers have a slight cucumber like taste and are used in small amounts in summer salads to impart a little zest, zing and beautiful color.
In the last few years or so, there has been interest in borage seed oil.  Borage seed oil contains gamma-linolenic (GLA) and appears to have mild anti-inflammatory effect. Borage seed oil is soothing to eczema, seborrheic dermatitis and other skin disorders and is a source of prostaglandins used to treat menstrual disorders.

Borage is easy to grow in the garden. It prefers to be directly sown and thrives in a dry and sunny location. Borage readily self-sows and comes up every year from the seeds that were dropped from the previous year. Flowers are picked as they open and leaves are harvested fresh.

How To Propagate Plants By Stem Cuttings

One of the fastest and easiest ways to reproduce certain types of plants is by a method known as “stem cuttings”, “truncheon(s)” “striking” or “cloning”.

It is an asexual method of plant propagation that usually requires only a small leafy section of stem from one parent plant. When the stem section from a parent plant is properly prepared and subject to the right conditions, it will grow roots and becomes an independent plant and clone of the parent.

Plant propagation by stem cuttings is a foundation homestead skill that is fun, economical and very easy to learn. Once you acquire the art and skill to clone a plant from a stem cutting, a large part of the plant world becomes your playground. You might even find yourself carrying a pocket knife and a plastic bag everywhere you go.
What’s more, if you have a “green thumb” and are so inclined, the propagation of plants by stem cuttings can become the underpinning for a very lucrative home based business.

However a few words of caution. Some plants are patented protected so take care not to break patent laws by offering a patented plant for sale. If the patented plant is propagated for your own use and not for commercial gains there is usually not a patent protection problem or issue.

What follows below is a brief list of some of the herbs, flowers and shrubs that I have propagated by stem cutting.

Roses  (my favorite) Rosemary Rose of Sharon
English Ivy Mint African Violets
Chrysanthemums Lavender Poinsettia
Blueberry Scented Geraniums Gardenia
Elderberry Thyme Forsythia
Holly Yew Lemon Verbena
Wisteria Lilac Jasmine
Bay Laurel (not 100% successful) Mock Orange Rhododendron

The above list is by no means a complete list of what can be propagated by stem cutting. Hundreds of different varieties of plants, herbs, shrubs and trees can be propagated by the home gardener. I would encourage you to visit other gardening websites or forums to see the various types of plants that other people have reproduced in their gardens.

Here’s What You’ll Need To Get Started
When it comes to reproducing new plants from stem cuttings not too much is needed in the way of special equipment. Most of what is required can be found around the homestead or in a garden shed.
The method I use employs:

  • A Parent Plant
  • The Months of May, June, July, August & September
  • A Clean Pot
  • Sterile Potting Soil
  • A Wide-Mouth Canning Jar
  • A Small Knife
  • Garden Pruners
  • A Watering Can
  • A Semi-Shady Location
  • Honey
  • Patience

Choosing the Parent Plant
Basically there are 4 distinct types of cuttings or truncheons because there are many types of plants. The four different types are: herbaceous cuttings, soft wood cuttings, semi-hardwood cuttings and hardwood cuttings.
The type of cutting and the timing for the propagation depend upon the plant. That’s because not all plants have the same growing habits or needs.
A simple comparison for example: A spider plant (indoor herbaceous plant) will start to grow roots much faster than boxwood (semi-hardwood outdoor shrub). The spider plant doesn’t favor a certain season to be reproduced by cloning but the boxwood most certainly does. An understanding of the growth habits of the plant you want to reproduce helps to insure greater propagation success.
I have found that the very easiest plants to reproduce are usually herbaceous plants and soft wood shrubs. Many houseplants and some outdoor plants are quickly propagated by simply cutting a leaf or a branch and inserting it into a vase or jar of water on a bright or sunny window sill. African violets, pussy willow, mint, begonia, coleus, roses, philodendron, sweet basil and many more, can all be started this way. The down side of rooting a stem cutting in water is that the roots are often very brittle and will break or degrade when planted in soil.
A much better way to start stem cuttings is by properly preparing the stem cutting and planting it into sterile soil.

Here’ One Way To Root Stem Cuttings

I cloned a few “Yellow Submarine” rose bushes last summer by way of stem cuttings.The basic principle is the same for all soft wood cuttings – not just roses. I wanted roses but blueberry bushes, pussy willow, trumpet vines, boxwood, juniper, jasmine and hundreds of other plants can be started the way you’ll see below.

Very thorny modern landscape roses like “Yellow Submarine” or “Knockout”; or old-fashion roses or heritage roses like “Comte de Chambord “, “Zephirine Drouhin” or “Dorothy Perkins” will have a high success rate (I get about 70% -80%) when propagating by stem cuttings.
But not all roses or other plants will have the same success rate so it’s important to be prepared for failure and some losses. But also be prepared to be pleasantly surprised.  More than once I’ve had a 100% success rate. A lot depends upon the plant and weather conditions and a gardener’s attentiveness.

To begin the “Yellow Submarine” rose-bush propagation I collected and prepared ahead of time six clean plastic pots filled with sterile soil and six 2-quart Mason jars.  Stem cuttings need lots of humidity and moisture in order to grow roots. The Mason jars are placed over the cuttings and act like little green houses. The Mason jars are removed after the stem cutting has begun to grow its own roots and is well started.
I collected the stem pieces for the roses in the morning hours during the middle of June.

Parent Bush

Parent Bush – A Yellow Submarine Rose

That’s because I wanted stem cuttings that were actively growing soft wood. Early summer is perfect for that type of growth and the early morning hours will most often find plant stems turgid and well hydrated.
Active growing soft wood is very firm and will have mature opened leaves and leaves that are still immature.
When I take stem cuttings I try to find sections from the bush or plant that have branching off shoots or a “v” type notch in the stem. The section on the stem where the off shoot branch or “v” notch is located contains specialized cells or growth nodes that will readily root the stem section once it is properly prepared.

Side Branch Stem Cutting

A Stem Cutting With a Side Branch Notch

With roses I cut about a 6”-12” section from the parent plant. The section must have healthy leaves and no flowers or flower buds. That because the plant’s energy should go towards root formation and not to flower production.

When collecting the stem cuttings I place and hold them in a bucket of water in the shade while I work. It’s important that the stems don’t dry out or become stressed in any way.

Bucket Of Stem Cuttings

Stem Cuttings Are Held In A Bucket Of Water So That They Don’t Dry Out

When I’m ready to begin the preparation of the stem cuttings I work in the shade with a knife and a small bowl of honey.

Cutting, Honey & Pruners

Honey For Stem Cutting For Roses

Each rose stem cutting is stripped of about two-thirds of its leaves and all thorns along the stem are removed. With the knife about a 2” section of green is gently scrape away until the white part of the stem is exposed. I also pierce the stem with the knife. Where the stem has been scraped and pierced is where the roots will form.

Scraped & Pierced

The Stem Of A Rose Plant Cutting Is Pierced & Scraped To Expose The Cells Needed To Grow Roots

After the stem has been scraped, I dip or coat the entire exposed and scraped section of the stem in honey. Many people will use rooting hormone powder instead of honey. The rooting powder crowd insists that it works better than honey but I’ve never noticed any difference. If anything, I think the honey works better because it has antiseptic properties, sticks to the stem better and gives the stem cutting cells a little extra sugar.

Dipped In Honey

Cutting Dipped In Honey To Help Grow Roots

Once the stem cutting has been scraped, pierced and dipped into honey it is inserted into very wet and sterile potting soil and gently tamped into place. The stem cutting is placed most of the way into the soil up with about a 1″- 4″ distance from the first remaining leaves.

Newly Planted

The Stem Cutting Is Planted Into A Pot

After the cutting has been planted, a Mason jar is placed firmly over the cutting leaving plenty of head room. The pot is then flooded with water and  moved to a semi-shaded location for about 8-12 weeks.

Newly Planted Stem Cutting

Day 1 – A Newly Planted Stem Cutting with A Mason Jar

I keep my stem cuttings on top of an old well with a hand pump for watering convenience. It is important that the soil around the cuttings stay moist but overly not wet. Don’t let them dry out too much or they may die.

Rose Cuttings

Rose Cuttings In The Semi-Shade

It takes on average about 3 to 9 weeks for rose cutting to begin to grow roots. I will usually start to check for roots about week 4 or 5.

Roots Are Growing

Small Roots Are Beginning To Grow On The Cutting

Once root growth has commenced I remove the Mason jar for a few hours during the day so that the baby plant can grow accustomed to normal air circulation. If at any time the newly developed plant starts to look stressed or wilted I will replaced the Mason jar for another week or so. Also if any flower buds begin to form I will remove them so the new plant conserves its energy and puts effort into growing leaves and roots.

Establised Cutting

Mason Jars Are Removed Once The Cuttings Become Established

With the “Yellow Submarine” rose stem cuttings I started last June, good sturdy roots were developed by the end of August.
By the end of October they had formed a respectable root mass and were transplanted from their pots into the garden next to their parents.

Root Ball

The Root System On A 12 Week Old Rose Bush

Out of the six stem cuttings that I made all but one grew roots. I lost three by continually digging them up by the roots to take pictures.
*** 2 years later ***
The cuttings all became beautiful and healthy landscape roses. They were dug up and given away when I decided to make my rose garden smaller.

Yellow Roses

Yellow Roses Grown From A Cutting

Kitchen Herb Garden

I keep a small kitchen herb garden right off my front porch. It’s a convenient location. While I’m cooking if I need fresh parsley, basil, sage, rosemary, mint or any other herb, it’s just a quick trip out the door.

Kitchen herb gardens that backup to a house or any other building, in general do best when facing south. That’s because a southern exposure usually insures full sun and keeps the herbs out of the shade or shadows.

Kitchen Herb Garden

Kitchen Herb Garden

Most kitchen herbs require very average to poor soil and lots of sunshine to be healthy and vigorous. About 8 to 12 hours of sun a day is best for most common garden herbs. The exceptions that I can think of are the various types of mints, lemon balm and sometimes sweet woodruff.

Sweet Woodruff

Sweet Woodruff

Those herbs will do quite well in a moist, semi-shaded location. Mints thrive in dappled sunlight and in rich, loamy soil. In my herb garden I keep a path made of flat stones to help keep my feet dry and clean while I gather herbs or work in the garden.
Now that fall is here it is easy to see the configuration of the herb garden. During the summer months the basic structure of the garden is hidden under all the plant growth.

Kitchen Herb Garden

Herb Garden In November

How & When To Pick Pears

In my corner of the world, this year has been a good year for pears. I have only two pear trees in my small orchard but they are among my personal favorites. The trees are fairly young trees and were planted within the last 7 years or so.
One tree is a red Anjou and the other is a Bartlett (sometimes known as a Williams’s pear). The red Anjou tree is still immature and has only begun to set fruit within the last 2 years. The Bartlett tree matured more quickly and has been producing fruit dependably for the last 3 or 4 years. Both trees were set back by heavy deer damage when they were 1 year whips and 2 year olds.  After we finally put a deer proof fence around the orchard they grew much better.

Bartlett Pears

Bartlett Pears On Tree

This year the Bartlett tree was so loaded with pears that the top leader limb of the tree snapped from the weight of fruit. I regret that I wasn’t paying enough attention to the pear trees and should have thinned some of the fruit off the Bartlett tree in June to help relieve the weight. No permanent damage was done to the tree, but next spring special care will be taken when pruning it.
Pears unlike apples are best picked while they are still slightly immature. The finest quality pears for fresh eating or for home canning are pears that are ripen off the tree.

A pear that is allowed to ripen on a tree often has a mealy texture and a soft or mushy core. That’s because pears tend to ripen from the inside out. Often when a pear looks soft, ripe and ready on the tree, the interior is usually on its way to rotten.
A pear is ready to be picked when it will snap away from the tree while being lifted up towards the sky.

Picking Pears

Picking a Pear That’s Ready For Harvest

To ripen fresh picked pears, place them in a cool dark location like a cellar.
If you don’t have a root cellar and only need to ripen a few pears, place the pears in a brown paper bag with a ripe apple or banana. The ripening apple or banana gives off ethylene gas which will stimulate the  ripening of the pears. Pears are ready for canning and for fresh eating when the flesh around the stem area gives slightly under firm pressure.

Do You Know Which Way Vines Grow?

It’s an interesting natural phenomenon that 92% of all vines and plants that twist and climb, do so in a counterclockwise direction.
People living in the northern hemisphere at one time believed that vines growing in the northern hemisphere twisted and grew in a counterclockwise direction; and that vines growing in the southern hemisphere twisted and grew in a clockwise direction.
But folks living in the southern hemisphere believed that their vines grew counterclockwise; and vines growing in the northern hemisphere grew and spiraled in a clockwise direction.

Vine Growing Counter Clockwise

Morning Glory Growing With a Counter Clockwise Twist

Turns out folks in both hemispheres were wrong. It was an incorrect notion based in part on a misinterpretation of the Coriolis effect.

Plant scientist Angela Moles disproved the idea  of vine hemispheric twining orientation and put the argument to rest after she spent 2 years traveling the world and visiting 75 different ecosystems. She observed 13,000 plant species in such diverse locations as the Congo, China, Patagonia, South Africa; the temperate forests of America, Panama, Sweden, Zambia and Norway.

Ms. Moles expected that vines would follow the direction of the sun and was surprised by her own observations,
“I thought we were going to see mostly clockwise plants in the northern hemisphere, and mostly anticlockwise plants in the southern hemisphere. This is what you would expect if the tips of the vines were tracking the apparent movement of the sun across the sky while they were on the sunny side of the tree trunk they are climbing.”
Ms. Moles noticed that while most vines at each study location were twisting and growing counterclockwise, she found some that curled to the right in a clockwise direction.
“Sometimes all the clockwise ones were of a particular species, but some species have both left-handed and right-handed individuals.”
Plant scientists now theorize that the reason plants disregard the Coriolis effect may be a function of a left-handed bias of all biological molecules in nature.
Pretty interesting stuff.

Morning Glory Vines

Morning Glory Vines Growing Up String

Cut Scapes For Bigger Garlic

Here’s a simple trick for bigger garlic bulbs. Cut the scape from the garlic plant before it begins to mature and produce bulblets.  A scape is the immature flower of a garlic plant.
All varieties of garlic will produce a scape, but only the hard neck Rocambole type will produce a scape that curls.

Cut Scape For Bigger Garlic

Garlic At The End Of June

The curl of the stem is the reason Rocambole garlic is sometimes called “Serpent Garlic“.
Yesterday I cut the tops off of my garlic so that it would produce a bigger bulb.

Garlic Scape

Garlic Scapes Collected After Cutting Them Off The Garlic Plants

By cutting the scapes, the plant’s energy will go to the bulb and not to the flowers and will enable it to produce the biggest possible bulb.


Foxgloves are blooming along the hill in the pasture beneath my house.
They are escapees from my flower garden from a time long ago when I used to grow them. I’ve often thought about moving a few of them back into my flower garden, but I don’t do it because they could never look as beautiful confined to a flower bed as they look blooming wild.


Foxgloves Blooming Wild

Foxgloves are a biennial plant but they self-sow so readily that they act like a perennial. They grow to between 3′ to 5′ tall and will flower the second year.
The leaves of the plant are the source of the heart medicine digitalis (Digoxin) which is used to treat heart failure, atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter. Foxgloves came to the attention of modern western medicine in 1775. It seems that an English physician named William Withering had a patient with congestive heart failure.

Dr. Withering gave up all hope for his patient and sent him home to die. A short time later the good doctor discovered that a woman folk healer had completely healed his patient with a concoction of about 20 different herbs. Dr. Withering investigated the story and ascertained that foxgloves (digitalis) was the herb that had saved the man’s life.

Fox Gloves

The Bell Shaped Flowers Of Common Foxgloves

In small doses digitalis is a life saver. But in larger doses it can be deadly. Digitalis increases the contraction of the heart but can also increase blood pressure to dangerously high levels. Foxgloves sometimes acts as a diuretic and at one time was used to treat skin inflammations.

All parts of the plant are toxic. Hence digitalis is also known as Witches’ Gloves and Dead Men’s Bells.