Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Grafting My Apple Tree

The apple tree

I wanted to get those scions on the trees before they die off, so I worked on the apple tree today. Currently, the apple tree is dormant and has no leaves at all. I am not sure what kind of apple tree it is. It produces small to medium size green sweet apples in the summer. I got 3 different varieties of apple scions at Scion Exchange - Fuji, Royal Gala, and Summer Red. I picked these three just because they are red apples and low-chill varieties. My friend, Bethallyn, gave me the pointers as I arrived at the Scion Exchange. Hopefully I will have both green and red apples in the future.

Making a clean cut at an angle

Before I started cutting the branches, I wiped my clippers with alcohol to avoid contamination since I am going to be attaching scions to the openings. I made a clean cut at an angle on the tree and did the same to the ends of scions. The idea here is to maximize the contact between the tree and the scions.

Making clean cuts and an angle on the scions

Using a sharp blade (also wiped with alcohol), I made a few slits on the apple branch just enough to peel back the tree bark a bit and slide in the scions. Since I was doing this all by myself, I couldn't make a nice video clip for you. If you are interested in seeing how this is done in greater details, check out "How To Graft A Fruit Tree" on Youtube. After the scions were in place, I wrapped the connecting areas with grafting tape. I used the candle again to cover all the openings with wax to prevent the branches and scions from drying out.

Tomorrow I shall work on the cherry tree.

grafting the scions onto the tree

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Rooting Morus Alba Mulberry Scions

placing some rocks over those big holes in the bottom of the pot

A few days ago, I took home a bunch of scions from Scion Exchange. I got some time today to get started on the Morus alba mulberry scions. According to Wikipedia, Morus alba also known as white mulberry, is a short-lived, fast-growing, small to medium sized mulberry tree, which grows to 10–20 m tall. The species is native to northern China, and is widely cultivated and naturalized elsewhere. It is also known as Tuta in Sanskrit and Tuti in Marathi.

The white mulberry is widely cultivated to feed the silkworms employed in the commercial production of silk. It is also notable for the rapid release of its pollen, which is launched at over half the speed of sound.

When I was a kid, I was always looking for mulberry trees in the neighborhood so I could go pick the leaves for my silkworms. It was fun to watch the silkworms eating the leaves, getting bigger, and finally spitting out silk and wrapping themselves in silk cocoons. However, when they came out as moths, I thought they were scary looking.

budding nods are pointing up

I started with placing some rocks over those big holes in the bottom of the one gallon planter. Those holes are so big that if I don't cover them up, the soil would just leak out as I try to fill it up. After I placed the rocks over all 5 holes, I started filling it up with potting soil.

I used a candle to drip some wax on the top openings of the scions to prevent them from drying out while they try to root. Make sure that you have the scions' top ends pointing up before you start sealing the tops. You can tell which end is the top by looking at the bud nodes. The bud nodes should point up.

The tops of scions are sealed with a layer of wax to prevent drying out

I was then ready to treat the ends of the scions. I dipped each one in water first then dipped in the rooting hormone powder, which you can get from any nursery even Home Depot. I tapped each scion to remove excess rooting hormone and then stuck them into the soil in the pot.  This is exactly what the volunteer at Scion Exchange told me to do. I watered the soil so that it was fully moistened, then I sprayed the scions with a water bottle. I left the pot on the propagation table since it's misted every morning. We will now wait and see whether they will start to grow.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Growing Broccoli DeCicco

A few days ago I mentioned about gathering those broccoli DeCicco seeds, and I did it. If you let the broccoli heads bloom, each little yellow flower will turn into a seed pod. You just leave them and let the seed pods dry up completely (no longer green) on the broccoli stalks. You can then clip off a bunch of them and break them open to collect the seeds. Depending on the pod's size, you can collect anywhere from 4-8 seeds in each pod.

I think the yellow flowers are quite pretty, and the bees love them as you can see from the photos. I love bees since they are essential for honey, so I leave plenty of broccoli flowers for them. Do you see the pollen sacks on the bees' legs in the photos?

I use a Canon PowerShot SD550 to shoot photos for my blog. It's not a fancy camera, so I have to get very close to the bees in order to take closeup shots. A year ago, I would not have done that for fear of getting stung by the bees. I have definitely overcame that fear.

Many of the seed pods have cracked open when they dried up, and the seeds were dispersed. There are many seedlings growing around the original broccoli now; however, I think pill bugs or some other bugs have been nibbling on the young leaves. I will plant a few in cell packs perhaps in the greenhouse to assure they grow up nicely. They are quite hardy, and I have learned that they do best in well drained soil.

The seeds have dispersed and germinated on their own

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Scion Exchange

My friend, Joseph, sent me a note via Facebook asking me whether I would be going to Scion Exchange on Saturday. What? What is Scion Exchange? I Googled for it and found its website immediately - Scion Exchange is an event organized by The California Rare Fruit Growers (CRFG). It is a non-profit organization headquartered at California State University, Fullerton, with chapters throughout the State of California (and elsewhere) and with members throughout the world. The members of the CRFG are professionals and amateurs all dedicated to the propagation of unusual fruits and vegetables, the acquisition and spread of knowledge about these plants and the enjoyment in doing so.

WHEN:       12 noon to 3:00 PM, Saturday, January 22, 2011
WHERE:     First Baptist Church,
4555 Hilltop Drive, El Sobrante, CA

You can find the best varieties of fruit to grow!
•Hundreds of varieties of scions (fruit wood) to graft onto your own trees, including:
  apples, pears, quince, plums, peaches, nectarines, apricots, cherries, and more. . . 
•Cuttings to root: grapes, figs, pomegranate, kiwi fruit, mulberries, and more. . . •Rootstocks and grafting supplies   
•Grafting class and demo 12:30 and 1:30      
•Custom and assisted grafting of your selected variety onto a rootstock 
•Local Fruit Friendly organizations      
•Questions answered, secrets revealed. . . 
•$4 donation to enter

This sounded very interesting, and Hilltop is pretty close to El Cerrito. I arrived at the event around 12:30, and the parking lot and surrounding streets were filled with cars. People were flocking to the exchange!

Grafting onto a rootstock

In the courtyard, there was a fruit vendor selling various citrus fruits and yam. They all looked home grown. I tried a couple pieces of oranges, and they were quite good. Next to the entrance of the event, a crowd gathered to have their twigs grafted onto a rootstock. I turned around, and there was my friend, Bethallyn, from Master Ken's class last year! She has an urban farm complete with chickens in Walnut Creek that I must go visit sometime. I need to schedule a time with her to go over there.

When I entered the room where the exchange was held, I was amazed by how enthusiastic people were over all the twigs! I have never seen anything like it. I know they are not just twigs. They are twigs with the potential to turn into trees and grow awesome sweet fruits for years and years to come and possibly graft onto other trees and continue to grow for eternity. This is what fascinates me about plants - their ability to keep on regenerating, something animals are not very good at.

There was a display of "exotic fruits." I recognized many of them being tropical fruits, since I am originally from the sub-tropics. What really caught my eyes was the passion fruit. I had some fresh passion fruit at my friend's homestead farm in Oakland. They were good but small in compare to what I remember as a kid in the tropics. The one on display in the photo above is the "normal" size that I remember. Can you find it?

There were many volunteers talking to people on how to graft. Master Ken was there, too! Many of Master Ken's students were there picking twigs as well.

Master Ken has covered the topic of how to graft in his classes, but I have never actually done it. Now I have the perfect opportunity to do it. I picked some apple, peach, cherry, plum, and mulberry twigs to take home. I don't have a plum tree, so I am going to try grafting the plum twigs onto my peach tree. I have a non-producing cherry tree. By grafting the scions, it might grow cherries in the future. One of the volunteers convinced me to take some Morus alba mulberry scions because they are very easy to root according to her.

I took some of Eileen's scions because the photos and description she included caught my eyes. Her tree is in El Cerrito practically just down the street from Sand Village Farm. I don't know if I'll be successful in preserving her beloved plum tree on my peach tree, but I have her number and I'd like to help her eat some of those 5000 plums!

Eileen's quest to save her plum tree

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Oops, I am in Business!

From time to time, people ask me whether I have plants or mushrooms for sale. I often have extra vegetable seedlings since I always plant more just in case. Over the years I have given away many seedlings and seeds of tomatoes, onions, radishes, sweet basil, snow peas, etc. to anyone who was interested as my way of promoting "grow your own."

Lately people have been asking about candy caps, the amazing dessert mushroom that smells like maple syrup. Just by chance, I happened to have picked a large amount of candy caps and replenished my reserve to experiment for the rest of the year.

Candy caps in their natural environment

I love going out to pick wild mushrooms. If I don't find anything, it's a nice hike in the woods. Anything I find is just icing on the cake. If I come upon a field of good edible mushrooms, it's like finding a field of hidden treasure. It turns me back to a kid in an instant!

I agreed to sell some of my candy caps for the first time. I packed up some dried candy caps in zip lock bags, weighed them, packaged them and shipped them out to my customers. This sounds like such a cliché, but I truly handle everyone of my mushrooms with joy and care. I am happy that they are going to people who really wanted them.

Last night I noticed people are searching for broccoli Deccio seeds and seedlings. I should go pack up some of those seeds and get some seedlings to grow. Broccoli Deccio is so delicious and not particularly hard to grow. I don't know why they are not common around here.

Set the temperature no higher than 140 F. I set mine at 135 degrees.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Brother and Sister in-law came over for a new year's visit. They just came back from Disney World and brought me a bunch of gifts and took me out for lunch. As a tradition, we had Asian hot pot together. I was the first one to give up on eating as usual.

After we got back to the farm, I showed them the Shiitake mushrooms and Daikon radishes. I pulled 3 radishes and a couple onions for them to take home.

I spent the rest of afternoon cutting back a bunch of dead basil and tomato. That was when I noticed this little green cocoon on the tomato cage. I almost knocked it off as an instinct then I suddenly noticed how perfectly shaped it is. It's got two rows of little spikes on its back and two strands of silk holding it to the wire tomato cage. It has 3 pointy parts on the top. How does a caterpillar know to make that pattern?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Shiitake Mushrooms Are Still Popping Out

Remember those mushroom blocks that I brought back from Far West Fungi back in mid-October? In early November, oyster and Shiitake mushrooms started growing out from the blocks.  For the last two months, I have been picking mushrooms off those blocks. They usually start to pop out after a few days of rain.  There had been weeks that I forgot to check them then I would find huge mushrooms.  Most of time I pick them right before dinner. It would be so dark outside that I just didn't bother to take pictures. This morning, I went to check on the block before leaving for Cubicle World. A couple young Shiitake mushrooms are starting to grow. It will take about a week for them to reach mature size.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

What Are Thrving in the Winter

Blueberry blossoms

Lately it's been really cold around here. The temperature has been around 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). Although it doesn't snow in my area, it can get quite windy from the bay. All of my sweet basils turned black from the first winter frost.

I planted 2 blueberry plants over a year ago. They never flowered nor produced any berry. One of them seemed to have died off. I was surprised to find this surviving blueberry to be blooming (photo above). Perhaps I will get a few blueberries this year.

I planted some snow peas right before Thanksgiving. Snow Peas are winter crop so I expected them to do okay in the cold. They also took quite a beating from the down pour rain a couple weeks ago.

My friend John gave me a daikon from his urban farm over a year ago. He had quite a successful growing daikons (white radish), so I figured that I would give it a try this year.  In October, I planted my daikon seedlings one evening in the dark. They have grown quite rapidly. My veggie bed is a bit shallow, so I don't expect them to get too big. I like to cook miso soup with daikon. You can make salad or pickles with it, but right now I need something to warm me up!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Wild Turkeys of El Cerrito

I spotted 3 turkeys on October 24th last year. I had wondered whether they were someone's pets or Thanksgiving dinner. Today I went down to El Cerrito Library on Stockton Ave. On my way back, I saw turkeys and a group of people standing on the corner of Elm and Stockton. I pulled over and ran back with my camera. There were about ten turkeys altogether leisurely walking around on both sides of the Elm Street. They seemed to really like the front yard of one house on the corner. The resident of the house stood on the front steps talking to all the people in front of his yard. It felt like a community event. I thought maybe he owned the turkeys.

He told us those are wild turkeys that come down from the hill occasionally, and that his 3 Malteses would go nuts barking at the birds. I could see the cute white dogs in the window. One of them had a pink sweater on. It appears these turkeys have become more comfortable with human interaction. I was able to get a lot closer this time. Someone even threw some bread pieces at them. Many people stopped by to take pictures of them. Some of them also saw the turkeys around Thanksgiving near the BART Station. I only saw 3 last time, and these time, there were about 10. I wonder if the turkey gang is going to get even bigger next time I see them.

Note the turkeys behind the trees!