This is a bit of a niche post for us but lately I've been doing a lot of thinking and researching on hardy Asian persimmons (Diospyros kaki) for our climate. Traditionally these persimmons are grown in a far more hospitable climate and are ideally suited to a zone 8 or higher climate. As a result, most of the fruit we see here on the East coast is flown in from California.
Still, we've grown a number of kaki persimmons here (Great Wall, Jiro, Saijo, Ichi ki kei jiro) and have heard of others growing them successfully in weather that approaches and dips below zero on a regular basis. In my research to find hardy cultivars I kept hearing of the Wye Research and Education Center (WREC) in Queenstown, Maryland as having a significant planting of Asian persimmons that dated back a number of years.
The climate of Wye is similar to ours, with a bit more of a coastal influence, so I was interested in seeing historical data on the survival of different cultivars. However in my searching I couldn't find any hard data except for a few scattered internet posts naming off a few cultivars. In the meantime I emailed someone at WREC to see if it might be possible to visit the center and see the planting for myself. What I heard back was that while WREC's persimmon planting wasn't in good shape anymore, a research bulletin was published a while back that contained a good many of the findings. My contact offered to send the bulletin via postal mail and, after I found the information extremely valuable, mentioned that I could make it available in digital form. I'm posting this document (Persimmons for Maryland - An Alternative Crop or Home Fruit) to help others in their search for hardy kaki persimmons. The information in the document is valuable as it tracks hardiness over a few decades. Click here or the image below for a PDF copy of the document.
Thanks to the University of Maryland and WREC for this invaluable information.
Kaki persimmons are delicious and we look forward to them being part of our orchard. We realize we may have to contend with some dieback in certain cold years but the fruit, we feel, is worth it. As a side note, our "Great Wall" persimmon has, as this document confirms, been perfectly hardy here, even after back-to-back really harsh -5F and -3F winters that got cold and stayed cold. It's also one of the cultivars that has really beautiful fall color as seen below.
Which cultivars did we ultimately choose? The verdict is still out as we're trialing some of the varieties here as well as some recent kaki crosses with our native persimmon. Still, based on this research it looks like there's room for both astringent and non-astringent persimmons in our planting. Check back with us to see more as we plan out our planting of persimmons in the next few years!
What a week! We can't help but smile thinking back on the week spent with the crew from Family Life Church at Cypress. Chris and Tori Pace, Family Life's pastor and his wife, led a hard-working crew of, at peak, 18 people through a week of projects on the farm last week. What did they get done? Tons!
I'll let the pictures do most of the talking but here are a few projects they completed during their time at our farm: clean out and fix up chicken coop, lay plastic for half of the new brambles, stake and trellis kiwis, install all fence braces, install half the new fencing, hang two fence gates, move boulders, weed and maintain the garden, fix up the nursery area, weed and move all potted plants, and harvest produce for New Hope Ministries.
Part of our mission statement is to serve our local community and donating produce to those in need has always been a dream of ours. After touring New Hope Ministries and learning about how they show the love of Jesus to people by meeting their physical needs, a bond was made! On two different days, the mission group got to serve at New Hope. We first harvested lettuce, kale, spinach and radishes - 22 pounds worth! Then we took it to the kitchen at New Hope, bagged everything in smaller bags, stocked the food pantry shelves, and then helped bag groceries for clients. It was such a full circle moment to see all of our hard work placed in the hands of people who needed a little extra help in a time of crisis. We can't wait for further partnership in the future!
With all that was done and all that went on I'm sure I'm forgetting something so forgive me. Needless to say it was a lot! And all of this while cooking meals (and making loads of sweet tea!) for twenty-plus folks and keeping our house cleaner than it is with its normal six occupants.
We were so impressed by hard-working, polite kids and their parents who worked long days in weather ranging from 50s and rainy and chilly to 90s and quite warm. It was an experience we'll never forget and we really hated to see them go. They demonstrated their love of Christ by selflessly serving our little farm. We only hope we can have the same spirit in giving back a portion of what was given to us over the past week.
Spring is off to a crazy start and we've been extra busy here on the farm. February and part of March were spent planning and laying out each of the new rows to be put in. Our first set of plants arrived in early April on one of the coldest weeks on record. By the end of our spring planting we'll have put over 1,000 brambles in the ground (raspberries, black raspberries, and blackberries) along with 40 hardy kiwi vines on overhead trellising.
I really wasn't sure how we were going to do it. With several orders of hundreds of bareroot brambles I didn't know how we'd manage to get them all in the ground in timely fashion. Then in February we get a call from our friend and pastor Chris Pace from Family Life Church in Cypress, TX.
"We'd like to do a mission trip to your farm this year, would you be open to that?" he asked.
"Well, yea, that'd be great! But us? Isn't there somewhere else with greater needs?"
We honestly did not feel like we deserved to have someone come help us, but we listened to Chris' thoughts and remembered that God offers us His grace (unmerited favor) freely through Jesus. So eventually we made plans and they planned a scouting trip in early April to coincide with the primary planting push.
April came and the plants showed up in several large boxes. Wanting to keep the soil structure as intact as possible, we hand-dug holes for the plants at the required spacings. The Texas crew got to work in the heavy wind, rain, and near record cold for a few days to get all of the plants in. We can't say thank you enough to Chris, Tori, Kari, and Garrett for pushing through with us and are looking forward to their return trip in June.
Berry Trellis & Hardy Kiwis
Perhaps it was foolish of us (okay, me), but the plants we got in the ground this year really required the most work of any of the fruiting plants we'll put in. We'll be putting in trellising for the berries along with irrigation to give them consistent watering the first few years while they get established. To tackle weeds we're going to try woven landscape fabric. It has worked well in the past, is durable and reasonably long-lasting.
The hardy kiwis (kiwi berries) we purchased are a variety called "Passion Poppers" from Kiwi Berry Organics, just north of here. If you've never tried kiwi berries before, I'd highly recommend them. They're a sweeter, bite-sized version of the fuzzy kiwis. Hardy kiwi is a vine that grows best on some form of a trellis, somewhat like grapes, and needs to be regularly pruned because of its extremely vigorous growth. I've seen reports of individual shoots growing more than 30 feet in a season! We're using a ~6' high, 5 wire overhead t-trellis with 8ft cross arms. The kiwi mostly hang down for easier picking and the overhead trellis affords easier pruning in both the growing season and the dormant season.
We were fortunate to find black locust posts from a local source and are using them for the berry trellising as well as our new goat fencing. Not only are the posts stronger than pine, they're also likely more durable than treated posts. We're hopeful that the posts will outlast the fence (and maybe even us!).
Clearing the Fencerow
Slow and steady work continues on clearing the fencerow for new goat fencing and to exclude deer. We hope to reclaim about an acre of previously overgrown land to utilize it for goat pasture and also plant some of our larger nut trees and sugar maples. Posts will be set in the next few weeks and then the crew from Family Life Church will help us hang the fence. The area we're fencing is just filled with bush and vine honeysuckle, poison ivy, as well as brambles and multiflora rose, all the goats' favorite foods!
The figs and other tender plants are finally out from their winter's rest in the garage and are getting ready to move toward our small nursery. We had some plans to finish the nursery area and example gardens this spring but other plans kept us too busy. Look for more changes coming next year!
Also, if you're in the market for a fig tree, Contact Us to inquire about stopping by to pick up one (or three). We'll have smaller plants available in just a couple weeks and have a few larger 3 gallon plants available now.
And finally, our fall-planted cover crop is coming along nicely. It's a mix of small grains along with crimson clover and hairy vetch for nitrogen fixation. The crimson clover has recently come into bloom and we'll cut it for hay. In the meantime it makes for a beautiful field to look at and improves the soil.
Look for another update in June once the mission crew has visited!
After a rather mild start, winter is here and holding on. No matter, there's plenty to do while the ground is frozen and the fig trees are resting happily in our garage. We've been up to a good bit of planning this winter and wanted to give an update for what to look for in the coming year. We're excited about what's to come and hope you will be too. Okay, maybe not as excited as us, but only because we're big plant nerds.
Big news! We've officially started our organic certification process! We're pursuing our certification through Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO) and hope to have our first crops certified in June of 2017, 2018 at the latest. It's a three year process for crop production and we hope to eventually have the majority of our production certified.
Look for organic u-pick raspberries, blackberries, and black raspberries in 2017!
Once again we've started a number of fig trees in our basement for sale in the spring. We're attempting to root around 160 trees, not nearly the 450 we went for last year but enough to sell and keep us busy. We've pared down the number of varieties based on what sold last year and interest from our customers. I've included a list below for those interested. We're still somewhat undecided about shipping figs this spring since we'll be busy with quite a number of projects, so stay tuned. Trees will always be available for pickup here at the farm.
Varieties for 2016
Adriatic JH, Atreano, Black Madeira, Black Weeping, Col de Dame Blanc, Col de Dame Gris, Col de Dame Noir, Dark Portuguese, Florea, Hunt, Kathleen's Black, Keddie, Latarolla, Longue D'Aout, LSU Improved Celeste, Macool, Malone, Malta Black, Maltese Falcon, Marseilles Black VS, Nero 600M, Niagara Black, Ronde de Bordeaux, Smith, Takoma Violet
After a year of cover-cropping we're finally ready to begin planting a portion of the land. We'll continue our cover crop rotation on the remainder of the land to continue building soil while gradually taking over the entirety.
This year's plantings are brambles (raspberries, blackberries, and black raspberries) and hardy kiwi berries (fuzz-less, sweeter, grape-sized versions of what you're used to in the grocery store). We've been busy selecting the best-tasting, productive, most disease-resistant berries that will cover the longest harvest span. We'll be putting in almost 1,000 plants along with all of the supporting trellising for the planting.
Brambles can begin bearing in the year they're planted with a half-decent crop the following year. Expect that we'll open the u-pick for these early and mid-summer berries in June and July of 2017.
One of our goals has been to offer fruit trees and bushes to the home gardener who desires to grow their own fruit. We've dedicated about an acre of land to a nursery area containing display plantings of our favorite fruiting trees, the trees available to purchase, and some greenhouse and fig growing space. We'd like to incorporate espaliered pears, apples, and other fruiting trees, plantings of rare and unusual fruits, and highlight some of the low maintenance fruits you can grow in the area.
The area we've set aside was planted with a low-growing grass mix this past spring. The mix of grass we used was designed for orchards to reduce maintenance but still provide nice walkways. It's supposed to only require 1-3 mowings a year and minimal inputs fertilizer-wise. If it proves itself we'll continue using it on the remainder of the orchard.
With all of that said, neither of us are trained landscape designers so we've been playing around with some possible designs for the space to make it both attractive and functional. We'll keep you updated!
Got ideas for us? Please leave them in the comments!
Fencing the Orchard
From the beginning, some of our biggest concerns with the orchard were weeds and preventing deer damage. Our property was fenced back in the 90's when a tree farm was located on the property. The tree farm business stopped sometime in the early 00's and since then the forest has tried to reclaim its lost ground. We've been pondering how to best maintain a clean fence row without resorting to herbicides.
Enter fencing and goats.
This past year we fenced in two-thirds of an acre of pasture for our Nigerian dwarf goats and chickens. A portion of that was a really overgrown and weedy patch that we didn't bother to clear prior to setting the goats loose. They loved it. Every day they would walk past lush green grass to feed on every kind of weed and brush imaginable. That got the wheels turning. Turns out goats love to eat the kinds of weeds that thrive in farm fencerows: brambles, multiflora rose, poison ivy (crazy, right?), and honeysuckle. They'll girdle young trees and strip them of leaves. They're masters at land-clearing and eating down weeds. Goats get a free meal and we get a cleared fencerow, sounds like a win-win to me.
This summer we'll be fencing in almost our entire property, twice. We hope to let the goats in the fence by mid-summer to begin the clearing process. If all goes according to plan they'll have cleared a little over an acre by the time fall rolls around.
In addition to weed control, we hope the fence will serve a second purpose: keeping deer out of the orchard. I've heard that it's best to exclude deer from an area prior to planting, that way they don't know what they're missing on the other side of the fence. If they're used to browsing on fruit trees, then fencing them out becomes a much harder task. This approach seemed to work at our old property. We put up a 6 foot deer and orchard fence there prior to planting and no deer have bothered it. Okay, there was one or two times, but only because the gate was left wide open by the guy writing this article.
Looking to Spring
As I write, snow flurries are falling and snow blankets the land. Before long though, crocuses will bravely venture above ground and buds will begin to swell. Spring is not long off. In the meantime, we'll be busy making final preparations and doing any work we can ahead of time. We have a busy spring ahead of us!
Lord willing, those are our plans for this year. Let us know what you think in the comments!
Fall is upon us and our trees our trees have settled in for their winter's rest. We've finally had a chance to pot up all our trees and have done an inventory for the year. As a result, we're making our larger, 3 gallon, trees available for bareroot shipping. Our 3 gallon trees are priced at double the price of our normal trees due to their size. We had a good growing year and the trees were very vigorous. You should expect that the 3 gallon-sized trees are, in general, 18-36" tall and very well-rooted. Some were up-potted rather late so they didn't have a chance to fully fill their 3 gallon pots with roots. If you're into propagating from cuttings, you should be able to pull 3-4 cuttings from each tree.
Unfortunately we cannot offer a guarantee on our bareroot trees due to the unpredictability of winter weather and the subtropical nature of fig trees. We successfully store our trees in pots in an unheated, insulated garage for the winter and they all do very well with minimal care. Please order only if you're confident in storing trees for the winter, otherwise you may be better off waiting to order in spring.
Orders placed this week will ship the week of 11/23 or 11/30 (weather permitting). Shipments may be delayed to 11/30 due to the Thanksgiving holiday. We'll continue shipping, winter permitting, into about mid-December.
Shipping rates are $15 per order plus $2 for each tree (1 tree = $17, 2 trees = $19, 3 trees = $21, etc). Because we're a small outfit, we require a $100 order minimum to ship your order. We don't aim to make money from our shipping, just to cover costs.
Finally, we're offering discounts on several of our cultivars: LSU Gold, LSU Tiger, Lyndhurst White, and Sal's Corleone. These are very nice trees and are available for 25% or more off their normal price. Our Sal's Corleone trees are very large and were in their second leaf this year.
Orders are secure and are processed through our payment provider, Square.