Currants

Have a damp sunny spot that you don’t know what to do with? It could be just the place for currants. About 80 species of currants and gooseberries are found along creek banks, lake shores and moist wooded valleys throughout North America. Currants are high vitamin C and great for making jam, jellies and wines. Tender leaves can be tossed into salads. There are medicinal cures ranging from snake bites to sore throats, and some varieties are used to make dyes. Currants are moisture loving plants and live best on a northern slope. They prefer a well-drained soil, with good moisture-holding capacity. They like slightly heavy loams with a pH between 5.5 and 7 and full sun, but they will produce in light shade. Sandy soils are less suitable for currants because they dry out too fast. The plants will not tolerate alkaline or salty soil. If possible, choose a site that is sheltered from south and west winds. To help prevent powdery mildew, avoid planting currents in shaded building corners, where humidity can build up, and do not place the plants to close together. Also avoid high nitrogen fertilizers as this may contribute to powdery mildew. Many varieties are very ornamental and very easy to grow in cold northern regions. One variety, known as buffalo currant, has wonderful clove scented flowers. Although probably closer to gooseberries, they are amazingly hardy and productive. Some varieties will even grow in southern California. We have a variety called Crandal-berry that grows wild from a plant brought in on a covered wagon. Those of us that know the location, go there every year and pick the tasty berries. Another variety, sometimes referred to as dogberry, has tiny spines, but makes very good pies.

 

Native gooseberries were much improved by crossing them with the European gooseberries, in that group, look for Pixwell and Poorman to plant. Where summers are hot, gooseberries rather than currants will grow better and produce better fruit. But they still need to be mulched to maintain soil temperature and moisture. The jostaberry is a cross between a black currant and a gooseberry. The thornless bush produces large clusters of dark black berries. The berries are high in vitamin C and are well-suited for making jam, jelly, juice and wine.

 

The cultural requirements for the plant are similar to those of the black currant. Red and white currants produce fruit on short spurs found on wood 2 and 3 years old. Black currants produce fruit on young new wood of the previous season's growth. Currants are usually propagated by hardwood cuttings. The cuttings are taken in the fall from dormant vigorous shoots of the current season's growth. Store the cuttings in a cool place over the winter, in a box containing moist sand. In the spring, plant cuttings 15 cm (6 in.) apart and deep enough so that 1-2 buds are exposed for black currants or 3-4 buds for red and white currants. Spring planting is recommended. The plants require a full season's growth to mature before winter.

 

Currants are commonly planted in rows 6-9 feet apart. Red, white and black currants can be placed 5 feet apart within the row. Before planting, prune off any damaged roots with a sharp knife or pruning shears. One of the best methods of hand planting is for two people to work together. One inserts the spade about 12 inches into the ground and moves it back and forth to make a cavity. As the spade is forced forward, a second person places the plant with its roots fanned out against the wall of the hole. Then the spade is withdrawn and the soil is pressed against the roots. After planting, cut the bushes back to 6 in. Keep the currants well watered and remove competing weeds. Weed by hand to avoid disturbing the current's shallow roots system. Currants have a high nutrient requirement. Early each spring apply manure or compost. An organic cover, straw, compost, bark or grass clippings, is a good idea. It will maintain a cooler soil temperature and reduce weed competition and moisture loss. Watering is usually required in mid-summer during the fruiting period to ensure large, high-quality fruit. Since most currants are self-fertile, there is no need to interplant varieties for cross pollination. If you prune heavily (pay particular attention to removing older branches more than three quarters of an inch thick) each year, you’ll harvest larger berries. The currant fruit fly deposits eggs in the developing fruit. The eggs hatch into small white maggots which feed inside the fruit. As a result, discolored blotches form on the side of the berries and the fruit drops off before maturity. To control this pest, clear up of the dropped fruit around the plant. Powdery mildew and anthroacnose are the two common fungus disease problems with currants. Powdery mildew appears as a white mold covering harvest stems. Plants can harbor a stage of white pine blister rust, so should not be grown in the vicinity of pine trees. If you live within about 1 mile of white pines and wish to grow black currants, the cultivars Consort, Coronet, and Crusader are resistant to blister rust.

Currants will remain in good condition on the bushes for a month before ripening. However, once ripened, the fruit is vulnerable to hail and high winds and should be harvested as soon as possible. Currants may be harvested from each bush two or three times each summer, although with some cultivars you can allow all of the fruit to ripen and pick only once. Berries at the tops of the fruit clusters ripen before those at the tips. Harvest the fruit after it softens and is fully ripe, but before it begins to shrivel. Pick the berries into half-pint or one-pint containers. Red and white currants crush easily. To avoid crushing them, pick the whole cluster rather than individual berries. Black currants have thicker skins so you can pick then singly without much risk of crushing. Unless you plan to use them immediately, do not wash the berries before refrigerating them. Doing so increases fruit rot. Wash the berries just before use. If you are making juice by pressing the berries, you do not have to remove the stems. If you cook the fruit down before straining, crush the berries into a large pot and remove the stems to prevent the development of a grassy flavor during cooking. Currants can be frozen dry or in a 50 percent sugar syrup. They dehydrate beautifully. They can be canned or made into juice and wine.

 

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Nematodes are microscopic roundworms that feed on roots, interfering with the plant's ability to take up water or nutrients, causing stunted growth. Unfortunately, you can't tell for sure whether a plant is suffering from this disease without pulling it up and examining the roots. To avoid the problem in future, don't grow vegetables in the same location two years in a row. You can also plant resistant varieties and plant marigolds -- which help eliminate nematodes -- in the tomato patch. If you use the crop rotation method, move your tomato plants 15' to 20' from the original site.

 

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For those people whose gardens don't seem to attract enough bees to assist in pollination, try inter-planting snapdragons. These flowers do a good job of luring bees, and apparently there is some evidence that sprinkling snapdragons amidst the vegetables fools the bees into visiting the nearby flowers of the other plants. 

 

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Constant picking is the key to extending the harvest of most beans. Scarlet runners and other climbing beans will continue to produce until cold weather slows them down, but bush beans will stop flowering if ripe beans are not picked. Snap beans should be picked every two days before the seeds start swelling. Wait until dew has dried from the plants to reduce the spread of disease.

 

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The good worm.

A garden filled with earthworms is a healthy garden. That's because earthworms turn raw organic materials into a rich manure called castings. These slender coils of fertile humus can often be found by the entrances to underground tunnels. Scoop up the nutritive castings and use in pots, planters, or window boxes.

 

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Ant lions

Quite possible the coolest bug I have ever seen Ant lions are small, 1/4 inch, insects that eat ants. They are brown and have huge jaws. They are also called Doodlebugs. I have even seen them walk backwards. The larvae hide under bark and grab any ants that happen by. They also dig pits in sandy areas where they wait for unsuspecting ants to fall in. Pits can be as large as 1 inch in diameter. The adults look like dragonflies, only they are smaller, and their antennae are shorter. They are greenish-brown with transparent wings. There are many different species and are found worldwide. They like dry sandy places and can be found almost anywhere suiting these conditions. Vacant lots, flower gardens, dry river beds, and under hedges. They are most definitely a beneficial insect as they eat not only ants but other bugs that fall into their trap.

Adults are mostly active at night and are rarely seen during the day. Ant lion pits may be identified by the dead carcasses around the pit. To have some fun with this guys...sit there one day and feed them ants and other tasty bugs. It’s a worthwhile education for you and your kids. Ant lion larvae burrow deep into the sand and make a cocoon and pupate surrounded in white silky strands. After about one month thepupae hatch into tiny flies. The flies emerge from the ground where they wait for their wings to harden. They may eat tiny flies and bugs, but their only purpose is to mate and lay eggs. This lasts for about a month on average. The females lay their eggs in the sand. Expect one generation per year. The larvae do most of their work in the summer months.

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Herbs

(Common) Skullcap sow seeds outdoors in spring or divide roots in spring, and grow in good moist soil in an open, sunny position. Also called helmet flower.

Biting Stonecrop grow in full sun in dry-ish, sandy soil with a little lime. Sow seeds outdoors or divide roots in spring, or scatter some of the cylindrical leaves which root freely where they fall. Also called wall pepper, golden-carpet, and gold moss.

Houseleek grow in full sun in crevices and mortar joints packed with a little ordinary soil, or in sinks and pots filled with gritty compost. Propagate from seeds or leaves in trays at any time. Also called hen-and-chicks.

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Wild Edibles

Brodiaea

Common names are bluedicks, wild hyacinth and wild onions, it is a member of the Lily family. It is a grasslike plant whose flower stalk rises from and edible underground corm. The flower stalk can be up to 1 1/2 feet tall. The root is a thick, vertical, solid stem, similar in appearance to a bulb. Its diameter is approximately 1/2 to 1 inch and it is covered in brown papery sheath. It is hardy to zone 5. It is in flower from May to June, and the seeds ripen in August. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs). The plant prefers light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils and requires well-drained soil.

The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. The corms - raw or cooked are very good to eat. A sweet flavor, it may seem rather flat at first, but the taste quickly grows on one. A slow baking develops the sweetness of the corm. The corm can be dried and ground into a powder then used as a thickener in soups or mixed with cereal flours to make bread etc. The corm is usually harvested in the spring. Flowers - can be eaten raw and makes a nice decoration in the salad bowl. The corms have been rubbed on a metate (an indian grinding slab) into an adhesive and then spread on  baskets to close the interstices and prevent small seeds falling through the gaps. Brodiaea grows in open grassy places and hillsides. Preferring a somewhat dry soil, it is not uncommon in dry arroyos, vacant lots and deserts. In order to get the corm out of the ground you must carefully dig around and under the whole plant. If you tug at the stalk to get the corm, the corm will almost invariable stay in the ground. When gathering only take what you need and know you’ll use. Leave the small corms for reproduction

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Brandie

“To own a bit of ground, to scratch it with a hoe, to plant seeds, and watch the renewal of life - this is the commonest delight of the race, the most satisfactory thing a man can do.” 

 

 
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