2014-2015 Winter Survival in z6b

As usual, my attempt to keep alive the bananas that were too big to pot up and keep in the house was a failure. On the other hand, all  that came into the house survived (including a baby with almost no root system which died to the ground, came back up in a few weeks, and is now about a foot tall).

Lost a couple of culantro to lack of water, and a dragon fruit which I kind of gave up on (I decided it needed way more care than it was likely to receive in order to fruit, and thorny cacti don’t mix so well with young children anyway) but otherwise the tropicals did pretty well.

Rough time outside, though. Second year of what, for our area, was extreme cold. Afghanski and Salavatski pomegranates, both somewhat protected, died to the ground. Afghanski began to come up from the roots — and, suprisingly, at the end of May began to leaf out from some of the higher branches (lucky I didn’t give up and prune them down). D Parfianka, despite being much less hearty,  came through with flying colors. I’d mulched the bottom with leaves, and wrapped a sheet around the top. That’ll have to be my pom strategy going forward. (Nana, my other tender pomegranate, was taken into the garage and died anyway.)

Brown turkey died to the ground (again), and is coming back up for its third go-round. Only had a sheet wrapped around it through the winter; this winter, it’ll get a leaf mulch.

Lost a young Hana Fuyu persimmon, planted in 2014. The other survived, though was killed back to its trunk.

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2014 In Review

Not as much time as I would’ve liked to spend in the garden.

The mostly-unprotected pomegranates all survived the bitter cold of last winter, but had to come back from their roots. Afghanski and Parfianka put on good growth (Parfianka is next to my garage, which probably helped). Salavatski, surprisingly, didn’t do much other than push out a couple of twigs. It’s supposed to be quite hardy, maybe it is just not very happy with its location.

Some currants (Primus white), jostaberries, and a small handful of Bulgarian gooseberry. Pretty good given they were all planted out in ’13. Crandall managed to produce a single berry, but it fell off or something got it before ripening. I’ll do a little pruning later in the winter, and we’ll see if I can root some cuttings.

Loofah, as before, did a terrific job. Attractive, with the small yellow flowers providing a wonderful evening aroma. Oh, also delicious. Both round and ridged varieties were planted this year; off the two, I prefer the ridged (Luffa acutangula).

“Eh” year for tomatoes. They were OK, and we got a fair number for absolutely minimal effort. Many, in fact, were just self seeded — can’t get much lazier than that!

Wineberries, a gift from the birds, hit their second year and produced fruit. They’re thorny as all get out, but were a big hit with my daughter. Ditto to a blackberry bush which is fighting its way out from a clump of Rose of Sharon.

Asian eggplants continued to underwhelm. Low productivity, and my wife panned their taste. I will either switch suppliers or give up for now.

Winged beans were a bust again. I have read that they are not day neutral, which means either this area might be too far north, or I could try tricking them — apparently with carefully timed flashes of red light, plants can be fooled into thinking the days have grown short.

Chinese hawthorn survived, no thanks to me. I will try to remember to spray it with a fungicide this Spring and see if that keeps it healthy-ish.

Planted some tamarind seeds in the hopes that they’d grow big enough to harvest the leaves from, but didn’t do it until too late in the year. Worth another try, this time well before Spring.

Dwarf Cavendish bananas grew well, considering that I was late about getting them out of the house and into the ground. I did learn that they can handle temperatures just above freezing, without protection, so in 2015 they’ll go out in April. Two of them had grown too large to be potted and I am attempting to keep them dormant over the winter. The one on the south side of the garage looks like a goner, but the one on the north looks to be in good shape. Maybe something to do with additional light or the fact that the south gets a bit hotter; when, last year, I tried to overwinter one inside, the primary stalk kicked the bucket shortly after I’d moved it from the northern to the southern side of the garage (it still came up from its roots, producing a new stalk the following year). We’re now moving out of the realm of coincidence.

New acquisitions: a pair of persimmon trees (both Fuyu), two miracle fruit bushes (fine, they’re African, not Asian; I can be heterodox on my own blog), and a tea camellia.

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Winter of ’13: Figs

The US Department of Agriculture, just prior to this past winter, moved my section of Northern Virginia from z6 to z7 on the strength of our mild winters. Seems reasonable — just look at the enormous size of these Brown Turkey fig trees:


Alas, this past winter wasn’t so kind, and with temperatures briefly below 0F, we seem to have moved back to z6 without the trouble of boxing up all our stuff and renting a van.

Look at how these fig trees have shrunk, even with a bit of protection that comes from being planted right next to the house!


Fortunately, figs grow rapidly, and by the end of the year not only will these have regained a reasonable portion of their former size, but there’s a good chance of a decent crop — Brown Turkey is one of the varieties that will produce figs in the fall on the year’s new growth.

As a side note, it’s very important, after a cold winter, to not just assume that your figs are dead. Some of the still-living sections didn’t come out until June. (I felt bad for a neighbor, who’d given up on his three-year-old fig tree in May and pulled it out of the ground, shortly before my own one-year-old popped up from its roots and started growing like gangbusters.)


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Growing Ginger Outside the Tropics

Here’s a nice little article on growing ginger in non-tropical regions.


The upshot: you can use roots you pick up from the supermarket. Pot them up in late Winter and let them get started, then plant the ginger outside in the Spring.

I have some galangal — a ginger relative — that looks like it is just sprouting.

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2013 Winners and Losers

With the Spring gardening catalogs starting to show up, it’s good time of the year to summarize.


Watermelon “Thai Baby”

Absolute stand-out. This is bred to be picked very young and cooked. Slow to start, but once it did, unbelievable quantities were produced. Eventually  gave up picking the little ones and started letting them grow big. When ripe, they’re very seedy —roasted watermelon seeds are a popular snack for drinkers and gamblers, so this is likely intentional. The yellowish or light pink flesh wasn’t sweet, but the flavor was good.

Loofah  / Luffa acutangula

Like the Thai Baby, it took a while for this to start producing. But not only did it make five to ten delicious gourds per week, it was covered with lovely little yellow flowers. No loofah sponges this year, but perhaps we’ll let a few hang on the vine for the next.


A huge crop of volunteers sprang out of my compost pit, and with just a little water, produced a vast number. There are two little ones left which look like they are in edible condition now, in the middle of January, without any effort spent in storing them properly.


Chinese Hawthorn (Shan Zha/Crataegus pinnatifida)

Whoever warned me about their susceptibility to disease wasn’t kidding. It fruited — or tried to — and then promptly came down with at least two kinds of rust, fireblight, and what remained was almost chewed to the ground by Japanese beetles. It was still alive at the end of the year, but I’m not convinced it will make it through the Winter.

Cambodian “Green Giant” eggplant/Lao eggplant

Low productivity, bitter taste for both of these. This might be accounted for by our atypically cool, rainy Summer. Great for the grass, but  not so much for these tropical transplants.


Like the related eggplants, these had a miserable Summer. Didn’t help that the deer broke into our backyard a few times and chomped on them. Even generally-reliable hybrids like Celebrity and Bigger Boy had trouble, not to mention…

Long Beans

Lots and lots of vegetative growth, but not many beans. Those that were produced were a very mixed bag — allegedly these are supposed to be purple, but instead were a mix of purple and green, some of which were very good, and others which were  edible, at best. Coloration didn’t seem to be associated with flavor one way or another; the quality was just dependent on the plant. At least they did better than the…

Winged Beans

Barely got started — not even a flower before the frost killed them. Both types of beans were planted directly into the ground; next year I’ll try starting them (and the long beans) indoors.
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Edible Landscaping Fruit Festival

On September 14 we took a trip to Edible Landscaping. This is a Virginia nursery that specializes in, well, edible landscaping — fruiting plants that can do double-duty as ornamentals. They have multiple open houses throughout the year. This one was their Fall Fruit Festival, celebrating the fruits of September, which in their zone include apples, blueberries, figs, persimmons, jujube, hardy kiwis, and pawpaw. That last was the main reason I wanted to go.

Pawpaw is the largest fruit native to North America, a favorite of Indian and settler alike. It has fallen into disuse, mainly because it is difficult to ship; its thin skin doesn’t take much jostling, and the time between picking and eating must be short. It’s very tropical in appearance, with big, dark green leaves. Similarly the fruit has a soft, custardy consistency, unlike anything you’d find in a New England farmer’s market.

It comes by these features honestly. Pawpaw, botanically known as Asminia triloba,  is the northernmost member of the Annonaceae family, among whose other members are the sweetsop, soursop, and cherimoya.

I enjoyed the smooth consistency; the taste of the ones I had was reminiscent of mango, with a tingly aftertaste.  Alas, the variety I wanted to buy was unavailable, as were the jujubes, and a few other almost-tropicals. I settled for a Primus white currant and a Jostaberry (a hybrid between currant and gooseberry). One of these, I hope, may resemble Star Gooseberry enough to be used in green papaya salad (Thai: ‘som tam’ ), or substitute for it in pickles or preserves.

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“Who am I? Why am I here?”

There’s an enormous number of delicious fruits and vegetables in South-East Asia. Unfortunately, there’s not much information about how to grow them in the less -than-tropical parts of the USA.  While we know we’re not going to be growing Durian here in the (relatively) frigid border of zone 6/7 in Northern Virginia, what will survive the climate? Can we keep bananas happy during winter? Are pawpaws really a mango substitute? What on earth are we going to do with five pounds of baby watermelons a week?

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