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From Hibernation to Propagation

What a winter!!!

Trees laced with winter's freezing rain were brilliant in the sun of the next day, but the silence was punctuated by thunderous cracks as branches broke under the weight.

We are still cleaning up...

Dozens of trees are down and big branches broken. That means converting all of the damage into firewood and mulch for orchards.

These young hazelnut trees appreciate a thick layer of ramial mulch to keep weeds down and feed the soil long-term, as it breaks down.

We propagate hazelnut trees from our orchard stock. The saplings begin to produce nuts within 3-5 years. Annual pruning is key to production (done NOW, before bud-break). Last fall's harvest was 30 kilos (10 trees;11 years old).

March days can be warm and sunny with spring bulb flowers jumping out of the ground.

Or days can be overcast with bone-chilling wind and snow - "bay flurries" - and we turn to indoor propagating. My favourite aspect of growing is when I start new plants with seeds, cuttings and divisions. It is very rewarding to figure out what different plants need and successfully provide it! (This helps to balance the disappointment of frequent failures...)

The fine-leaved onion seedlings promise pungent cipollinis, tropeana lungas, shallots, storage onions and leeks all summer and next winter. They were started under LED grow lights in early March and will go into the garden in early to mid-May. We pot up groups of sprouting storage onions to set out for second-year bloom and seed. Remember, a population of at least 20 onion plants are required for genetically healthy seed. This is for non-commercial seed; commercial seed must be collected from at least 200 onion plants!

Also started in early March, artichoke and cardoon seedlings are being potted up. We are still enjoying our canned artichokes in soups, etc. It always amazes me how large these plants grow in a single season! I have been able to overwinter a few in a sheltered spot, but have yet to get viable seed come fall. Ever hopeful, I will try again this year.

Roselle is another special crop that we enjoy all winter. The dried flower bud petals of this tender hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) make a wonderful tea full of Vitamin C (a very popular drink in the Caribbean and Africa).

But most exciting for me is when seed germinates after a long, and sometimes complicated period in a moist (think a small baggie of damp vermiculite) environment, usually "stratified" to imitate natural conditions, alternating 4-12 weeks in cold (refrigerator) and 4-12 weeks in warm (room temp).

These are seedlings of medlar trees (Mespilus germanica) that were started moist and warm in February 2021 (seed from the Incredible Seed Company) and germinated in February 2022. Although I have never seen or tasted medlar fruit, I hope that I will live long enough to experience this unique orchard denizen known from ancient Greek and Roman references and cultivated in England by AD 1270! It brings out the old archaeologist in me!

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