The Bhutan Pine is a little large for most gardens!
We’re still in house renovation hell at the moment, but took some time out yesterday and got as far as the local hardware store to buy some light fittings for the new kitchen. They were selling small Christmas trees in pots, roughly two feet tall, which was rather tempting although I haven’t bought one yet. It reminded me that last Christmas I was thinking about growing an edible Christmas tree.
James Wong was talking about using pine needles in the Christmas edition of Grow Your Own Drugs – he recommended the Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) or Norway Spruce (Picea abies). The Fraser fir was not one of the choices in the hardware store; it grows to about 15m tall and PFAF gives it an edibility rating of 1. The Norway Spruce gets 2, but it also grows to twice the height and would not be a good choice for this garden.
A second option on sale was the Blue Spruce (Picea pungens), which grows to 20m and gets a PFAF edibility rating of 2.
Over at Weeding the Web, Helen Gazeley is talking about how to choose a Christmas tree for it’s traditional decorative purpose. As well as the species above she mentions the Noble Fir, the Nordman Fir and the Lodgepole pine
According to PFAF the Noble Fir (Abies procera) gets an edibility rating of 0 and grows to 60m. The Nordman Fir (Abies nordmanniana) also gets 0 and reaches a height of 50m. It lists the Beach pine (Pinus contorta) with a rating of 3 and a height of 15m, but although the Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta latifolia) grows to the same height it gets a big fat 0 on the yummy scale.
Eat Weeds turns pine needles into vinegar, which I have mentioned before but not yet managed to try. According to them, all of the pine species are edible in this regard, although some are much nicer than others, so it pays to nibble before you make a big batch of vinegar.
If it’s pine nuts you’re after then the main species grown commercially is Pinus pinea, which PFAF gives a 4 to, and which grows to 10m tall. It doesn’t look like a proper Christmas tree though. You could also try P. sabriana and P. coulteri, which give larger pine nuts but are slower growing (according to pinenut.com). If you’re thinking long-term then you may be better planting a Monkey Puzzle or two here in the UK.
When I looked into this last year I eventually bought some Korean Fir seeds from Chiltern Seeds, although I haven’t yet sown them. It’s a small, slow-growing tree that looks like a proper little Christmas tree and is very ornamental. Whether its needles would make nice vinegar remains to be seen, but I will dig the seeds out and sow them in spring and see how far I get :)
My ‘Thoughts’ posts are somewhat rambling collections of crazy ideas and research. If you want to look back at the previous ones then flip through the Thoughts category.
Just over a minute into this film of Ken Fern (badly in need of digital remastering!) he talks about the monkey puzzle tree, Araucaria araucana, and about how it has the potential to be one of the most productive nut trees in our climate. If they had been planted in any number when that discovery had been made then we would be awash with nuts by now – but unfortunately they weren’t. Although they are sometimes grown as ornamental trees, they aren’t often grown as productive trees – and there are a couple of reasons why that is so. The first is that they are slow growing – this one is about 8 years old, according to its label:
Araucaria araucana, the monkey puzzle tree
It will be another couple of decades before it is reliably producing nuts. The second reason is that plants are either male or female, and you need both for nut production, and it’s impossible to sex the plants while they’re young. So if you want monkey puzzle nuts you need to grow several trees (as yet, I don’t know how many – do you?) to guarantee a harvest, even though one male tree can usually pollinate several local females.
On the plus side, as well as producing tasty nuts, the trees don’t cast too much shade – although they will eventually grow very tall:
And the ones at my local arboretum appear to be taking very good care of the local ladybird population:
I would dearly love some little monkey puzzles of my own, to give me a head start on the forest garden I hope to have room for once we move – they’re definitely on my wish list.
Watching ‘A Farm for the Future‘ brought to the forefront of my mind a project I have been thinking about (on and off) all year.
My original nutbag* idea was to have a container hedge in the front driveway. The previous occupants of this house thought it would be nice to tarmac the entire driveway, which leaves plenty of space for cars but none for plants (although the daisies around the edge are making a good effort). I thought a few choice ‘hedge’ plants in containers around the edge would be nice. I bought 6 large plants pots in preparation, and short-listed the trees I wanted.
But then I considered the issues…. Anything edible would be subjected to road pollution. There’s a surprising amount of traffic down our road, and since we live on a corner we’re at the point where people slow down and then step on the gas. It’s not perfect.
To a certain extent that washes off, but there are other issues. Fruiting trees aren’t cheap and out in the driveway they will be at risk from mindless vandalism and theft. I honestly don’t know how guerrilla gardeners come to terms with the fact that their plants will be at risk from human predators.
Crab apple ‘John Downie’ at the RISC Roof Garden in 2007
But I do believe in the vision of the future that Martin Crawford spoke about in ‘A Farm for the Future’ and so I have invested in 3 new trees – a crab apple ‘John Downie’ and two ‘Webb’s Prize Cobnut’. I’ve wanted that crab apple since I saw one at the RISC roof garden; it should be very beautiful when it blossoms, and it will also help pollinate my other apple tree. The move into nuts is exciting, and stems from reading an article by Stephen Shirley in Grow Your Own magazine last year about nuts that can be grown in containers.
The three trees arrived from Victoriana on Tuesday morning. This time they were packed in shredded paper, not grass, so rather than mulch material I was left with over-stuffed compost heaps instead. But I have potted up the trees and given them a short stake to help against root rock (a tall stake is counter-productive and utterly ridiculous in a pot anyway). Don’t forget to tie your tree ties in a figure of eight, which helps stop the trunk rubbing against the stake. And they have a nice mulch of wood chips, too, since I had a few handy.
*I was originally thinking about a truffle tree, a bamboo and possibly some willow. In containers, in the driveway. The nuttiness of the idea doesn’t bother me that much. Maybe next year ;)
I had the urge to plant something unusual yesterday, so rather than go shopping and buy some shiny new seeds (very tempting!) I sowed some more peanuts instead.
My first attempt at growing peanuts last year was unsuccessful, for two reasons. Firstly it didn’t occur to me to shell the peanuts first, so not many germinated. Secondly, I underestimated how tasty they would be to slugs, so none survived for long.
This year I have sown 20 in Rootrainers. They’re inside at the moment, where I can keep an eye on them, but I will move them out into the Grow Dome once they have germinated. The weather for the last few days has not been good for outdoor gardening – endless heavy rain has left the garden boggy under foot.
Growing peanuts is often put forward as a great project for kids, because of the interesting way in which the plants propagate themselves. And it is, but that doesn’t mean that older gardeners can’t have a go too!
My attempts at growing peanuts this year have been so pitiful that I don’t think I even have a photograph of the plants, but I do have some useful hints and tips if you want to give it a go yourself.
My peanut seeds came from Seeds of Italy, but you can plant seeds from the pet shop or the health food store. The only requirement is to buy them while they’re still in their shells (as in the picture above). Shelled peanuts rapidly dry out and won’t germinate.
Once you have your seeds, you have to crack the shells or shell the peanuts before you plant them. I didn’t do this, and only a couple of my seeds managed to break out of their shells and sprout.
Various planting depths are recommended, and I’ve even read one article that recommends planting your peanuts at different depths, so this is one area where experimentation is needed.
Peanuts are not hardy plants, so you will need to sow your seeds after the risk of frost has passed, or indoors. You then need to keep your plants away from frost – I grew mine in the Grow Dome.
Use large containers. A clue to why peanuts are interesting plants is given by one of their alternative names – groundnuts. When the plants flower, the stalks bend over so that they plant their seeds in the soil beneath them. If you don’t use a large container then they’re unlikely to be able to find any soil to plant their seeds in!
Protect your seedlings from slugs – they wiped mine out completely.
All being well, you should then be able to watch the plants grow and flower and plant their seeds in the ground. You can then dig these up and use them for seed next year, feed them to the birds or even roast them and eat them yourself!
On Friday 16th November I will be releasing a special edition of the AKG to support the BBC Children in Need appeal. I am also writing articles and blog posts on the same subject. If you have any stories, or hints and tips, about growing edible plants from pips and stones, then send me an email and I will include them in the show.