Start Early Seedlings, Get Bare Root Fruit Trees Now, Plant a Row for the Hungry

Reader Contribution by Ira Wallace
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We are still harvesting abundantly from our winter greens planted outside, but many of the plants in our high tunnel are going to seed and telling us spring is near. If you haven’t made a garden plan yet do it now. Check your average last frost date. Ours here in Central Virginia is April 15 which means it’s time to start more greens and get beds ready to direct sow the really frost tolerant crops like peas, spinach and onions. At Southern Exposure we just posted A Beginners Growing Guide to help you with preparing, sowing and planting your new garden, so you go seamlessly from sweet winter greens to tender baby leaf salad for your table.

Earlier today Southern Exposure officially pledged to support our local Plant a Row for the Hungry project of the Central Virginia Master Gardeners. Since 1995 this project (sponsored by the Garden Writers of America in partnership with many local organization and gardeners) has donated over 14 million pounds of herbs and vegetables to feed the hungry in our local neighborhoods and communities. We invite you to join us in supporting your local Plant a Row and help make a difference in your community.

Jujube dates (left) are tasty fresh or dried; our beautiful flowering quince (right) brightens the gardens with blossoms while it’s still snowing (and brings us tasty quince jams in the fall!)

This last weekend I met with local North American Fruit Explorers (NAFEX) members for a Fruit Caucus just before the first day of the Virginia Association of Biological Farmers conference in Richmond, Virginia. We ate persimmon muffins and fresh fuzzy Kiwis grown and stored in a fruit cellar just outside of Charlottesville, VA. We talked about all the amazing fruits we can grow in Virginia, the fabulous heritage varieties and the lesser known treasures – jujubes, persimmons, figs, kiwis, che fruit, muscadines, and more.  We exchanged scion wood for grafting our own trees and emphasized that now is the time to finish pruning as well as buy and plant bare root trees. Many of us got our start growing unusual and native fruits from Michael McConkey at Edible Landscaping, still one of my favorite places to get unusual new fruit trees and advice about how to grow them. In a 2009 Mother Earth News article Lee Reich gave some great advice on how to buy and care for fruit trees . One of the folks at our Fruit Caucus, Alexis Zeigler of the fossil fuel free Living Energy Farm in Louisa, VA, will be offering a full-day hands on workshop to learn how to propagate and graft fruit trees (plus you get to take home five trees!!).

  Persimmons (left) can be pureed to make delicious, moist baked goods, even when they’re still a bit too puckery to eat fresh.  Our peach trees (right) need pruning now, before they start budding (better hurry up!).
American Persimmon Spice Muffins   

2 c unbleached flour or whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ginger
2 large eggs
1 c persimmon puree
1/2 c melted butter or olive oil
1 c brown sugar
Optional ½ c pecans or raisins

Cinnamon and sugar for topping1-1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp brown sugar  

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil the muffin tins. Place the first 8 ingredients in a small bowl and whisk them together. In another bowl with an electric mixer, beat the eggs for 30 seconds. Add the persimmon puree, oil, and brown sugar to the eggs and beat until thoroughly mixed. Add the dry ingredients (mixing in the optional pecans or raisins) and mix until just combined. Pour the batter into oiled muffin tins, filling each cup 3/4 full. In a separate bowl, mix together the cinnamon and brown sugar for topping and sprinkle the mixture evenly over each muffin.

Bake approximately 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden toothpick stuck in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Place the pan on a cooling rack until the muffins are just warm and then remove them from the pan.Thanks for stopping by and we hope you’ll come back often to see what we’re growing and cooking.

Ira Wallace lives and gardens at Acorn Community Farm home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange where she coordinates variety selection and seed growers. Southern Exposure offers 700+varieties of Non-GMO, open pollinated and organic seeds. Ira is also a co-organizer of the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello. She serves on the board of the Organic Seed Alliance and is a frequent presenter at the Mother Earth News Fairs and many other events throughout the Southeast. Her first book the “The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast” will be available in 2013.

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