And how do I know that the fruits will be luscious? Because last autumn I was at an experimental orchard photographing fruits for a new book that I’m writing. Of course, I also tasted them, and that’s why Chestnut Crab, Honeygold, Mollie’s Delicious and King of the Pippins will be joining the two-dozen or so other varieties of apples already here. Cayuga White, Bertille Seyve 2758, Steuben, Lakemont, Wapanuka, Himrod, Romulus and Venus will be joining my grapes.
It is “totipotence” – of the plants, not me – that allows unlocking the potential treasures within today’s mailed sticks. Within a plant, every cell except for reproductive cells has the potential to become a root, a shoot, a flower, a thorn, a fruit or any other part of a plant. For that matter, the same is true for humans and other animals. All that are needed are the right conditions to get the various parts to grow – and there’s the rub.
A little art and science puts totipotence to work. In the case of the apples, I’ll graft those stems onto my existing trees or onto small rootstocks. Existing trees or rootstocks provide nothing more than roots to nourish shoots that will eventually sprout from the sticks. The plant beyond the graft remains genetically that of whatever variety is grafted upon the rootstock. Grape sticks will get plunged into the ground, where they will grow their own roots, shoots and everything else. Apples aren’t so amenable to growing their own roots.
Nothing is happening yet. Warmth will awaken those sticks. For now, they’re being kept cool and dormant. I should be tasting the first fruits of my labors in three years.
Although I have gardened for decades, I’m a relative newbie to greenhouse gardening. Sure, I dabbled in various greenhouses over the years; but I’ve only experienced the intimate vagaries of my own greenhouse for the last ten years. It took all this time for it finally to dawn on me that Murphy’s Law – “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong” – also applies in the greenhouse. In retrospect, why wouldn’t it?
I had my brush with the law one evening a couple of weeks ago when I went to pick some lettuce for a salad. Methinks, “Hmmm, quite nippy in here.” But then, except from when sunlight is beaming through the plastic covering, it’s always nippy in there in winter. Salad greens, kale, chard and celery thrive in those cool temperatures. (The in-ground figs stay dormant and leafless.)
Still, temperatures felt nippier than normal, so I checked the thermometer to confirm – and yes, it was getting down into the high 20s. I then checked the propane heater, which ignored me as I twisted the dial on the thermostat clockwise.
I propose a corollary to Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong – at the worst possible time!” Temperatures the night before had plummeted below zero. No wonder a water line had burst that morning. I assumed that frigid temperatures had made only that corner of the greenhouse too cold. Fortunately, after a lot of nailbiting, the gasman and I determined that the pilot light had blown out in the heater. Most plants survived the cold.
One event does not a Law make. Thinking back to last year, I remembered a more serious freeze in the greenhouse. One day everything looked verdant; the next day, mush. (The gas company had forgotten to refill the propane tank.) After that event, I rigged up a backup electric heater, just in case temperatures dropped below freezing.
Perhaps yet another Murphy’s Law corollary is needed. On the night of the most recent freeze, the electric heater was, of course, hooked up – except that it wasn’t poised for warmth. The thermostat was directing it to wake up, but I had forgotten to flip the heater’s on/off switch to “on.”
Live and learn: The sun is now setting, the mercury is now plummeting and high winds could, I assume, blow out the pilot light again tonight. When I go out to pick some lettuce, celery and parsley, I will: check the propane heater; check the electric heater; check that the water line is off; and remember to latch the door closed on my way out – really!
Any gardening questions? E-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll try answering them directly or in this column. Check out my garden’s blog at www.leereich.blogspot.com.