This week’s plant of the week is Asimina triloba, or known to you and me as the common ‘Pawpaw’ tree (also known as Custard Apple, and many local names like: wild banana, prairie banana, Indiana banana, Hoosier banana, West Virginia banana, Kansas banana, Kentucky banana, Michigan banana, Missouri banana, the poor man’s banana, Ozark banana, and banango. Pawpaw trees can add a ‘tropical’ look to the landscape (small tree growing 20-25 feet in height and width) with its 6-12 inch long leaves (many get bright yellow in the fall), and usual multiple stemmed growth habit (sometimes from suckering). The spring flowers vary from white to red-brown, male and female flowers, and are insect-pollinated. The scent is a faint odor of rotting meat (you don’t smell it) which does not attract bees and most common pollinators, but attracts blowflies or carrion beetles for cross pollination (yes, you need two or more individual trees). But once pollinated, the late summer fruit is absolutely wonderful to eat, and its nutritional values are higher than apples, peaches and grapes. Can be used as an understory tree, or in full sun. Definitely a fun tree to add to your landscape! (This tree shows up in a lot of historical writings, names of towns, songs, etc. And today, new cultivars are being developed for better fruit production and more pawpaws being grown in orchards!)
Figs have long been a prized fruit in an edible garden. Whether grown in a pot or grown in the ground, figs hold a place of culinary delight and family memories. We first heard of this innovative winter wrapping technique from customers who had immigrated to New England from northern Italy. They had been successfully over-wintering figs for decades. We decided to give it a try.
Wrapping figs for winter does away with the laborious chore of moving or digging up figs and it's an easy way to protect your plants from winter kill. Gone are the days of digging up large specimen plants, putting them in pots and then hauling them into a basement or garage or burying them in a trench for overwintering. We find this wrapping technique much more manageable and it has given us great results.
Recently, at Logee's, we have tried wrapping all varieties of figs, regardless of the hardiness zone. And, what we found is that as long as the wrapping technique is followed, you can successfully over-winter tropical figs and hardy figs as far north as Zone 5 (and perhaps even Zone 4).
Supplies you will need:
Paper backed Insulation
Hay or straw
Once an early frost kills the foliage on your fig tree, it is time to wrap your plant for winter. First, the plant needs to be cut back to create a manageable size for wrapping. Four to six feet is the height we prefer. Simply prune the top branches to the desired height.
Next, bring all the bare branches together, and circle the plant with heavy rope, starting at the base and working upward until it looks like a wrapped Christmas tree. It's important to pull the branches together tightly so the plant forms an upright column. Don't be afraid of breaking the branches; they have more flexibility than you would think. Cover the upright column with insulation (paper side facing outward). Roll the insulation around the tree continually wrapping upwards so it completely covers the branched column. Secure the insulation in place by wrapping it with a piece of twine. Next, cover the fig column with a piece of clear or black polyethylene plastic sheeting (color doesn't matter). When covering the plant, be sure the plastic is folded over at the very top so it sheds water. Use heavy rope to circle the tree once again from the bottom to the top. This ensures that the wrapped fig won't be bothered by heavy winds or snow during the long winter months. Place a bucket or large nursery pot upside down on the top of the tree to help shed water.
Before wrapping the fig, place mouse bait in a protected container at the base of the tree and cover with straw to protect the roots and the bait container. (This prevents mice from girdling the tree in winter. We did not use mouse bait initially and when we uncovered the fig in the spring, the lower branches were girdled from rodents chewing on the bark and the fig did not survive. In subsequent years, we have used mouse bait and the trees come through the winter ready to produce figs in early spring.) Your fig tree is now ready for the winter using Logee's innovative winter wrapping technique.
In Spring, as soon as the danger of frost is past in your area, unwrap your fig. It is ready to begin growing where it left off last fall and will leaf out immediately and form fruit. Some fruit may form even before the foliage unfurls. This first crop is called the Breba crop. It forms fruit in spring and ripens in early summer. The next crop will form in summer and ripen in fall. Get your fig recipes ready for the abundance of figs you'll soon be harvesting.
Another trick for northern growers is to plant your fig against a south-facing wall. This extra warmth and protection usually ensures that the second crop of figs ripens before cold weather arrives.
Dinner in a dash: Ravioli with sautéed butternut squash and thyme
I love butternut squash. It’s chock full of phytonutrients and anti-oxidants and is delicious in both sweet and savory dishes. Now butternut squash is a bear to try to cut through and peel. What I like to do is poke it all over with a fork, microwave it on high for just a few minutes, use mitts to pull it out (it will be hot), let it cool and the skin will have softened enough for you to slice through it without using a machete!
1/2 medium butternut squash (about 1 pound), peeled and diced into 1/2” pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or up to 1 teaspoon dried thyme (start with 1/2 teaspoon and go from there)
16 oz. fresh or frozen cheese ravioli
Parmesan cheese for garnish
Film pan with oil and add squash. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until almost tender. Add garlic and thyme and cook, n covered, tossing occasionally, until squash is tender and just beginning to brown. Meanwhile, cook ravioli according to package directions. Put ravioli on platter, top with squash mixture and sprinkle generously with Parmesan. Serves 4.
What is FeederWatch?
Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America. FeederWatchers periodically count the birds they see at their feeders from November through early April and send their counts to Project FeederWatch. FeederWatch data help scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance. Anyone interested in birds can participate. FeederWatch is conducted by people of all skill levels and backgrounds, including children, families, individuals, classrooms, retired persons, youth groups, nature centers, and bird clubs. Participants watch their feeders as much or as little as they want over two consecutive days as often as every week (less often is fine). They count birds that appear in their count site because of something that they provided (plantings, food, or water).