Part of our home fruit orchard consists of several plum trees. I believe we have four varieties: Kaga, Toga, and Italian (Stanley) Prune Plums. I’ve been watching the trees since it appeared that we were going to have plums to harvest. Today, one of the trees had some that were ripe enough to pick. I believe they are Kaga plums, which are a Japanese-American Hybrid. These fruits are smaller than some of the other types of plums but highly flavorful and often aromatic, as well.
In the past, when plum harvests have been bountiful, I’ve made some plum raspberry jam. When I picked today that was on my mind. But, after I cleaned and tasted the plums, I decided we must have some for dinner in a light chopped fruit salsa type dish to go with our grilled chicken. I am hoping that by Wednesday, I’ll be able to make some jam.
Our pears are also producing and ready to be harvested soon. Unfortunately, we had a problem with our pear trees this year that prompted me to contact an extension agent. My husband noted curling stems and leaves early on in the summer. It since has been determined that this is probably a local soil issue caused by the wet weather cycles that have alternated with heat waves this year. We have a densely clay soil covering most of our acreage, leading us (and the extension agent) to believe the roots need some aeration. Most probably the curling is being caused by a lack of oxygen and nutrients that are the result of compacted clay soil preventing the roots from being able to adequately do their job. Unfortunately, our trees are mature and the process of aerating and mixing in organic matter as suggested by the extension agricultural education agent was daunting and untenable. We thought about poking holes into the soil around the base of these trees but also considered that we might damage the roots in the process. So, we’ve done nothing. The trees have continued to produce fruit and the leaves have remained green, although are still curling from the petiole right down the veins to the tips. Our harvest is large, but the pears are not (see photo). I do not believe this is fire blight or pear leaf curling midge as some of the symptomatology is missing for both of those diseases. I truly think is is a saturated clay soil that is decreasing oxygen availability to the roots. The extension agent was in agreement.
Fruit is tricky. So much of a good harvest depends on weather patterns, the absence of disease, growing and/or environmental conditions, and care. We’ve grown fruit for as long as we’ve lived in the mid-west, which is close to two decades. Some years are bountiful and we are happy to share with friends. Some years are not, and then we spend some time trying to figure out exactly what it was that went wrong. This is one of those years. A wet but hot spring and early summer, compacted clay soils, and trees that perhaps are getting a little large to manage all played a part in this year’s bounty, or lack there of. I’ll take the plums we can harvest, savoring every sweet bite and preserving some for a mid-winter treat when the orchard is nothing more than brown branches covered in snow. I know that is when the plum will be the sweetest on my tongue.