The Home Fruit Orchard: Plums & Pears

The Home Fruit Orchard: Plums & Pears

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.

Kaga Plums from our home fruit orchard. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018

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.

Pears from our home fruit orchard. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018.

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.





Snow, Monarchs, and Fruit Trees: Haphazard Ramblings

Snow, Monarchs, and Fruit Trees: Haphazard Ramblings

This morning I am having some trouble deciding what to post.  As I was scrolling through my social media feed I noticed that a page out of Texas was having trouble with people stealing their content and posting it as their own, without any attribution. Their page is used to educate the public on the Monarch Butterfly and is filled with a plethora of information! They do a great job. But, let’s just say that using content without the permission of the owner or attribution of the original creator is wrong and leave it at that. We all know there are copyright laws.  Enough said.

Spring Snow

Then, I looked outside. Snow! It is extremely sunny but we got six inches of snow over the last 24 hours.  It’s beautiful – no doubt! But, it is also April 4th!  Despite having five days off for Spring Break, my boys were hoping to be off today for a snow day. No luck. But, Spring is always iffy, that is for sure!

We’ve had spring weather in the last few years where it reached 80 degrees in March. Our fruit tree buds swelled and blossomed in the sun and warmth, only to not have any pollinators be around to help make the fruit. Naturally, it got cold again and we had a very small harvest. And, we have times like this, cold & snow sitting on the closed buds and grounds, hopefully providing a another blanketing layer of insulation and warmth, not killing the tender, soon to be foliage with frost.  Yes, spring is iffy.

Fruit Trees

Our fruit trees have been trimmed, the branches disposed of, thanks to a friend.  We are hoping the timing of sun, warmth, blossoms and insects all work in concert this spring. A track meet was already canceled that was supposed to take place yesterday. I am sure the tennis match will be cancelled for tomorrow too.  One thing you can count on is that you can’t count on it being spring like in the spring!

The Iconic Monarch Butterfly: Part I in a series

Back to the Monarchs.  On Thursdays, the organization Journey North posts updates on Monarch migration.  If you visit the linked page today, you will see the post from last Thursday, March 29th. As you can see, the generation of Monarchs that overwinter in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Central Mexico are headed north! As they move further and further towards us in the upper mid-west, they are reproducing and laying eggs.The monarchs that arrive in our yards in late Spring and Early Summer are descendants of the butterflies that overwinter in Mexico.  The adult female monarch typically only lays eggs on milkweed plants along the way.  Habitat loss has made a major contribution to the Monarch’s plight.  It is essential there be milkweed for the monarchs as that species of plant sustains their entire life cycle.


Monarch conservation and habitat restoration has become a huge part of my life over the last 15 years. I am not new to their cause and therefore have a multitude of experience and knowledge which I can share with you. If you are interested in knowing more about what experience I have, please check out:  A Journey in Habitat Conservation & Restoration for the Monarch Butterfly.  I hope you stop back for some regular posts from this blog on The Iconic Monarch Butterfly!

Now, we just need the snow to melt!

A Little Bit of Garden Clean Up

A Little Bit of Garden Clean Up

We were lucky to have a mild weekend here in the midwest. My husband set about pruning our fruit trees.  We have about thirty different trees – apples, cherries, plum, pear, and a couple new peach trees, as well. They really needed severe pruning this year.  Even though my husband prunes yearly, as the trees have gotten bigger, it seems the branches cross more and more.  Fruit trees need to have an openness that will allow light and air to penetrate for a healthy flush of fruit. The tree branches were laden with so much fruit last year, we had some branch breakage.  So, on both Saturday and Sunday hours were spent trimming the fruit trees.  He looked for a fruit tree ladder but could not find one locally. Ordering one from a big box store would work but will not get here until after April 9th –  too late for the pruning sessions.  Smaller suppliers will not ship anything over 4 feet and then, the shipping is as much as the ladder. So, he made one. It is rough but helped him do the job on the smaller semi-dwarf trees.

By  yesterday afternoon, he had moved on to garden clean up. We have several large perennial beds, two of which seem to collect leaves because they are under maples in our back yard.  He invited me to help him when he stopped for lunch but I balked saying that I had a ton of school work to finish and had not gotten to even half of it yet. He shrugged and returned outside. I returned to my schoolwork. But, after a morning and short time into the afternoon spent looking at the computer screen, I developed a headache. So, I decided to join my husband in the garden.

I raked up on of the larger perennial beds and dumped the debris onto a tarp which was then dragged over to the brush fire we had going. Sparks and pops could be heard as the dry brown leaves, seed pods, and evergreen branches burned.

After I finished raking, I filled two bird feeders with fresh seed.  I found my headache was gone, I had helped my husband, and gotten some exercise as well. I guess it is true that “every little bit helps.”

I am participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge for the month of March. Thank you to for hosting this blog writing challenge for the 11th consecutive year.  It is the second year of my participation.

The Power of Plants

The Power of Plants

Recently, while reading posts offered by members of a reflective blog writing group to which I belong, there were a couple that caught my eye.  The authors, two separate people, wrote on the memories that specific plants evoke for them.  I understood completely! Plants are powerful!

My grandma always had african violets. They seemed to thrive under her care, having many blooms in purple, white, and even pink. My mom and I eventually received slips of the plants or even whole plants to nurture on our own.  Until recently, I usually had an african violet I was caring for in my own home.  When we explored cuttings in garden club, I let the children take a leaf cutting from my plants to root in a glass of water at their own home.   African violets root easily and it was a great lesson in asexual plant reproduction, but left me without a violet.

Philodendron’s are also verdant hardy plants of which I have vibrant memories. I had one in my 1970’s lemon yellow bedroom hanging from a handmade macrame’ plant hanger. It was aptly named, Philly. It grew very long and survived on benign neglect. My sister-in-law had a similar Philodendron that was so long it traversed the stair well in her condo, easily connecting the bedroom ledge with livingroom floor.

My love for plants might go back to my 6th grade science fair, in which I experimented with cactus seeds and learned all about these plants that have adapted to live in arid environments. I have always wanted to visit the desert, especially when it was in bloom, but thus far, have not made the trip.  I have, however, collected photographs of Prickly Pear cacti wherever I have found them growing – in the United States and abroad. Cacti and succulents ended up being another popular garden club unit, of which I ended up added to a collection of plants for my home, rather than cutting it away as I did with the African Violets.

For many, Poinsettias conjure up images of the winter holidays. This plant made the largest impression on me when we visited Longwood Gardens in December in the early 1990’s. It was filled with poinsettias, traditionally red colored ones, forming pathways, and even pseudo-trees in swaths of holiday color. Poinsettias have a long history, having come to the United States from Mexico by a long ago ambassador, Joel Poinsett.  The colorful leaves are not the flowers on this plant, a fact that still goes unnoted by some. Almost every year in garden club, I had the students learn about the history of the poinsettia and some accompanying plant lore and legends. It was one of my favorite units. This plant has come to symbolize the welcoming of the holiday season in our home. My husband usually arrives home with two large potted poinsettias from Sam’s Club, just around Thanksgiving time. They had a brightness to our house that is so needed once the long winter days set in.

Probably no plant symbolizes our family more than our fruit trees. We have had a home fruit orchard in Wisconsin in two different yards, cumulatively for almost twenty years.  Each has grown a variety of apples and cherries.  Our current orchard is also home to pears, blueberries, and plums. We added a hardy peach called “Reliant” to the rows this spring, along with two apricots.  The fruit trees provide year round beauty and bountiful harvests.  However, they also need year round care.  Our whole family is involved in taking care of these trees. Maybe it is for this reason that I really cannot imagine having a yard without them.

Plants are powerful. For me, strong memories are attached to these living things that provide beauty and sustenance, for the mind as well as the body.