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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

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.

Blueberries from the Backyard

Blueberries from the Backyard

Our blueberries are coming in! Earlier this month, we had a bountiful cherry harvest. We still have cherries to pick, but the weather has turned hot and the Japanese Beetles have attacked! It is harder to pick under those conditions.

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Blueberry picking was easy. We only have six bushes. Four of which are established enough to produce fruit.  Typically, it takes a blueberry bush three to five years to start producing fruit. Patience, as well as acidic soil, are necessities for berries.  Four of our bushes are at the point where they are really producing. We had a clue in the spring that we might have a good harvest, as the bushes were covered with white flowers.  We hoped that the bees had done their job. Soon after, when we saw the unripe fruit start to grow, we knew they had and we would have plenty of blueberries.

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Given that there are many birds as interested in the berries as we are, we have learned to cover the bushes with netting to keep them out. It works for the birds, but not for the japanese beatles. Fortunately, I got to the blueberries before the beetles had much of a meal! I see Japanese Beetle traps in our future for next year!

The nice thing about blueberries is that unlike cherries, they just need to be washed, not pitted. We have a nice harvest, I picked what was ripe, as shown in the photo. It took about an hour with a little help from my 17 year old, in 90 degree heat. Not enough to share, like the cherries, but enough to eat fresh and do some baking. Two years ago, when we last experienced a nice harvest, I made some delicious blueberry jam. I will have to look for that recipe after I post. My husband immediately made a blueberry pound cake, which looks too delicious to resist. So much for my diet!

Silent Sunday: Picking Cherries

Silent Sunday: Picking Cherries

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Cherry Bushes in our Backyard, June 24th, 2017
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Bountiful Cherries in our Home Orchard, 2017
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Incredibly Beautiful Cherries, June 2017, © Carol Labuzzetta
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Covered in Cherries! 2017
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Gazillions of Cherries, 2017
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Our First Picking, June 2017.
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Twenty minutes of pitting only gets you so far! 
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We’ll be picking for days! Bountiful Harvest, 2017.
Fruit Trees & The Weather: It seems to be all or none

Fruit Trees & The Weather: It seems to be all or none

For the last 18 years, we’ve had a home fruit orchard. I can’t call it a backyard orchard as it was at our first home in the mid-west, as our 30 trees are in our front yard at our current house. It’s been so long that we’ve had fruit-growing in our yard, I really almost cannot remember a time we didn’t.

Our orchard includes three varieties of plums: Kaga, Toga, and Italian Prune Plums. All are delicious, but I like the Kaga best. They are sweet, with a flowery scent, and so beautiful to look at. In 2015, we had a bountiful harvest, as you can see!

plums 2015

We have sour cherry trees, probably a half dozen of two or three varieties. Sweet cherries do not grow well in our climate, as we miss the milder winters that provide some protect for those varieties. We have Meteor and Montmorency and Kristen.  These are the names of the cherry varietals in our orchard. The Montmorency are great to make strudel and coffee cake. We haven’t quiet mastered a cherry pie, yet. They are always runny, so we tend not to waste using the cherries for those. Our harvest was great in 2015 and okay last year. Unfortunately, we missed harvesting most of the cherries due to a vacation and the birds got most of what we had in 2016.

Pears are another type of fruit we have growing in our home fruit orchard.  The varieties escape me, but they are delicious as well. Again, harvesting pears last year was slim. We only had a few. None to share.

Most of our trees are apples. We have many varieties – the beloved Honey Crisp, the versatile Cortland, a variety developed in Minnesota called Sweet Sixteen, another type called Honey Gold which is more of a yellow apple with a sweet taste, and a few Haralson’s which are particular to the mid-west. They are my favorite. We’ve had some over the years that got damaged by storms, Winesaps, Johnathans, and others that we’ve had to replace. But, in 2015 we overflowed with apples! We made over 40 gallons of cider! Do you know it takes a 5 gallon bucket of apples to make one gallon of cider? It does! This is probably part of the reason the stuff is so darned expensive when you have to buy it.

And buy it, we did in 2016. Our apple harvest was nil. The trees blossomed and then we got a cold snap. No insects, no apples. Not to mention no blossoms, no apples, and no fruit.  Again, this year, we had a warm snap, a few days to a week of 70 degree weather. The plum trees blossom, beautifully. Then, it turned cold. It has remained cold. The pears blossomed, and we are still cold. The cherries are just ready to blossom and today it will be in the 60’s. In fact, we are supposed to have a string of days in the 60’s. I hope so. I doubt we’ll have many plums or pears, but we still have a chance for cherries and apples.  Oh, and there is that one apricot tree we put in this spring – another fruit, another chance, another harvest of all or none.

 

Inspired by the Daily Prompt: none