One absolute delight this time of year is picking fruit for breakfast. I go out around 6 am to let the chickens out anyway, so from there it’s an easy detour to whatever fruit patch looks most promising. It’s hard to think of something better than a handful of fruit to go with our eggs or cereal.
We’re finally at a point where a lot of our fruit vines/bushes are reaching the maturity to produce more regularly, or maybe we’ve just learned how best to care for them. Take that statement with a grain of salt, please, because we lost two fruit trees this year, the Santa Rosa plum and the Asian pear. The plum blossomed beautifully and then just died, I can’t figure out why. The pear died after I transplanted it too late (I was trying to give it a place with more sun). I also think we will be losing our peach after this season; it’s quite old and very damaged. Over the last five years, I’ve planted and lost two cherry trees and six raspberry canes. So let’s just say that the learning curve has been steep!
Our current fruit inventory consists of two apple trees (one ancient and still bearing, one very young and just starting out), one peach (ancient, and as I said, on its way out - I’m thinking of replacing it with a mulberry), one ‘Panache’ fig (growing to a monstrous size), one quince (ancient and produces no matter how we hack it up), one naval orange (still very young and not yet producing), one elderberry (very young, still not producing), two Arbequina olives (in pots, producing just enough olives for us), strawberries in gutters and in the ground, eight blueberry bushes which are about five years old, ten rhubarb plants, one native huckleberry, and a thornless blackberry. I’ve just ordered six marionberry plants, which are a hybrid blackberry; we fell in love with marionberries in Oregon a couple of years ago and have trouble finding them at the markets.
We finally found the best location for strawberries in our garden; it has taken years and many failed plantings to figure that out. The strawberries in gutters, and the ones growing in the ground beneath those, are doing just great. They get a couple of hours of direct early morning sun, and then are in shade the rest of the day. We don’t have irrigation going to them, so I water them every day, and feed them with fish emulsion every month. Keeping them mulched has helped with slug pressure, as is the fact that they are right next to the patio, in a place slugs rarely visit, and most are high off the ground. I had about 25% failure rate with the plugs, but I’ve been replacing them with runners from the other strawberries. What this has done is mix up my record-keeping; I no longer know which berries are which variety, but that really doesn’t matter. What matters is we are getting a large handful every day.
I’ve got several different high-bush varieties of blueberries, and they’re also doing great this year, I think because I pruned them hard last winter, taking out all of the older wood and leaving only young canes. Some of the young canes aren’t producing yet, but will next year. They are on drip irrigation and mulched heavily with coffee chaff (low-fertility organic matter is key for blueberries). I do not like to add sulfur because it hurts soil life, but about two years ago I did add a little blueberry fertilizer. The native huckleberry is also doing quite well after a rather severe pruning last winter. We all tend to stop and graze from that shrub throughout the day, as the berries are incredibly small and it takes an awful lot to make a handful.
Our thornless blackberry vine was a freebie from a neighbor. It likes where it is planted (morning and late afternoon sun, shade in the middle of the day) and is trained up on our fence. However, for years it suffered deer pressure because it is outside the fence rather than inside. I finally got that area planted up with ornamentals (mostly Leonotis leonurus), and that has reduced the deer pressure on the blackberry. It is loaded with green berries right now, I can’t wait to start eating those. I’ve never fertilized it, but it is on drip irrigation and is heavily mulched with wood chips, plus it sits next to one of our worm bins so it probably gets some leachate from that.
Even with all these plantings, I still have to buy fruit any time I want to make a pie (except maybe apple), or when Tom makes jam - we can never get enough! As you know, fruit trees take years to produce a substantial crop, so adding new trees a little at a time makes sense. Also planting trees and vines that will do well with the changing weather is smart. As I said up top, I’m thinking of replacing our peach tree with a mulberry rather than another peach. There are many reasons for this, and one is the weather. We all have to start thinking ahead with regards to climate change - what is our weather going to be like in five years, or ten? Most peaches need a lot of chill hours, and it’s likely that we’ll get less chill hours here in the future (and we don’t have that many to begin with). Peaches also need spraying for peach-leaf curl, which is a fungus, and the copper in that spray, though technically ‘organic,’ harms soil life. I don’t want to spray anything in my garden that harms soil life. We love having fresh peaches off the tree, but it’s just not the right choice for the way we garden and the climate we garden in. It’s an old-fashioned choice, and we have to look to the future. Mulberries are drought-tolerant, don’t need chill hours, don’t need any kind of spraying, and will feed both wildlife and us. Probably there are other good choices I should be looking into, like guava.
There will be more musings on this subject later, but meanwhile, I’m just happy to have fresh fruit every day to eat first thing in the morning. What a great start to the day!