Fruit From Non Fruit Trees

90828thumbThose of us who grew up with the old fashioned stone fruit orchards or vineyards might remember some of the traditional methods for protecting the ripening fruit from birds. Mulberry trees were grown on the corners of some orchards to keep birds well fed and less hungry for the ripe orchard fruit. Mulberry cultivars were selected to ripen just prior to the fruit within the particular orchards.

The trees were not there to produce fruit to be harvested like the fruit within the orchards was. Most, but not all of what the birds did not consume fell to the ground and rotted. Only small quantities of the overly abundant fruit was taken by a few neighbors who made jam or syrup with with it. Mulberries were a byproduct of the orchards that some put to good use just because it was available.

Decades ago, it was much easier to get a bit of fruit from neglected or naturalized fruit trees in rural regions and on roadsides without offending anyone. Isolated remnants of the old fruit orchards were common. American plum, which had been used as understock for orchard trees, had naturalized in some regions. For those daring enough to harvest them, so had Himalayan blackberry.

Even now, we can find a bit of fruit where do not expect it to be. A few plants that are grown more for their visual appeal can be surprisingly generous with their fruit production. Pineapple guava, which is now popularly grown as a simple evergreen hedge, used to be grown instead for its small tart guavas. Purple leaf plum, as it matures, may not be quite as fruitless as it is purported to be.

The difficulty with the more unfamiliar types of fruit is finding practical uses for it. The native blue elderberry makes excellent jelly or syrup, like black elderberry, but not many of us even know it is edible once cooked. Australian brush cherry, strawberry tree, English hawthorn and ‘Majestic Beauty’ Indian hawthorn, are never overly productive, but might sometimes make enough fruit for jelly.

Of course, no unfamiliar fruit or nut should be eaten prior to confirmation that it is safe for consumption.

Advertisements

Horridculture – Fruit Theft

70726thumbGrowing fruit trees is quite a bit of work. While producing, some of the fruit trees need nearly as much attention as annual vegetable plants in the vegetable garden. Then, while dormant, they need meticulous and specialized pruning. Some fruit trees get damaged by insect or disease infestation, or severe weather. Some fruit can get taken by wildlife. Yet, for most of us, the reward of fresh fruit is worth all the hard work that goes into growing it.
Unfortunately, most types of fruit, especially the stone fruits, ripen simultaneously within their respective seasons, and are suddenly and briefly too abundant to be consumed while still fresh. Unless shared very efficiently with plenty of friends and neighbors, some of the fruit must be canned, frozen or dried for later consumption. Then, as suddenly as it started, the season for the particular type of fruit is done. There will be no more until next year.
That had never been a problem us, even though some of the fruit trees produce quite a bit. There was one particular summer, about 2004, when we were expecting an unusually abundant crop of unusually big peaches. We got all the jars out and cleaned on Friday afternoon. All the big pots and utensils that we would need for canning were out on the counters. We must have purchased ten pounds of sugar, and even got some pectin for jam.
Early on Saturday morning, we went out to collect the peaches while it was still cool, and found them GONE! It was as if they had never been there. All the work of pruning and pampering the tree was for NOTHING!
Now, I know that when I was a kid, we shared abundance with neighbors. We children were expected to take brown paper grocery bags of produce to neighbors who lacked the trees for particular fruit. For example, I delivered cherries to those who lacked cherry trees. I delivered apricots to the few who lacked apricot trees. Neighbors sometimes stopped me on the road to give bags of fresh produce for my parents or other neighbors.
Also, I know that there was nothing wrong with taking a few fruits from a neighbor’s tree. We often went behind the Charles Residence to get a few oranges when we got out of school. We sometimes got apples from the back yard of the Richmond Residence. Of course, we first asked if we wanted more than a few for a recipe or something. No one really minded because the system was respected, and none of the trees were exploited.
That was a long time ago. By the time I was in high school, we started hearing about fruit trees getting stripped of every last bit of fruit while no one was around. Over the years, it became progressively common. Some neighbors had me cut down fruit trees from their front yards because there was no point in all the maintenance if they could not get fruit from them. It was saddening, wasteful, and so contrary to our formerly idyllic lifestyle.
When it happened to the peach tree that I had taken such good care of in the garden next door, I was furious! What made it even worse is that we knew who did it! The so-called ‘gardener’, who was supposed to ‘maintain’ ONLY the front lawn stopped by the prior evening, just after I checked on the fruit. I sort of wondered why he was there so late, and why he was in back, but gave it no more thought than that.
He later told me that no one wanted the fruit, and that it was just going to fall on the ground and go to waste. Really, I would not have minded if he had taken a few peaches. I would not have minded if he had taken several or even most if he had asked before we got ready to can them. It would have been better for someone or several someones to enjoy them fresh than to can them as surplus.
About a year and a few months or so later, the fig tree in my back yard was stripped by the so-called ‘gardener’ who supposedly ‘maintained’ the landscape next door on the opposite side of where the peach tree lived. There had been no preparation to dry the figs yet, since I had planned to leave them on the tree a bit longer. Also, there was not as much fruit as there was on the peach tree.
The theft of the fruit was not the worst of the problems in this situation. The main problem was that the tree was so severely damaged in the process. I had pruned the tree so meticulously for several years, both for good (late crop) production, and also for clearance above a parking space. I did not mind the slightly elevated canopy; but the guy who stole the fruit without a ladder broke the limbs so that he could get the higher fruit!

Horridculture – Unpruned Fruit Trees

P90529They do not come with instructions for their maintenance. Deciduous fruit trees, particularly the stone fruit trees (such as cherry, plum, prune, apricot nectarine and peach) and pomme fruit trees (such as apple and pear), can be procured as easily as nasturtium seed or petunias. Whether bare-root in winter or canned (potted), they very often get planted into gardens where they are expected to produce their fruit as easily as daisies bloom.
Instructions for planting that come with bare root stock are useful for getting those particular trees started, but mention nothing about how even brand new trees need to be pruned after installation, and will need specialized pruning annually every winter thereafter. The same applies to rose, raspberry, blackberry (all varieties), grape, and to a lesser extent, fig, pomegranate, persimmon and several other fruit producing trees, vines and shrubs.
The problem with the stone fruit and pomme fruit trees is that they were bred to produce an unnatural abundance of unnaturally large fruits that are too overwhelming to sustain as they ripen, and too heavy to support. The others are in a similar situation, but are somehow able to continue to produce and generally support their own weight as they get overgrown and congested. Roses deteriorate and succumb to disease as they get congested.
This is why annual winter pruning is so important. Such pruning concentrates resources into fewer but superior fruits, rather than too many inferior fruits. It also limits and contains (closer to the main trunk and limbs) the weight of the fruit, so that limbs are not so likely to break as fruit develops.
These wimpy stems hanging vertically from the weight of the maturing apricots might be able to support the weight of the fruit, but the excessive fruit will be of inferior quality.P90529+

Lisbon Lemon

90417It may not be the mother of all lemons, but Lisbon lemon, Citrus limon ‘Lisbon’, is the original cultivar from which ‘Eureka’ lemon was derived; and ‘Variegated Pink’ lemon was later derived from ‘Eureka’ lemon. ‘Variegated Pink’ is still uncommon, and the pink juice is unusual, but because its variegated foliage is less efficient than greener foliage, it is more manageable in small spaces.

The only distinguishable difference between ‘Lisbon’ and ‘Eureka’ is the scheduling of the fruit. Both are the biggest of the dwarf citrus, and can get as tall as second story eaves. Both have nicely aromatic glossy green foliage. Both are somewhat thorny, and get big thorns on vigorous growth. Yet ‘Lisbon’ is now rare, while ‘Eureka’ is second in popularity only to the unrelated ‘Meyer’ lemon.

That is because, after primary winter production, ‘Eureka’ continues to produce sporadically throughout the year, which is what most of us want in our home garden. ‘Lisbon’ may seem to be more productive, but only because it produces all of its fruit within a limited season that is finishing up about now. The fruit that ripens now may linger for months, but no new fruit ripens until next season.

Wild Plum

60224Unlike all the fancy and popular Japanese plums and European prunes, wild plum, Prunus americana, is almost never planted intentionally. It is a common understock for the more desirable types, and usually grows as suckers from below graft unions. In fact, it often grows from the roots of plum or prune trees that died or were cut down earlier. They can eventually form thickets.

Well groomed trees can get more than fifteen feet tall and broad. Even diligent pruning can not remove all of the sharp short twigs that make the stems seem thorny. Collectively, the simple and small white flowers bloom very profusely. The thin leaves that emerge after bloom are about two or three inches long. The small and soft red plums are only about an inch wide, with big pits.

Wild plum trees are very resilient, and can can survive in abandoned gardens, but really prefers occasional watering. They will lean away from the shade of larger trees. New trees do not often grow from seed, but if they do, they might be distinctly different from the trees that produced the seed. Some might be hybrids with other plums. Some might produce amber yellow plums.

The fruit may not be as fat and sweet as popular garden varieties of plum, but happens to be excellent for traditional plum jelly, either red or amber.

Bloom Is Earlier If Forced

60224thumbProperly pruned deciduous fruit trees probably do not have too many extra stems to spare now. Neglected trees would have more to offer. Believe it or not, a few of us who prune deciduous fruit trees diligently and meticulously in winter sometimes leave a few unwanted stems to prune out and take into the home now that the flower buds are beginning to swell and are about to bloom.

Bloom accelerates once the bare twigs are inside where the nights are warmer than outside. If the buds are plump enough, they can bloom in a day or a few. (If not plump enough, the buds may desiccate before they bloom.) Twigs that are already blooming can be brought in as well, but do not last quite as long. Blossoms are a bit messy as they later drop petals, but are worth the bother.

The technique is simply known as ‘forcing’, which works something like forcing bulbs to bloom prematurely. Timing is critical. If a few blossoms are already blooming elsewhere on the tree, the fattest unblooming buds that are already showing color are ready to be cut and brought in. They only need to be put in a vase with water like any other cut flower, and can mix with other flowers.

Stone fruits (of the genus Prunus) like almond, apricot, plum, prune, peach, nectarine and cherry, start to bloom about now, although not in this order. Apple and pear bloom later. All their fruitless counterparts, known simply as flowering plum, flowering cherry, flowering crabapple and so on, are even more colorful, and some types bloom with ruffled double flowers. All bloom without foliage.

Flowering quince and forsythia have already bloomed, but would have been the most spectacular bare twigs to force into bloom. Pussywillow is probably the most familiar forced bloom twig. Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) blooms something like pear, but the aroma may be objectionable to some. More adventurous garden enthusiasts force witch hazel (winter), redbud and star magnolia.

Avocado

60217Avocado trees, Persea americana, grown from seed need to be about five years old to produce fruit that can be considerably different from the fruit from which the seed was taken, although such fruit is almost always quite good. Some trees need to be twice as old to produce. Grafted trees from nurseries are specific varieties that can start to produce their specific fruit immediately.

Fruit production is notoriously variable. Some healthy trees may be unproductive for a few years, and then suddenly produce more fruit than the limbs can support. Trees that are very reliable and productive may sometimes be unproductive or significantly less productive for a season. It is nearly impossible to determine which environmental factors inhibited bloom and fruit development.

Mature trees can be more than forty feet tall, with awkward branch structure. The lush dark green leaves are about four to eight inches long. The tiny yellowish green flowers barely get noticed until they deteriorate and fall to the ground like corn meal. The dark green and pear shaped fruit is quite heavy. It develops on the tree, but then ripens after it falls or gets picked and brought inside.

Warm Weather Confuses Dormant Plants

60217thumbClimate is what makes gardening so excellent here. It is just warm enough in summer for plants that like a bit of heat, but not too unbearably hot for too long. It is just cool enough in winter for plants that like a chill, but not cold enough for hard frost or heavy snow. The climate is also comfortable for us while out in the garden! Yet, even local climate is neither perfect nor predictable.

El Nino is still out there, and likely to deliver an abundance of rain. The rain last month was great while it lasted. This presently dry and warm weather in between has been excellent, but is likely to cause serious consequences. Some deciduous plants that are normally bare through winter are being deprived of adequate dormancy. Some are blooming prematurely, and may foliate soon.

When the rain resumes, it will ruin some of the premature bloom. This is generally harmless for most fruitless flowering trees like the various acacias, flowering plums and saucer magnolias, but compromises their most alluring feature. It can be more dangerous to flowering pears (including evergreen pear) and flowering crabapples, because wet blossoms can be infected with fire blight.

The more serious problem is that rain ruins blossoms and juvenile fruit of various deciduous fruit trees. Stone fruits such as almonds, apricots, cherries, plums, prunes, peaches and nectarines bloom first, and do so with delicate blossoms. If the blossoms do not get knocked off by rain, the juvenile fruit will rot if it stays damp too long. Many fruit trees are likely to lose all fruit this year.

Apple and pear trees should be safer because they bloom later, and bloom with more substantial flowers. (However, like their fruitless relatives, their wet blossoms are very susceptible to fire blight.) Persimmons and pomegranates bloom even later, and with even tougher flowers, so should be safe. Figs are in a league of their own, and should be fine if summer is warm.

Fortunately, destruction of bloom and fruit, although disappointing to us, is harmless to the affected trees.

Almond

90206It is no more in season now than the other stone fruits like apricot, cherry, plum and such, but this is the time of year that almond, Prunus dulcis, needs work. Established trees get pruned while bare and dormant. New trees, preferably bare root, get planted. The most popular modern cultivars available are self pollinating, and labeled as such. Old traditional cultivars require pollinators.

Almond is the ‘other’ stone fruit. Because it is a nut, it does not resemble the rest of the juicy and fleshy stone fruits like nectarine and peach. However, the resemblance to the stones of the stone fruits is obvious. It is, after all, a big seed. The fruity parts form tough hulls that spit open to reveal the dry nuts within. Almonds do not get picked, but instead get shaken or knocked from the trees.

Because the nuts are lightweight, almond trees do not need to be pruned as aggressively as other stone fruit trees. Because the nuts are not hand picked, the trees can be pruned upward as deciduous shade trees with spectacularly white spring bloom. Some cultivars can get more than twenty feet tall. Squirrels and crows take most of the nuts, but do not bother to clean up the hulls.

Plant Bare Root Plants Properly

90206thumbCompared to canned (potted) nursery stock, bare root plants have a few advantages. They are less expensive, easier to handle, more conducive to pruning into a desired form, and they disperse roots and get established more efficiently. One more advantage that is not often considered is that they are easier to install into the garden. For some, it is as simple as poking a stick in the mud.

Perhaps the only disadvantage of bare root plants is that they must be planted immediately, so that they get their roots soaked and settled into the ground into which they will disperse new roots. If planting must be delayed, roots can soak in a bucket of water for only a few days. Unless they are to live in big pots, potting for a season only delays and interferes with efficient root dispersion.

Only bare root trees that need root barriers (to divert roots from pavement) or mesh gopher baskets (to divert gophers from roots) will need planting holes that are as big as those for canned nursery stock. Otherwise, planting holes need be only as wide as the bare roots, and should be no deeper. If soil is loosened too deeply below, new plants will sink as loose soil settles. Graft unions must remain above grade.

Well flared roots can be spread over a cone of soil formed at the bottom of the planting hole. Conversely, cane berries, after their roots get loosened, can simply be dropped into slots formed by sticking a shovel into the ground and prying it back.

Soil amendments that are useful for providing a transition zone between potting media of canned nursery stock the surrounding soil are not so important with bare root stock. Bare root plants only want a bit of soil amendment if the soil is too sandy or too dense with clay. Otherwise, too much amendment can actually inhibit root dispersion by tempting roots to stay where the richest soil is.

Once planted, trees can be pruned as desired. Most come with superfluous stems to provide more options for pruning, and some stems will be damaged in transport. Fertilizer need not be applied until growth resumes in spring.