A few years back, when I was living in northern California, I attended a reading by David Mas Masumoto, writer and organic peach farmer in the Central Valley. He began by distributing samples of peach jam which we savored as an appetizer before the main course: excerpts from his Epitaph for a Peach. That day I began a love affair with peaches. We looked into it, and it turned out there was an orchard down the street from our house in California that grew pick-your-own peaches and other fruits. We began visiting the orchard once a week in the summer, picking our own berries and stone fruits. And when we moved to northern Virginia and finally had a small suburban lot to call our own, the first thing we planted were two peach trees along the front walk. But we are busy at work, busy with young kids, and even though we KNEW that the peaches needed spraying with a safe, clay-based cover, we did not perform this needed chore. I know, I know, how stupid. Or, as I like to think of it, how hopefully negligent, for, in the end, no unsprayed peach in our region is spared by the plum curculio. Our first large harvest of luscious peaches was in July 2012, and it was also our last from those trees.
Lesson 1: Prioritize your plants
You are probably like me: busy. You will not get to all parts of the garden on the one afternoon a month that you will have free to work outdoors. So you should have a list of must dos for each month and actually do them. Or, if there is not time for a list, hold close to your heart this principle: always tend the high production, slow growers in your garden first. You will not be sorry. That summer of peach production we canned peach halves in light syrup, an incredible peach jam, and peach barbecue sauce in addition to eating a few peaches a day each and baking many cobblers and cakes. We had a peach-based dinner party for friends. We had enough preserved treats to bring peace offerings to the neighbors who put up with peach pits littered in their yards from the squirrels. Compare that to this year of dead peach trees: we picked peaches at a mediocre orchard and made jam that is, well, it’s edible.
Lesson 2: Choose your fruit companions with care
My other big take away from the demise of our peach trees is how important it is to choose fruit trees for your yard that match a realistic view of your lifestyle. Planting a tree involves commitment; it gives way to a relationship that traverses years, decades often. Be sure you think about how much time you can give over to its care before investing time and money in a new tree. Also, think about what companions you want to plant around your fruit trees. The first few years there were tulips, then marigolds, basil, and nasturtiums around our peach trees. I am convinced these helped ward off the pests. My new strategies is to use the permaculture notion of the food forest in my fruit tree plantings. Look for future posts on these new plans!
In the case that adding a fruit tree to your edible landscape is part of your plan for 2014, here is a list of the easier-to-care-for fruits. The ones in bold we are already growing with success (i.e., already harvesting). The ones in italics, we are growing, but they haven’t started fruiting yet.
And, yes, we are trying our hand at difficult-to-grow fruits like apples, pears, and plums. And, yes, we have already replaced one of the peach trees. This time, however, our kids are older and we think we know what we are getting ourselves into…
What fruit failures you have learned the most from over the years? What are your fruit success stories?