Fruit of Our Labors
One of the great joys in life is eating fruit straight off of the bush or tree. Eating vegetables off of the vine – especially cherry tomatoes – can be wonderful as well, but fruit is special. It’s so delicate, seasonal, and sweet that there’s a feeling of only being in the present moment when eating it. Even fruit from the farmers market often has a sourness to it a result of being picked en masse, where the slightly overripe and slightly underripe often make it into the basket by mistake. In addition, just the trip from the farm to the market, not to mention the trip home in my bag, squashes the most delicate fruit. Fruit just isn’t meant to travel, and our obsession with being able to get it year-round has inured us to the price we’ve paid in terms of taste. All of which is why I am thrilled to have fruit growing in our yard.
In a previous post, I mentioned that we put in blueberry bushes, despite our ineptness last year before. Despite the fact that it’s their first year in the ground, we bought them large and mature enough that they are in fact bearing little blueberries! After seeing the birds taking an interest, I was going to put up some type of deterrent, but they seem to be getting their fill while still leaving enough for us humans to eat. Like the birds, I started sneaking them early, despite Chris nagging me to leave them alone. They were good, albeit a little sour, but he was right. The fully ripened ones are bright and sweet. I haven’t had blueberries that good since I went blueberry picking at a farm in my hometown, where their blueberry bushes were generations old and produced cherry-sized blueberries. As those bushes were long ago bulldozed over, this is the best I’m going to get.
In addition to the blueberry bushes, we have a couple of other plants with the potential to bear fruit. The grapevine is steadily chugging up the makeshift trellis Chris set up on the shed. Although we thought it would take a couple years before the vine started producing grapes, having just done some Internet research (thank goodness for agricultural extension offices!), it seems that we’re not pruning it correctly. Basically, fruit will only develop on “canes” (mature shoots that have become woody) that are one-year-old, not more, not less. Next year, we’ll have to be more precise in our pruning to get the fruit that we want. Until then, the grapevine will just be decorative.
The other option is the strawberry plant that I bought during a particularly ambitious trip to the farmers market. The farmer said that it can bear fruit right in its container, but that it would be pretty small. Although it’s still sitting on our deck, I hope to plant it on the side of the house with the spearmint Chris happened to bring home from work. I had originally planned on putting in peanuts and squash in that spot, but Chris put cardboard down and mulched the entire area in a semi-successful attempt to block some nasty weeds. As planting peanuts would have required digging through the mulch and squash needs a somewhat deep rootbase, I changed the original plan. Instead, I’m planting the mint and strawberries right on top of the mulch with some layers of newspapers and LeafGro, as their rooting systems can be a bit more shallow. They are both extremely aggressive perennials, so planting them separate keeps them from taking over the rest of my garden while providing some legitimate competition for the hearty weeds.
Although we don’t have it in yet, we’re also hoping to plant a cherry tree in the fall. Originally, I had wanted to plant a paw-paw, a tree native to the southeast that produces fruit so delicate that it can’t be shipped. The idea of having fruit that you could get nowhere else right in my yard really appealed to me. In contrast, Chris wasn’t keen on investing in something he had never eaten before. So we’ve decided to compromise on a cherry tree. This neighborhood used to be full of them, but I think most of our neighbors cut them down because they couldn’t bothered to maintain them. It’s likely to take the spot of an extremely ugly shrub that the previous inhabitants of our house attempted and failed to prune.
Although we’re content with the berries right now, I hope that eventually we’ll have a full cornucopia of fruit to choose from. Because all of them are perennials, they also require far less work than the vegetables, which are annuals. I don’t think we’ll ever have a full food forest, but a food grove would be enough for me.