Growing fruit trees and vegetables in your private garden is an exercise in irrational, insane optimism.
Last evening, for almost an hour, I sat and listened to my sister and her husband discuss the present condition and ongoing care of their ONE apple tree. The history of their apple tree goes like this:
☹ Year One: Nothing much to brag about—one apple. The squirrels got it.
☹ Year Two: A few more apples. The squirrels got them.
☹ Year Three: A few more apples. Covered the tree with netting. The squirrels got the apples.
☹ Year Four: A few more apples. Netting and a tree trunk guard. The squirrels got the apples.
☹ Year Five: Lots of apples. Coddling Moths attack the tree. No apples.
☹ Year Six: Lots of apples. Husband treats tree with dormant oil. In early spring, he wraps nylon hose around each apple. Coddling moths destroy ALL the apples.
Now my sister and husband are learning all about the life stages of the coddling moth and how to battle it. I learned what a pupa is. I’ll forget that very soon.
They think they can figure out how to treat the tree according to each life stage of the moth. This will definitely require a SPREADSHEET. The remedies will also involve releasing wasps, dormant oil, more wrapping of the apples and a voodoo ritual performed at midnight.
I’m not getting involved.
I’ve got my own fruit tree woes and challenges. I’ve got an apricot tree that produces lots of apricots, most of which are blown off in the spring by our seasonal gusts. The rest are stolen by the squirrels. By some miracle, I was able to retrieve two apricots this year, one left on a tall branch and one I found on the ground. I shouldn’t have eaten them. The fact that they were delicious made me weep.
My peach tree, which I’ve had for almost 7 years, is a stellar performer. A freestone variety, each year it produces a colossal bounty of wonderful fruit. The squirrels think so, too.
People driving by have probably wondered why a woman is racing around the tree screaming and flapping her arms. Those drivers who also own fruit trees know what’s going on.
Early on I tried throwing a net over the tree. It made a convenient and useful foothold for the squirrels. And getting the net off without knocking off all the peaches was next to impossible. I could NEVER manage to untangle the net to store it, so I had to ball it up in a roll that couldn’t be re-used.
I tried wrapping a sheet of aluminum around the trunk of the tree—NO WAY could a squirrel scale up that slick surface! The day my sister told me she saw a squirrel jump onto one of the lower branches to get at the peaches was the day I took the trunk barrier down.
But after awhile, I made a pact with the squirrels. I’d thin the peach tree less, leaving some for them and plenty for me.
The squirrels' very own bowl of peaches
That seems to be working. I gathered 300+ peaches off that tree this year—more than I can use, so family and friends are receiving gifts. The squirrels are happy. I’m happy and not so stressed.
I follow a gardening blog on Facebook, and to read most of the posts you’d think growing vegetables is more frustrating than rolling a giant boulder up a steep sand dune. Every vegetable has its own resident destructive bug, critter and/or fungus. Dozens of posts begin with: “How do I get rid of [INSERT BUG NAME, CRITTER OR FUNGUS HERE]!”
My sister keeps growing zucchini knowing full well that every morning she’ll be out there smashing squash bugs and their eggs. And when she’s out of town, I’ll be smashing those vile insects. And grumbling.
And then comes the work involved to prepare our fruit and vegetable bounty! I started chopping up peaches at noon one day and didn’t get finished making jam and peach crisp until 4 pm. I still have close to 100 peaches left. Should I open up a peach stand at the curb? Maybe the mail delivery person will take a few bags.
Why do we do this stuff to ourselves? Is it worth it?
Yesterday my brother and sister pickled some cucumbers. My brother is thrilled because he knows these pickles don’t contain any petroleum-based dyes that you find in nearly all commercial pickles. And now I’ve got a jar of them in my refrigerator.
I haven’t had to buy lettuce, chard or kale for months. Remember those store-bought bags of greens that always seem to go bad at the bottom before you have a chance to eat all of it?
My lettuce, kale, chard and a tomato in the background
My brother and I are drying herbs that will add that special something to almost every dish. Have you seen the price of bottled herbs?
In the fall and winter, I’ll have peach jam to spread on toast and pancakes. I’ll probably have some chutney and salsa, too. My sister and husband are making Peach Butter now. I’m going to make peach bread soon and freeze some.
My sister will freeze a ton of zucchini that can be used in breads and soups. She’ll have pumpkin puree as well. My brother will make enormous batches of his special eggplant/zucchini/pepper mixtures to put in his chili and spaghetti sauce. We’ll all have tomatoes in the freezer that will help remind us of how wonderful it is to have tomatoes in our own gardens.
So, is it worth it? What do you think?
Featured image of squirrel with peach: y_egan on Flickr