Thursday, June 17, 2010

Buried in the Garden


If you were to stop by our house around dinnertime, you might find me standing in the middle of the vegetable garden. I'd be wielding a pair of scissors, and scrutinizing the undersides of the newly picked kale leaves. We are gardening organically, which means that we're not applying poisons to the plants we're growing in order to kill off pests. This does mean that I've got to look sharp in order to spot the eggs and caterpillars on our vegetables. I'm far too tender-hearted to kill the eggs or larvae, so I just cut them off the leaves with my scissors.

I believe this may be a Cabbage White caterpillar. We see fast-moving white butterflies in our garden all the time. Cabbage Whites, I understand, came to the United States from Europe in the 1880's. I'm terrible at butterfly identification, because I can't ever see enough details before the creatures fly off. My usual approach is to look in the field guides for the most common animals (or plants) in our immediate area, and assume that we're not seeing anything particularly rare.

This method works remarkably well, most of the time. Occasional we do stumble on something really exotic, like we did last winter.

If I'm not cutting bug eggs off of kale, I'm likely squinting at our other plants, looking for change.

I bought this baby fig tree off of Craig's List a few weeks ago. Ever since my friend Sheila told me about her Italian relatives who used to grow figs in Brooklyn (or possibly Boston), I've wanted to grow my own. What charmed me about Sheila's stories were the fact that her relatives would uproot their trees up every winter, and bury them in a trench in their gardens. Being buried alive protected the fig tree from the ravages of winter. I found this whole idea somehow both mystical and entirely pragmatic.

The gentleman I bought this fig from told me that if I kept it well watered, it would give me food next year. But it looks like this diminutive tree is a bit of an over achiever, and is growing a tiny spherical fruit.

Even more exciting than our one tiny fig is our first harvest of plums. (And yes, I know this is a dreadfully boring photograph.)

A year ago, when we first looked at this house, the plum tree was in full fruit. Robb and I had been looking at a lot of foreclosed properties -- houses in which no one was living. So many of these properties had trees laden with fruit, and it was so sad to think of the fruit going to waste.

Walking through foreclosed houses was like "reading" a stranger's life story, like some strange narrative. One could easily see where the owners had over-extended themselves financially, and often you could see exactly where they had gone broke. Ambitious home renovation schemes were suspended, mid-project. Often anything that could be salvaged for cash had been stripped out of these homes. There was something grim about "reading" these homes, and what they said about the owners' lives.

Somehow more subtle, but also sad, were the lovely neglected fruit trees at so many of these homes. Clearly, someone had cared enough to plant these trees, once upon a time. But by the time the owners had lost their homes, these trees were in a state of disarray (if not actual decay).

The little house that Robb and I bought was actually not a foreclosure. Amazingly, we bought it from ninety-something spinster. After our offer on the house was accepted, but before we actually closed on the house, I tried to convince Robb to go over to the house with me, so that I could harvest the plums. He was pretty scandalized by this idea. By the time I convinced him that nobody would call the police if we harvested some abandonned fruit, the plums had all fallen to the ground, and rotted.

We've been wondering about these plums for a year, now.

The tree itself was strangled by vines, and in bad shape. We hired an arborist to do some serious pruning. The plum tree is going to need professional care for the next few years, if it is to return to health.

I spent a good part of the spring worrying about how the local bees were ignoring the plum blossoms and spending all their time on the pittosporum tree. Very few plum blossoms flowered this spring, and fewer were pollinated.

Despite all this, we ate our first plums tonight, and they are delicious!


camissonia said...

What a great story about your plum tree. It's amazing how resilient plants can be even when neglected and left to fend for themselves. Sounds like with some TLC, your plum is starting to bounce back. Nothing beats harvesting and eating fruits from your own garden.

Sheila said...

Good for you. I am waiting for my first crop of figs on a tiny little tree too!

Byddi - We didn't come here for the grass... said...

Your plum tree story is so similar to ours. We bought our house after the lovely old lady in it died, and her children put it on the market, last year. She had been too frail to keep her front yard, and it was all over grown with out-sized shrubs and ivy. As I hacked through the shrubbery I found a plum tree with the most delicious fruit coming now. All it's lower branches are dead but there is still life in it. I'm looking forward to pruning and tending to this fruit tree in the years to come.

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Byddi -- that *is* weirdly similar!

Sue KuKu said...

You know, it's a little startling to see "How's Robb?" with "Buried in the Garden" listed next to it!


Kellyann Brown said...

we are also collecting the fruit from former gardeners... the cherries were so delicious this year, I ordered more from a mail-order nursery in Washington. The apricots have just started to ripen and we get about four or five a day off the three trees planted next to the driveway. I love figs and Rez bought me one for the backyard, which I added three more from the nursery. I call it my "fig forest" and know that big sturdy trees will surely grow from these little sprigs I have planted. Someday we will be eating figs from our trees and think about how little they were when they were planted. The persimmon I planted as a bareroot twig at the old house is now over twenty feet tall and provides at least a bushel of persimmons every year, besides the shade and lovely treeness. I read somewhere that gardeners are forward thinking optimists. I disagree, the plantings that we do give us benefits almost immediately. We are sensually selfish!!

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

Yay! Congratulations on the plums! Hopefully you'll have more in the years to come. I'm awful at butterfly identification too. If I don't catch it in a photograph, where I can stare at it for as long as I need to, there's no hope!

Anonymous said...

When I was a kid, we had two huge fig trees in our back yard in San Jose, planted in the early Twentieth Century by our elderly Italian landlord. What I remember, in addition to the sweet fruit, is that bees loved the fallen figs. So in a few years, your figs may be a treat for your buzzy friends.


. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Okay KuKu, that's about the funniest thing I've read all day!

Anonymous said...

Fig trees are amazing.....they have 'flowers', small new fruit, unripe fruit and ripe fruit all on the same tree at the same time...a bit like lemon trees. mmmm yumee i love ripe figs !!!
When I was young mu uncle had a fig tree, and if he pruned it he would give cuttings to favoured friends and relatives......thats how my mum got hers, and when she moved she took a cutting of that one with her !!!


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