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!