Now that growing veggies has become old hat I’ve decided to take on new challenges by attempting to grow fruit. I know, I know, technically speaking tomatoes and cucumbers ARE fruit, but nevertheless you know what I mean. Last year, in the midst of my ‘everything native’ kick I planted blueberry bushes in an area in the woods at the very back of our property where we recently had to take down a huge (but completely dead and leaning over my neighbor’s house) oak tree. Blueberries and cranberries are probably the only native fruit most of us have ever eaten. They grew pretty well but between the birds, deer and my occasionally marauding children, I never got to eat any berries. But the bushes are actually quite attractive in their own right, especially in the spring when covered in white flowers or in the fall when their leaves turn an attractive fire-gold. So this spring, when I noticed a bare area on the hill behind the pool, I decided to plant a few more blueberry bushes. Since these looked rather lonely, I planted a dozen or so bareroot strawberry plants around them. Of course, I didn’t expect to get many berries this first year, and I was right. In June I gathered exactly two beautiful red strawberries—both were delicious, if Jake can be trusted as a taster—and in July we had a few handfuls of blueberries. I’d guess this was about half the crop, as the birds seemed to have defied my carefully spread netting and had a little feast of their own.
Anyway, excited by my dreams of ‘Berry Hill’ I decided to branch out with something even more impressive: fruit-bearing trees. I don’t have a lot of places on the property with adequate sunshine, but when we repaved the driveway after the renovation we also regraded the area to its immediate south that now screamed out (to me, anyway, no one else seemed to hear it) for some vegetation. Here I planted two small ‘dwarf’ nectarine trees and a mid-sized Serviceberry. If you don’t know, Serviceberry (also sometimes called Shadbush or Shadberry) is a native fruit that looks very similar to blueberry and supposedly tastes similar, if a bit less sweet and more intense, but I wouldn’t know since I didn’t net it in time and the birds swooped down and finished off each berry as soon as they turned red. Noting this, I quickly went out a purchased nets to cover my nectarine trees—unfortunately, I only found one that was large enough, and by the time I purchased the second one—ONE DAY LATER—some sort of animal (squirrels or deer?) had eaten every single little nectarine off the other tree.
Now, as summer wanes, I’m finally able to harvest the fruits of my labors. Oddly enough, as I was watering this morning, I noticed several bright red spots on the ground behind the pool which on further inspection proved to be ripe strawberries. I can only suppose that the birds were fooled by the calendar—it’s several months after strawberry season—leaving me with an entire half-dozen of gorgeous, shiny berries. Unfortunately, I still wasn’t fast enough to avoid Jacob, who happily inhaled them while I was distracted by some ferocious weeds.
And now, finally, the eight remaining nectarines on the protected tree are ripe. To be honest, they don’t look that attractive. I don’t spray any sort of pesticide, and while large and well-formed, they are all slightly blemished. I ate one carefully, using a knife and searching each bite for worms. It reminded me of when I was working on an excavation in the Dordogne of France and visited the local market where I purchased the most gorgeous bing cherries—so large and deep red they looked more like plums. I couldn’t wait to tear into them, which I did without hesitation. That was until I noticed something that made me gag—despite the fact that the cherries were indeed delicious. It was a worm, which is of course better than half a worm, considering, but still pretty gross. But the cherries really were delicious. Sweet, juicy with just the right hint of tart. So, carefully I split another cherry—and found another worm. Ugh. I tried again and again just hoping to find a cherry without a worm. No luck. Sometimes you have to accept the worms with the fruit.
Which reminds me of ANOTHER worm in a cherry story. Yes, I have another. I actually grew up in one of those snotty North Shore of Long Island towns where people had beautiful plantings but not much in the way of gardens. Plants were for landscaping, not for eating. So it was that many of our neighbors had mature cherry trees which were grown for their spring blossoms; nevertheless, they did actually bear fruit. It’s just that no one ever bothered to pick them. So my mom, being rather horticulturally-inclined, as well as a great baker and somewhat frugal, would have us go round to the neighbors and request permission to pick the cherries, which was almost always granted with some astonishment and we would come home with bags and bags of sour cherries which my mom would bake into delicious pies.
But there was a secret about these pies that my mother did not tell us until after we devoured them. That is, when she pitted the cherries she discovered that there worms in many of them. She assured us that she tried to remove them all but, well, it takes a lot of cherries to make a pie. When we were done making faces and retching noises Mom pointed out what a delightful bonus source of protein this was. When we asked why she didn’t just throw out the infested cherries she told us that worms were always found in the sweetest fruit. Apparently the fruit responds to the presence of the worm with increased sugar production. All of which makes me think there’s got to be a lesson in there somewhere— oh yeah, sometimes you have to accept the worms with the fruit.
I think I’ll plant some cherry trees this fall.