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Leonard Moorehead, the Urban Gardener: Urbane Pears

Sunday, September 10, 2017

 

We have everything and nothing. Produce crosses the globe. Blooms are flown over night from Columbia. Herbs are specialty items. Our mails display generic apples or tomatoes. Prices are prominent. We experience an illusion of choice. Red grapes or green? 

Yet many urban areas are food deserts. Community gardens are steps in the right direction. I carried a long handled shovel and basket down the sidewalk past shabby chic historic homes to our local community garden for many seasons. Others arrived on bicycles, sometimes with store bought soil in the front basket! The nearest supermarket was far beyond walking to lug bags of groceries. In our lush plots neighbors become friends. Community gardeners grow fine crops never pictured in weekly market ads. We spoke with one another. Tomatillos or tomatoes? 

Fresh food? Food innocent of herbicides, pesticides, Entrepreneurs sell off vacant lots or parked trucks, some, offer a glimpse of the wider world. Where else to find sugar cane? Or coconuts casually groomed with a machete to sip on the spot? 

Urban gardeners open the doors. Prepare the garden for our long autumn. Sustain body and soul and reach out to the pears among us. Pears were brought to New England by the first colonists, like apples, they were not cultivated for eating out of hand. Rather, pears fed livestock, yield over a long season by variety, easily root from cuttings, and ferments. Vinegar and Perry, the pear’s version of apple cider, offers massive doses of nutrient. 

Pear trees have few pests. They have long lives, often the only reminder of past habitation. Select dwarf varieties. Mix several types. Pears are distinctive individuals, green, golden, red, and purplish types are attractive. They are a bit tougher in Zone 6 gardens than peaches and apricots. A sharp frost in our region wiped out the “stone” fruit crop, the pears although less prolific this year, are abundant. Tropical storms have littered the grounds beneath with windfalls. 

Tread carefully. Fallen pears soon ferment. Yellow Jackets and other stinging insects gather in droves. Dress for the occasion, long sleeves, long pants, gloves and hat. Trap Yellow Jackets. Cut the top third off a 1 liter plastic bottle, invert the top and seal with staples or tape. Place cores or spoiled fruit inside with water and add a few drops of dish soap or vegetable oil. Empty and refresh 3 or 4x a week into the compost. Rake up fallen fruit and compost. 

Although a pollinator, Yellow Jackets are defensive. Their stings can cause allergic reactions. It’s best to avoid these ground dwelling insects, however they are underfoot rather than up in the fruit bearing tree. Leave the area if truly infested. All wasps and bees are diurnal, they retreat to their homes each evening. Wry urban gardeners often have streetlights nearby. Far too dim for the Yellow Jackets but hardly true darkness for gardeners. 

Pears are vigorous. Prune growing tips several times over the growing season. Customize fruit trees to your height, avoid ladders as much as possible. Strawberries thrive beneath pear trees, both benefit from perpetual mulch. Not least, windfalls are less likely to bruise on thick mulches. 

Pears fall into 2 broad groups, European and Asian. Self-fertile, pears, like most fruits, benefit from another to cross pollinate. They have lovely white blooms in April. Use a dry water color paint brush and dab pollen from bloom to bloom. 

No, this is not tedious nor finicky. Friendly honeybees are lacking locally, any pollen exchanged by hand leaves plenty for natural wind and insect borne pollination. Breathe deep and relax. Focus upon the humble task at hand, listen. Reach back into the hip pocket for the ever present pruning shears. Cull out broken branches and water sprouts. Both European and Asian pears respond well to shaping. Groom the trees. Try espalier against house or garage walls, pears are ideal. 

Asian pears are offered at premium prices in the markets. They are not bottom heavy ovoid shapes but resemble brown speckled apples, green types are similar. Their cores are likewise more central, their white flesh supreme. Full of flavor, pears are fertile. It’s common to find twins or triplets upon the same branch. Asian pears thrive alongside better known European types. 

Remove runts or damaged pears as the growing season progresses. This may require iron will, each fruit is full of promise. Be stern, the remaining fruits will become much larger in isolation. The tree is less likely to suffer from heavily laden broken branches. Few garden triumphs are as stunning as fruit filled pear trees. Lift up your heart and snip off a pear, bite into the fruit and savor. 

Prefer to cook? Pear desserts are quick. Stew in sweet raspberry sauce. Transform into divine jams. Freeze slices or dry in a 200 degree oven. Remove when still pliable and chewy. Dried, pears remain healthy snacks for months or re-hydrated, make great pies. Don’t forget a scoop of ice cream! 

Glance over the garden from the pears. Remove over grown salad greens like mustard and arugula. Compost. Spot till the bare patches. Turn under what remains of old mulch. Not one for exposed soils, cover as quickly as possible with new fall crops. Plant kale, Brussel’s Sprouts, broccoli and beets. Purple cabbages and kale are visual treats with high concentrations of vitamins and anti-oxidants. 

Groom spring planted curly leafed kale. Remove the spindly, the more robust kales are happy to escape from summer heat. Mulch the remaining plants. With luck, kale is one of the garden’s most enduring crops. Harvest the outer leaves, snip, don’t pull or tug at the plant. 

Save labor and time with trench compost methods. Remove topsoil from an area and pile nearby on a burlap bag. Loosen the subsoil. Lay in sunflower stalks, amaranth, French hollyhocks, picked over pole beans, and tough materials such as torn up cardboard boxes, shredded paper, and other long standing organic materials. Cover from the pile of topsoil and repeat. A dramatic amount of organic materials is possible to compost on site. No lugging to piles or barrels for those with limited time or opportunity. Take the long view, the sites fertility will remain for gardeners many years into the future. 

Many gardeners discover their soils become more alive over time. Raised beds grow higher. As micro- organisms are fed the greater the soil’s appetite for more. Trench and fill is an on- going process. Warm soils encourage faster transformation from raw materials into humus. Keep at it. A torn brown paper bag fitted to suit is a fine barrier to seed germination and blends naturally into the garden’s surface. Lay down bio-degradable materials and refill the trench. Tough shrub branches and conifers are ideal for trench composting, dug in low they retain rainfall far into droughts before finally becoming humus. 

We have everything and we have nothing. Our food deserts are artificial facts of life. Cultivate community gardens, side yards, rooftops, vacant lots. Enrich body and soul close to home. Consider unusual varieties and foods. Let’s address the sober fact lawns occupy more arable land than agriculture. Well-fed people are peaceable, healthy folk, just the right kind to plant both feet into the garden. 

 

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