Urban Gardener: Dearest Peaches
Saturday, August 16, 2014
Legacy of peaches
Peaches have a long tradition in America; the famous Dedham pear has borne fruit since the 1640’s when wilderness started a few feet from Plymouth Rock. Peaches were planted too as an important source of sweetness among people for whom sugar was an expensive luxury and honey the traditional sweet, again a European import to America. Many generations later the peach, essential to the homestead orchard, assumes its rightful place alongside the pears. Peaches are of the Rose family and include among its cousins the apricot, almond, plums and nectarines. Plant fruit trees with the near future in mind and remain confident someone else will pay tribute to your foresight. Plant forward and enjoy relatively quick payback.
Members of the rose family share horticultural needs. The more sunshine, the better! Select a well-drained sandy loam and continue your relentless addition of bio-degradable compost material within the drip line or out to the last shadow of leaves. A fun winter activity is to roam the web or peruse catalogs for dwarf fruit trees. Savvy gardeners prepare the planting hole in the fall, removing old soil and following the dictum: a $100 hole for a $10 tree. Combine plenty of organic material, mix in Ironite to fortify our water leeched glacial soils, adjust for a neutral PH with dolomite pelletized limestone, and generous helpings of bonemeal. The saplings will arrive at the nursery’s discretion for our appropriate planting time as little more than broomstick’s, severely pruned for success. This is where hope makes its early entrance. Can this stick transform, flourish, and ever yield fruit? Oh, YES!
My peaches bloomed the first year during cold April weather. The blossoms are cheerful forecasters of garden beauty when the possibility of sleet and snow hover at the margins of early spring. To promote fruit set, I assist the declining honeybee population who formerly pollinated blossoms of myriad types, by simply dusting each flower with a watercolor brush, dusting golden pollen from bloom to bloom. This is not arduous work, rather artistry of a quiet subtle kind during natural fluctuations of pollinators’ populations. Hands’ on touch and spot on observation are habits all gardeners should foster.
A four foot step ladder is good when the dwarf fruit trees, best in confined urban spaces, are very short. It won’t take long however for the tree to set leaves, anchor itself, and begin the next spring to grow by leaps and bounds. It is possible to grow peaches in very large pots. An elegant and handsome tree of modest proportions, peaches have great sculptural presence and reward regardless of fruit yields. However, remember, any plant in a container must not dry out: put that old time religion into the effort and keep moist. Dried out pots increase risk and add chance to the tried and true. Loss is possible. Urban gardeners reach for success and it is within our grasp.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Many activities will distract gardeners during the long steady arc anchored in April and bending toward mid-August harvest. Don’t be discouraged. Each fruit is a promise of future pleasure. It is normal for some to inexplicably drop off the tree. The occasional tropical depression may whip gales through the garden toppling taller plants and leaving a tragedy of windfalls beneath the peach. Don’t despair, incorporate these windfalls in the mulch or remove to the compost heap or pit of your choice. I discourage marauding squirrels from easy pickings; they must work to find a fruit to steal. Soon, you’ll discover inner qualities long unknown or happily re-discovered. Gardeners nurture and develop compassion for their plants. These admirable qualities walk out of the garden with the gardener, much to everyone’s benefit.
During the last few weeks rain became ever more important for the entire garden. Soils sadly lacking in organic materials were dry indeed. The extensive peach root system protects the trees from drought. Introduce children to the wonder of fruit cultivation. The very nature of peaches, aside from their universal appeal to taste, piques children’s interest. The fruits are obvious, visibly expand and grow, change colors from pale green to benchmark complexions of rose and gold. The peach does not require fine finger skills or co-ordination to harvest or tend. Some children succumb to temptation and climb trees, if your can find the heart discourage tree climbing until the tree will support those eager enough to scamper up the elegant barked tree. Time will resolve this attractive nuisance.
Use all your senses
Pick your peaches using all your senses. The nose is honest: ripe fruit has an unmistakable fragrance. Gently cup the fruit, perfectly ripe peaches will fall into the hand. Bring or borrow a quick child to catch fruits that escape your grip. Smiles will travel around the garden plot. Do you have lots of windfalls after heavy rains? Or did the heavily fruited branches, bend, and break under the weight of success? Do not despair. Peaches can be ripened in the house. Place the fruit “donut” side down, (Puzzled? A quick look at the fruit will reveal the donut spot) in ever handy brown paper bags, put in an apple or banana to release natural ethylene gas that triggers ripening, and gently seal. I gently crease and fold over the bag’s opening.
Again, trust your nose and touch. Ripe peaches, despite every appearance of ripeness, are not truly sweet and juicy until soft to the touch and release their unmistakable aroma. Cut out any bad spots, peaches easily bruise, and eat.
Celebrate! Your peach trees will produce bountiful crops for many years to come. They thrive with relatively little care and endure much neglect. Prune in cold weather as well as apply dormant oil sprays when hot sunny days are a favored memory of tisane and Madeleine’s.
A row of canned peaches promises is hopeful and confident. Add to the canned peaches as the crop comes in, at times it will seem hopeless, don’t be discouraged. As frigid winter gales blow and snow swirls the home is replete with the helplessly happy delight of nutritious fruit, unadulterated by dyes, preservatives, pesticides, residual fertilizers or transported thousands of miles in artificially atmospheric controlled containers. So much for so little! Bite into the first ripe peach or the 100th and each has the same reward, a dribble of sweet juice trickling down the chin and staining the shirt. A smile soon follows. And another. Urban gardening is a good thing.
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