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Urban Gardener: Small Fruits, Big Rewards

Saturday, July 19, 2014

 

photo credit: Jack Hartwein-Sanchez

Urban gardeners often debate the relative merits of what to plant in an urban setting. Our community gardens and confined spaces encourage creativity. Each gardener has personal goals for growth. Perhaps you conceive of your plot as an outdoor salad bowl. Or you may wish to cultivate favorite ingredients for the kitchen. Some of us desire a fragrant place that floods the senses with natural aromas. Many enjoy fresh blooms to cheer the heart and home. All of these are possible in plots large and small. It’s your garden and a perfect place for expression. Freedom is the ability to choose. For gardeners, the spectrum of choice is huge. What fun!

Gardeners are patient people. Beans for example are ready for picking in 60 days. What about those plants that require a longer span from planting to harvest? Don’t succumb to instant gratification. There are many crops that require a bit more time. Consider the role of fruits in the garden and the ways to enjoy fruits so fresh they are ready for eating right off the tree. Too long, too complicated, too much care? Sweep these deal-breakers under the mulch and start to peruse the nursery catalogs. Look around. Fruit trees endure and survive a long time. You can have your peach and eat it too.

I first ran into urban fruit trees on the edges of an established urban community garden. A long forgotten planter set out apricot, peaches and pears along the borders of the garden. On the garden frontiers these trees thrived with absolutely no attention. Some would hesitate in respect for the planters and watch ripened fruit fall to the ground. Others of less moral fiber yielded to temptation and tasted. Once bitten, the taste is remains permanent, the ambition to tend these bountiful trees secure. Why wait? 

Dwarf fruit trees, especially the so called stone fruits, (from their large inner seed), take little space and have few specific if vital requirements. Gardeners are best when they take a long term point of view. Consider sunlight, drainage, soil and especially, those fruits that taste best to you. A full day’s sunshine is important, well drained moderately fertile soil is best. Look around the neighborhood for older trees. Which are covered in lovely blooms early in the spring? Do you find trees full of fruit harvested mainly by squirrels? If the answer is yes, you can surpass this success with modest effort.  I discovered apricots in just this manner and decided, why not?

Fresh apricots and soft ripe honey sweet peaches are expensive when or if available in the market. They re-define abundance in the garden. Ask proud gardeners around you what works for them. The choices are wide ranging and surprises are in store. I planted an Asian pear, usually sold individually wrapped in protective sleeves at high prices. The first year I harvested 12 huge brown apple like pears with delicate flavor and taste. The price of the tree was regained within the first year. The next season gave more than 30 pears. I gave up counting in the third year, there were just too many. Too many? That’s a phrase all gardeners appreciate. 

Dwarf fruit trees make good companion plants. I grow strawberries under those in my garden for a double harvest that is not only productive but also have pleasing appearance. Let’s take a look at the beautiful apricot.

photo credit: Jack Hartwein-Sanchez

The apricot is an old world tree that will grow to 25 feet.  Fruit trees grow quickly. Chose the dwarf varieties to save on space. Apricots and other fruit trees bloom in cool April. I extract a paintbrush from a watercolor kit and quietly enter a meaningful frame of mind. With as much concentration I can muster I move from bloom to bloom and dust golden pollen from flower to flower. This peaceful activity duplicates the efforts of pollinating insects, especially the threatened honeybees found in cities. A step ladder is helpful for those of us built low to the ground. Precious time is not lost in this activity. Rather, I find this a chance to carefully examine the tree for dead branches, overly long stems, and to shape the tree with judicious pruning. Remove “mummies” or last year’s old dried out fruit. The spirit will carry every gardener through this task, it’s worth the effort now and latter. Be careful and don’t fall off the ladder.

I keep the lower part of the trees open and cultivate strawberries beneath, all mulched. Strawberries yield in June, apricots in the middle of July, peaches in mid-August and pears from September through October. By the third season I ate much of the crop out of hand. Many I gave away to colleagues, friends and neighbors. Afterwards, I managed to can over 30 quarts of fruit from 3 trees of each type fruit. Hand-pollinated trees “set” a lot of fruit. 

Gardeners are usually very busy with other tasks as the fruit develops. Even so, co-operate with nature and remove any fruit that appears deformed or has succumbed to any disease or damage. The tree will devote more energy to the remaining fruit and reward the effort. Or do nothing and accept a lesser but still worthy crop. I’m not too fussy about perfectly shaped or colored fruits never found in markets where appearance over rides taste. Thrown in the juicer, right out of hand or sliced, the “seconds” are nutritious and worthy.

Enjoy observing the fruit develop from small nubbins onwards to fruit so lovely it’s difficult to pick them from the tree. A fruit tree full of golden apricots, fresh pinkish peaches or red to green or golden pears, is heaven on Earth. Sometimes, especially with peaches, growing fruit weights the branches down, sometimes to breaking. Thin out the fruit a bit or support the branches with ropes tied off to the main trunk or re-purpose old lumber and prop up the branches. Success has its price. 

Winter is the best time for me to spray a dormant oil over the fruit trees. Some suggest a weekly schedule of environmentally friendly mixtures of dormant oil. Like many others, I’m pressed for time and do my best to establish a coat of oil on the tree bark and buds.  In short, I’m reliable but not compulsive. Remarkably, I have excellent results and very rare cases of diseases on the fruit and trees. I’ve skipped this pleasant task to my regret. Spray bottles or sprayers are affordable, enduring garden accessories. Such oil sprays smother bark boring insect eggs and also suppress fungus spores. Weather will eventually wash off the spray, the soap is the binding agent. Renew several times over the cold season. 

photo credit: Jack Hartwein-Sanchez

My grandfather mixed his own sprays. He soaked tobacco in water, shaved a bar of soap with his pocket knife into the bucket, mixed and let sit. His pantry was always full of canned produce long after applying this ancient, effective low cost mix to his trees.  More contemporary gardeners take this basic formula and add cinnamon sticks, hot peppers, and other household ingredients. The garden supply center is awash with chemical mixtures as well as so called organic preparations. Read carefully, dispose of properly, practice safety: wear gloves, protective glasses and mouth guards. Most importantly? Don’t let polemics or apparently laborious or tedious tasks keep you away. 

Local state universities have excellent, free advice for inquiring gardeners. You’ll enjoy talking to experts who are often generous with their knowledge and local conditions. Soon, gardeners form loving relationships with their fruit trees. Face it: the world needs love and we can never have too much. The heart rejoices and admires the fine presence of tended trees. Art enters the fray, pruning over vigorous branches has fine results. The goal is to have trees open in the center, no crossed branches, errant sprouts or out-right dead wood.

I mulch everything although I’m careful not to bury the tree truck. Leave a small space clear around the trunk to protect from nibbling mice and never use a weed whacker around any tree. Weed whackers will girdle life sustaining bark and effectively kill trees. Our colonial ancestors and local native peoples cleared forest lands by girdling tree trunks. We nurture our trees today rather than mourn the passage from forest glade to paved streets. 

Urban gardens are fine places to cultivate fruit trees. They add height to space, reward with nutritious harvests easy to preserve for the future and certainly enhance the present. By planting several types of fruit trees an urban garden will produce fruit month after month. Protect your fruit from squirrels with Hav A Heart traps. Remove to the other side of town. Speculate if the same squirrels return. Accept the squirrel tax and move on. Do not be deterred by time. Fruit trees may live for many years. Gardeners move on. The first bite justifies the low cost of fruit stock, bean counters compare price and that mysterious value, quality, to calculate that fruit trees pay for themselves in the first years. But I wish to add another, important virtue to cultivating any kind of fruitful tree. Long after your heart is swollen with love, the act of nurturing fruit to harvest up lifts the spirit. I am grateful to the generous gardeners of the past who planted trees. Be certain, someone will respond and care for the trees, learn how to nurture them, nourish body and soul. It is within these oasis of life we prosper in the most important ways. You too can reach out and grasp a sun warmed apricot, peach or pear,  bite, juice dripping down the chin, and understand joy, gratitude, and believe in goodness. What’s holding you back? 

photo credit: Jack Hartwein-Sanchez

Leonard Moorehead is a life-long gardener. He practices organic-bio/dynamic gardening techniques in a side lot surrounded by city neighborhoods in Providence RI. His adventures in composting, wood chips, manure, seaweed, hay and enormous amounts of leaves are minor distractions to the joy of cultivating the soil with flowers, herbs, vegetables, berries, and dwarf fruit trees.

 

Related Slideshow: 25 Must Do’s in Central MA this Summer

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Cars of Summer Classic Car Show and Auction

Green Hill Park

Friday, July 4, 2014 - Sunday, July 6, 2014

7:00 AM-7:00 PM

A three day classic car show held in Green Hill Park on Skyline Drive in Worcester MA. There will be live bands, food vendors, product vendors, over 1000 collectible cars, kid zones, canoe/paddle boat rides, live auto and collectibles auction, costume characters, and bounce houses.

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The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts

Youth Summer Program- Footloose

Classes focusing on music, drama, and dance as well as rehearsals for the final production will be held daily from 9AM-3PM Monday through Friday.

Two sessions will be offered: YSP I (July 7 - July 26) and YSPII (July 28 - August 16).

Students will present three performances of the popular movie musical “Footloose” at the end of each session

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Worcester Brave Hearts

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Rowing Lessons on Lake Quinsigamond

June 14 – June 29   –   6:00AM – 8:00AM

Open to non-members. 6 sessions for beginners. Learn the fundamentals of the rowing stroke; focus on basic body positions, 2 phases of the stroke, and blade work. Become familiar with boathouse & bay rules, learn how to handle equipment safely and lake traffic patterns. Practice good boat-handling skills both on water and off water.

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Worcester Art Museum

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Ecotarium

Numerous events and activities for the whole family to enjoy!

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Flippo’s Clown Camp

July 15-17 from 10am-12pm

Kids ages eight to eighty are invited to learn to juggle, spin plates, create balloon sculptures and perform balancing tricks in a two-day program.

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Salisbury Mansion Tours

Travel back in time to the 1830's as a member of the upper class.

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Pan-Mass Challenge

Leaves from Sturbridge Host Hotel

The Pan-Mass Challenge is the nation’s original fundraising bike-a-thon and raises more money than any other athletic fundraising event in the country.

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Worcester Windows Summer 2014

Thursday, June 19, 2014 - Sunday, August 31, 2014

For its summer 2014 exhibition the Worcester Windows Community Gallery Program presents works by Worcester painter Brian Burris and a series of abstract photographs by members of the Worcester Alliance of Photographers.

Worcester Windows is a community gallery program which uses storefronts throughout downtown Worcester as exhibit space to enhance the Citys downtown and to provide display opportunities for local emerging and established artists. Originally intended simply as a means to provide exhibit opportunities, Worcester Windows has grown dramatically, successfully raising the awareness of Worcester as a Creative City by not only bringing artwork to the public and showcasing local talent, but in also establishing itself as a true community gallery through which many of the exhibiting artists have sold works.

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Worcester Latin American Festival

City Hall Area

August 16, 2014, free admission 12-9pm

Live music, Latin American cuisine, children's tent & crafts, and beer garden.

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American Antiquarian Society

Dig into some history this summer on a rainy day.

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Summer Sailing Camp

Lake Quinsigamond/Regatta Point State Park

June 23 to August 22

Ages 9-13

Kids learn the basics of sailing including, boat parts, rigging/derigging, wind direction, points of sail, and water safety as well as playing games, swimming, kayaking, and paddle boarding. 

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Central Rock Gym-Indoor Rock Climbing

Experienced climbers and first-time climbers welcome.

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Old Sturbridge Village

April 1 - October 31
Daily, 9:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Old Sturbridge Village depicts life in New England from 1790-1840.

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Worcester PopUp

The Worcester PopUp opened on June 19 at 38 Franklin Street and will run through August.

Rotating art exhibitions, performances, music, food, art, 3D printing, hands on activities, and workshops.

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Longsjo Classic and Family Fitness Festival

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The Festival will take place on Saturday, June 28, 2014 – rain or shine, from 2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m., at the Worcester Common Oval behind Worcester City Hall, 455 Main Street. 

The Longsjo Classic race will begin at 4:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

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Out to Lunch Summer Concert Series and Farmers Market

The Out to Lunch Summer Concert Series & Farmers' Market is back! The 2014 series kicked off on Thursday, June 19th and will run until Thursday, August 21st. Farmers' Market opens at 11:00 AM, main stage talent performs 12:00 PM - 2:00 PM.

The lineup for this year includes the following:

July 3rd - The Hip Swayers
July 10th - The SouL DeScendants
July 17th - Jubilee Gardens
July 24th - Testify
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August 14th - Matthew Sanchez Y Su Orquesta
August 21st - East Coast Soul

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Massachusetts Symphony Summer Concert Series

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Big Dipper Ice Cream Festival

Elm Park

June 28th from 10:30AM-5:30PM

There will be entertainment, face-painting, food tents, moon walks, and of course, all-you-can-eat ice cream!

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Canal District Wagon Tours

Tours start in Kelley Square next to the Farmer's Market

Thursdays, July 3, 2014 - August 21, 2014

5:00 PM-8:00 PM

Join trained interpreters from South High School for a journey through Worcester’s Canal District as they tell the farm to factory story of the Industrial Revolution and the immigrants that made it happen.

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Elm Park Summer Concert Series

Every Thursday from July 10 through August 14, from 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.

uly 10 - The Beatles night with a live performance by UnionJack

July 17 - The 20-piece swing band The Milford Big Jazz Machine Orchestra performs

July 24 - Country night with Mychael David with The Help Wanted Band (Nashville recording artist), featuring their No. 1 hit “Nothin.”

July 31 - Performance by legendary R&B singer Toni-Lynn Washington

August 7 - Swinging soul night with The Love Dogs

August 14 - Jump blues with Little Red and the Riders

For more information, call 508-799-1400.

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7th Annual Barbara J. Walker Butterfly Festival

Broad Meadow Brook Conservation Center and Wildlife Sanctuary

10am-4pm

Enjoy educational fun for all ages at the 7th Annual Barbara J. Walker Butterfly Festival at Broad Meadow Brook, where butterflies fly free in their natural habitats. Festival activities will include naturalist led walks & workshops, performances, live caterpillars, butterfly art, face painting, children's activities, butterfly garden tours, butterfly garden plant sales, delicious food and much more. Come in costume and get a prize! Rain date August 10.

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Worcester 4th of July Celebration, Concert and Fireworks

Worcester’s annual 4th of July celebration and fireworks display is scheduled for July 3rd at East Park beginning at 6:00PM. There will be food vendors and kids’ activities followed by a ceremonial flag raising at 7:45PM followed by a performance by the Massachusetts Symphony Orchestra at 8:00PM and fireworks at 9:30PM (rain date is July 5th).

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Hot Night in the City

July 9, 2014

6:30-9 p.m.

The night promises to be a hot time with cool adventures in creating, making, eating, and viewing. The Craft Center’s studios include the equipment necessary to produce using Hot processes like glass blowing, enameling, jewelry making, and firing ceramics. Hot Night in the City focuses attention on those processes as well as many of the opportunities for making that are provided annually at the Craft Center.

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