Tuesday, August 21, 2012

At Long Last, A Peachy Reward

When we moved here in '91, this area was firmly and of long standing embedded in horticultural zone 3. That's cold, folks. Lotsa stuff will never grow here because the winters are too long and too cold, and unscheduled frosts love to play havoc with what will.

Thanks to global warming, we now live in zone 4. The boundaries are said to have moved 100 miles north, meaning we are well within zone 4 now. I decided to take advantage of that a few years back.

First, understand that I live by choice in an orchard. It wasn't here when we moved in. We've planted all of it, Paul and I. Mostly Paul, especially as I've gotten older. I've done things like line the back of the car with a tarp and haul load after load of compost dug from the local leaf-composting site, mixing it with bales of peat moss in order to create a blueberry bed. Successfully, I might add. The first few years a lot of compost got added to my clay. The results include highbush cranberries, cherries of several varieties, apples of several varieties, raspberries, Saskatoon blueberries, elderberries, chokecherries, grapes, currants, and hazelnuts.

I could mention the birches, spruces, maples, dogwoods, ash, flowering crabs, Virginia creeper vine, weigelia, euonymous, clematis, ferns, and a host of bulbs and perennials. But you  basically can't eat them, nor the water lilies and other pond plants that have had residence in the yard, so they hardly count. Yes, there is a lawn, though not the sort the neighbors would like me to have. Whatever survives is welcome in it, mostly. We even mow around the wild daisies and brown-eyed Susans when in bloom. But they're not part of the orchard, so nevermind them. Chalk them up under anti-erosion.

A few years back I decided to try peaches. The garden catalogues offered a couple varieties which were supposed to be hardy here. I ordered four. Bare root.

Silly me, I figured that garden companies would ship to Minnesota when it was the proper time to do so. Three of the trees arrived while the ground was still frozen solid and snow covered. When I complained I was told to dig them in and wait.

Dig them into what? A block of ice?

A fourth arrived after the season was well under way, roots thoroughly dried out in the bag along with a few strips of dirty excelsior no doubt meant as a moisture reservoir.

 Dead is dead. We planted them all anyway. Three shriveled and got dug up late summer. Amazingly one ("Contender" - how apt) sprouted a couple leaves along the trunk, so we let it stay. Winter came and it got well mulched with leaves. Spring came and the whole tree was dead. While we were busy being too lazy to dig it out, a couple small branches came up next to the trunk. We figured these were from below the graft, since so many fruit trees are grafted onto hardier root stock. What springs from that is generally useless. Whether peaches are grafted, we have no clue. We were still too lazy to dig it up, so just joked about our pretty little peach bush in the back yard. The leaves froze on the tree in late fall rather than turning color and dropping.

Next spring a few more branches sprung out of the ground, and we had a fatter peach bush. Nice leaves, nice form, no expectations. We still mulched it with leaves inside a chicken wire cage each winter. It we thought about it, and it was a dry late fall, it might even get watered.

This spring was freaky. Warm way too soon, and after the apple trees, cherries, etc. bloomed, we were treated to a late freeze. Several days worth. We never even bothered to spray the few baby apples that survived that. But we had peach blossoms! Only a bare handful, but nonetheless, blossoms.

We watched our peach bush like hawks. The petals dropped, the buds swelled. WE HAD PEACHES!

Then things got busy, and next time we looked, there were about 9 on the tree, marble to ping-pong ball sized. And absolutely full of little black spots and lumpy. Some kind of bug got to them. Who knew they needed spraying? Too late now.

Damn! Heartbreak.

And yet, they continued to grow. A couple weeks back they reached peach size. They were fuller, more rounded out, but not unblemished. They started changing color. Paul counted - he's the only one who actually knew where each one was - and they were all still there. No storms knocked them down, no more apparent feasting by hungry bugs deprived of their apples or perhaps plums, another stone fruit no longer growing in the yard.

Last night Paul walked in from the back yard and held something under my nose: "Smell this."

"Mmmm, ripe peach."

It didn't look too horrible. A finger swipe across the surface removed a very thick coat of fuzz. He took it to the sink, washed, sliced, and removed spots. I took a couple slices. Nevermind how recently I'd hit my carb limit, nothing was going to keep me from this!

Nothing, but nothing, beats the sweetness of a peach fresh off the tree, even one bred to survive in Minnesota. He took a couple into Steve, and finished the rest himself. One end was darker, as if bruised, but orange, not brown. He pronounced it to taste like candy.

I'm thinking by tomorrow another one must surely be ripe.

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