Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Hi-tech low-tech fruit protection

Although the peaches on our two front-yard peach trees are not yet ripe, they have changed color from pale green to golden orange, attracting the attention of mockingbirds and bluejays. Rather than net the trees (which we tried a few years ago and had to remove when a bird got caught in the net), we are trying a technique we saw at a nearby farm - hanging old CD's from the branches, where the flashes of light scare the birds away. Our farming friends had attached the shiny discs near their blackberry bushes, and when I saw the blackberries they were ripe, with no pesky birds bothering the fruit at all.

In past years we have let the birds peck at the peaches without worrying too much, since we usually have more than we can use. However, this year the bird traffic seems heavier than usual, and I really want to dehydrate plenty of peach chips for my son, who loves them. After seeing the effective demonstration at the farm, we decided to try this technique.

I haven't seen or heard any birds on the trees since we attached three reflective discs to each tree two days ago. I was warned that the reflectors are only effective for a short while (days to weeks), so timing is important. The peaches should be ripe in a week or two. After harvesting ends, I can remove and save the reflectors to hang on the apple trees in the fall. Re-usable hi-tech low-tech fruit protection.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Unexpected bounty - Beauty plums

Beauty Plum tree, after first round of harvesting

Plums destined for jam

I had almost given up on my Beauty plum tree. I ordered this Japanese variety from Burnt Ridge Nursery and planted it five years ago. For the last two years, it has been covered with fruit, until the week when every single plum fell off before ripening. After the first year of the fruit die-off, I thought there might be a problem with pollination and I planted a Santa Rosa plum to help the Beauty out, but again, the plums fell off before ripening. This year, I gave up and did not even bother to thin the plums, knowing that the effort was pointless.

Thus did one branch full of fruit crack and break. Yes, the plums ripened last week! As it was my first year, I did not quite know when to harvest them. I was waiting for fully-colored purple fruit, but these plums are ripe when a red blush appears on the golden background. By the time they are completely purple, they are mushy and fit only for chickens.  

The first round of plums to ripen were full of bugs and inedible. But once those were off the tree, 95% of the plums have been pest-less. It has been lovely not to be confronted with a pest in every plum, especially considering that they are rather small - about four times the size of a cherry. Although small in size, the pits are tiny, so in total there is a good amount of flesh on each plum.  

The fresh taste is sometimes sweet, sometimes tart. I ate a few of these plums fresh, but found that they were a bit too tart for me and decided to preserve the rest. Beauty plums are clingstone, so preserving them is labor intensive (several cuts seem to be required), although their skins do not need removing (unlike peaches). So far, I made two batches of plum jam - one full-sugar, one low-sugar, and I vastly prefer the low-sugar recipe. I added 1/2 tsp of cinnamon to the standard recipe (you'll find one in your Sure Jell box) to add some complexity to the flavor.

Although Beauty Plum is not an Italian (prune) variety, I also decided to dehydrate a batch. After all, you don't see dehydrated peaches too often in a store, but peach chips are fabulous when made at home. Wow. The result is kind of like a plum sweet-tart, but half as sweet and twice as tart. I'm sure I'll eat these, but in the future I may stick to making plum jam.  

Thankfully, the peach harvest from my two front-yard trees is not for several more weeks, so I don't have to try to preserve both sets of fruit at the same time. This is a relief, as preserving the harvest from just two peach trees can take the majority of a week - even when we give away bags to seven or eight friends and family. Usually, my peaches ripen around July 4th, but since most fruit trees in Oklahoma City are ripening up to one full month early this year due to the warm spring, I expect to harvest peaches sometime in mid-June. The fuzzy fruits are already blushing and attracting pecks from birds.

Although both the peaches and plums were moderately damaged by the hail storm that blew through Oklahoma City a few days ago, the harvest of plums was still equivalent to at least nine batches of plum jam (about 75 cups), with a few plums still lingering on the tree.  We've given away three jars of jam already and four bags of plums. In the gardening world, as in many other walks of life, what goes around definitely comes around!