When we bought our house nearly five years ago, the only edible plant, on the whole 2.5 hectares was a lone lemon tree. Count it. One. Vast swathes of ultra-fertile land (or land was once part of a dairy farm, so has benefited from decades of cow pats) and one lone lemon tree. I still shake my head in disbelief. What we were the previous owners thinking?
Well, we soon put that to rights. One of the first things we did was plant an orchard. I grabbed a catalogue from Daley’s Fruit Nursery and spent many happy hours dreaming about the possibilities of our new orchard. What to order? There was so much! In the end, we went for broke. Anything that was vaguely do-able went in: Apples, pears, oranges, mandarins, grapefruit, mango, lime, Brazilian cherry, guava, feijoa, figs, nectarines, plumcots, plums, peach, quince, black sapote. Some we had well-founded doubts about, mango being one. We thought we would be too far south for mangoes, and so it has proved. Others, like feijoa, black sapote and Brazilian cherry, we had read about only in books. We planted only because we could. Of these three, only the feijoa has produced any fruit. The Brazilian cherry looks good, but hasn’t produced any fruit. Meanwhile, the black sapote immediately dropped all its leaves on planting, as if to say “I don’t like it here!” We have since replanted it elsewhere, where it has started to look quite handsome, but alas no fruit here either.
The story with the rest of the trees has been more promising . Last summer, after three years of careful tending during the drought, the trees started producing. We'dcome back with something from the orchard nearly every time we went to inspect the trees. We were proud of our efforts and proud of our trees. We were on a roll, and expected big things from our orchard in 2008.
This year, it’s been quite a different story. Oh, it started out all right. Really well, in fact. The end, though, has been tragic. The problem? Too much rain, and everything that goes with that. It’s been a very sorry tale.
Take, for example our Golden Queen peach tree. Last year she gave us about 10 kilos of sunshine yellow peaches. Delish.
This year, we did everything we thought we needed to do. We sprayed for brown rot with Bordeaux mixture in August before bud burst and afterward. We pruned judiciously. We fertilised. We were rewarded with a tree was covered with tiny peaches by the end of September. By January, though, those peaches were mostly ruined by an incredible attack of fruit fly. My view is that our very wet summer has created a bonanza for these little blighters.
Yes, I know we should have been more vigilant. We should have put out traps far earlier than we did. Sorry. Won’t do it again, Miss. The alternative is to spray with scary chemicals. My feeling on that is, what’s the point? One of the main reasons I like to grow food is avoid pesticides and the like. If I have to spray my own fruit, I might as well buy my fruit and save myself the angst.
Anyway, I managed to salvage a couple of kilos of damaged fruit, and decided the best thing to do was make some peach jam, using a Skye Gygnell recipe from the November 2007 edition of delicious. magazine.
Now, jam-making is something I do only rarely, and I’ve had mixed results. Last year, I made some very nice feijoa jam, and I have made good marmalade in the past. On the other hand, I’ve burnt a few batches of jams, and this batch, alas, was no exception. The recipe I was following said something like “boil rapidly for 30 minutes, until the jam reaches setting point”. Which I did, but I looked away for a few minutes and came back to find the sugar had caramelised and burnt way before setting point was reached.
How do I avoid this dilemma? Next time I reckon I’ll just have to hover over the saucepan and watch it like a hawk. Any other ideas about where I am going wrong out there?