It may not be the season of mellow fruitfulness but the soft fruit is ripening apace and making me happy.
Pride comes before a fall and I know that if this period of dry, hot weather continues much longer the garden will look awful but, just for the moment, the garden is the best it has ever looked, if you squint and ignore the willowherbs, which seem impervious to drought.
Fruit growing is not for the impatient nor those easily put off by failure. So much can go wrong. But when things go right the rewards are huge. And, just for this week, fruit is on the menu.
Early in spring, disaster struck when finches devoured, or at least pecked off, every plum flower before it opened. Late frost killed every pear flower (well there is a solitary pear on the three trees). And one of my two blackcurrant bushes was snapped off at ground level in the winds a few weeks ago. (It is still hanging on so I am hoping to get some cuttings off it). Sawfly (the second generation) has just defoliated the gooseberries and jostaberry while my back was turned and blackbirds continue to predate the currants. But the strawberries have been great and have supplied enough for tea almost every night and I have frozen lots for smoothies. Raspberries are finally producing, in their third year and even the mulberry, now in for three years, has a few fruit.
But the most exciting crop has been the ‘Napoleon Bigarreau’ cherry. Oddly, the self-fertile cherry, next door, did not set a single fruit but this one has produced a ‘crop’. There are only about 30 cherries but I am delighted for the first crop. It is always considered a tricky fruit because it needs a pollinator and, as it turns out, the self-fertile cherry next door flowers too late to be a good mate. But a clump of wild cherries down the road seems to be doing the job. This is my favourite of all cherries and the fruit are difficult to buy. I have only ever seen it sold in Marks and Spencer (too far for me to travel now) and they are imported from the USA at huge cost. I think the tree could actually pay for itself in two years! It goes without saying that the few we have picked so far tasted like nectar!
In the polytunnel the peaches are almost ripe. I thinned them rigorously in spring and I think I was too assiduous in my work because most of those that I left on subsequently dropped off! So I doubt if there is more than 20 on the tree. But at least it will mean I will appreciate every single one. But it has made me nervous about thinning the apples – which I really do need to do.
Jostaberries are an odd thing, a cross between blackcurrant and gooseberry. It is midway between both and is spine-free. The fruits are just about edible raw but better cooked. They are perfect for jam (gooseberry jam and blackcurrant jam are my favourites) but we don’t eat a lot of jam so they will be cooked and frozen for winter crumbles to add to apple and to mix with yogurt for breakfast. The gooseberry inheritance means the plant is prone to sawfly attack. It is a large plant but that vigour is appreciated. The same parents also produced the Worcesterberry which is sometimes sold but that is viciously spiny and seems, to me, to have inherited the worst of both parents, unlike the Jostaberry.
It is impossible to avoid famines and gluts when you grow your own. The autumn-planted onions were a disaster and of the 70 or so sets planted, all but about 20 ran to seed. So this crop is not going to feed us for long. I also grew a small batch of Roscoff onions from seed but did not plant many because I didn’t have room. It is a shame the original planting was a waste of space! Autumn-planted onions are always a risk but the advantage is that they mature at least a month before spring-sown crops.
And then the cucumbers have been prolific. I grew five plants (F1 Merlin) from seed and potted all of them since cucumbers can fall victim to all manner of maladies. But all have grown well and there is only so much you can do with a cucumber. It is vital to pick the mature cucumbers or the plants will not produce more – and the weight can break the plants. So yesterday morning was spent making cucumber relish, using ten cucumbers and four of those onions too. Now I need to pick those currants while the blackbirds have left me some.