"In the year of my greatest harvest, I had many hopes"
November 23, 2020 6:15 AM   Subscribe

"In 2012, back when I was young and the world was a different place, I planted a plum tree in my back yard." A funny, loving, bittersweet story of one woman's fruit tree, with reflections on mortality and gardening. "There was one memorable year when the lectionary had the story of Jesus and the fig tree and no fewer than three pastors of my acquaintance asked my permission to use my bitter, hopeless plum journey as a sermon inspiration. Oh pastors, consider this permission to use anything I put on my blog in your sermons."
posted by brainwane (12 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
This essay spoke to me. I planted a plum tree in my yard in 2015 and finally ate my first ripe plum in 2020. Thankfully it isn’t dying yet, but I am going through a similar struggle with a crabapple tree that I chose specifically to fit into a narrow isosceles triangle of power lines. I pushed it home from the garden store in a Burley bike trailer and tweaked my shoulder digging that hole! It decided to lose half its leaves last summer, and when you start reading about crabapples you basically learn about how many diseases they succumb to and then you feel regret for not planting something hardier and losing years of more successful growing time... I haven’t figured out what I should do next spring. But if I was her neighbor (and lived a couple zones warmer) I would totally plant a pawpaw tree to help pollinate.
posted by Maarika at 6:46 AM on November 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

What a lovely story! I hope the pawpaw thrives.

The house I rent has a large wooden patio instead of a yard that has a somewhat earthen border with about two feet of iffy soil where several trees are planted including a peach, apple, and an orange trumpet-like flowering tree that attracts hummingbirds.

The peach tree has peach leaf curl disease and produces small, hard, pale yellow fruit. My hopes of eating/making peach anything have faded and I've left the fruit to the squirrels. I spray it with copper fungicide but can never get up high enough and every summer I sweep and scrape the half-squirrel eaten fruit from the patio.

The apple tree has fire blight and every spring I cut back the diseased limbs. It produces about a dozen apples that if i'm quick enough, I can pick before they're bitten by squirrels. One year I made a nice tarte tatin.

The neighbor on the other side of the fence has a crab apple tree with branches that overhang my yard. I have the occasional desire to pick them and make crabapple jelly but that doesn't seem realistic so they're left to squirrels too.

I've come to appreciate that these trees provide food for squirrels, opossums, skunks and birds, and I leave them to it.
posted by shoesietart at 7:43 AM on November 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Wow, that is beautiful. Thanks for sharing it.

I've always wanted to try a pawpaw, but I just thought no one grew them anymore, or that they must not taste all that good. It's surprising that no one in Big Ag's figured out how to make it marketable - but I love knowing there are still delights out there that can only be had with special effort.
posted by Mchelly at 8:59 AM on November 23, 2020

It is slightly larger than apple sized, has a thick skin and a few big seeds, and the fruit is described as a citrusy custard – like a cross between a banana and a mango.
Yeah, I really want to try one of these!
posted by brainwane at 9:36 AM on November 23, 2020

Did I need to get teary-eyed at work today? No, I did not. But thank you for this, brainwane.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:41 AM on November 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

I so relate to this. I'm an avid vegetable gardener and I planted my first fruit tree (gala apple) five years ago. It was basically a stick when I planted it. I had visions of harvesting buckets of apples but of course it hasn't worked out that way. My neighbour doesn't trim his many trees and so their branches grow over my yard for sun and my poor gala is just a little too close to the shade they throw and growing slightly sideways. It valiantly puts out blossoms and for the first three years I didn't let fruit develop as I read it was better to allow the tree to nourish itself. Last year, after the birds and squirrels were done with it, I had enough small apples to make a tiny pie. This year, with the tree finally a decent size, I had high hopes. There were tons of flowers and tons of little apples that began to grow. Then the aphids showed up for the first time. The birds and the squirrels were back. Everything completely disappeared except for one (I swear I'm not making this up) tiny, delicious apple, which I had for breakfast with toast one morning in late September.
posted by Cuke at 9:53 AM on November 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

People are trying to commercialize pawpaw and have been for something like 30 years, but it's hard to get consistent flavor and a fruit that will travel. I will say, some wild pawpaws can be *spectacular*, my dad brought home an assortment once that included one that was just delicious creamy vanilla custard, both flavor and texture, with just a little overtone of exotic fruit-ness.
posted by tavella at 9:55 AM on November 23, 2020

I like the image of the dying plum tree still being able to provide shade for the new pawpaw. Our setbacks can still provide support to our future endeavours.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:09 PM on November 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

From her readers' comments I learn that what Australians (and neighboring countries) call pawpaw is actually papaya and is not the same as an American pawpaw.
posted by Coaticass at 1:53 PM on November 23, 2020

This is a wonderful allegory and a touching story but my own gardening experience has been that you sometimes have to prune a tree so much that it looks dead and that every single thing you do has a chance of dying so just keep planting stuff and don't get too attached at anything. Also that raised garden boxes hold way more dirt than you think. And you need to water more than you think.

I'm not sure if my experiences make a very good sermon.
posted by GuyZero at 3:09 PM on November 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

That said, I have a wonderful Granny Smith tree that produces a good amount of fruit every year and it was planted by the late former owner of my house probably 50+ years ago. So yeah, you don't plant fruit trees for yourself. The avocados I've planted have done well but produced approx 1 avocado in 5 years.
posted by GuyZero at 3:11 PM on November 23, 2020

well I have a little lime tree in my cabin that gives me about 2 or 3 limes a year that Im pretty proud of.
posted by cabin fever at 10:58 PM on November 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

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