Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Ground work

I've seen advice from a few people suggesting that one of the things you should plan to do in the first year of a new homestead is planting whatever fruit trees you want to grow there -- they're a long-term project, so you want to put the trees to work doing their growing business as soon as possible. And by happy coincidence, I moved into my new place about a month before the growing season starts around here. (Mind you, it goes slowly for the first month or two, when the days aren't so long yet and the weather is still cool and rainy. But it's started! Things are blooming! This is important.)

So one of the first things I did was place an order with Raintree Nursery. Okay, no, the FIRST thing was to browse their entire catalog as if it were some esoteric cross between archaeological discovery and porn. ("aaaahh, those blueberries look so goooood," and "I could grow medlars! I don't even know what a medlar is!" and so on.) But eventually I sat down with my new roommate and picked out a variety of trees, some that were actually planned and some that were excitable impulse buys ("Paw paws! I've always wanted to eat a paw paw!").

Of course the order had to ship in order to arrive when it would be both perfect and awkward; the weather was beautiful last Saturday, but I was running around like a mad thing preparing a little equinox party for some friends, so my delicious box of temptation had to stay packed until the next day. Sunday, though! Sunday was for glory and dirt.
Oh gosh what could it be.
Teensy little stick of paw paw in the ground! this was the easiest one; not only was it a little bitty slip of a thing, it was going into some already pretty friendly dirt. Paw paws naturally grow as an understory tree in the eastern US forests where they're native, so I tucked this little guy in near the existing trees in my back yard (that's the shade of a broadleaf maple sprawling across the dirt). There was some of that awful black landscaping plastic to get rid of, but I'd been working at that for a while already, and the ex-mulch on top of it is now some nicely broken-down, fluffy humus.

Okay but back to the box!!
Gosh, look at all these lovely things. Cut the twine and start teasing them apart and let's get some plants and some dirt to make friends.
First up: an Empress dwarf peach, which will probably be a container plant all its life -- genetic dwarf peaches can be maintained at three feet or under. It'll need to be covered in the winter to prevent it from taking ill during our truly monstrous amounts of winter rain, but otherwise it promises to settle in well. It's self-fruitful, even!

Then comes the hard part. The goddamn lawn.

If one were framing it charitably, one could say the grass here is very healthy! Strongly rooted! Well established. If, on the other hand, one were much more interested in growing just about anything else than in grass, one might do a lot of cursing during the rest of the planting. I need a better shovel, with a good sharp edge, because fighting my way through the thick and stubborn mat of grass blades and roots was a truly unfortunate amount of effort.

First order of business: my pie cherry, an English Morello. Because when I was little we moved into a house that had a sour cherry tree already established in the yard, and every spring... well, the birds would get a good portion of the harvest, but we'd get enough cherries off that tree for a pie or maybe two. And they ruined me for life. Sour cherries make a bright and tangy, lively pie that sweet cherries just don't match. But sour cherries are also really hard to find for purchase anywhere! Finally, problem solved. (All sour cherries are self-fruitful.)

Second order of business: roommate's four-way frankenpear! Pear trees are NOT self-fruitful, which means that on a smallish lot I was skeptical about having the room to have productive ones. Enter the multiple graft: the four branches on this tree should produce Rescue, Orcas, Highland, and Ubileen pears, none of which I've ever had before. Adventures outside the supermarket variety!

Then I bought a Pineapple quince. Because how cool is that? I'm looking forward to the fantastic fragrance and the big burly fruits for stews, sauces, pies.... And I admit I'm susceptible to ad copy that paints a fruit as a forgotten treasure of days gone by.

So far so good? Well. I was already tired at this point, and then I picked up the bucket I'd been using to soak the tree roots before planting, and... it gave up. Complete loss of structural integrity, huge cracks down the side, and the damn thing took a chunk out of my finger as I lost my grip on it. (Wear your gloves. Even when you think you're done with the part where you need them.)

So I finished watering the trees I'd already planted and went inside to have a good sulk and groom my wounded dignity for a while. Asparagus and strawberries still to go, but they were going to have to wait a bit longer after this.

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