I know it’s a sin to relish the weather in these globally catastrophic times, but really, it’s been great. Ignoring the tick problem, the hardiness zone misadventure, and the annoying increase in wind intensity (El Ninos included), I’d say we’re experiencing paradise.
I’m sure we all have little anecdotes about this year’s weather effects. My own has to do with my yearly grapple with the organic orchard. Organic orcharding is an exercise in futility for the most part. The best part of any farming endeavor is when you taste the food right off the vine, the way nature intended it, and when it’s at its absolute best. The discerning orchardist waits until the very last minute to harvest, knowing the flavor will be at its peak then and although it can often ripen after picking, it will be sweeter if left on the vine to do so. With fruit (I’m talking the fruit we think of as fruit: peaches, berries, etc., not the fruit we call vegetables like tomatoes and corn) this is a difficult proposition. The sweeter the fruit, the more attractive it is to the moths, caterpillars, butterflies, bees, flies, and birds. The longer you leave it up, the more damage it’s going to sustain. So you try to get out there at the very moment of peakhood, but you’ll never beat the pest. The pest has incredible chemical sensory apparati and you only have a schedule. If it’s on your schedule to pick, you’ll pick, but the moths will come the moment they smell the fruit. Doesn’t matter what they’re doing at the time: mating, pupating, sleeping, molting, hiding from the mantids, they will come running on the first waft of sucrose-laden air.
This year I think we had budburst in January. This is usually a bad sign. The last frost date is May 15th. Bud bursting before a heavy frost can ruin an entire crop. So while it’s nice to see the trees turn pink for Valentine’s Day, it’s a bad sign. This year, though, the buds burst early and the frost stayed light. We had an incredible abundance of fruit and everything was about a month early. I think we totally screwed the flies. They came out yawning and sheepishly rubbing their compound eyes a week too late. We’d been and gone with a full fruit locker by that time.
Usually canning time is a time of sorrow for me. About half the fruit is wormy and the other half fungusy. I weep and gnash. One year I stopped after a single quart, threw my paring knife at the wall and started bawling about not having any talent for canning. I simply could not go on and resolved to give up the whole fruit tree idea and stick to asparagus and potatoes. My therapist reminded me that I don’t make a living from farming and that gardening is a pleasure and I should be glad that I have an activity that gets me out and why don’t I just get over it. Think of the starving children in China etc. You know the drill: pat phrases to get me back on track. It worked for another year and it’s never been quite as bad as that one time. But it’s never been very good either. But that’s how it is in organic fruit production. I’m talking the kind of fruit that bruises if you look cross-eyed at it—peaches. Easily-bruised fruit is like easily-bruised people: high maintenance but generally worth it. And let me tell you, after nine years of failure, this one year has made the whole goll-durned experiment worth it.
Actually it’s been getting better each year. It may be me that’s getting better at it, but the warm weather definitely helped. I didn’t come across a single bug at canning time. The only problem I had was that there was so much fruit to be picked, I didn’t get around to canning until half had over ripened. The horses were glad for that, though. Don’t they just love me now. Come running when they see me heading over to the feed bucket with my little white pomace pail.
The point is, when life gives you lemons, you’re supposed to make lemonade. So the weather sucks, so we’re burning ourselves up in the greenhouse effect. So what I say. If that’s what it takes to bring out this fantastic harvest I’m all for it. Bring on the See-Oh-tu.
Of course next year this could all go to you know what, but for now: eat a peach!
Sue Lange’s bookshelf at Book View Cafe