September was plums.
Holy God, was this a year for plums. We have eight old plum trees in the back yard, but last year they didn't do much of anything. So it came as a surprise when they burst into... what's the word for an excess of fruit? Lots. Lots of fruit. Plums all over the grass, attracting wasps. Claudia made plum jam and plum cake and plum chutney, and the baby crawled around the yard picking them up and eating them. I picked buckets full. We offered them to friends and neighbors, but everyone else was having a plum year too.
Ripe plums are blue with a blush. Violet means not quite ripe. The tastiest are ones that have just fallen off the tree, picked up off the grass before the bugs get to them.
For some reason this inspired me to count the trees in our back yard. There are twenty three -- nineteen adult trees, a sapling and a seedling.
Eight plums. These are old. I'm sure they date back to before to the construction of the house (1966). Two of them are probably dying. In the back of the yard, the oldest-looking one is half dead; it's riddled with woodpecker holes, and late this summer an enormous puffy fungus suddenly bloomed out of the side of its trunk. Yet several branches are still flowering and bearing, and the plums were delicious. Go figure.
Five apples. The apples bore heavily last year. This year, barely at all -- there are maybe a fifth as many. Why apples and not plums last year, and this year the exact reverse? I have no goddamn idea.
The apples are old, too. The biggest one supports a couple of swings, which means the boys spend a lot of time on and around it. There are at least four different varieties -- little hard sour ones, big sweet red ones, those bland soft yellow guys. Somebody really liked apples. In the spring the blossoms are full of bees. This afternoon I picked a few and Claudia made applesauce.
Two cherries. We probably don't eat 1/20th of the apples and plums. Most of them fall and are wasted -- raked up into piles and dumped on the compost pile behind the shed. We like apples and plums, but we just don't like them that much.
The cherries, on the other hand, we love. We'd eat all of them if we could. But -- maddeningly -- most of them are out of reach. The cherry trees are both big, forty or fifty feet tall, and only a handful of cherries on the lower branches can be reached, even with a ladder. And unlike plums and apples, cherries don't fall -- most of them stay on the branches until they dry into withered little raisin-like things, or the birds get them
The apples and plums put on blossoms in the spring, but the cherries of course outshine them all. Cherry blossoms are awesome. The fact that they're only around for two or three days just makes them more so.
One pear. The pear tree stands tall and proud in a corner of the yard. It has no large branches for the first 20 feet, so the pears are high out of reach. When we moved into the house we found a number of strange gardening tools in the shed. The most striking was a 25-foot wooden pole with a little hoop at the end. A small canvas bag fits around the hoop. We eventually figured out that it was the pear-picking tool.
The pole is heavy hardwood, heavy and clumsy; I'm always a little nervous that I'm going to lose control of it and break a window or crack someone's head. It's best to take the pears from the window of the baby's room. You have someone lift the pole up to you, rather than carrying it through the house.
One walnut. The walnut tree is the king of the back yard. It's huge. It sits at the far end, back by the shed and the compost pile. Last year it dropped ridiculous numbers of walnuts, hundreds of them. One of the little shy European squirrels spent the autumn in our yard, desperately hunting and digging and scurrying. This year there seem to be a lot less walnuts -- again, go figure -- and no sign of the squirrel.
Fresh walnuts are bitter and hard to shell; they're much better after they've been dried a few weeks. I tried drying a few pails full downstairs in the heating room, but they weren't very good -- too warm and dry for too long, perhaps. So I have several buckets of year-old, over-dried, not-very-good walnuts. This afternoon I tried burning them in the wood stove. Turns out walnuts burn just fine. Who knew?
This year I'll try collecting some more modest amount and sun-drying them, if the sun will cooperate.
One Rowan. I don't think we have rowans in the States, or maybe they're just less common. They're medium-sized trees that produce enormous crops of bright orange berries in the autumn. The berries are (I'm told) edible but nasty-tasting. Hans, my father-in-law, says that birds leave them alone until quite late in the autumn, when suddenly they eat them all at once. (Because they're fattening up for migration? Because they wait until all the tastier stuff is gone? I do not know.)
Rowan trees were supposed to be apotropaic against various sorts of evil. I gather there's a lot of folklore there, but I haven't looked too deeply into it.
One elderberry. We actually have two elderberries, but only one is a tree. The other is a bush. I know that is, formally, impossible -- bushes are bushes and trees are trees, and they're totally separate categories. But one elderberry is this great bushy... well... bush. It overgrows half the back patio. It's maybe eight feet tall, and at least that wide around. It doesn't really have a trunk, but it has lots of small dangly branches. You couldn't imagine climbing it, but you could crawl under it to hide.
The other one looks totally different. It's a small tree, but it's... well, a tree. Fifteen feet tall, and It has a trunk and you could climb it. It's mostly dead, but it still bears a few berries.
Wikipedia tells us the elderberry is a "shrub or small tree". Well, thanks.
Anyway. Claudia picked the crop off the patio bush and produced about a gallon of syrup, which she decanted into a bunch of sealed jars. You mix it with water and it's, hey, a tasty fruit juice drink. So we'll be drinking that over the next little while.
One ginkgo sapling. Claudia planted this last summer. It's about four feet tall. It's alive, but it's stubbornly refusing to grow at all. I mean, it looks exactly the same as when we got it from the nursery 15 months ago. We've heard that this is common for ginkgoes -- if transplanted, they'll spend the first few years in a sort of vegetable sulk. I guess it shouldn't be surprising if a plant that's survived almost unchanged for 300 million years should have a conservative temperament. But I wish it would stop pouting and get on with it.
One oak seedling. I planted this last summer, at the same time as the ginkgo. In fact, it came with the ginkgo -- it was a just-sprouted acorn that had fallen by accident into the gingko's pot.
Fifteen months later, it's a tiny little seedling, about five inches tall. It's growing, but oh so slowly. I'm not sure if this is natural to oaks or if something's wrong. I keep the grass trimmed around it and water it regularly and, umm, mulch it? Put grass clippings around the base. I have no idea whether this is good or not, but then if you've read this far you realize that there are all sorts of things I have no idea about. It's our yard, it's full of trees. I'm learning this as I go along.
And those are the trees in our yard.
[Update, one day later: hey, the squirrel just showed up this morning. Little red guy, all jumping and leaping.]