Friday, August 21, 2009

Plums aplenty - but what to do with the harvest?

We're just coming into the main harvest time in the orchard. There are 17 trees in all, three plum, three pear, three cherry and the rest apples - two cookers and the others are eaters.

The first of the trees to bear fruit are the cherries - the two varieties we have in the orchard - Stella and Sunburst - ripen in July, if the birds and grey squirrels give them a chance.

The squirrels are joined by wasps at this time of year as the plums start producing their sugary juice as they ripen. We've managed to keep the squirrels at bay so far this year, although another crop rapidly approaching readiness are the hazel nuts in the hedges on all four sides of the property. And with one or two large trees within the garden for good measure, they're sure to bring our number one pest flooding in.

This year, however, we've kept on top of them with some pretty serious pest control measures.

And that's good news as the weather from spring until now has allowed us plums aplenty and every chance of a bumper harvest.

We've got two Victoria varieties and one Oulin's Gage. The three trees have been overladen with fruit to the point that the first Victoria - a seven-year-old tree growing on St Julien A rootstock -lost two branches that snapped under the weight of fruit back in early July.

I should have removed some , as I did with the hard fruit, but I was too greedy. The result is
a very heavy crop of small plums. They would have been larger had I thinned them. And the possibility with Victorias is that the tree exhibuts biennial fruiting, meaning that following the glut this year, next year fruit will be sparse.

The two broekn branches are still partially attached and the bark and cambium tissue immeidately underneath it are not entirely broken so they'll still be fed and ripen, albeit less efficiently.

Plums seem to be quite brittle. We had a heavy crop a couple of years ago and the wild bullaces, a plum relative I think [help me out here!] growing in th hedges around Stonecroft, also snapped a few branches under the weight.

I'll take some photos tomorrow and post them up here. The Victorias are in good condition with a fair bit of wasp damage but probably about 70% will be edible (to us, not the wasps!). The Oullin's Gage, however, lost most of the crop to mould. This set in after the fruit split back in June I think, while I was on holiday.

I think the cause was sun burning down an focusing on the skins through rain drops that had setteld on the top surfaces of the fruit, and this led to the skins splitting wher the heat had been focused. [Again, I need help here - this is something I've been told in the past so can anyone verify it?]. Anyway, the mould duly set in to through the broken skins and we've lost hte bulk of he crop. I still hope to get a good few pounds from this, at 16 feet, the biggest tree in our orchard.

Oullin's Gage - sometimes called Oullin's Golden Gage - is a good eater but also freezes well.

The Victorias are to me the best tasting and most versatile plum, probably because my father had several trees and, like many people, I'm prone to see my childhood through rose-tinted glasses.

So we'll scoff quite a few, my wife will make plum jam with most of the damaged fruit, I'll cook with some more and make wine with others [recipes for wine / spirits etc and other cooking ideas are most welcome!]. I'll let you know how I get on and I'll even share my wife's outstanding jam recipe (if she shares it with me ...). I may try bottling a few if all goes well.

So here's to the harvest. Cheers.


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