This season I’ve been hankering for tangy sweet apricots, lusting after juicy delicious yellow nectarines, and longing for fragrant white peaches. Why? Because we’ve grown very few this year in the orchard, and I’m feeling deprived.
I’ve written in a previous blog about why this happened (wettest spring on record, devastating Blossom blight in the apricots, worst case of Leaf curl we’ve ever had in the peaches and nectarines, blah, blah, blah…). Boring and disappointing, but predictable—part of our business model is to plan for bad things to happen (from an environmental point of view) during the season, because they invariably do. The last decade has dished up plenty of wild weather; we’ve had the longest drought, the wettest flood and the biggest hail storms, and all projections are that it will only get worse.
I often find myself fantasising about creating the perfect growing ecosystem that would provide protection from the elements (rain, hot north winds, heat waves, hail) and give a better chance of a successful crop every year, without sacrificing the essential ‘organic’ nature of our growing. Ideas from permaculture (planting wind breaks, using one crop as protection for another) and big horticulture (enclosure nets, rain covers) make me think it would be possible (with enough capital and ingenuity) … fascinating, but a topic for another blog!
Seasons like this also make us slightly envious of chemical farmers in some ways, who have tools at their disposal that provide better protection against rain, particularly when it comes to fungicides, for example. Those chemicals are not allowed on certified organic farms because of the potential impacts on human and environmental health, so we’re happy not to be using them, but they sure reduce the risk for the farmers!
In a year like this it’s also easy to start beating yourself up and wondering what you could have done differently to save the crop. When disaster strikes, many farmers have a private conversation going on their head, asking themselves things like ‘What could we have done differently? Should we have paid more attention? I knew we shouldn’t have taken that holiday.’ It’s not necessarily logical, but farmers have a very personal relationship with their farm, and it’s hard not to feel responsible when things go wrong, even if it was out of your control. And that’s with fruit trees! I can only imagine how much worse it must feel when you’re farming animals and something goes wrong.
That’s the bleak side of the picture. Good things come out of bad situations as well, and not least that we always learn something about how to be a better farmer! Every new situation that nature throws at us gives us the chance to figure out a better approach, come up with a new strategy or find a new tool.
And one of the unexpected consequences to come from having so little stone fruit this year has been how much fun it’s been to really celebrate plums. In the absence of the more glamorous stone fruit that usually hogs the limelight, we’ve found ourselves really paying attention to the myriad and varied characteristics of the many different plum varieties we grow, and wow! They’re amazing!
The differences in flavor, colour, texture, skin characteristics, juice quality of all our different blood plums are quite stunning. And that’s just the blood plums! Then there’s Greengage, Angelina, Prune d’Agen, Amber Jewel and Pizzaz, plus half a dozen more, and they are as different to each other as apricots are to peaches.
So this year’s stone fruit season hasn’t been a complete loss—in fact far from it. In the absence of yellow nectarines (drool….) and those fragrant heritage Fragar white peaches, we’re learning to really love our wonderful plums! As the song says, if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with!
Happy plum season!