Helpful home grown fruit hints
CHECK YOUR STONES AND PITS
Those plum and apricot stones, peach and nectarine pits that you put into the soil in the autumn once you’d eaten the sweet flesh, will be emerging now and growing toward the light. If you were far-sighted enough to put down stones and pits in expectation of growing your own fruit trees, well done you! Homegrown soft fruits are especially good value, growing as they do from what would ordinarily be thrown away. Those hard ‘‘cores’’ from your favourite juicy summer and autumn fruits contain the germ of a new, free fruit tree and it only takes a small effort to get them growing. I crack the stones and pits with a hammer, just enough to let in the water when I soak them overnight and get the sprouting process started. I find the stones from organically-grown, heritage varieties do very well, growing quickly, fruiting early and resisting diseases in a manner superior to store-bought trees. A potted fruit tree, grown by your own hand, makes a great Christmas gift and costs next to nothing; all that’s required is a little foresight.
SHARPEN YOUR CUTTING TOOLS
Sharpen up your cutting tools with file and stone, taking secateurs and loppers apart if necessary and getting those blades razor-sharp. Your trees – and your wrists – will thank you for going to the trouble of honing a keen edge. While you’re at it, tighten the nuts and bolts holding everything together. Slack nuts make for poor cuts, nobody ever said, but it sounds as though they should have, as it’s true. Wobbly blades mean pruning is rough and ready. Torn edges where branches have been removed are an invitation to pests and diseases and a clean cut means those go begging. A small shifting spanner is all that’s needed for the job.
KEEPWATCH ON YOUR PLUM TREES
Not only will you enjoy the sight of plum blossom opening, but you’ll possibly see one of the greatest threats to a good plum harvest operating right before your eyes. Kereru, or native woodpigeon, delight in filling their crops with plum blossom and the newly-opened leaves forming on the tips of the plum branches. By being observant, you can see the process in action and scare the birds off, if that’s your desire. I learned long ago that shooing kereru away is a fairly pointless activity,
as they are very determined birds and never give up trying to fill their bellies with whatever takes their fancy. They simply return again and again until they’re full. I try instead, to capture them on film, or even in my memory to enjoy later in the year when other plum growers are picking their fruits – I jest – there are always more blossoms and plums on our trees than anyone could hope for, despite the attentions of the kereru.
GATHER PUSSIES FROM WILLOWS
The various willows that produce ‘‘pussies’’ at this time of year are doing just that. While the downy catkins are still sound and haven’t ‘‘blown’’, clip off segments of branch tips and bring them inside to display in a vase. The trick to keeping them whole for months on end, is to leave the vase dry – that is, don’t add water, the way you would for cut flowers. Without water, the soft catkins This column is adapted from the weekly e-zine, get growing, from New Zealand Gardener magazine. For gardening advice delivered to your inbox every Friday, sign up for Get Growing at: getgrowing.co.nz
will stay that way. They won’t develop any further and shed their bits all over the tablecloth.
Those you’ve left on the trees will open and display their reproductive bits to the delight of honey bees who are especially hungry at winter’s end.
Willows provide a reliable and considerable supply of pollen and have attracted the attention of beekeepers around the country. They are encouraging farmers to plant as many willow varieties as possible on their farms, alongside their waterways, where the bees can collect pollen almost every month of the year. If you’d like to grow willows, for bees, cut some willow wands from a tree that’s been given the okay from the bee people and your regional council, and poke those slips into the soil.