Jan­uary top & flop CROPS

Lynda Hal­li­nan’s reg­u­lar roundup of the best and worst sea­sonal per­form­ers in her Hunua vege gar­den.

NZ Gardener - - The Good Life -

The golden rule for stone­fruit tree prun­ing is to snip the branches down to size as soon as the fruit is picked.

STONE­FRUIT:

Although plums are re­li­able crop­pers in my or­chard – es­pe­cially ‘Dam­son‘, ‘For­tune‘, ‘Sul­tan‘, ‘Sat­suma‘ and golden ‘Shiro‘ – their other cousins in the Prunus clan are no­to­ri­ously un­pre­dictable. One year I‘ll har­vest buck­et­loads of peaches and nec­tarines, but the next I‘ll be lucky to pick enough for a bowl of fruit salad.

The key is­sue is stone­fruit pol­li­na­tion, though brown rot is vex­ing too. These trees blos­som in late win­ter, when the weather is at its worst, and, for the past few years, it has rained heav­ily on their petal pa­rade, keep­ing the bees in their hives and hin­der­ing pol­li­na­tion. But last win­ter the skies stayed clear and the dif­fer­ence is plain to see. All of my trees are laden and even the no­to­ri­ously shy ‘Ele­phant Heart‘ and ‘Spring Satin‘ plum­cots, which have been re­peat­edly threat­ened with the chain­saw, have a rea­son­able haul of fruit.

In fact it has been six years since my last sen­sa­tional stone­fruit crop. I can say this with cer­tainty be­cause in 2013, I spent the sum­mer pick­ing plums (above) for our fea­ture in NZ Gar­dener.

I bet­ter get all my late grand­mother‘s Agee jars out of stor­age in prepa­ra­tion for bot­tling. ZUC­CHINI:

The spi­raliser at­tach­ment I bought for my food pro­ces­sor was worth ev­ery cent as we’re now eat­ing oo­dles of zoo­dles (zuc­chini noo­dles). Zuc­chini are so easy and pro­lific that even one plant can feel like one plant too many, so I’m al­ways keen to find new ideas.

Over­grown zuc­chini are bland and watery but if you pick them young, they are de­li­cious in stir-fries, frit­ters and fridge pickles. Make a sim­ple pick­ling so­lu­tion us­ing equal parts wa­ter, sugar and cider or white wine vine­gar, with cel­ery seed, turmeric and mus­tard pow­der. Bring the pick­ling liq­uid to the boil, then cool. Peel zuc­chini length­wise into wafer thin strips (use a cheese slicer or po­tato peeler) and mar­i­nate in the pick­ling so­lu­tion in the fridge for 2-3 hours be­fore serv­ing. Or use rice wine vine­gar, sugar, chilli, fresh grated gin­ger and co­rian­der for a sim­i­lar pickle.

AL­MONDS:

When is a top crop also a flop crop? When it‘s held on branches so high that I haven‘t a hope of har­vest­ing it.

Eight years ago, I planted a mixed grove of 16 al­mond trees on the steep bank be­hind our house. (I put in 24 more in our ex­posed or­chard but they all got the chop a cou­ple of years ago, as the windy lo­ca­tion didn‘t suit them.) I was told when I planted those trees that they‘d grow to 4-6m, and they did. They hit that height in three years and have never looked back; I‘d guess the tallest are now well over 10-12m high.

Prun­ing would have kept them at a man­age­able height but that has never seemed a pri­or­ity be­cause, de­spite a stun­ning show of blos­som each spring, I rarely get more than a hand­ful of nuts.

This year, how­ever, they are all cov­ered in fuzzy fruit (al­monds have an outer shell of hard green flesh, like an un­ripe peach) which I haven‘t a hope of har­vest­ing un­less I take to the trees with a chain­saw in late March/early April, when the nuts will be ripe enough to de­husk and dry. ‘BUTTERCRUNCH’ LET­TUCE:

I’ve al­ready given up on ’Ice­berg’ let­tuce in late sum­mer, even though it’s my favourite. It seems im­pos­si­ble to grow crisp­head let­tuces in hot weather; mine ei­ther fail to thrive or get tip burn and rot from the out­side in. So I switched to ’Buttercrunch’ – it ger­mi­nates re­li­ably and flour­ishes with­out any spe­cial at­ten­tion. So what’s my beef with ’Buttercrunch’? It wilts so quickly that by the time I get it to the kitchen, the leaves have al­ready gone limp. I sup­pose I could start har­vest­ing din­ner in the morn­ing, so those droopy greens can be re­vived in a bucket of wa­ter (add the juice of half a lemon or a splash of cider vine­gar), but who can be both­ered? I think I’ll stick to ’Cos’ and rocket sal­ads from now on. HAZEL­NUTS:

Last spring I tried to play match­maker in my hazel hedge, hand-pol­li­nat­ing the tiny pink fe­male flow­ers on one va­ri­ety with the dusty male pollen catkins from an­other. Did it work. In a word, no. Eight years, no nuts.

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