Lucy Chamberlain’s Fruit and Veg
Perfect nibbled fresh or preserved as jams, no kitchen garden should be without these stone fruits. Lucy Chamberlain explains how to grow plums, damsons and gages
BE assured that, by growing one of these stone-fruit trees, you’ll not only be keeping your household stocked up with delicious, flavoursome fruits, but also those along your entire street! Plums, plus related damsons and gages, are notoriously high yielding.
True plums arise from Prunus domestica, and are oval in shape. Ripening can occur from mid-July (like ‘Herman’) to early October (such as ‘Marjorie’s Seedling’). Gages are also botanically Prunus domestica, but are more spherical. They need time to develop their high sugar levels, so ripening occurs in August or September.
Damsons originate from Prunus insititia, and the fruit is generally small and tart. Ripening occurs very slowly, generally in September and October.
With pruning only necessary if trees become unruly, and unfussy pollination requirements, you can see why they’re so popular – and now is the ideal time to harvest and prune them.
Harvesting and pruning
Do you own a chest freezer? Come this time of year you can put it to good use by freezing excess plums and gages. While other tree fruits don’t respond well to this method of preservation, plums buck the trend, making gluts very welcome. Either leave the stone in or (to save your family’s teeth) remove them using a knife. Bear in mind that some varieties, such as ‘Opal’ and ‘Herman’, are termed ‘freestone’, meaning that the stone parts easily from the flesh, whereas other ‘clingstones’, such as ‘Marjorie’s Seedling’, are more fiddly to de-stone.
Time-wise, plums and other stone fruits are always pruned in summer (see page 20) to avoid silver leaf infection. For ease, carry this out immediately after harvest. Fan-trained trees should have old, unproductive stems cut out and new ones tied into place. Freestanding trees respond well to festooning and can have lofty or wayward stems cut out to a well-placed side-shoot, or back to the main branch.
“Give them time to develop high sugar levels”