The Cranky Gardener

1 Conversation

Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries

There are people who think they don't like fresh fruit. These poor folks have probably never actually tasted fruit allowed to ripen on the tree or vine. Their only experience of raw fruit comes from purchases made at the local supermarket. And to tell the truth, most of the produce available for sale is tasteless and has a poor texture.

Now, before we get sued, I want to note that the next few sentences reflect my personal opinion only and in no way represent the views of the BBC. The produce section of your supermarket probably has displays of fruit from California. It's absolutely beautiful. Big luscious-looking oranges, grapes, peaches, plums. Anything that beautiful must taste good, right? So you buy a bag of whichever fruit you're craving, take it home and bite into what you're expecting to be a ripe, juicy, flavourful piece of fruit. But you wind up with Yuck! Instead of Yum! If this is a person's only experience with a nectarine, then I can understand why they wouldn't ever want to sample another one. My rule of thumb is that if it comes from California, I won't buy it. It's going to be totally flavourless, and I'll have wasted my money.

I'm sure that fruit from California is wonderful if you live across the road from the orchard and can pick it yourself. But the stuff they pick to ship to other areas is just dreadful. In the first place commercial growers are more concerned with a fruit's appearance and its ability to store and ship well than they are in its flavour. So they plant those varieties that are disease resistant, pick the fruit green, and sent it on its way to you - the unsuspecting consumer.

What's the solution? You can, of course, shop at farmer's markets. Many vendors pick their fruits and vegetables in the morning and sell it to you in the afternoon. You will get much better quality produce by buying from local growers. But you have to realize that, in some cases, these markets sell fruit and vegetables that have been freighted in from the same sources that supply the supermarkets. So be careful. Especially at the large markets that have many vendors. Ask them if they grew the produce themselves.

We have a wonderful farmer's market in the small city where I live. One of the requirements for vendors is that they must grow what they sell. If they are caught reselling produce they will lose their booth space.

When local fruits are not in season, I suggest you buy frozen. Fruit grown to be processed is often of better quality than that grown to sell raw. And properly frozen fruit tastes more like fresh fruit than fresh supermarket fruit... if you get my drift. Canned fruit is even more flavourful than most of the raw fruit available during the off
season. The problem with canned fruit is that it normally contains heavy syrup and lots of extra calories from the sugar.

My personal solution to the fruit dilemma is to grow my own. I know what you're thinking. That's too much work, I don't have enough room, and it takes forever for fruit trees to bear. And when they do bear, you have too much fruit for one family. These are all reasonable concerns, so let's talk about them.

How much work is it to grow fruit? Probably less than you would expect. From a gardener's standpoint there are large fruits and small fruits. Large fruits grow on trees. Small fruits grow on vines or bushes. With both categories the most labour-intensive part of growing them is going to be deciding which varieties to buy.

Most fruit trees are ordered from specialty nurseries and arrive bare-root. Don't be afraid to order from a reputable grower. I have had wonderful luck buying fruit trees from Stark Bro's Nursery in Louisiana, Missouri. They have been in business since 1816 and are responsible for developing some of the most famous varieties of apples in the US. I have never lost a fruit tree I have ordered from them.

My purpose in supplying this link is not to give Stark Bro's free publicity. The point I'm making is that there are instances where buying from a mail order nursery is preferable to buying potted nursery stock at a local garden centre. Most garden centres will have only three or four varieties of apple trees, for example. There are many more available varieties from a specialty grower. Plus, a fruit tree at a garden centre may have been sitting in its pot for years! It is much more likely to die when transplanted than a freshly dug, bare root tree shipped to you at the proper planting time for your area.

When your fruit trees arrive you need to plant them as quickly as possible. Choose a sunny location. Dig a plant hole wide enough to accommodate the roots of the tree without cramping them and deep enough for the tree to be planted at the same depth as it was growing at the nursery. When the hole is the right size, take a spading fork and loosen the soil in the bottom of the hole. Add some compost or well-rotted manure and mix it into the loosened soil.

Small fruit trees should be staked when they are planted. You should put the stake into the ground before you plant the tree, not after. This prevents you from driving the stake into the tree roots and damaging the tree. Hammer the stake into the hole then put in the tree. Spread the roots out in the base of the hole. Make sure they don't curl
around into a circle. Then fill the hole with the excavated soil. Make sure the soil sifts between the roots. You can do this by jiggling the tree up and down while you fill the hole. When the hole is full you need to take the ball of your foot (or your heel if you have really big feet) and firm the soil. This will prevent air pockets.

Now it's time to tie the tree to the stake. You can buy expensive plastic tree ties that let you adjust them as the trees grow. Or you can use an old nylon stocking. I always save my stockings with runs (ladders) to use as garden ties. They stretch, are extremely strong and are gentle on the tree. Never use wire. Finally, water the tree. This entire planting process shouldn't take more than 20 minutes.

The other task you will need to perform once your trees are old enough to bear fruit is to spray them on a regular schedule. I can hear the organic gardeners screaming. But... I don't like wormy apples or buggy peaches. I spray my fruit trees. There is a general rule of thumb for spraying. Before the bud, after the bud, the 4th of July and Labor Day (early September). You should check with a local garden centre to find out the best time in your area. We have a compression
sprayer with a long wand which makes it easy to reach the tops of the trees.

Objection number two. You say you don't have enough room. Fruit trees, blueberry bushes, strawberries and grapes can all be planted in patio containers. If you have a sunny spot on a patio or balcony, you can grow fruit. Be sure you buy trees grafted onto dwarfing root stock. The advantage to planting in containers is that you can then grow varieties that normally do not grow in your area because you can move
them inside for the winter. That's the only way it is possible to grow citrus fruits in my climate for example.

Outside, fruit trees can be espaliered along wires against a fence or building. You can also choose small fruits such as blueberries or bush cherries to do double duty as a hedge and to provide fruit. And don't forget that you can grow melons such as cantaloupes and honeydews vertically on a trellis. Use old nylon stockings to support the fruit as it grows heavier. Just cradle the fruit in the centre of the stocking and tie it to the trellis or fence or whatever.

Objection number three and four have the same answer. It takes forever for fruit trees to bear and when they do you wind up with more fruit than you can use fresh. There are four common sizes of fruit trees. Standard trees are the largest. These are the trees grown by your grandparents. Standard fruit trees will reach a height of between 18-25 feet. Semi-dwarf is the next size. These trees will grow to a height of 12-15 feet. Dwarf trees reach a height of 8-10 feet and miniature trees, perfect for patio containers are a mere 6-8 feet tall.

The larger the tree, the longer it will take for it to begin bearing fruit. And the more fruit it will produce. So, to get a quicker yield and more manageable yields you should plant dwarf trees. The dwarf apples will bear fruit two years earlier than the standard apples. When planting dwarf trees you can expect your first crop the second or third year after planting, depending upon the variety.

Do you like strawberries? Of course you do. Strawberries will produce fruit the first year1. Blackberries and raspberries will produce fruit the second year2. Grapes will produce fruit the second or third year. So, although you won't have instant gratification, it really doesn't take forever to be able to pick and enjoy the fruit of your

This week's recipe is for chicken croquettes. The recipe calls for mixed herbs. Remember when cooking with herbs to use the ones you like. My husband, for example won't eat anything containing oregano. So I usually substitute thyme or summer savory because he likes those flavors. Never add an ingredient you don't like just because it's listed in a recipe.

Chicken Croquettes


  • 2 cups - 250g, 9oz - chopped, cooked chicken
  • 2 cups - 450g, 1lb - cold, seasoned mashed potatoes
  • ½ cup - 75g, 3oz - red onion, diced
  • 1 Tablespoon mixed herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 Tablespoon milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Bread crumbs to coat
  • Oil for frying

Mix the chicken, potato, onion, herbs salt and pepper and one of the eggs. Shape the mixture into balls and flatten. The patties should be about 2½ or 3" - 6 to 7.5cm - in diameter. If you have time, refrigerate the patties for an hour.

Add the milk to the second egg and mix together. Place the bread crumbs on a plate. Dip the patties into the egg wash then roll in the bread crumbs.

Heat a large skillet. Add oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Cook the croquettes, turning once, until they are brown on both sides.

The Cranky Gardener


25.03.04 Front Page

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1As can Rhubarb if you are given a 'divided' plant from a friend - although I am sure that Hypatia will write more about this wonderful plant at a later date... ed2As will Blackcurrants, Redcurrants, Gooseberries and Loganberries in the UK... ed

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