The Fruits of My Labor

developing plums

Developing Plums

Gardens, like children, need nurturing to grow. Genetics certainly plays a role. Environment is significant too. A little TLC, however, goes a long way to ensure a happy, healthy garden. Today, I’m enjoying the fruits of my labor, literally and metaphorically.

This is the break-out year for our four-in-one fruit tree. We bought the grafted, stone-fruit tree as a gift for my son’s 10th birthday. I researched the guidelines for pruning the tree, and received additional tips from my nurseryman friend, Doug. Following that advice, I pruned the branches by 40-50% every year for the first three years. It seemed drastic to my young son who was pretty upset with me even though I was able to show him the research. One of the four grafts died, and I’ve never heard the end of it.

Where was I…oh yes, the fruits of my labor. Well guess what? This is year four and the tree is now covered in fruit. There is more fruit than we’ve had in the first three years combined.

future plums

Blushing fruit in the dappled sun

four in one fruit tree

Branches laden with fruit

Last year’s small bounty disappeared overnight. This year we have so much fruit that the rats and squirrels have only made a small foraging dent. We might actually be eating peaches, plums and nectarines this summer. Oh happy days!

Do you have a favorite fruit?

Pruning the Fruit Tree: Living to Tell the Tale

Four in one fruit cocktail tree

Four-in-one fruit cocktail tree

My fruit tree ‘cheat sheet’  told me to get out there and prune by the end of January. The four-in-one fruit cocktail tree is still relatively young, so good pruning is key to the tree’s long-term success. This time last year my son was adamant that I not prune the tree, worried that I would kill it. I read him a long article, published by one of the universities, on the importance of pruning in the first five years of the tree’s life. He would have none of it. Finally he relented, as long as I pruned the tree when he wasn’t looking.

What a difference a year makes. Playing Minecraft with a good friend today took precedence over anything I was doing. I quickly pruned the tree while my husband kept a hand on the ladder. Today was dry and clear, but cold.  I wanted to get the job done and he wanted to get back indoors.

Last spring, I tried to put a net over the tree to protect the fruit from marauding squirrels. I managed to partially cover the tree, but then one of the legs of the ladder sunk into the soft soil, sending me backward into the shrubs.  I skinned my chin, bruised my back side, broke the ladder and damaged my ego. It’s called learning the hard way.

Fresh Cuts, new buds

Fresh cuts, new buds

Generally speaking, I enjoy pruning, but not when I’m ten feet off the ground.  I’m glad the job is done for another year. I started the weekend with a bump on the head after ‘gracefully’ tripping over a warped mat in the garage. No sense adding injury to injury.

Did you do any big chores this weekend?

Good things to come

Good things to come

Fresh lumber for the fairy garden fence

Lumber for the fairy garden fence

Fruit for the Picking

You may remember that while attempting to cover the four-in-one fruit cocktail tree with bird netting earlier this year, I fell.  Yep, just call me Grace.  One leg of the ladder sank into the dirt and down I went.  I wasn’t seriously hurt, but bruised and scratched enough to abandon the job at hand.  Did I mention that I broke the ladder, too?

The tree was partially covered before the fall.  I left the excess netting in a pile at the base of the tree.  From time to time I tucked in bits of netting around the expanding branches, hoping to confuse the foragers. Would the coverage be enough to save some fruit for my family?  Last year the birds and squirrels picked the tree clean.  If I hadn’t taken a photo of two beautiful plums the day before, I would have assumed I imagined the whole thing.

It worked!  I’ve seen a few nibbles, but most of the fruit is still on the tree, soon to be ripe for the picking.

Netted Fruit Cocktail Tree

Plums and Nectarines

I haven’t baked in pie in a zillion years, but I think it’s time to brush up on my baking skills. The next fruit to set: peaches. Oh my, oh my, oh my!

Please let me know if you have a favorite pie recipe to share.

The Bad News…

Broken Ladder, Wounded Pride

I fell off a ladder trying to net the fruit tree.  The good news: I landed in a soft growth of ferns.  The bad news: my son saw me fall and he’s a bit worried.  The good news:  no real injuries other than my wounded pride, a bruise on my shin and a tender tailbone.  More  bad news: I broke the ladder.  The good news:  this paragraph has drawn to a close.

We bought bird netting for the fruit tree and I was attempting to drape it from the top.  The leg of the ladder sank into a soft patch of dirt, fell sidewise into the fence and deposited me backwards. It’s hard not to feel like the village idiot. It’s not the first time I’ve been up on a ladder.  I should have made sure that fourth leg was stable.

So, the netting is now unceremoniously stuffed around the tree.  Next time…I’m glad I get to say next time.

Ladder Safety according to the OSHA Quick Card complied by the United States Department of Labor.

Kitty Decided to Net Himself

Practicing His "I'm Innocent" Look

Reading the Fine Print

When my nine-year-old son discovered Fruit Cocktail trees, he could talk of nothing else. I’d never heard of them till our neighbor shared her plans to plant an edible garden. For the uninitiated, a “fruit cocktail” is a multi-grafted fruit tree; one tree, four varieties of fruit.

These trees are a boon for suburban gardeners with tiny lots. Another plus is the harvest season. The fruits mature at slightly different times extending the bounty gradually over the season.

Last spring we had beautiful fruit, but we were ill-prepared for nature’s scavengers. The squirrels and rats picked the tree clean in a day. We’re more prepared this year and will “net the tree” as soon as the flowers begin to fruit.

I photographed the beautiful blooms today, then removed the identifying tags. Reading the fine print on the back of each one made me smile.

A few gems:

“Self-fruitful in most climates.”
“Excellent pollenizer”
“…some tartness near the skin.”
“Tangy when firm-ripe, sweetest when soft-ripe.”
“Reliable, heavy-bearing tree.”

Blooming Apricot

Blenheim Apricot: Dave Wilson Nursery

July Elberta Peach Bloom

July Elberta Peach

Santa Rosa Plum Bloom

Santa Rosa Plum Bloom

Fantasia Nectarine Bloom

Fantasia Nectarine

Ah, fertility!

We purchased our Fruit Cocktail at Almaden Valley Nursery (thanks Doug!)
Wholesaler: Dave Wilson Nursery

Garden Log: February 22, 2012

Small Harvest

With temperatures in the mid-seventies this week, we’ve been spending a lot of time outdoors. The official start of spring is still four weeks away, so I know this weather won’t last. It was a great opportunity to accomplish some garden chores.


I cut the larger broccoli crowns, along with the flowering plants that bolted last week, and left the smaller florets behind. With luck, we’ll have a few more servings before all plants go to seed. I soaked the cuttings in warm salt water before wrapping them in a towel to crisp in the fridge.


Following my friend Doug’s instructions and the notes I found on-line, I pruned our two-year old, “four-in-one” fruit tree. The soft buds are plump on all four grafts and a few have started to flower. I put some of the cuttings in a vase indoors and will recycle the rest curbside. San Jose’s excellent recycling program converts green waste into mulch!

The aforementioned fruit tree was my son’s 10 year birthday gift, so the pressure to prune it properly runs high. He refused to watch, even though I read to him how important pruning fruit trees is in the first four years to establish a strong tree. It was fun to read the origins of the phrase “nipping it in the bud.”

Four-in-one Fruit Tree Buds


My husband helped me drag the water-logged roses to the front deck where we replanted them in a pot. We displaced the  plants when we installed the patio out back so I was happy to find them a home. I’m sure I’ve disappointed a few squirrels.  They dig up the planter every few days leaving dirt all over the deck.  Since they don’t stay to clean up the mess they don’t have a say in the matter. The roses will soon bloom, discouraging all that plunder.


We store our emergency/earthquake kit under a potting bench in two air-tight containers. I knew it was time to update the water along with a few other items, but for all my love of gardening, I’m a bit squeamish about spiders. Mike pulled out the bins and stacked them on the table so I could empty, sort, clean and replace items as needed. I washed the blankets, pillow cases and the canvas tote and made a note to replace the water boxes and a few batteries. Otherwise it was in decent shape. As I went to replace the oil cloth cover I discovered one of the largest, hairiest garden spiders I’ve ever seen. We stood and debated its livelihood for a moment: I knew it was alive; my husband said dead. I carried the cloth to the far reaches of the garden to relocate the arachnid. As we stood staring at it, one of the cats crawled under the cloth and then jumped out the other side. The two of us jumped in unison, momentarily convinced that “Sir Harry” was out for blood.

Sir Harry

Next week: a trip to Almaden Valley Nursery to source and price some plants.