Thursday, May 07, 2009

Backyard bounties

Drooling at Crazybrave's photo of the delicious pomegranates she'd received from a friend has got me thinking of home-grown fruit again, and I am quite envious of people whose fruit trees thrive in their suburban gardens, considering my previous 'mixed' success.

You'd be surprised how much fruit is grown in Melbourne's backyards. Besides the ubiquitous lemon and plum trees, there are also commonly apples, cumquats and nectarines, or, if you're lucky, pears and peaches. Less commonly, you may find pomegranates in their thorny, small-leaved bushes, and, in older houses, that old favourite feijoa (or pineapple quava as some know it).

In neighbourhoods like mine, you'll find older Italian households with persimmon trees. From my kitchen window I can track the progress of my Sicilian neighbour's persimmons. In late autumn–early winter, when all the tree's leaves have fallen (or been assisted to the ground with a stick by my elderly neighbours), I'll be able to marvel at the large fruit hanging in the bare branches, their bright orange glow livening up the dull-grey days.

I marvel at some people's luck at growing trees that bear so much fruit that they have to give it away. Some end up sharing bags of fruit with family, friends, and colleagues, and I miss our family friends who regularly make plum, apricot and other jams and chutneys – because they now live in regional Victoria, we don't get to enjoy their preserves as much as we used to.

This year we missed out on the bags of plums that we previously scored from our neighbour's trees in previous summers. These are actually third-hand plums – branches from trees in the house next to our block of units overhang the back fence of the unit beside ours, and we usually get a bag of fruit when they harvest the overhangs – more if the Sicilian lady next door invites them over to help pick the harvest. Last summer's family crisis and extended stay in Brisbane after my father died meant that we didn't see this bounty, though from reports the weather limited the crop.

I wonder if climate change will continue to play havoc on our cropping trees. Besides the unseasonal frosts, hail, storms and such that have spoiled fruit or blossoms, there are concerns that warming will affect the setting of fruit in trees reliant on the cold to do so, such as apples, pears and stone fruit.

However, I'm trying not to dwell on such grim thoughts. Instead, I'm going in search of opportunities to share in the bounty of other people's fruit trees. I'm going to harvest the abundant sage, rosemary and thyme (sorry, no parsley) and go in search of urban orchards and swap meets –
those wonderfully convivial gatherings where home-growers can swap their surpluses with something else they don't have much or any of. And there's one set up recently near where I work. Although it's getting late in the season, perhaps I'll find a bag or so of something I like.

What fruit are you growing in your back yard? Have you received some surplus bounty from a friend or relative lately?

[Image by Crazybrave, used with permission.]

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At May 07, 2009 7:54 pm, Blogger Zoe said...

How close are you to Fitzroy? Might be worth a trip!

The best harvest we ever had from our apricot tree was the summer after we'd had a kid's swing hanging off it - stress made it fruit like crazy.

At May 08, 2009 10:30 am, Blogger Mark Lawrence said...

Zoe, that's a great map! Thanks. In terms of surplus swaps, the Yarra Urban Harvest is what I had in mind. There is also one at CERES Market on Saturdays, but you can't just rock up to it, you have to join.

There's a list of various urban swaps in Melbourne here.

At May 08, 2009 2:38 pm, Blogger Zoe said...

what a great idea that is

At May 08, 2009 10:57 pm, Blogger parlance said...

There's a swap at our local garden centre, on the Banksia St Bridge in Heidelberg.

Mark, I have to boast - we had so many plums this summer that we had to cook them up and freeze them!
We grow lemons, plums, apricots, nectarines, granny smith apples, golden delicious apples, jonathans, and passionfruit. I'm proud of the fact that the passionfruit is self-sown and despite all the nay-sayers, it does have edible fruit.

But - basically the birds make off with nearly all of our fruit - oh, and the possums help them. And... the rats, I think.

At May 11, 2009 1:39 pm, Anonymous Helen said...

Here is a secret.
(For next year - it's a bit late in the season now.)
Go West young man, as if you were going to Werribee Zoo, and take the Zoo turnoff.
After a short time there is a fork in the road, one fork goes to the Zoo car park and there is a sign on the other one saying "Hotel guests only".
Ignore the sign and follow that fork. Park by the side of the road outside the Werribee Mansion back entrance.
Opposite the gate to WM there is a path.
If you follow the path along the top of the ridge, or down on the riverbank - it's one or the other - you'll come to the old Chirnside orchard, over 100 pears, apples and quinces, all still alive and bearing (at least they were before the bloody heatwave this February.)
People are welcome to bring shopping bags, they're all ye olde heritage varieties.
And some sad news.
My beautiful Moorpark apricot tree which featured in one of my posts recently was killed off by the killer hot day just before Black Saturday.
Leaves all frizzled off.
And a baby Nectarine only two years old.


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