(NOTE: See the Addendum for May 2017 at the end of this entry.)
Jean suggested that I do a “garden alphabet,” just to give readers a bit of the variety of what grows and thrives in the garden. I’m choosing Apricot for A because the apricot tree that flourishes in the front part of the garden, unlike the hearty peach I wrote about earlier, is one I planted four springs ago as a skinny 6′ sapling and have nurtured fairly closely ever since, until now I know enough of its habits to let it be most of the time.
In its first year I paid close attention to the online guides, which was important, because I learned not to be afraid to prune away parts of the sapling that were not thriving–including two feet of the trunk–so that the roots could nurture what was healthy. Of course, I worried that I might just whittle the sapling down to nothing, as bit by bit the upper trunk’s leaves paled and withered. But after those first two feet the withering of the leaves stopped. The remaining leaves stayed bright green and, soon, still in the tree’s first year, new branches began poking out.
The apricot is a thirsty child, particularly in its infancy, and its base needs to be kept moist. A bed of mulch and regular watering kept the young tree healthy, and by its second spring branches had sprung out in all directions and we had our first small crop of apricots, about twenty in all. Apricots appear early in the spring in the Sacramento Valley, roughly in February, and by mid-May they are ready to harvest, the earliest of our trees.
Now an established tree, about ten feet high and about the same in diameter–though she’s still growing–the apricot no longer needs intense watering . I have it on our drip system now a couple times per week in the dry season, and just rely on the rains between October and April to take care of the rest. In 2014-15, our driest season in the past 5, it survived during the water restrictions in California, although the fruit crop was small, only about ten apricots on the still young tree. This past fall and winter, with rainfall close to normal (almost 17 inches for the rainy season), I didn’t turn on the drip until May, by which time the new fruits were almost ready to pick. This May we had almost forty of the little beauties, firm and sweet and perfect for Jean’s pies, tarts, and jam
If you look closely, you can still see where I lopped off the top of the trunk in that first early spring, but now the younger branches have crowded around the gap and have reached four and five feet straight up toward the sun. The stubby end of the original trunk is still there to remind me of that critical first year, even if no one else looking at this thriving young creature could imagine that it was ever in such danger.
Addendum: May 2017–Bumper Crop and New Cooking
The huge rains of the 2016-17 season–over 45 inches!–led to by far our biggest crop of apricots, almost 100 on our tree, most in clusters such as the one above. The branches have spread to about twelve feet wide and high, from about ten feet last year. We’ve harvested about a third of the fruit so far (May 26), and will be harvesting the rest over the next week or so. Jean has ambitious plans to cook and dry the apricots, which are particularly large and sweet. Some will also go into jam. We don’t want to waste a one.
Here’s cooking plan Number One: Stewed pork with fresh apricots, with cinnamon, onions, spices, and herbs (marjoram and thyme) from the garden. (More to come!)