I love cherries. Truly, I love them with a passion. Really, I am totally smitten with all stone fruits and berries; conveniently, these are all in the rose family. I also love roses. Coincidence? I think not. But, I digress. I FREAKIN’ LOVE CHERRIES. Got it? And in recent years, I have developed a particularly strong love affair with sour cherries. My whole life I have loved cherry pie but good ones basically didn’t exist. The best ones were made by me or my mom from good canned sour (pie) cherries. But as we all know, canned fruit pales in comparison to fresh fruit, in all applications. But fresh cherry pie was naught but a pipe dream. Nearly all sour cherry production was in Michigan, with a smidgen in Upstate New York. And fresh sour cherries simply don’t travel. They are soft and fragile and must be used immediately. So, while Michigan and New York were busy cranking out sour cherries by the bushel for industrial canned cherries, cherry pie filling, and other similar products, Michiganders and New Yorkers got to enjoy a tiny window each year in which fresh sour cherries were available to them. The rest of us just got to dream.
And then, Washington – sweet Washington! – finally caught on to the wonder that is the sour cherry. Washington, like Michigan and Upstate New York has long been known for its superior apple and cherry production. But until recently, Wshington basically only did sweet cherries. Anyway, a few years ago, my Whole Foods in San Ramon, CA got fresh Washington sour cherries into stock. :::::aaaahhhhhh!!!!:::: (high-pitched angel music and singing with golden light and sparkles streaming down from the heavens above). It was a revelation. I bought them, brought them home, dyed myself red while hand-pitting them all, and proceeded to make the orgasmic taste sensation that is fresh sour cherry pie. I was a changed person. That summer, I bought four pounds every 2-3 days until the season was over. I made pie after pie, I made clafoutis, brandied cherries, cobblers, preserves, etc, etc. I did the same the next year. Then the next summer I was here in Washington itself. I naturally assumed that the iconic Portland Farmers Market, which I visit each and every weekend, would be overflowing with sour cherries. I mean – heck – there are dozens of cherry farmers there, and clearly they all know the magic that is the sour cherry, right? Wrong.
Turns out only three places grow them at all and two of the three make waiting lists a year in advance for their meager supplies. Bah. If they need waiting lists, CLEARLY THEY NEED MORE TREES. I did find one grower that sold them without a waiting list and I bought as many as I could carry for the three or four short weeks they had them. And they weren’t even that fantastic – not enough acid for my taste. So, I did my due dilligence and told every cherry farmer that if he planted sour cherries, I would buy them. And now I wait.
This is where my own mini-orchard comes in.
I have two sweet cherry trees and two sour cherry trees, all planted February 2009 from bareroot stock. My two sweet cherry trees, Sweetheart and Hartland, have thick trunks, strong branches, lush leaves, and no flowers or fruit. My Montmorency cherry is a nicely balanced tree with three flowers that eventually turned into one green cherry. And the smallest, spindliest of these trees is my English Morello sour cherry tree. It’s nothing but a skinny trunk with about three and a half spindly little twigs for branches. And it’s got over 100 cherries set on it. That’s right, you read that correctly over ONE HUNDRED. I know because I counted. Twice.
And now here’s the kicker – you’re supposed to take all the fruit off of first-year bareroots fruit trees. They are supposed to focus all their energies on making strong roots, branches and leaves… fruit comes later. I CAN’T DO IT. And so I have discovered the seven stages of cherry grief:
1. denial – “it’s not actually bad to let the tree produce fruit the first year. I can tell. It will be fine. Those recommendations are probably nonsense.”
2. guilt – “the days are going by and I’m letting those cherries get bigger on the tree instead of taking them off. I’m probably jeopardizing the future health and success of the tree. But I still can’t do it….”
3. bargaining – “maybe if I take some of the cherries off but leave just a few, it would be OK, plus then I could taste the cherries to see if I picked a good variety…”
4. lonliness/depression/reflection – I haven’t gotten to this one yet, but I will be lonely without my cherry friends. I can already tell. And that will be depressing. And then I will reflect on how many cherries I had to take off the tree and how much that sucked.
5. the upward turn – I get distracted by my suddenly growing veggie garden, raspberries, and roses. Things seem a bit better… the cherry removal is in the dsitant past.
6. working through – I focus on watering, weeding, and mulching the trees in the hope that next year I can actually let the fruit ripen.
7. acceptance & hope – I accept that having to thin or remove fruit from your own tree is like pure torture but it’s done now and I accept that I’ll probably always regret it be happier next year when the tree is healthy and strong. And I can hope that those aren’t the only cherries the tree will ever produce, which would be just my luck, and is exactly how it feels right now.
Scruff sits. Like a dog. Frequently. I have no idea why.
Also, his comb is crooked and he has funny, upside-down, curly tail feathers. Thus, his name continues to be fitting. Today, No Name tried to mate Scruff. Testosterone is an amazing driving force.
On Friday, I witnessed my first successful mating act. The boys, especially JB, have been trying for weeks but the girls have all fought and screamed and gotten away, leaving the boys with beakfuls of feathers and nothing else. But on Friday afternoon, just as I walked up to the run but before I opened the door to let them out to free range, JB grabbed Daisy Mae by the head (as per usual), she screamed and flapped (as per usual), he hung on and tried to mount her (as per usual), and then suddenly she laid down and accepted it (most certainly not usual). He seemed to accomplish his task quickly and he let her go. She stood up, shook it off with a little shimmy of her tail, and went on her way.
This was noteworthy and actually a tad exciting because apparently the girls won’t submit until they are about ready to lay eggs. This past Saturday (the day after the aforementioned event) was their 15-week-old birthday. And, while they’re not supposed to start laying until 20-26 weeks, I talked to a person online that had an Easter Egger (like Daisy Mae) start laying at 15.5 weeks! Now, I seriously doubt I’ll be finding eggs that soon, but it’s a step in the right direction! The official egg countdown has begun!! Come with me on this journey, won’t you?
Until recently, all of my Easter Egger chickens had long, beautiful, fan-like tails, just like Lady B’s in the above pic. As of this afternoon, only Lady B still has hers. I am not sure what is happening. I know feather-picking can be a problem, usually caused by boredom or not enough protein. However, I don’t believe my birds are bored because they have much to do in their run and coop (many perches, treats, bugs, etc.) and they are on a quite high protein feed for their age (18%), plus I supplement their protein with yogurt and ground beef, not to mention the bugs they eat in their coop/run and while free-ranging. Anyway, I don’t think it’s feather-picking at all. I think it must be part of their natural feather-growth patterns.
You see, the feather loss is only on their tails, and it is in the exact same pattern on all of them. They lose all the long feathers except the top two, which looks quite silly. Still, it is strange and I haven’t encountered an explanation in any of my research.
Take Daisy Mae, for example. This was her last week:
Her tail has looked just like that for many weeks. But, this is her now:
I don’t know if you can tell from this pic (I realized when I came to write this post that I didn’t have any really good pics of this and now it’s dark), but the only long tail feathers left are the top two. All the others are gone, so now she looks like she has a full, but short tail with two long feathers that stick out at the top. But, it doesn’t stop there. The last two do eventually come out. Two of my EEs have been all the way down to their new, shorter tails for about a week now – even the top two are gone.
Pol Pot has been holding out with two long top feathers for at least a week or two now. Today at lunch, it was the same (sorry for the lack of pictures!) but after work the last two were gone and now she, too, has a short tail. But again, no bald spots and no real evidence of picking. I was told that chickens are in a constant molt until they reach maturity at 18 months, when they go through a sudden and complete molt (and can get rather bare and goofy-looking) and then they keep those new feathers for about a year and have a singular, annual molt after that. That would explain the vast amounts of feathers that are all over the inside of my coop these days. All my birds are beautiful and fluffy without a hint of picking… but there are gobs of feathers everywhere, so I’m voting molt. Much better than picking.
In the most exciting garden news since the advent of running water, my asparagus is alive!!! As I may have previously mentioned, due to weather and other top-secret circumstances (i.e. our raised beds weren’t done, but don’t tell anyone I told you), my asparagus crowns had to sit in their plastic bags from the nursery for way too long. They didn’t look too promising when I finally did get them in the ground… and then week after week, nothing happened. I had them pretty much written off as dead, which was more than a little depressing (see stages of cherry grief above and replace “cherry” with “asparagus” and you’ll get the idea) becauseyou can’t harvest asparagus until the third year after they are planted. Three years is a long time. And had these not grown, I would have had to wait until NEXT spring to start a new bed again and I would have been a whole year behind. So, you can imagine my spritely happy-dance and squeals of joy when I finally saw a teeny spear the diameter of a single strand of spaghetti had emerged near the end of last week. When I tried to take a picture of that one, my camera actually laughed out loud at me. But, since then, more and more spears have been showing up all over the bed (which means most, if not all, my crowns actually made it!) and some have a bit more heft to them and my camera allowed me to finally photograph one for your viewing pleasure. The one in the picture is about an inch high. But hey – it’s a start!
Other Garden News
It is official that all six of our raised beds are finished, lined, filled, and planted. Three have been planted for quite some time. In them, things are doing varying amounts of well…
The baby bok choi is very pretty and seemed quite happy until this morning when I found the beginnings of flower shoots on a few of them. It has been warm but not hot and they are still so young, I really don’t know what caused them to bolt. My mom thinks it’s just the many hours of sunlight we have here at this time of year. A website suggested to me that it may be stress from overcrowding, which is possible since I’m about as bad at thinning veggies as I am at fruits (see above). So, I pulled out the flowery offenders and had them for dinner. They were small but very tasty, and I’m hoping that their flower-free friends have a bit more breathing room now and can grow larger before bolting… especially since bok choi is one of the few vegetables that Brian actually enjoys eating.
Also in the first three boxes, I have peas (sugar snap and English shelling), garlic, shallots, onions, and strawberries that all seem quite happy.
And then I have red, green, and napa cabbages that are progressing slowly but surely, cilantro and parsely that is just starting to take off, and lettuce, carrots, radishes, spinach, rapini, and chard that have all been very much enjoyed by the slugs. They all sprouted so nicely and looked so happy in their first days, but since then, they have been consistently cut back to nubs, had holes eaten in the leaves, or disappeared completely. I blame slugs. Maybe they’ve had help from others, but I blame them entirely. I had a 2-foot row of heirloom cutting mix lettuce and now I have this:
Only half of my radishes are still standing, but those that are at least are pretty.
Anyway, the other row of three boxes I finally planted over the long weekend and they include nine varieties of tomato, too many varieties of hot and sweet peppers to count, six varieties of cucumbers, two variety of bush beans, and edamame.
The Promise of a Rose
A couple of my baby, own-roots roses from Heirloom Roses have buds that are about to bloom! There is nothing in the world I love more than roses. SO exciting!