Since the warmer weather is finally here and my teaching load is lighter in this semester, I have more time to dabble in the garden. It means that I can embark on producing more homegrown fruits and vegetables.
If you have read my previous posts, you would know that the former owner left behind an apple tree, two peach trees, and a hazelnut tree in the garden. Other than the four trees (technically, I think it’s a hazelnut bush and not tree). She also left behind some strawberries, currants, tomatoes, mint and rosemary. These are some of the edible plants that we can identify as of now.
We took over the house in July last year and we have not had the opportunity yet to experience the four seasons. There may still be some plants that are hibernating now, waiting to pop their heads through the soil as the temperature climbs.
We did not inherit the floras in its best form. By looking at the carefully planned out garden and based on the chats with our garrulous neighbour who occupies the house opposite us, we understand that the previous landowner was passionate about her garden. Unfortunately, two years before we bought the house, she suffered from Alzheimer’s and her declining health prevented her from taking care of the garden.
When we took over the garden, many of the edible plants were sick. The only healthy plants were the tomatoes, hazelnut and rosemary. The peach trees were suffering from Peach Leaf Curl or Cloque du pêcher and they seemed to be in their last breath. Hence, we decided to uproot the two peach trees and replaced them with a young cherry tree and a young plum tree. Even if everything goes well, the earliest we can see any fruits would be in three years’ time. As for the apple tree, it was infected by Apple Scab and Brown Rot. We wanted to give it another chance and so we got a gardener to cut down the branches—basically only the trunk and a handful of main branches were left—and hopefully the transformation will bear healthy apples in two years’ time.
I was so happy when I first discovered the stash of mint plants in one obscure corner of the garden. The two years of neglect had resulted in an unconstrained growth of this hardy perennial herb. Hélas, my happiness did not last long; my dreams of making refreshing mojitos were dashed when I saw the state of the mint leaves. They were either riddled with holes or covered with white spots. To give it a new lease of life, I decided to prune the plant to the bare minimum and hope that the upcoming months would rejuvenate it.
The heart wrenching decision—seeing the abundance of mint leaves, albeit unhealthy—has borne fruit (technically it’s leaves). Since the beginning of March, the oval green mint leaves can been seen growing robustly. I can always catch the minty fragrance whenever I put my face close to the plant. Fingers crossed, it will continue to grow healthily throughout the year. I should be enjoying my mojito soon with freshly picked mint leaves, and admiring the purple flowers in the summer.
The fate of the strawberries was not much better either. When the strawberries first came to us on a plot of 2m² land solely dedicated to this fruit, it was obvious that the plant was very sick. Almost all the leaves were covered with strange red stains, which we subsequently found out that the fruit was suffering from Leaf Scorch, a disease caused by the fungus Again, there was nothing much we could do to help the fruit but to remove the sick leaves (almost all the leaves) and hope for the best. After trimming the plant, I also had to spend time removing the rampant weeds invading the space of the strawberries.
Honestly, I did not give much hope to the survival of the strawberries over the winter. I thought I would have to buy new strawberry plants to fill up the plot of land, especially after the few episodes of sub-zero night temperature. Guess what, the fruit has survived and small white flowers with bright yellow stigmas in the centre are blossoming. Anew, if everything goes smoothly, I would be able to serve homegrown strawberries on a platter in the summer!
Taking care of this fragile fruit is not easy. The plant needs regular watering. However, the water should not touch the leaves as the moisture can cause fungal infection, resulting in leaves turning red and subsequently degrading the harvest. Hence, I have to water each plant separately, careful to not let the water touch the leaves. To provide extra protection for the leaves, some mulch is placed around each plant, keeping the leaves from contacting the wet soil. The mulch also helps to discourage the growth of weeds.
Last but not least, we have some red currant shrubs. Similar to the mint and strawberries, the leaves of the red currant shrubs were infected with some sort of fungus. By now, you should know what I did to the shrubs: chop off their leaves and hope for the best. Well, it seems that the shrubs are hardy. From the photo, you can see that they are standing straight and proud, with a perfect shade of green! Now, I am just waiting for the small bunches of red currant berries.