Monday, May 24, 2010

April 29th

(This is a semi Part II of the post before this, 'Colorado at last', so you may want to start there)

Within the weeks before my departure date for Colorado, Elane would continually keep me updated with how the fruit blossoms were doing as spring approached and the fruit was emerging. 'This is looking to be an unbelievable fruit year. Everything is progressing at the right timing and rate...Apricots! Plums! Nectarines! Let alone all of the peaches, pears, cherries and apples!' All of the former fruit being ones that have not survived over the past years because of late spring freezes. The buds were looking to make bumper crops you would dream about; fruit practically dripping off the branches.

It sounded absolutely thrilling. With every positive update I would allow myself to get a little more excited for these potential buds. There were moments I would get ahead of myself; 'Apricot Jam...Apricot-Nectarine Jam...Apricot-Nectarine-Plum Jam!' Oh, the possibilities! But I always had to bring myself back down. Even though these ideas seemed within tangible reach, they were still purely fantasies.

This is because of the essence of what food production is. The world of farming is so fascinating to me because there is only so much you can control. You can read about all of the right things to do, follow trends, do exactly what worked the last time...and most of the times, that's what makes our food grow.

But then, there is that X factor. That powerful source of the unknown we like to call Mother Nature; a figure that will forever make you at her mercy.

If it were last year, you could talk about the 3 minute hail storm that damaged a large percentage of the surviving fruit. This thankfully didn't make them inedible, but rather less than attractive with their indents from the ice pellets. These imperfections denied them the ability to be sold as straight fruit at markets since they weren't as pristine looking as some customers would like their, say, perfectly globed apple to look like. Luckily, they were just fine for preserving and making juices and cider.

This year, however, Mother Nature had different plans. And it all came down to one night. One week before I left Massachusetts, the extended forecast for Paonia, CO projected an arrival of a cold front that was predicted to bring evening temperatures dangerously low...low enough to eliminate any and all of the fragile blossoms that were blanketing the orchard. That Thursday, April 29th, I think I checked the forecast every 1/2 hour, continually wanting my computer to tell me something different each time. I went to bed sending all of the warm energy I could gather within myself to those vulnerable little blossoms. But the next day, I woke up, and read only one number: 22.5. That's the number of degrees it went down to that night in Paonia. That's the number that wiped out almost the entire millions of blossoms that were happily on their way to a healthy growing cycle. I could. not. believe it.

After arriving here it was more than saddening to go around to clusters of trees and see the frost bitten blossoms that could-have-been. Some look completely dead, and others try to deceive by having a healthy looking flower, but with a dead fruit inside.

Both of these blossoms contain dead fruits inside (the one directly above my thumb and then my index finger), but look strikingly different

That long black stem piece is what would have grown to be a full cherry

BUT. And there is definitely a but. As the days have gone on we have found a few sole survivors. It looks like we will have some sour cherries pull through, along with some peaches and gala apples. Although it still will not be enough to sell at markets, we will at least have some to snack on ourselves, as well as a stash for me to make some new value added jarred products to sell at next season's early markets. A small ray of light in the dark - all was not lost (at least not 100%).

Paul said that the amount of surviving fruit we will get still depends how much the bears and squirrels munch on once the fruit gets sweet. I told him I would sleep out there within the trees myself and protect those few peaches with my life. They say to steer clear from a Mama bear with her cubs, but I pity the fool that tries to come between me and our surviving peaches.

A full blown freezer burnt peach blossom
A survivor! Although the exterior of the blossom was affected by the cold, the fruit inside lives on. You can even see the fuzziness of the stem growing out of the middle that translates to the fuzzy peach you find in the store.

A beautiful, healthy sour cherry-to-be!

The other positive that is coming from this is that we now have enough time and space to focus on a legitimate garden plot for us to try out growing vegetables for a change. I am in charge of its design, organization, and production, and I must say I go back and forth from being incredibly excited to incredibly intimidated. Being the definition of a Beginner with anything gardening, especially from scratch, I have been hastily trying to learn as much and as fast as I can as the growing season quickly approaches. So far Paul and I have decided on a specific place for the plot on the orchard, as well as the orientation, and have already done the first tilling of the soil. I made my seed order last week, and they should be arriving by the end of this week. I feel like a mother who is receiving her children via UPS. Those little guys don't know how much TLC is coming at them since I will do anything to have them succeed. All I ask for is that something edible comes out of the ground at some point in time. Alive. And well.

Laying down the Northwest corner marker while surveying the garden plot
Paul tilling up the soil

Miko doing his part and contributing some of his own tilling. Apparently he finds this humorous too as he sticks his tongue out at me.

Will there be challenges? Failures? Mishaps? Learning experiences? Aching backs and piles of weeds? Oh god yes. And hopefully I will have a plate full of delicious vegetables at the end of the day as my reward. I sense a legitimate tango is before me with Mother Nature and her gimmicks, but needless to say I'm ready to dance.

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