On my way home from walking the dog this morning I detoured to a neighbour’s land for a spot of scrumping. Scrumping – which means stealing fruit – actually refers specifically to apples, but this morning I was scrumping peaches – white, juicy things that had no right to be growing on three deformed trees that have been neglected for at least 10 years.
It’s a mystery how these trees produce such splendid crops in the excessive warmth of Northland, in a microclimate that rarely, if ever, drops below the 7°C demanded by peach trees, in dry, nutrient-free soil on the edge of the sea.
So I figure that in my garden, where the temperature’s the same but at least the soil is rich and free-draining, I should be able to achieve something at least half as good.
The good news is that even if you live in a warm climate, there are peaches that’ll still come to the party. Black Boy and Golden Queen are two late croppers that can tolerant more heat than most. You can compensate them for the warm temperatures by providing fertile, free-draining soil, lots of sun and protection from wind. If you’re troubled by winds, rig up some shelter for them when they’re still young. Water well when they are first planted, during fruit development and in dry spells.
Don’t plant yet though – wait until winter or early spring when the trees are dormant. Nurseries will have a better selection then, too. Right now is the time for eating lots of scrumped peaches, deciding which varieties you’d like, and deciding where to plant them when the time is right.
However, thinking about peach trees isn’t going to satisfy my desire for planting, so I’ll have to address the appalling state of the vegetable garden, and put in some flowery things for the Partner.
Now’s a good time for planting flowers, especially sweet peas, lobelia, polyanthus, calendula, cornflower and pansies, many of which will bloom in winter. Deadhead the pansies regularly and they’ll carry on for months.
Slightly less fun is planting bulbs. Digging little holes for hundreds of things you won’t see for ages is no job for a girl who needs instant gratification, but if you want daffodils, hyacinths, jonquils and tulips, plant now. Put markers in so you don’t forget what’s what.
Then fill the gaps in the vege garden with broccoli, broad beans and cabbages.
I’d rarely buy a cabbage because they’re just not that appealing, but I can get excited about eating my own. This year I’ll try cavolo nero, the trendy Tuscan cabbage, because it sounds much more stylish than cabbage. It’s a staple in Tuscan country cooking, with long, wrinkly leaves and a mildly astringent flavour. And, of course, it’s full of vitamins and minerals and all those other do-gooder things that make up for the fact that at the end of the day, it’s a cabbage.