Good Night Sweet Charlotte

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Flavor Finale Pluot Tree-Bird Back 40
It's a serious hair cut. We all get them from time to time. In this particular case and this particular year -- the famed and favored Flavor Finale Pluot got the "big chop" as they say in fruit growing circles. What had been a mighty fine looking large and wonderfully productive tree now resembles an outdoor houseplant.

I hope you didn't think I was talking about myself. It's been a few years since I had enough hair on my own head to qualify for a "big chop." Now, the instructions to the barber are more like, "can't you cover up that big bald spot at the top of my head?"

Barbers can work wonders. But they can't make hair grow where it once grew in abundance.

Flavor Finale Tree Before Haircut
Although my own hair won't be growing back anytime soon -- I have no doubt that the Flavor Finale Pluot WILL spring back to life when it wakes up from its long winter nap in a couple of months. Why on God's Green Earth did I cut this tree so far back to size? It's my own fault, really.

See, I'm a glutton for pluots. I have been since I tasted my first one many moons ago during a former lifetime in Fresno. They were -- and still are -- amazing. I couldn't get enough of them back in the day -- which is why I set out several years ago to grow my own. I figured that -- with my own tree -- I would finally get more pluots than I bargained for.

It took awhile -- about six years of growth and tender care. That first big crop that I'd dreamed up finally showed up two seasons ago. It nearly broke several branches on the tree -- but not quite. I should have learned my lesson then -- but didn't. I wasn't expecting the gigantic crop that finally appeared last season.

Busted Branches
It appears the tree wasn't ready for it either.

The "damage" (if you want to call it that) started to show up in late summer about a month before Flavor Finale crop was due to ripen. Those strong branches suddenly laden with fruit didn't seem so strong and sturdy with hundreds of pounds of juicy pluots attached to them. I watched, rather hopelessly I might add, as those branches slowly sank under the weight of a terrific crop.

I can handle one branch loaded with fruit. The same goes with two. But when EVERY branch on the tree suddenly begins to bend in an alarming, downward fashion, you can guess what happened next. Much like a rice krispies treat, my Flavor Finale suffered a "snap, crackle, pop" treatment of one broken branch after another. And if the branch didn't snap in two, it bent so low that it eventually hit the ground.

Pluot Limbs Removed During Haircut
This wasn't what I was expecting. But I should have known better. Because it's exactly what I got.

Pretty soon, my pretty and well trimmed Flavor Finale tree resembled some sort of failed bush. The wife swears it actually fell over at one point. A visual inspection would reveal that the tree was still standing tall alright. It's just another branch had busted under the weight of a terrific crop. And then another followed by yet another.

I won't lie to you. Last year's harvest was truly something special. I lived on pluots for as long as I could stand them. I would pack heavy, 30 lb. sacks of them for family and friends. Yet at the end of this picking party project, the tree was so heavily laden with fruit, it didn't look like I'd even touched it. Despite my efforts to process as many pluots into jars of jam as I could, and give them away to anyone who asked or wanted them, I'd estimate about 30-40 percent of the crop went to waste.

More Broken Branches
This is also despite the presence of family of marauding mockingbirds who also shared a love for everything pluots. At the end of the season I had a family of fat mockingbirds hanging out in the Bird Back 40. And despite the heavy raids of both man and beast -- hundreds of pluots still went to waste.

The damage -- oh there was plenty of it -- wasn't easy to look at after the onset of rain and cold put the tree into a deep slumber and removed every last leaf. The Tree That Bethany Built -- a collection of many different varieties of pluots thanks to exhaustive grafting efforts -- looked like a child's toy that had been abused far too often. What was once well shaped and majestic looked bent, busted, tired and worn.

So what happens next? Oh -- the tree will eventually recover soon enough. Fruit trees can take fantastic amounts of abuse once established and spring back again and again and again. I don't know if I will ever get as large as it did the first time, because I'm no fan of fruit going to waste. But I will take special care now to carefully trim this tree in a way that will result in strong branches that can hold a big crop -- rather than those long and slender sticks that are nothing more than a distant memory now.

So -- it will be awhile before I see another pluot crop like the one I had last year. And that's fine in my opinion. The mockingbirds who live in that tree during harvest season may not like it too much -- but I could use a small break!