An Educational Harvest

When we first considered what to do with the garden, we decided against vegetables because they needed more water, space, and attention then we expected to have. But we did plant some fruit trees: A triple-graft plum, an apple, and two peaches.

We ordered our trees from Trees of Antiquity, a wonderful rare fruit tree nursery with lots of good advice on their web site. We chose an early white peach as well as the yellow Suncrest peach, made famous by David Masumoto in his wonderful book Epitaph for a Peach. In his book, David describes how the peach is so juicy that you have to lean over the sink when you eat it. That's why it's rare to find this peach, even at farmer's markets.

In the tree's second year, we actually did get 3 peaches, and they were just as sweet and juicy as the book described. In the second year, we had disaster or, more precisely, squirrels strike and found about half of the peaches, almost ripe, on the ground. Half eaten. In a panic, I picked them all, but they hadn't been quite ripe and were a disappointment.

This year, I vowed to do better. In mid June, just as the plums were ripening, I bought bird netting and covered the plum tree. We had a lot of netting for a small tree, so we just let it trail down on the ground. Every evening, I checked the tree. Imaging my shock on the third day when I found a lizard tangled in the netting.

Here's a photo of the same lizard's twin brother, on a happier day. I did not run for the camera but for my scissors. Mumbling encouragement, I started to snip the netting, which my reptilian friend had somehow managed to wrap rather tightly around his neck. The feet were caught as well. It was good training for staying calm in dicy situations, and I'm glad to say that Mr. Lizard eventually slipped out of my hands and raced away after what seemed like an eternity of carfully scissor work.

With that behind me, I tied the netting around the stem of the tree. This had the disadvantage of getting Tanglefoot all over the netting, but the advantage of a reduced risk of wildlife rescue (I know I'm cheating, we're still talking about the plum tree, but here's the same setup on the peach).

Rather confident, I walked out the next evening. No lizard caught in the netting, but imagine my suprise to find plum pits and half eaten plums on the ground. How could it be? We'd been so careful to close the netting at the seams.

I walked closer, opened the netting to pick a plum or two. Suddenly, a saw a black squirrel fling itself against the netting on the other side. From the inside. I'd caught the thief!

Now, Montana Wildlife Gardener is very clear what one should do with squirrels, who breed like the rodents they are and crowd out native critters. But I'm soft-hearted and decided instead to try to liberate the criminal. It was easier said than done. I had to remove half the netting before he figured out which way to go. Finally, I decided to remove the netting completely, harvest the red plums, and see what would happen to the golden plums. Amazingly, the golden plums remained untouched, possible because the squirrels were waiting for them to turn red, so the plum harvest was very good.

A few weeks later, we started harvesting the white peaches, with relatively little competition.

From then on, I found about one peach a day, pecked by jays or nibbled by squirrels, caught in the netting. But altogether, the peach netting worked better because I'd learned my lesson, gathered the net around the stem, and was very carful to roll up the seams before clipping or tying them closed. Last Friday, I finally harvested the Suncrest peaches that I hadn't picked so far. Most of them are just as sweet as I remembered. A few of them could have stayed on the tree a bit longer, but they taste sweet to me because they've grown in my own garden, with my own compost -- and protected by my own netting.


Country Mouse said…
is there room at your sink for two? I'll have to come over enjoy those peaches if you have any to spare! I got netting to protect some young plants but I haven't opened the packet. Now I don't think I will. Not sure what to do with it now. Good for you for rescuing the critters! I saw the tiniest little lizard the other day at work, an inch long and a perfect miniature, but at home I haven't seen any baby ones. I wonder if I will?
Katie said…
We had the same experience with bird netting catching the Western Fence Lizards that call our yard home. In years, cut a dead one out of it once and vowed never again. They can have the strawberries.

Since we've tried to provide lots of food for the critters in our yard, they've pretty much left the peaches/strawberries alone until just recently. Thankfully, there was enough to go around!
I would have been liberating that lizard too, but I draw the line at squirrels. They are nothing but tree rats, and if I had been so fortunate as to have one trapped in the place where he had been stealing from, I'm afraid the carnivore in me would have risen to the forefront and we would have had squirrel stew cooking in short order on the stove.

Now, having revealed my horrifying and murderous tendencies, I have one suggestion for your bird net. Next year before you deploy it, make some sort of rudimentary frame around the tree so the netting rests on the frame and not on the tree. You will still want to enclose the bottom around the trunk somehow. But suspending the netting above the tree limbs makes it much more difficult for birds to land on the twigs and feed through the netting. It is important to try to make sure the net is loosely draped also, because that also makes it difficult for the thieves to work. They don't like getting their feet tangled in the net. Once we learned this, we got a lot more grapes off our vineyard. The other thing we learned is that birds are not all that concerned about waiting until your fruit is ripe. They are happy to eat it way before it is actually ready, which makes it even more frustrating when they get to the peaches, plums, grapes, apples, strawberries, whatever before you do.

I can almost taste those peaches. Are they susceptible to the leaf curl?
Brad B said…
We've had a problem with squirrel's in our yard too. Though less this year than last. My housemates used to laugh as I'd run outside to chase one off after seeing it in the yard digging in my pots to plant acorns or causing some sort of destruction. I finally started throwing stuff at them. Maybe that's why they bolt now if I even go near the outside.
Sylvana said…
I have been think about growing peaches. I don't have lizards here (I think that there are only two native to WI). I'm hoping that they would not be too plagued with pests as I am kind of lazy and just wouldn't net.

Beautiful peaches!