“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
― Martin Luther
If only I knew how much longer I am going to live here. Or indeed how much longer I will live at all! Since I am approaching my three score years and ten, albeit eight years hence, I start to eye up my plants in the light of the fact that many of them, especially the trees, are likely to live a lot longer than me once I’ve planted them. That’s a nice feeling of course, a sort of memorial to me and Senhor Faztudo, but nevertheless, I would rather like to get some pleasure or even fruit out of them before I push up the daisies beneath them! When you are younger, you never think of such things. You don’t go to the nursery to buy a plum tree and wonder if you will eat a luscious plum from it before you die, it isn’t a question you need to ponder over. But the citrus trees have already taken five of my years to reach fruition, and whatever I plant now, especially fruit tree wise, I’d rather be able to eat whilst I’ve still got some teeth!
We’ve planted a lot of food trees in our garden which are already starting to produce. Last year, the walnut tree we planted four years ago, which wasn’t even that big when we bought it, gave us four tasty nuts which I added to some crushed basil and made walnut pesto. I was astounded really, thinking it might take much longer to bear fruit. Many trees you buy nowadays are grafted and produce fruit in a few years. The hass avocado tree we planted has only been in five years and last year we got 11 avocados. Another planted from a pip, although growing strongly will take longer, I think. Maybe I’ll get an avocado by the time I’m 70! The citrus are finally coming up with the goods though and about time! They were slow and miserable to begin with, their leaves turning yellow and with occasional outbreaks of sooty mould and leaf miner damage, they hung into life, complaining piteously and causing me a great deal of grief. I got so exasperated at times, I shook my fist at them and threatened them with the chop. But to my joy, this year we had a tree full of huge juicy lemons, and no sooner had the last one been drizzled over a cake, the tree was full of young green lemons again. We also had oranges this year and although more tangy than sweet, I am sure as the trees mature, the fruit will be sweeter. I value the peel almost as much as the fruit, since it is unwaxed and free of chemicals and great as a tea additive or in cakes. When I go down to put the chickens to bed at night, the perfume of the orange blossom is heady and in the morning, the new Spring growth seems to have got even greener in the night.
Fruit trees can be bought very cheaply in the markets at at local nurseries, much more cheaply than in the UK. You can buy an olive tree or an orange tree for six or seven euros. But that’s not the real cost of it. The cost lies in the water and the care you give it. It’s very costly to water a tree for a couple of years and then lose it. And a wise person will not buy too many trees that need a lot of water to get established, only to give them a glut of one type of fruit. You need to think far more carefully than we did about this. Choosing trees with different fruiting periods and growing those, like pomegranate or arbutus unedo, that need less water, is something to think about in these drought ridden times. There is also the Mediterranean fruit fly to consider, a really pesky and pernicious fly that damages your fruit at the very end, just when you are getting ready to eat it. It is very hard to escape it completely, especially of you don’t want to use chemicals, The fly damages later fruit, past mid June, so winter oranges, and early stone fruits like apricots and early peach varieties are best.
There are trees in the garden that were here since we came and some of them a great deal older than me. Villagers remember playing as children under the ancient olive tree at the back of our house, before there was even a house here. Noble carobs, several hundred years old with thick girths and knarled trunks, which the builders incorporated into the perimeter wall, rather than disturb them. They stand as a testimony to those who planted them, the fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers of the men and women of this village. And this reminds me, that none of the trees on this piece of land are our trees. Others will pick their fruit after we’ve gone, care for them and wonder what stories they have to tell. I hope when I am gone though that the trees will whisper something of me to the wind. I like to think of that.