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Patience yields a bounty of fruit

In spite of the iffy weather during growing season, the garden produces a healthy crop

It has been an odd growing season with an on-again, off-again summer, and late picking for some food crops. My tomatoes have been late to ripen their heavy loads of fruit, and the plants are covered now with a plastic tent as protection against blight.

The first to produce ripe tomatoes was Tiger Stripe (Salt Spring Seeds), a small, very flavourful red-orange tomato with yellow streaks.

I've been eating my own tomatoes all summer though, from three large pots of compact cherry tomatoes placed against the south-facing house wall. These patio plants are my annual summer hedge against a late in-garden tomato season.

There is great bounty in the fruit garden. The dwarf Discovery trees are packed with apples. Their tasty reddish flesh makes a beautiful apple sauce.

Even a Tydemans Red, my favourite eating apple and usually a shy producer, has borne a good crop.

I've been lucky with the apples. In some areas cold, wet conditions during pollination and infestations of tent caterpillars have cut badly into fruiting, enough on Saltspring Island to cause the cancellation of its popular apple festival.

The Desert King fig tree in a warm corner of the back garden has been prolific. I've been regularly staggering into the house with big bowls of ripe figs that have filled the dryer four times. I dry fig halves until the undersides are no longer tacky but the fruit remains pliable. Spread out on plates to freeze, the dried figs can then be packaged and stored in the freezer.

The prune plum tree has never been so fruit-laden. The plums are coloured and sized up, but not yet ready to pick. I harvest only near-ripe, fully sweetened prune plums. You can buy the other kind.

The same goes for blueberries. I've learned to roll clusters of the plump berries very gently in my fingers, and gather only the ones that dislodge with no pressure. These are the really ripe, sweet berries. Harvesting under-ripe berries seems to me to miss the point in growing your own.

One afternoon in late August, I took a bowl out to my few blueberry bushes for a picking. Two hours later, I brought two full bowls into the house. That one picking yielded 13 overflowing cups of berries.

Despite the strange and iffy weather, opulent eating out of the garden continues.

GARDEN EVENTS

VRS meeting. Victoria Rhododendron Society meets Monday at 7: 30 p.m. in the Garth Homer Centre, 813 Darwin Ave. Featured speaker will be Dick Beamish, a distinguished biologist with the Pacific Biological Centre in Hammond Bay, Nanaimo. He is also an avid gardener and will talk about local gardens in The Rhododendron Year on Hammond Bay.

Peninsula meeting. Peninsula Garden Club meets Monday at 7 p.m. in the Mary Winspear Centre, Sidney. Jeff de Jong, a professional horticulturist, radio garden show host and site manager at Abkhazi Garden, will explore the topic Plant Combinations and Demonstrations.

Gordon Head meeting. Gordon Head Garden Club meets Monday at 7: 30 p.m. in Gordon Head United Church hall, 4201 Tyndall Ave. Rainey Hopewell and Margot Johnston will speak about the community boulevard garden they created. They will also share tips on changing lawns into vegetable plots. Visitors and new members are welcome.

Qualicum meeting. Qualicum Beach Garden Club meets Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Q.B. Civic Centre. Candice Coghill from Cultivate Garden and Gift will delve into Spring Bulbs: Fireworks of the Flower World. Learn how to create displays in containers and the landscape with spring bulbs.

HCP courses. The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, 505 Quayle Rd. in Saanich, offers the following courses. Registration: 250-479-6162. hcp.ca.

- Basketry: Small Scale Techniques, Sept. 16, 9: 30 a.m.-4: 30 p.m. Necklaces and miniatures. Cost, including materials, to members $110, others $154.

- Hydrangea, Sept. 16, 1-3 p.m. Show and tell of old favourites and new introductions, tips on cultivation and pruning practices, and a walk in the gardens. Members $25, others $35.

hchesnut@bcsupernet.com