Shadbush Diaries – the first

My Christmas present this year was a tree – an Amelanchier. Having never heard of it, some research was necessary. Quite apart from the supposedly beautiful blossom and the blueberry-like fruit, it comes complete with hosts of terrific common names. The shadbush (varieties include the smooth shadbush, Wiegland’s shadbush and the lovely shadbush) ,  the serviceberry,  the shadwood, shadblow and juneberry, the snowy mespilus and, perhaps the best of all, the chuckley pear. I’ll stick with shadbush – it has a prosaic quality. Something practical and perhaps more befitting of the allotment than the chuckley pear.

This was a timely and welcome gift because I had already decided that 2019 will be the year that I sort out the fruit that is grown out here on the allotment. This is because, with the exception of a bountiful Cox’s Orange Pippin, 2018 was a disaster for fruit.

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This was especially galling, given the glut in the hedgerows – the whole world seemingly creaking under the weight of blackberries and sloes. But not on the allotment. My six currents, three red and three white, grew slowly, but fruitlessly – really, not a single berry from them. The gooseberries, which have been so plentiful in previous years, started well before contracting some kind of rust which shrivelled the leaves and caused the fruit to fall off. All of it. Something similar happened with the russet. The greengages were vigorous, but it was all wood and leaf – no fruit. And the blueberry’s leaves went orange in May. It is apparent that I am doing something wrong.

The blueberry may have provided a clue. A wise woman told me they need acid soil, and the black fen soil is anything but, so I brought it home, put it in a pot of acid soil and have watched it flourish. Is the allotment too alkaline, lacking in the acidic vim need to spark my fruit trees and bushes into life? Well, possibly, except that the results are so inconsistent. One apple tree groaned under the weight of the fruit, whilst the other, not three yards away withered. The gooseberries, so awful this year, have in the past provided me with more fruit than I know what to do with. (Actually, that needs correcting, because I have never struggled to know what to do with a bag of wonderful sharp gooseberries – the king of fruit).

As ever, I have some reading up to do. I have already moved my sickly russet. Another wise woman (there is an abundance of those) told me not to prune back too hard and, if I was going to move it, to take as much of the roots as possible. I dug around the base, ever so carefully, before gently removing it from the ground. And the roots were pathetic – no wonder it was struggling! It must have been starving to death. I have replanted it, and will now have to find out if it needs feeding up. I won’t be letting it fruit this year – it is going to need all its energy to establish itself. The crumble can wait another year (and anyway, I have loads of rhubarb – the one fruit that thrives all by itself out here on the Fen).

So it will be a learning year, and one of watching to see what, if any, differences I can make. But I have high hopes (is there any other way to start the allotment year?) of greengages and gooseberries, apples, currents and, of course, berries from the shadbush. And, failing that, I still have my wonderful apricot growing back at the ranch, not to mention the recovering blueberry.

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