The ‘Portugy’ & the Italian Part V Our Family of Trees Meet ‘Bud’

Frst Fruit
First Fruit
First Fruit
First Fruit

First ‘Bud’ of Spring       



 ‘Bud’ our apricot tree is a real worker and deserves to be in our orchard. First ‘bud’ of the season, he strains to produce fruit from those early blossoms. It’s amazing the twigs that spring from his massive trunk and branches. Soon, the apricots cluster around the fruit wood growing to full size, pale orange in color. First fruit of the season, often I have plucked the first apricot from the tree. As I smelled, I could taste the apricot’s slight acidity, its flesh firm. As I split open the fruit, I want this to be the best first taste, a Last Supper experience. Bud never fails.

We make apricot jam from Bud’s fruit, sometimes abundant, sometimes a light crop and sometimes, the birds beat us to it! Oh well, Rick says, “the birds have to eat too.” The recipe is Mom’s and classically simple, a “cup to a cup” Mom would say. At one point we did cut back on the sugar but never  did we add strange ingredients like pineapple. What did pineapple have to do with Valley produce? Since we are from the great central San Joaquin Valley, apricots are a big crop. As a result, the apricot jam we produced did not only come from our trees. We could always count on Dad to come home with his ‘signature’ 5 Gallon white plastic buckets full of ripe fruit. Many a season we would sit at kitchen tables for a ‘canning session’ splitting the juicy gems readying for the Vajretti  formula, combine fruit, sugar and lemon juice. Simmer slowly, very slowly and stir often. When the jam is thick enough to ‘coat a spoon’, it is ready. Every year, we canned and canned and canned so that during all the months of the year, we would have our apricot jam for Last Supper meals like Mom’s pancakes topped with our tradition of sour cream and apricot jam. 

Talk about organic, we never apply chemicals and always add the leaves, fruit, pits and branches to the mulch pile. Bud not only provides fruit and shade. at the season’s end, the leaves gone, the branches barren, the ultimate organic process occurs. Rick prunes Bud, strategically for next season’s crop and artfully for Bud’s shapely physique. Then, Rick takes Buds branches in his hands and creates wreathes, some as tall as I am. They are wondrous. I remember one Christmas, the largest wreath donned our fireplace mantle. On Christmas Eve; all the family present at our home, I told Dad that the tree he had gifted us was organic. Bud had produced apricots, shade and a giant Christmas wreathe, a gift that keeps on giving. He loved it! Throughout our garden, Bud’s pruned branches exist in many forms, arbors for ‘Sally’ our rose bush and for four climbing potato vines along the wall of our garden’s path. Many of our family have wreaths from Bud. He truly deserves his place as first born, as leader,as steady producer of our orchard.
First Harvest

The ‘Portugy’ & the Italian Part IV Our Family Of Trees Meet ‘Olive’

I have a special love for ‘Olive’. In March1995, I received her from Rick for my birthday. For a year and a half I visited her at the nursery. In September, we moved Olive home. She has grown into a majestic tree and is the centerpiece of our garden.

Planting ‘Olive’ wasn’t easy. Rick and I had to first determine the location. We selected an area along the back fence that seemed a suitable place. Still a babe in olive tree age, she would need a hole 4 ft square and 4 ft deep. Not a small effort, Rick began digging. At a point, Franko, an ‘old fart’ friend, visited our garden to discuss the design. He took one look and suggested moving the hole four feet. As the task was nearly done; this was not a happy day for Rick. He fought the idea but dug a second hole. Finally, Olive’s bed was centered in the perfect focal point of our garden.

Easy enough to have the nursery deliver the boxed tree to our driveway, the next challenge would become how to move this tree into the back garden and ‘place’ it into the four foot square hole. Rick surmised that if he placed the tree on a palette, with a palette jack and two 4X8 pieces of plywood, he could maneuver the tree by placing one piece of plywood under the palette and one piece in front. With the palette jack, he would slide the boxed tree forward plywood onto plywood. History would repeat itself as Rick had read of a similar method used by the Egyptians who used logs to move large stones to build the pyramids.

On a beautiful day in September, our tools and equipment assembled, the path to the hole readied, we began. Two men and ‘a mouth’ moved Olive; the two men, Rick and Nikko and the mouth, me. The move across the front path was smooth. However, the first problem we encountered was at the corner of the house. The limbs were too wide to pass by without hitting the roof. We had to rotate the thousand pound box. At this corner, Olive received her first injury, a broken limb. Not major, Rick sawed off the branch and we continued, carefully. The path along the side of the house was straight and flat so the move forward although slow, went smoothly. We moved carefully across the grass due to the newly installed sod and sprinklers.

Hours later, Olive arrived: a one thousand pound boxed tree poised in front of the 4 foot hole. The weight was far more than we realized. “How would we drop this box into the hole?”  No way would we be able to lift it in. If we allowed it to fall forward, we would not be able to stand it upright.  Finally, I reasoned: if we removed the wood planter, leaned the tree on its back and let her go, quite possibly, the tree would lob into the hole and from the weight of the thrust forward, swing back standing upright. This would work.  One major detail before we could begin. Olive had to be positioned artfully, her limbs arched from the left to the right. Rick and Nikko struggled to rotate the large planter until she was perfectly in place. We removed the planter box wood and went for it! We hadn’t thought about the pendulum effect of the tree swinging the same distance forward. As a result, the tree hit the fence, knocked out a couple of planks but she landed in the hole and upright. The rest was easy. We mounded soil until Olive was surrounded. Our mission completed, Olive, my first ‘tree gift’ poised as the artful anchor of our garden.


The ‘Portugy’ & the Italian Part III Orchard Vineyard Our Family of Trees

Our Family of Trees

To me, ‘old fart’ is a state of mind: Slow living, lingering under the shade of a tree, I imagine a way of life our ancestors enjoyed. My Dad had a sense for this style of living and thought all his children should have an area suitable for fruit bearing trees, an orchard. You see, orchards and gardens are essential for an ‘old fart’ way of living. In fact, years ago when we moved into a new house, Dad gave us several fruit bearing trees and instructed us to “heal in your trees”. We planted a giant persimmon, a Fuji persimmon, apricot, nectarine, orange and lemon. Eventually, I named our ‘family’ of trees. The first to receive a name was our apricot tree, ‘Bud’ as he was the first bud of spring. ‘Nectar’, our nectarine bore fruit for a few seasons but was a runt of the litter and eventually died. I called the persimmons, ‘Pers’ and ‘Simon’. Of the two, Pers succumbed to tree heaven but Simon thrives and produces abundant fruit like autumn jewels.

I named our first blooming citrus ‘Blossom’ and the second, ‘O.J.’, an orange tree. After a year, we were shocked. O.J. had produced lemons!  We chuckled then as we do now. At the time, O.J. Simpson turned out to be a lemon, himself. Of the two, O.J. thrives and Blossom has birthed no more than a dozen oranges in a dozen years. Dad said the problem was “you got no bees”. Not true, bees swarm everywhere in our garden, around the rosemary, chives and herbs of all kinds. I’ve fed Blossom with citrus fertilizer and tried everything. Maybe she’s a late ‘bloomer’. Time will tell.

Neither we nor my Dad stopped here. In the orchard, we added two apples, ‘Apple’ & ‘Annie’. Along the back fence, we planted three Chinese mandarins for espalier, another gift from Dad. I received ‘Babs’, a blood orange, from my friend Jill who knew my tradition of naming trees. If that isn’t enough, fast growing, immediate fruit and foliage and zestful volunteers, there are also five loquat trees pruned like ‘umbrellas’ for foliage.

In the front garden were two crepe myrtles, ‘Myrt’ and ‘Myrtle’, a Tulip Magnolia, ‘Tulip’ and the gift of a Himalayan Birch, I named ‘Buddha’.  Rounding out our family of trees were two Bay Laurel, one I named ‘Otis’, “sitting on the doc of the bay”, the other, ‘Laurel’, started from a single two inch seedling. Rick and I said that any tree could live in our garden as long as they provided food and design material.

One summer, when visiting my cousin Rikki, we spotted two well aged wooden chairs ready for the dump yard. We’ll take them! The chairs were perfect in the orchard under our apricot tree. We could sit under the tree like ‘old farts’! Eventually the wooden chairs, well aged and to the point of falling apart had to be retired for another set of weathered wood chairs.

We looked around: 29 trees surrounding our home on our small lot and, we were not finished yet. We purchased and planted 6 grape vines. Now we had a ‘Vineyard’: Seedless Thompson, red and green, as well as others. We were ecstatic!



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