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Last Friday, my mother came over for dinner and brought with a box full of sweet, tart goodness…


Don’t these plums look delicious?

There is a single plum tree on the family farm that is incredibly prolific.


Every year, I look forward to making jam ever since my mother taught me how 3 years ago.

I usually have enough jam to last our family an entire year plus more to give as gifts to teachers and friends over the Christmas holiday.


After my mother left that evening, I got right to work and made my first batch of plum jam.  

This time, I left the peels on the plums, which dissolve during the cooking process and create the beautiful ‘plum’ color.

Other years, I have peeled the plums by boiling them first for 40 seconds.  It is a rather tedious process, but some people prefer plum jam without the peels.

For me, I like to make things simple – so the peels stayed.

Every summer brings a wonderful fruit harvest.  First are the peaches followed by the plums.  In a couple of weeks, I will be busy with the apple harvest.  I got a new recipe for apple caramel jam that I can’t wait to try out.

For more information on how to make your own jam, check out my post “A Harvest of Peaches and Jam”.

**It may be hot outside, but there a lot growing in the garden.  Join me every day this week as I post what is happening in my garden.

I hope you all enjoyed a wonderful Easter day.

Our family gathered at Double S Farms, which is where my mother, sister and her family reside.

We had delicious lasagna (courtesy of Costco), herb corn, artisan bread, salad and of course, dessert.  I love to make dessert, so I brought over a Lemon Trifle (made with crushed lemon sandwich cookies, lemon pudding, cream cheese, sugar and whipped topping).  I also made Easter nests filled with M&M’s (the nests were made from rice krispy treats and formed into a cupcake liner).

I had a great time with my mom, sisters, brother, kids, nieces and nephews.  We also spent the day with my cousin and her family.

Here is part of our day in pictures:

The men in the family typically hide the Easter eggs.
My husband puts out some eggs that will be easy to find for the younger kids.
My sister, Jennifer, is in charge of the hunt and checks to see where the eggs are being hid.
I love my sister.  We are only 16 months apart in age and she just moved down the street from us!
The peach trees make a great hiding place, as my brother-in-law discovered.
A peek over the backyard fence shows my mother’s two vegetable gardens.
For some reason, the women joined in hiding the Easter eggs this year.  Maybe the guys were taking too long?  The kids were having a hard time being patient.
Some of the hiding places were pretty ingenious.
The plum tree also makes a great hiding place.
My other brother-in-law decided to make it hard for the older kids.
My sisters, Jennifer and Grace.  Grace is a great photographer and blogs at FinleyandOliver.com  
My cousin, Laurena, and her family came.  Laurena and I grew up together in California.  She lived only 1 hour away when we were kids.  Now, we only live about 40 minutes apart in AZ.
A rose bush also makes a great hiding place.  This is the rose that I pruned back heavily a few years ago and blogged about it in “A Neglected, Overgrown Rose”
My sisters and I
Now the kids finally get to come and start the Easter egg hunt.  My nephews, Finley and Oliver are among the first out the door.
My mother, my son-in-law, daughter and granddaughter.  Next year, she will be old enough to participate in the hunt.
Some of the eggs were really hidden high up.  But that didn’t stop my cousin’s son.
Sometimes when you run very fast to find eggs; you fall – as my son Kai discovered.

Lily wouldn’t look up for the picture because she was interested in her egg.
My nephew, Finley, found a lot of eggs.
Linnea and Camille are my cousin’s twin daughters.
One of the last eggs, was found high up in the plum tree.
My mother, my son-in-law and my granddaughter, Lily.
Isn’t she simply darling?
My twin nephews also were ready to enjoy the Easter egg hunt.  This is Danny – doesn’t he look ‘spiffy’ in his Easter vest?
Here is the other twin, Dean.  He preferred to sit and enjoy his eggs.
It is so fun to see the older cousins take care of their younger cousins.
Cousins, Danny and Oliver, checking out what is in their eggs.
I hope you enjoyed the photos of part of our Easter day.
I hope your week is off to a great start!

I have been very busy in both my kitchen and garden lately.

I have been busy preparing my San Marzano tomatoes for freezing so that I can use them in marinara sauce this winter.
On the other hand, we have been eating our fresh, sweet corn as soon as we pick it.  I usually cut it from the cob and lightly steam it.
I have also been busy making peach, plum and even strawberry jam.  This past weekend, I made some applesauce which I use for making special ‘Applesauce Spice Cake’.
I will share with you how I prepare my corn, tomatoes and jams in future posts.  But right now, I am getting ready to go to the doctor with my father-in-law, my husband, his sister and my mother-in-law.
My father-in-law is suffering from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and he has a form that is moving very quickly.  We can see changes every week.
Both my mother-in-law and father-in-law have allowed us to be very involved with his doctor visits, which is both a privilege but is also very hard at the same time.
As the ‘in-law’ I am trying to do my best to be supportive to not only my father & mother-in-law, but also to my husband and his sister.  But, I am also having to deal with my own sadness.
Many of you will understand this as I have just recently come to realize….as often as we hear of people who are suffering from diseases and even those that are terminally ill, you never comprehend how truly horrible it is and how if affects not only the one who is suffering from the disease itself, but also those around them.
Last week, my son said that he can’t remember what his ‘Papa’s’ voice sounds like.  I am preparing for the time when my son realizes that his grandfather is going to die.
My hope and prayer is that he will live until early November.  Why?  Well you see, my daughter will be having a baby!  She is having a little girl and this is not only my first grandchild, but she will also be my father-in-law’s first great-grandchild and he is so excited.
I am so thankful that throughout this time of sadness, that there are also things that bring joy to my life, including my garden and most especially a new life 🙂

I am almost ashamed to admit it, but I sometimes have trouble remembering what gifts I received a year ago for Christmas.  Does that happen to you too?  It’s not that I am not happy with the gifts……I am frequently amazed at the creativity and thoughtfulness of the giver.  But sometimes all I can handle is just trying to keep up with my 5 kids and my husband so many other things get pushed onto a back shelf inside my brain.

There have been extra special Christmas gifts that I have received that stick out in my mind.  Not because they were particularly expensive but because they were long lasting.  Each time I would use or look upon the gift, I would remember the thoughtfulness of the giver.

One of my favorite Christmas memories involve my dad and mother.  Each year my dad would give my mother something special for Christmas.  He would usually ask one of his daughters to wrap it for him and I can remember the happiness on his face when he would give my mother her gift.

After my father passed away a few years ago, my siblings and I started a new tradition – in addition to our individual gifts to our mother, we also joined together to give her a gift from all of us on behalf of my father, who is no longer here.

We have had a lot of fun thinking of ideas of what to give her each year.  This year we decided to give her two Apricot trees.  You see, my mother loves to can fruit.  Double S Farms, where she lives, has apple, peach, plum, kumquat, lemon, grapefruit, almond and pecan trees.  

This past summer, my mother taught me how to make peach and plum jam as well as applesauce.  I am still using peach jam on my morning toast 🙂
As many different kinds of fruit trees that my mother has, she does not have any apricot trees.  That was kind of sad really because apricots were among her favorite fruit.  So our decision was really quite easy.
We bought her two apricot trees and tied big red bows on each one and placed them on the side of the house.
We placed the apricot trees in the same area that already had peach trees growing.  Little Farmer and Littlest Farmer were happy to help 😉



 Now it was time for her surprise…..I think she was very happy with her gift.
Many people find it surprising that we can grow many different kinds of fruit trees.  Trees with low chill hour requirements do very well in our area.  (Chill hours occur when temperatures below 45 degrees F.  Fruit trees require a minimum number of chill hours to produce fruit.).  We selected two different varieties of apricot trees – ‘Katy’ and ‘Gold Kist’.  
Apricot trees are self-pollinating (which means that they doesn’t need pollen from another apricot tree to produce fruit), so we really only needed one, but since we planted two, that means more apricot jam in our future.
The apricot trees will be ready for harvesting in late May / early June.
When planting fruit trees, it is important not to dig the hole deeper then the depth of the root ball.  What is a good thing to do is to dig the hole at least 3 times the width of the root ball, which helps the roots to grow out into the surrounding soil.  January is the month to plant your bare-root fruit trees in the Arizona deserts.
No fertilizer should be added to newly planted trees for the first year.  The reason is because fertilizer will trigger the growth of the upper part of the tree – you may be asking what is wrong with that?  
Well, all trees need a good root system that can support the branches, leaves and fruit and that takes at least a year.  So please don’t add fertilizer unless you live in an area with sandy soils, which may require the addition of phosphorus and potassium when planted.

My mother was very happy with her gift, which will continue giving year after year.


I can almost taste the apricot jam……but it will take a few years for the new trees to produce enough fruit 🙂
For information on fruit varieties for the desert southwest, click here.
Here is a link for general fruit tree growing information for Arizona.
A few weeks ago, my brother-in-law asked me to come out to the family farm (Double S Farms) asked me to come over and help him to prune their numerous fruit trees.  I had been wanting to work on them because they had been sorely neglected by the previous owners of the farm.
These three peach trees produced a large amount of fruit that we all enjoyed last summer.  However, they had been badly pruned over the years and their branches reached so high into the sky, that it was impossible to reach all of the fruit.

Why did we decide to prune them you may ask?  Well, besides the fact that they had been disfigured by bad pruning, the other benefits would be numerous.  There would be increased fruit production, strengthened trees, earlier fruit production and easier  maintenance.
 
Our tools – Loppers, Pruning Saw, Hand Pruners and Pole Saw.
The two types of pruning cuts that we used were thinning and heading cuts.  The first type – thinning cuts, removes branches back to the larger branch they are growing from.  So, we concentrated on removing all crossing branches and those growing into the center of the tree.  We did this because peach and plum trees should have an open center.

The second type of cut we used – heading back, removes part of the branch, pruning back to a outward facing bud.  So we made sure that our cuts, were pruned back to an outside facing bud and cut at a 45 degree angle.
 
 Farmer Dad, working hard making a thinning cut with a pruning saw.

Pruning should be done while the trees are still dormant, which is January here in the desert.  

Since dwarf forms of peach trees do not exist, pruning is the only way to shorten the tree in order to reach the fruit and also to be able to fit a net over the tree to protect them from the birds eating the fruit.  Unfortunately, a lot of fruit was lost to the birds last year.
 
  
As we pruned, evidence of bad pruning was evident.  The photo above shows an incorrect pruning cut, while the bottom one is the right way to prune.  You want to prune back to the trunk to the branch collar.  

Peach and plum trees can take heavy pruning, but we removed only 20% of the trees branches.  Next year, we may do more if needed.  We felt that is was better not over-prune and stress the trees.
 
You can tell why it is important to prune back to the branch when you see how the cut branch above died back because it was not pruned close enough to the branch it came from.
Once we were finished with the peach trees, we started on the two apple trees in the backyard.  Both of these trees were better maintained and so we removed a few of the lower branches and made some heading cuts.

 
Pruning cuts back to the trunk.  You can see the branch collar, which is a specialized area that surrounds branches.  Do not cut the branch collar, but make your pruning cut just before.
 
Making heading cuts to the apple tree.
Apple trees only require light pruning.  They have a different shape then peach trees and do not have an open shape.  Rather, they should have many interior branches.  So, the majority of pruning we did were some heading cuts and just a few thinning cuts.

You know, there is just something so fulfilling after spending the day pruning and seeing the instant results of your work.  A couple of weeks later, I took the following pictures of the now flowering trees we had pruned.

Peach blossoms reach towards the sky.
 
The apple trees are now covered in blossoms.

Next year, we will probably do some additional corrective pruning for the peach trees in order to further fix the damage done by the previous owners.  But for now, we are sitting back and enjoying their beauty and looking forward to peach jam and apple butter this summer.