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Visions of unsugared plums

Growing one’s own fruit is seductive, given most supermarket fare. But doing so can be demanding.

A bee pollinates a blossom on a purple-leaf plum tree.

Shari Vialpando/Las Cruces Sun-News/AP

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Growing fruit trees is not for the impatient. They're generally sold as striplings and have to establish themselves before they can dedicate any energy to producing their first blossoms. This generally takes years.

But they're seductive things. When one considers the tasteless cannonballs that pass for pears and plums in the supermarkets, the desire to "grow one's own" is understandable. But what the testimonials in the seed catalogs ("My peaches were as big as cantaloupes and sweet to boot!"), often fail to mention is that fruit trees, like pets, require a lot of attention.

Thus it was that, five years ago, while holding a stone-hard plum at the supermarket and shaking my head, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I went to a fruit tree sale here in Maine and bought something called a Mount Royal plum sapling, whose fruit is described as "tender, meaty, sweet and juicy." What more could I ask?

The thing is, except for apples, Maine is not a particularly good state for tree fruits. I think it has something to do with the snow and cold, and a summer that seems to say hello and goodbye in the same breath. Be this as it may, I planted my plum tree, carefully tended it, and it began to grow without complaint. For the first five years, in fact, that's all it did. It leafed out, shot up, lost its leaves in the fall, and went to sleep in the winter.

"Where are the plums?" asked my then-11-year-old son as I stood looking at the thing. "Patience," I counseled. "Patience."


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