The Farm on Oak Creek

And now the trees

First a flood update. Yes, the snow has begun to melt and the water is rising in the creek again. I think it reached eight feet yesterday because it overran its banks just below my front barn. That’s the lowest spot on the property, a stretch I share with my neighbors Al and Elana. They’ve worked for years to get their side to look almost lawn-like. This, I might mention, is no mean feat if they started at the same place that my side is in–mostly rock. I’ve spent the last five years or so trying to encourage grass to grow, believing that the more grass I have the less likely a flood is to drop flood fall as it roars past. However, I’m at the end of that particular curve of the creek. A rolling stone may gather no moss, but a rolling stone in a flooded creek ends up on top of the other rocks right there. Ah well, hope springs eternal. I’ll plant more grass seed this year and see if it comes up around the rocks.

My many fruit trees very much appreciated this past wet winter.  The nectarine is showing a bright pink while my earliest apricots are covered in lacy white. The plum buds are that pretty yellow-green color they take on just before they burst while the elderberries are sprouting purple-edged leaves. The apples are still sleeping, the pluot is thinking about budding, the persimmon is leafing, and the jujubes look dead (and will continue to look dead until almost May).

And then there’s my one olive tree.

At one of the first farm-related meetings I attended after moving here I met a man whose address put him on top of the hill above my place. He said he had a whole olive orchard up there. I’ve never been up there so I can’t testify to that. However, my interest was piqued. Although I’m somewhat allergic to olive pollen, I love olives. Moreover, if his land was anything like that at the base of the hill, I figured the hillside where I grow raspberries and an amazing crop of Johnson grass (I keep thinking I need to put the pigs up there) would work for olives. It was just a matter of water.

I don’t have in-ground irrigation on that hillside, only the sprinklers I use for the raspberries. That’s hardly enough water to feed a sapling if you expect it to survive to be a tree, especially when the hillside gets the worst of the summer sun. As an experiment, I bought one small (and cheap) olive from a local nursery. This, of course, turned out to be a not-so-great idea since it takes two trees to make olives. But I dug the hole, carving my way through what is surely basalt, added compost and a dose of mycorrhizae for good measure, then let nature take its course.

That first winter left most most of the little tree dead and I expected the following summer to complete the job. Instead, it made through winter #2, not only still alive but having managed to replace a few of its lost branches. Heartened by its hardiness, the next year I bought five more bare root olives from my go-to organic supplier. From the description in the catalog, I knew they would be small. I just didn’t realize how small. Can we say “twig?”

6 foot tall fig bush

A lazy fig bush

Up they went during a lull in a winter that went on to pull the rug out from under spring somewhere in March. Those twigs froze out of existence, killing not only them but my make-my-own-olives ambition. But still that original olive leafed out. Knowing I’d never get anything out of it, I left it in the back of my mind, only occasionally noticing that it was still alive, stunted but leafing out.

Now, here it is, year nine. The other day I was up on the hillside, pushing aside dried grasses to see how many of my raspberries are leafing out, when I stopped, startled, by an amazing sight. That olive has tripled in size! It’s almost three feet tall. Well, how about that? Maybe I need to spend a little more money and get it some companions. I think I’ll start with some larger specimens this time.

In the meantime I’m going to prune my two oldest figs, which are pushing six feet tall. I bought them as small bushes–not trees–and they have grown like Topsy, which is to say one is now over six feet tall. Every summer since I planted them they have been lush with leaves but have not given me one, single fruit. This year, I’m resorting to threats. Give up the goods, you guys, or I’m going to dig you up!  No slackers allowed.

© Denise Domning, 2023