We have had the hottest summer months and have a great harvest season. During this time, I like to play music at festivals inside and outside the region. Harvest festivals, fall festivals, Oktoberfest (which actually starts in September), and heritage festivals are all great, but my favorite festivals are local farmers, 4-H members, moms and dads. Businesses and grandmothers.
In front of my house this season, I am very busy processing the vegetables that I grew with my wife. Pink Jazz Air Room spaghetti sauce is made from tomatoes and canned, and several types of homemade hot sauces are made from peppers such as Brazilian starfish and ghost. Our pepper was not due to overproduction this season. They can be temperamental. The annual Bowers Chili Pepper Festival was a huge success, as usual, and most growers know the yields were good. However, our plants sat there, watching most of the seasonal scenery, but ultimately decided to produce when it was too late for a full harvest.
A few weeks ago, while doing a concert for a community service organization, I met my old friends Jim and Judy Schwann (formerly Senator Judy Schwann) and started talking about gardening. Part of the fun of growing things is talking to and listening to other growers, comparing techniques and results. Schwank’s vegetable garden produced some excellent sweet corn, tomatoes and eggplants this year, but their peppers performed the other way around.
If there is no other way to know that fall is approaching than to look at the garden of the house, you can rely on fig trees to predict the arrival of the changing seasons. I have written about them before and always love to listen to the opinions of your people who write to me to share stories about your own fig tree.
Thinking back to the history of figs, there are two trees. It looks like a shrub as it is pruned about 2 feet above the ground each fall before winter and covered with a few inches of fallen leaves to cover and protect the roots. Those against the harsh cold of winter.
One of the plants comes from my longtime friend Bob Entler from Temple, who loves to grow figs. The other was from Grace, Wyomissing’s mother. I love hearing the old story of a great grandmother and great grandfather in Sicily having a fig tree in their “South of Penn” garden plot. They would wrap and cover the trees with old jackets and sweaters in the fall to protect them from the cold and dry in the winter. Whenever they moved to a better house in the neighborhood, they uprooted the fig tree and brought it as a member of the family.
Usually our figs start to ripen in October. This limits yields because the exposure ends for a year as soon as the first frost hits the fruits, leaves and branches. This year, our figs suggest that our seasons will probably be longer or that the frosts will be faster. I don’t know how to correctly interpret what they predict, but one afternoon while I was working elsewhere in the garden, I saw a ripe fig tree on its branches. I noticed the fruit was growing. Harvest immediately. I was a little surprised because it happened at the end of August, almost a month and a half earlier than usual. I harvested all the figs that were ready, ate some, gave some and froze the rest. Since that time I have had a steady flow of figs. The most fruit and the fastest harvests ever.
My love for peaches and apples fresh from the orchard is linked to my pleasure in growing and eating figs. This season is also here. One afternoon, while exercising in the heat, I heard my wife call me. She said she was surprised when she went to see what her wife needed and wanted. So she made a gorgeous white peach and a giant Honeycrisp apple in one hand.
With a big smile, she said: “I just visited Mrs Preston (Carolin Preston from Preston Orchard at Cushion Peak in South Heidelberg Township) and I see them!” The two fruits she gave me were superb in color and size, so I pulled out a reliable backpack knife and sliced it and enjoyed the delicious taste. When it comes to fresh, seasonal fruit, I think it’s very fortunate to have a family-owned orchard near almost every neighborhood or town in Berks County.
In our case, the Preston Orchard is right on top of the mountain and it’s fun to see how families take great care of the site at all times of the year. We have never been disappointed with the quality of what they grow and offer. Shopping at your local orchard also gives you the chance to keep up with the latest news. In the end, Ms Preston suffered a serious accident and injuries early in the harvest season, but her son and family came together to make sure they were not forgotten in the harvest process. Together, they continued.
It is perhaps the most important glue that binds families and farming communities together. No one will be forgotten, people will undoubtedly help those who need it for no other reason than to be good people, family, friends and neighbors. So take advantage of the harvest season and all it has to offer. If you support a family business, know that you are doing more than just buying things. You support a very noble and precious way of life and all the traditions and values that go with it
Dave Kline is an award-winning author, photographer, host and producer, singer-songwriter, travel guide and community advocate. Contact him at [email protected]