September 22, 2008

Enjoying the Season’s Bounty – Legally

By Mary Winter

Not in recent memory have the fruit trees been so fat.

Like the crab apples in the nearby public parkway. The apples are smaller than golf balls, but they're sweet and tart, and the branches are so laden they almost beg you to fill a bowl and bake something.

For once, birds and squirrels aren't sampling every other tomato in my backyard or molesting my garbage. No need, since nature has provided a bottomless buffet of wild seeds, berries and fruit this year.

Strangely, our raspberry bushes produced berries this season. Not a crop, by any stretch, but an encouraging start.

Long-dormant chives mysteriously surfaced in the herb bed. Last year's parsley actually survived the winter, as did the sage and lavender.

The rhubarb plants, sickly for two dry summers, reclaimed their turf along the east fence, beefier than ever.

Our six tomato plants are still popping out plump, heavy, juicy Better Girls, which, when sliced and seasoned and slapped between two pieces of bread with avocado, make perhaps the season's most perfect sandwich.

Neighbors' cherry trees did what they're supposed to.

Statewide, peach trees produced bumper crops, and sweet corn was so good people made whole meals of it.

It's high season for those who know how to can vegetables and make jelly. I had the urge once. The fruit was so thick on prickly pear cactuses one spring in Arizona that I felt obligated to preserve it. We made some very-sweet-but-OK jelly and concluded that with enough sugar, a person can make jelly out of old sofa cushions.

Cheryl Mulhauser, who works in the Colorado State University Extension Master Gardener program in Jefferson County, said this year's bountiful harvest is the result of a mild spring.

Mulhauser said we escaped the late freeze and heavy snow that habitually visit in April and May. In past years, they've killed many of the blossoms that produce the fruit.

For the same reason, food was abundant in the wild this summer, which is why animals didn't rob our gardens so much this year, Mulhauser said.

Speaking of robbing, here's a cautionary tale:

Recently, a woman noticed a large plum tree in the backyard of a vacant house in Denver. The branches were so thick and heavy with purple plums they nearly touched the ground.

The woman decided to take a few, which she figured would go to waste otherwise.

Under the cover of darkness, she returned to the house and plucked enough for a plum galette.

Unfortunately, just as she finished, the next-door neighbor came out her back door and saw the woman.

The plum tree hung over onto this neighbor's driveway, and she felt violated to find someone pilfering plums so close to her property, without permission, and she said so.

The thief poked her head though the branches to face her accuser, more embarrassed by the moment. She offered up a few arguments but quickly yielded the floor and backed off the property.

With Wall Street tanking and the new fall TV lineup still days away, she figured times were bad enough already. Why fan the flames?

Plus, it's not 1965 anymore, she reminded herself, when people left their doors unlocked and the Make My Day Law was only a twinkle in some legislator's eye.

A simple call to Denver's 311 city answer line cleared up any question about the propriety of helping oneself to fruit at a vacant house. "That would be trespassing," Denver Police Officer Chris Parker told her, recommending instead that she try to reach the real estate agent selling the house and seek permission.

Good advice.

So the moral is to ask first.

It's not nearly as fun, but it's a lot less stupid.

Originally published by Mary Winter, Rocky Mountain News.

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