Summer time and the mangoes are easy (sometimes)

Do we have a new mango tree and a macadamia (time to move them I think)? Mango trees love fertilizer with potassium - maybe the banana skins have helped with germination?

By Madame Tango

Christmas and summer mean one thing – stone fruit.

While up here it’s lychees and mangoes (fruit I’d never even tried until I was in my mid-teens) but back when I was a Riverina kid that meant heavenly juice-filled peaches and nectarines, apricots still warm from the trees and cherries.

I’m a farm kid and growing up out west we had an old orchard down the side of the house that my dad decided to revive. He planted peaches, apricots and nectarines amongst the gnarled old Granny Smith’s – with their fruit too filled with cotton moth at the start to eat, a decaying fig tree and quince trees (with rock hard fruit my mother tried to stew into submission). I’d love a quince tree now that Maggie Beer has shown us what can be done.

Dad didn’t bother planting cherries – they’d arrive every December -last week of school -in the back of my aunt’s ute in a couple of cartons as she headed home from helping pick them at an uncle’s farm in Young. The cherries were still attached to the stems (and often each other) and were big dark and juicy. But oh, the peaches – trees loaded with fruit that went a glorious red-yellow in the hot summer sun making them look like Christmas decorations on the green-leaved trees.

There was nothing better than sitting the lucerne tree reading above the vegie patch while my parents were inside being kept kind of cool by the old portable air conditioner – easily heard from outside where I was perched, book in one hand and peach the size of a softball in the other. Juice streamed down my arm with every bite to the point that the moment it was all gone, the only thing to do was to jump in the old plastic lined above ground pool.

I wanted that for my kids.

Or at least the northern version.

I’d often thought about growing a mango tree but with very small very active children it seemed like the yard was more for swings, paddling pools and trampolines. A destructive Springer Spaniel puppy put paid to really being able to plant anything of note in the back yard too. It was something special to see pup and offspring tearing around the back yard without having to worry about the damage they could cause to gardens and trees.

Enter a green-thumbed neighbour.

When a lovely lady named Shirley moved into the house next door she and her husband had previously been renting out and decided to renovate their back yard, I didn’t even have to mention a mango tree. Shirley was legendary for her Asian curries, a trained chef, and a mango tree seemed like the perfect addition (to both of us). Planted in the back corner. It took a few years for the tree to grow to a decent size and spill over my fence but it did and I was able (thanks to our negotiated anything on this side of the fence was ours deal) to watch the kids pluck ripe mangoes from the tree (and pick up the ones generously passed over the wooden fence).

And being a fabulous and experienced gardener, Shirl did everything right when she planted it.

She cut it back early, taking care to shape it in those first years. She’d also chosen a reasonably protected area of the garden safe from our October/November winds – coming just as it was flowering and fruiting and tip pruned it every year to encourage fruiting.

It fruited most years, producing more than her family and ours could eat.

But the good thing about a neighbour growing the communal mango tree is also the bad thing – you don’t have to do anything to the tree to get fruit– great when there is a competent gardener on the other side of the fence. Shirl left to live on a bigger quieter block and the subsequent owners and renters have let it grow out of control. Mangoes have been scarce most seasons. I still cut back our side when I have time (though not for a couple of years) and have a windbreak that protects our branches from the winds – sometimes we have had the only mangoes on the tree.

All of the recent years of rain haven’t been kind to the mango crops either, black spots marring the few mangoes the tree has set.

Though we do have an accidental plan B – the nice things about kids and animals in gardens (once they are past the destructive phase) is, they do tend to drop the seed from the fruit they are eating where they were eating it. So we have something that looks suspiciously like a mango tree next to something that may or may not be a macadamia. Yeah, I would have liked a nice grafted one – but it’s there now (as is the avocado our cat planted – that’s a whole other story) though years from bringing us and our now 20 somethings fruit.

But that doesn’t matter because this year, it looks like we might finally have a crop for both sides of the fence to enjoy. We will just have to pick them early so the bats don’t get them. And, of course ,follow another tip from Shirl (and Gerry from Gardening Australia) -leave a short piece of stem attached when you pick, otherwise a large flow of sap from the fruit will spoil and rot the skin. Ours are all very low -the other side will have more trouble given the size of the tree.

Fingers crossed we will be able to sit on the back lawn eating mangoes again this year (or better still turn them into Thai Mango Chicken Curry (the Recipe Tin Eats web site has a great recipe for this if that’s your jam too). Mmm jam – anyone got a mango jam recipe?

Good gardening.

Madame T

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