Distribute the Surplus. It is one of the founding principles of Permaculture. And one of the tasks is to discover these surpluses and where to pass them on, reaching another Principle, which is “The problem is the solution.” Usually, at this time of year, I am in the middle of one of my favorite Distributions, which is fresh figs from our tree. But this year is a little different. We had a deep cold snap in the valley last winter, and many fig trees died back to the ground and are coming back as shrubs. That did not happen to mine; it was both ancient and protected, but it suffered some serious damage. This summer, more energy has gone into leaf production than figs, and many of the figs that are ripe are high in the branches, up in the bird’s half of the tree. There will be enough for me to dry for winter treats and the fresh ones are amazing, sun-warmed and sweet as honey. But we do not have a surplus. A problem.
Half a block away, the prune plum tree in the back yard of our rental house is bent over with fruit. The branches are almost breaking as the plums ripen. They lean over the fences, which sag under their weight. Deep purple plums, dusty and sweet, cling to the branches. I have hauled home baskets full—dried them, made plum jam, pickled them, and baked two upside down plum cakes—and I’ve cleared one branch. It’s a problem. Our tenants began the distribution pattern. One took bags of the fruit to work. The next day, his co-workers were looking at him expectantly. “More plums?” they asked. He obliged. While doing house repairs, I brought bowls over to both of the neighbors. Then school started. I work with at least sixty people. I brought a large basket of plums. They were gone in twenty four hours. “Yes!” I thought, and gathered another basket.
Within a few days, the counter of the staff room held a huge bowl of plums—and a bag of apples. Then there were some zucchini. Tomatoes. Peppers. Flowers. Lemon cucumbers. The attendance clerk bought a food dryer from Bi-Mart and asked for a bag of fruit to dry. I obliged. Two other people wanted plums for drying. More plums piled into baskets, brought into school. By now, I have left a trail of dropped plums from my house to work; like Hanzel and Gretel, I can find my way home again. Conversation in the office revolved around drying time and fruit prep. It is easy, I assured them. Cut the fruit in half, push it out a bit to expose more surface, and put it in the dryer. I dry my fruit until it is almost crispy, because I don’t want to worry about mold. Then, I pour it into quart canning jars (everything in our house is stored in canning jars) and stash it on the basement shelves. No dipping, no freezing, no fuss.
The overflow of fruit is almost over for the year. My green beans and tomatoes are slowing down, the zucchini plants all have powdery mildew, and the plums that remain are almost over ripe. I will probably pick one more round for the school counter Monday evening and call it good. But, this year, I have learned that the surplus is not always where you believe it to be, and there is always a home for fresh fruit.
To read more about the Twenty First Street Urban Homestead, check out my blog at http://21ststreeturbanhomestead.blogspot.com