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Tuesday, September 30, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 8/17/2014

COMMENTARY

Trash grows into delicious treasure in Michigan garden

BY MARY ALICE POWELL
BLADE COLUMNIST
Jennifer and Bill Ely stand in front of a nectarine tree that was standed from a pit. Jennifer and Bill Ely stand in front of a nectarine tree that was standed from a pit.
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Hold it! Don’t throw away that nectarine pit.

Once upon a time, Bill Ely of Addison, Mich., did what everyone else does. He enjoyed nectarines, peaches, and other stone fruit and discarded the pits.

Then came the day about six years ago when he gave pit planting a shot and now has an impressive orchard to prove that, sure enough, pits are seeds that will produce glorious trees and they in turn produce fruit that can be enjoyed during the cold Michigan winters.

After the successful nectarine pit-planting experience, it was only a matter of time before peach and apricot pits bit the dirt in the Elys’ sprawling garden space.

And why not toss an apple core into the garden instead of the trash can? One, then two cores, were planted, and the trees now are about four feet tall. Apple trees mature more slowly than other fruit trees, Bill says.

The nectarine and peach trees produced fruit in about four years, but he believes it will be two or three more years before he will pick apples from the trees that began with cores.

According to Bill, it is easier to plant pits and an apple core than it is to plant petunias. He says he simply shoves them into the ground to a depth of the length of his thumb.

He emphasizes the importance of keeping them well watered from seedlings throughout the growing period.

Otherwise, he doesn’t have any secrets for the fruit tree experiment that is so successful that he has given half-grown trees to friends. His prize tree produced two bushels of peaches last year.

“Maybe I am just lucky,” he says.

Bill and Jennifer, his wife of 45 years, are long-time gardeners who grew up in families with old-fashioned gardening and food preservation values.

Jennifer remembers that in summer her father didn’t come into the house after work until he had walked through his garden. “It was his therapy after a hard day’s work,” she says.

During the 20 years that Bill and Jennifer owned and operated the Party Store in Hudson, Mich., they maintained a large garden at the home of Bill’s parents, the late Francis and Elsie Ely, in Medina, Mich., and when his father couldn’t plant and care for his own garden, Bill did it for him.

Their son and daughter-in-law, Jeff and Julia Ely, caught the gardening bug and with their children operate Taste of Summer Farms, specializing in blackberries, near Medina.

Bill starts the plants in two large gardens that flank the fruit trees from seeds culled from fresh vegetables, then dried and planted in small pots. He credits his late father-in-law, Ralph Love, for his interest in the time-honored practice.

Bill prefers Miracle Grow potting soil to germinate the seeds.

The seed planting begins in mid March with eggplant and pepper seeds. He plants several seeds and then selects the two or three plants that appear to be the most promising to transplant in the garden.

“The basement where he works is always a mess,” Jennifer says. His other workshop is in the pole barn where he has a business butchering and packaging venison for local hunters each fall.

In addition to good eating from the gardens in summer, the Elys put up hundreds of canned and frozen foods that they share with Jennifer’s mother, Doris Love, of Palmyra, Mich.

Because Jennifer won’t retire from her housekeeping position at Emma L. Bixby Hospital in Adrian until April, Bill does his share of canning and freezing work. Their home-preserved favorites include chunky applesauce, green tomato mincemeat for holiday pies and a filled cookie, and jam from raspberries in the garden.

The mincemeat recipe calls for currants that Jennifer says are pricey in the store, so she grows her own.

“It is amazing to see what you can do with what God has given you,” Bill says.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.

Contact her at: mpowell@theblade.com



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