I am very fortunate to have two fifty-year old plum trees in my backyard that are wonderful for screening out the neighbours and providing welcome shade for lounging under in the summer. They also produce a great crop of plums that I love to use in all sorts of different preserves (as well as eating them fresh of course). But my biggest problem is getting them before the birds do! I am happy to share some of my crop with the birds but birds don’t share nicely: they insist on pecking every single one rather than finishing the ones they’ve already pecked, and they peck them just as they are almost ripe before I get a chance to pick them.
My boss says that the plums that they have pecked are a great bird scaring device – he collects a whole pile of them ready to toss at the birds when they come to peck the next ones. The mental picture I have now of him sitting in ambush makes me giggle every time I see the birds near the plums.
One of the problems of having big trees is that there is no way that you can possibly cover the whole tree with bird netting. In the past I have fairly successfully tried to net off a few branches that have lots of plums – balancing on the ladder trying to drape netting over, through and around the branches and then holding all the edges together with twist ties so that there are no gaps for the birds to squeeze through (and believe me they do try, thinking they must be missing out even when there are plums elsewhere – perhaps they had pecked all the good ones).
This year there didn’t seem to be any accessible branches with groups of plums that were obvious to net, so I tried another approach. I found some holographic bird scaring tape at the garden centre that you tie around the branches: the tape flutters in the breeze and catches the light supposedly scaring the birds. I was a little dubious having heard lots of people say that they had tried hanging old CDs (working on the same principle) with little success. The tape certainly wasn’t foolproof as the photo with the well-pecked fruit right next to the tape shows. It seemed to work best when there was a breeze. But I’d have to say that I got the highest proportion of fruit this year that I have ever managed to get, so it does go a long way towards appropriate sharing of the fruit.
My garden seems to have become a nursery for fledgling blackbirds and thrushes in particular, with their parents teaching them foraging (tossing bark everywhere) and fruit pecking skills. I was very pleased to come home and find more than a dozen birds all pecking fruit on the ground beneath the tree rather than up in it, so perhaps this exercise will also improve bird sharing etiquette. You do need to remove the tape as soon as you are done to prevent the birds getting used to it.
Having big trees also means that it can also be challenging to pick the plums. Balancing on a ladder is possible but the likelihood of over-reaching and toppling is high. So I use a combination of a step stool (not as far to fall) and a frightfully ingenious device that I created using a plastic tub with a notch cut out the side and taped onto a bamboo pole with the notch by the pole. This is fantastic for reaching far up into the tree, securing the fruit stalk with the notch and lifting/pushing until the fruit drops into the container (or sometimes flying up into the air so that you can practising catching skills).
My plums seem to always ripen just at the time everything else is producing copiously in the garden and when I need to spend time watering as well. So it is great that plums freeze really well. I often just wash them, cut them in half and remove the stone, and then freeze them (free-flow on a baking tray and then transfer to a plastic bag) for turning into preserves later in the year.