Through the years, our land on Chappaquiddick has yielded some surprises. My peach tree began as a volunteer in a friend’s garden, a sprout from her compost pile. She gave it to me in a small pot as a gift a dozen years ago and told me it was an almond tree. You could see the almond-like seed out of which it grew. I didn’t really want an almond tree, since I figured it would never produce in this climate, but I hate to throw out living plants, so I put the pot in the vegetable garden. It lived there a couple of years with the sprinkler watering it in the summer and rainfall the rest of the year.

One day I was looking at some decomposing peach pits in my compost pile and, seeing the almond-like seed inside, I realized the little tree was probably a peach tree. The leaves certainly looked like it. I’d never planted fruit trees, although I’d always wanted to, and I didn’t actually believe I could grow peaches. I took a little more interest in the tree and finally took it out of its pot and stuck it into the weedy ground next to the rhubarb in the garden bed I tend the least. I figured if it grew, fine.

It did grow, but for a few more years I didn’t pay it any more attention. It finally produced a few small misshapen peaches, nothing very impressive. It wasn’t in a good location there in the vegetable garden, where it had grown big enough to shade nearby vegetables and send its roots into other beds. Not wanting to end its life, I decided to give it one last chance, saying: If you make one good peach this year, I won’t cut you down.

That September, the tree produced only one peach but it was the sweetest, tastiest peach I could remember eating since I was a kid – and I grew it! (Well, I let it grow.) I didn’t have much hope for the next season, but since I’d made a promise to the tree, I left it for another year.

The next spring the tree was covered with blossoms, not unlike other years, but that summer the tree grew more than two hundred perfect and delicious peaches. I made peach jam and chutney, and peach pies that I froze. Most of all, we ate our fill of the fresh juicy fruit. That was four years ago, and since then the tree has had better and worse crops, but never again have I thought of cutting it down.

Soon after the tree started to produce, I was doing some research into ways to preserve fruits and vegetables, and I came across Lost Crafts: Rediscovering Lost Skills, a British book by Una McGovern describing traditional country ways. In its chapter about fruit trees, it tells how to get a new fruit tree to start producing: Threaten it with an ax!