Why Grow Your Own Fruit Trees?
Many people are interested in growing more of their own food to increase self sufficiency. Planting fruit trees on your homestead is a great way to increase your self reliance. You have control over what is sprayed on your food, there will often be a surplus, and you’ll have fruit for canning, freezing, dehydrating, and eating right out of hand.
Homegrown fruit is more nutritious than store bought because it wasn’t shipped across the country and you can use it at the peak of perfection. You also have the option of planting heirloom varieties that have better flavor, keep over winter, or make the best preserves.
Any extras that you don’t eat can be shared, stored, sold, or fed to livestock. Planting a home orchard is a giant step forward in self reliance.
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Why not plant a few fruit trees in your own backyard? If you have space limitations you may be able to plant dwarf trees that can be controlled through espalier training. Several companies offer columnar apple trees that take only a few feet of space. Plant these small trees along the side of a fence or your home in full sun to grow more food in less space.
Learning to grow fruit requires time and patience. You will need to plant, water, prune, and feed your fruit trees for several years before they begin to yield a harvest in return. To grow your fruit organically, you will need to learn about the pests in your area and the time of year that they lay their eggs or feed upon your prized crops. Summer oils, natural pesticides, barriers, and hand picking insects can all help protect your fruit from these pests. There are many new organic products available to the home orchard enthusiast through companies like Gardens Alive that will help you raise attractive organic fruit.
Can I Really Grow Fruit Trees Organically?
I’ve planted fruit trees at every home Tom and I have owned. I’ve never sprayed them with artificial pesticides. It makes it more difficult to raise fruit that is free from pests, but it’s worth the effort. It is very likely that some of the fruit will need to be cut up and used in jams, sauces, or baked into pies…but that hardly seems like a sacrifice.
Cherries attract birds who want to eat the harvest before it’s ripe. Invest in some netting that can be used every year to cover the trees or bushes as the fruit is beginning to color up. The birds will probably get some of the fruit through the netting, but you’ll harvest the majority.
Preventing Insect Damage
Insect pests may be managed with sanitation, predators, and organic sprays when necessary. Practice good sanitation by cleaning up dropped fruit and removing fruit that sticks to the branches after harvest.
Yellow sticky traps and red spherical traps coated with petroleum jelly will trap and kill adult pests that are looking for mates and places to lay their eggs. Yeast traps may be made from clear plastic cups or bottles and filled with a solution of water, sugar, and baking yeast that attracts insects such as the spotted wing drosophila.
Barrier sprays made from water and kaolin clay will coat the developing fruit and prevent the adult pests from laying their eggs. Care must be taken to spray at the right time to prevent killing honey bees and other pollinators. In small home orchards, fruit can be protected with fine netting bags that are placed over the fruit before pests lay their eggs. These bags can be sewn from sheer curtains or light nylon material that allows air circulation, but keeps insects out.
Guinea fowl are good at picking insects off without doing a lot of damage to crops. A small flock of these strange looking birds may take care of the majority of your pests for you! Chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese may be allowed to free range the rest of the year to clean up fallen fruit, pests and weeds.
Make Your Own Fertilizer
Compost your kitchen and yard waste to side dress your fruit trees every spring. Grind the bones from your table to supply calcium. Compost manure from your livestock for a year and add to your orchard. If you don’t have your own chickens or other livestock, keep your eyes open for farms and horse barns nearby. They will often let you take as much manure as you want for free. Plant greens manures to help supply nutrients to your fruit trees.
Choose the Right Trees for Your Area
Find out what hardiness zone you live in and then research the fruit trees that will do best for your area. If you live in the south you may not have enough chilling hours over the winter for fruit such as apples and pears, but you may be able to grow citrus and peaches. I live in zone 5a, too cold for figs, nectarines, most cultivars of peaches, sweet cherries, and a whole host of other fruits that I love. I can grow some varieties of apple, pear, hardy peaches, pie cherries, apricots, and plums. While researching the best varieties for my area, I read through information from our local Extension Office and nursery catalogs. Some catalogs will list a tree as being a zone hardier than other catalogs. If you are concerned, err on the side of caution and choose only the hardiest trees for your area.
Cross Pollination or Bust
Many fruit trees will not self pollinate, so you will need more than one variety for proper pollination and fruit set. Some trees will produce better with a pollinator, so choose varieties carefully and plant close enough for the bees to carry pollen from one tree to another. If you have neighbors with fruit trees, you may not need as many varieties for cross pollination. When choosing fruits for small spaces, try to choose varieties that are self fruitful or look for trees that have more than one variety grafted onto the same tree.
Here’s the rundown of my new orchard and the varieties I chose for cross pollination:
- Apples – Golden Delicious, Arkblack, Lodi (all 3 are hardy to my zone and Golden delicious is known as a universal pollinator for most apple trees)
- Plums – Alderman, Superior (both hardy to my zone and will pollinate each other)
- Pie Cherry – Dwarf North Star, Montmorency (both hardy and self pollinating)
- Peach – Contender (marginally hardy in my zone, so I have it planted in a protected spot, self pollinating. Reliance is another hardy variety)
- Pears – Bosc, Bartlett (hardy to my zone, Bartlett is a good pollinator for Bosc, but Bosc is not the best pollinator for Bartlett. I hope to fit another pear tree in at some point and will choose another pollinator)
Start Out Right
Planning ahead will make your home orchard experience much more rewarding. Be sure to follow the planting instructions, space requirements, and keep your new fruit trees watered according to directions. Cherry trees don’t like wet feet, so don’t over water. Doing some research ahead of time will help you make the best choices for your growing conditions and space limitations. Most fruit trees will not begin to bear for at least 2 or 3 years, so plan ahead and get started as soon as you can!
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