I know not everyone lives on acreage in the country, but that's not a reason why you can't plant something. If you live in an apartment, why not try a window box of strawberries? If you have an average-sized suburban yard, you have lots of options. Many fruit trees come in dwarf varieties. Or you could train them against a fence, put a colonnade-type fruit tree in a pot on your deck, or even fill your flowerbeds with gorgeous, edible landscaping. Have you seen The Prudent Homemaker's garden? Wow! Talk about inspiring! Also, check out the book Landscaping With Fruit by Lee Reich for lots of great ideas.
- What can I plant that will give me the most vital nutrients?
- How easy will it be to care for?
- How will I use the fruit?
Vital nutrients - fruit and nuts as survival food
Many of us today are over-fed and under-exercised, myself included. In the future, instead of counting calories for weight loss, we might be trying to scrape together enough calories to survive. A survival orchard would be very useful in such a scenario. Take pecans, for instance. One cup of pecan halves contains approximately 700 calories, 71 grams of fat, 10 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber. Pecans also have a decent shelf life, particularly if you store them in the shell. Or you can shell them and then freeze or vacuum seal them. This makes the pecan - or any nut, for that matter - a great survival food. Check out this post on Survival Blog for someone else's take on the apple as the ultimate survival food.
Ease of care
When it comes to fruit trees, there are so many choices. Take apples, for instance. My favorite nursery, Stark Bros., sells well over 30 varieties of apples. The selection is mind-boggling.
Once you select the kind of apple you want to grow, then you have to consider how large you want your tree to be. Dwarf fruit trees generally run 8-10 feet tall, semi-dwarfs are 12-15 feet, and standard sized trees are about 18-25 feet. Dwarfs are obviously smaller and therefore easier to care for, but they also have a shorter lifespan and do yield less fruit per tree. A standard sized tree has a long life span and will yield a ton of fruit, but you have to contend with harvesting and pruning such a large tree. We have decided to go for the best of both worlds and get semi-dwarf trees when we have that option.
|Semi-dwarf apple trees|
Image from mainelyapples.com
Yet another consideration is disease-resistance. We try to garden organically, so selecting disease-resistant varieties is really important for us. Even if you don't garden organically now, when TSHTF, you may be forced to. A survival orchard is best served by selecting varieties that thrive in the weather conditions of your area and that are resistant to the prevalent pests.
|Fire blight - a major pestilence around here|
Image from ipm.msu.edu
Don't forget to plant pollinators, if necessary. Some fruit and nut trees self-pollinate, others must be pollinated by another tree, and still others bear more fruit if they have a pollinator nearby.
How will you eat it?
Lastly, think about how you exactly you will be using the fruit. Have you ever noticed that some apples that taste like ambrosia when eaten out of hand sometimes taste like nothing when baked in a pie? Certain varieties of fruit are best for canning. Others are great for drying, stay fresh even after months in a root cellar, or are best appreciated fresh off the tree. Decide how you will be eating the fruit now so you will not be disappointed later.
With all these factors in mind, we've created a general outline for building our orchard here in USDA Hardiness Zone 5.
Our Existing Perennial Fruits:
1. Blackberries - 3 Chester and 3 Triple Crown. This is just about the right amount of blackberries for our family.
2. Raspberries - Heritage. The raspberries we planted this spring to add to our existing patch didn't make it. We'll try again in the spring.
3. Strawberries - Earliglo (June bearing) and Tribute (everbearing). The majority of our strawberries mysteriously died, but they will be replaced next year. The strawberries that survived produced fruit that tasted amazing.
4. Sour cherry - Montmorency. This freebie has never gotten the TLC it deserved. I'm going to pamper it next year and see if I can't get it to do something.
|Triple Crown Blackberries, Raspberries in the background, May 2011|
Orchard Planting Plan (Type of plant, varieties, date of planting):
1. Pecan trees - Starking Hardy Giant, Stark Surecrop, and Colby, Fall '11.
2. Apple - Goldrush, Enterprise, Jonafree, Crimsoncrisp, Honeycrisp, Spring '12/Fall '13
3. Blueberries - Bluecrop, Blueray, Earliglo, Jersey, Spring '12/ Spring '14
4. Almond - All-in-One Almond, Fall '12
5. Pear - Maxine (aka Starking Delicious), Seckel, Fall '12
6. Plum - Stanley, 2-N-1 (Shiro/Redheart) Spring '13/Spring '14
7. Peach - Intrepid, Contender, Spring '13/Fall '13
8. Cherry - Surecrop, Starkrimson Spring '13/Spring '14
9. Nectarine - Sunglo, Spring '13
10. Apricot - Harglow, Fall '13
11. Walnut - Stark Champion English, Lake English, Spring '14
9. Lemon* - Meyer Lemon, Spring '14
*The lemon tree is the one plant we've selected that is not hardy in our area. I am a true lemon lover, however, and cannot imagine a world without lemons. We plan on planting it in a container and bringing it indoors in the winter.
Fruit and nut trees do take several years before they will bear fruit. Ideally, we would get all the trees into the ground now so they would be productive ASAP. We have to balance that desire with reality. We are expanding our homestead rapidly and are likely to crash and burn if we don't pursue moderation.
We broke ground on our orchard over the weekend. I'll post all the hairy details in an upcoming post.
Do you have any fruit or nut trees? Plans to plant some? Do tell! :)