Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Planning a Survival Orchard

We've made a lot of progress towards self-reliance on our little homestead this year. We converted our vegetable garden to a square foot-type garden and had our first successful growing season since we moved to this location. Good thing, because it was a lot of work building all those boxes and filling them with 1,000s of pounds of Mel's Mix! We're also set up to get chickens in the spring. The next step is to begin planting our homestead's orchard.

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.

You can train fruit trees against a sunny wall
Image from allaboutfruittrees.blogspot.com

When considering what types of trees to plant in a survival orchard, you may want to keep these things in mind:
  1. What can I plant that will give me the most vital nutrients? 
  2. How easy will it be to care for?
  3. 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, EarligloJersey, 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! :) 


  1. Replies
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  2. We haven't had success with fruit trees yet, every tree we've planted has died for various reasons.

    We do have strawberries, black raspberries, grapes and rhubarb that are producing. We also have 5 blueberry bushes that we're babying along, hoping for fruit.

    On my wish list of fruit (we live on a city lot) is elderberry and cranberry, and we'd love our own apple tree. But for now we trade with friends who do have apples and apricots.

  3. We have a very small yard and I am planning on purchasing one or two fruit cocktail trees. Thanks for reminding me to get my order in. Incidentally, the company I'm going to purchase from does not begin shipping until January--they say it's better to plant the trees during their dormant stage. Have you heard that before? What do you think?

  4. Kris - I guess it would depend on the part of the country the nursery is in and where you are. Stark Bros. is in Zone 5 like we are and the ship in the fall starting in early November and in the spring starting in March. If you live somewhere very warm, January would likely be a great time to plant a tree.

  5. I live in AZ and have a lot of citrus trees. Lemon, lime, valencia orange, navel orange, tangelo, yellow grapefruit and pink grapefruit. I wish I had more variety and not so much citrus, but the trees are well established and produce a lot of fruit. I would love avacado, apple, peach, apricot. A lot of people have pecan trees in my neighborhood. Maybe I'll add that to the list.

  6. Melissa - I'm so jealous of your citrus! No one is getting scurvy at your house, LOL!

  7. Would love to know what part of the country you are in -- at least the north, south aspect. We're in the desert SW, over 3000' altitude and I sure picked the wrong almond. I get nuts about every 5 years because the tree blossoms before our last hard freeze. Apples (gala and fuji), currant and berries do well, if I can keep the deer away -- only partially successful this year. Am also planning to experiment with Chinese jujubes, primarily because the fruit dries well and the trees can take the heat and dryness and still produce. We are putting in some hazelnuts this year, as they may produce faster and more reliably than the almond. Also planted jerusalem artichokes last spring as potatoes don't do well here. One of our problems is that the companies like Starks, etc. do not take our altitude into account and ship as though we were in Phoenix or Las vegas. Our optimum time to plant is October, but many things arrive too late, usually late November or early December. If I plant them, they tend to die from the cold before they can set roots. Anyone break the code on that? Thanks

  8. M. Matriarch - Sounds like you have quite the dilemma. Are there any commercial orchards near you or in conditions like yours? If so, call them up and ask them where they get their trees. You could also try calling a company that would normally ship trees at the wrong time and see if they can make special accomodations for you. I have had great luck getting advice/special services by contacting my vendors via Facebook. Good luck!

  9. So glad to have found your site we are preppers too! We don't talk about it to much though! My aunt worked for red cross and got picked on for having lots of stuff! LOL Anyway we just moved to our 15 acres and are working on our orchard and our perennial plants. We are growing in our orchard Almonds (for almond flour, milk and to eat!), pecans (not in orchard), cherries, apples, apricots, nectarines, peaches, and some pears (just found the comice pear so yummy!) We too wanted trees that stand the test of time! We have 1 fruit tree on the property that is almost 100 years old called a Duchess, and a few we have no idea what they are but they are very old also! We are actually wanting to build a solarium so we can produce more of the not growables in our area like lemons, oranges, etc.! We are zone 5b-6a. It is so exiting isn't it!? You are right about not burning out! Our home was a foreclosure so lots of work inside house too! Sometimes we feel very overwhelmed especially with 3 new kiddos in the house. We just finalized our adoption! ~Abagail