Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Grow Your Own Fruit

Interest in home food production is booming. Maybe it’s the economy. Maybe it’s an interest in locally produced food. Hey, even the president (or his wife and kids) now has a garden!
Most folks start with a vegetables and then graduate to fruit production. All of the fruit producing plants are perennial. This means more planning and more attention to site details. And complications such as cross pollination and rootstock emerge. Let’s face it… anyone can grow a tomato. It takes dedication and skill to produce your own apples, blueberries and peaches. But it can be done.
Before I get into details about some specific fruiting plants, here’s some good news. Penn State has produced an outstanding publication called Fruit Production for the Home Gardner. You can read the whole thing on line, order a copy from Penn State (814-865-6713) or stop by our office and pick up a copy for twelve dollars. Its 186 pages packed with practical fruit growing information.

If you are itching to try your hand at fruit production, here are some suggestions.

1. Start small. Make your mistakes on a small scale and add more if things are going well.

2. Make a realistic assessment of your site. You’ll need at least 8 hours of sunlight a day and soil that does not retain excess moisture. How can you tell? The sunlight part is easy. As for moisture… if your site has standing water for more than 24 hours after rainfall it’s probably too wet for perennial fruiting plants.

3. Think about deer. Deer will absolutely destroy new fruit plantings. If not in the growing season, then during the winter. Do not underestimate them. There are no shortcuts to deer control. If you have deer pressure only an 8 foot fence or hot lead will stop them. Don’t think about fencing individual plants. Think about fencing the entire fruit planting. Not always a pretty picture. If deer pressure is low to moderate, the odor repellents offer some temporary help.

4. Use dwarfing root stocks to control plant size wherever it make sense. Good size controlling rootstocks exist for apple, pear, and sweet cherry. Not so for peach and other tree fruits. I know, they sell them….but we don’t recommend them. You can control peach size by proper pruning.

5. Consider the brambles (raspberry and blackberry), blueberries, currents and strawberries before the tree fruits. They require less space, yield very well and come into production more quickly. They event tolerate a little shade.

6. Soil test, adjust soil pH and nutrient levels and work in organic matter into the entire planting site prior to planting. Dropping some amendments into the planting hole does not do the job. Spend the time and money to prepare the site well, even if this means delaying your planting one year. In the long run, you’ll be ahead.

7. Our local garden centers are great places to by many kinds of plants and supplies… but in my opinion, they are not the place to buy perennial fruit plants. Buy directly from the best mail-order nurseries (not those listed in the Sunday newspaper). The Penn State fruit publication has an extensive list of good nurseries.

8. Plant as early as possible in spring. Frosts are not a problem for the plants. Frosts will potentially affect bloom … but that’s down the road a bit.

9. Be realistic about pest control. Strawberries, blueberries, currents and the brambles have minimal pest problems and they are generally manageable with organic or low impact pest control measures. The tree fruits and grapes are a different story. Be prepared to make multiple pesticide sprays on these species or you will not be rewarded with anything edible.

10. Pay attention to cross pollination needs. There is not enough room here to go into the details. See references for guidance. Don’t worry about bees. Plant it and they will come.

No comments: