Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry

Fruit Trees: Part 1

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I really want to have a fruit tree or two in my backyard, and Dana agrees. We love eating fresh fruits, and have loved going to the orchard to pick our own fruit there. It stands to reason that having a tree or two right outside our house would make the process even easier (and facilitate our laziness!).

We don’t have a lot of space on our little plot of land, and we do want to save much of it for our son to play in, so we can probably only fit about two dwarfed fruit trees.

But therein lies the problem: which two fruit trees do we get? There are several types of fruit which are generally suitable for our climate (apple, pear, peach, cherry, apricot, nectarine, plum, etc), and each of them have dozens or even hundreds of particular varieties or cultivars to choose from. Each of those may also have particular requirements or needs which make them incompatible. Here are some examples:

  • Apples and Pears are typically not self-fruitful. If you plant one of these trees the chances are that you won’t get any fruit. You need at least two trees, of different cultivars, to pollinate each other to get fruit (or, you have to hope that somebody else somewhere in your neighborhood has a tree, and the pollinating bugs are able to travel between them). So I’d need to get two apple trees or two pear trees, leaving no space for anything else. Some particularly greedy types of apples won’t produce fruit well unless you have three different types, which is squarely out of the realm of possibility for us. Pears and some varieties of apples can be pretty easy to grow, which keeps them in contention.
  • Plums, Prunes, Apricots, Nectarines and Peaches  tend to be self-fruitful, but they can also be harder to grow than apples or pears. These are all soft-fleshed stone fruits, and share many of the same problems. They are easier to damage and can be more susceptible to various insect pests and diseases. There are some hardier varieties, but not many. If I get a peach tree, I’d only need one of them and I’d be able to plant a second tree of a different variety. I’d want a freestone yellow peach, above any other choices in this category.
  • Cherries have the highest ratio of our love to cook them compared to their price and difficulty to get in bulk.  The value proposition here is high, but cherries are the most difficult of all these fruits to grow. In addition to many of the same problems that peaches have, Cherries also are a favorite target of birds and squirrels and require netting and other precautions to keep them safe. Most varieties of sweet cherries are not self-fruitful, although a small handful of modern varieties are. So we either need two cherry trees or we need one variety selected from a relatively small list.

Whichever trees I get, I’d want varieties that harvest at different times, so we don’t get overwhelmed.

They’re not always easy to find, but some nurseries offer combination trees through the magic of grafting that puts multiple varieties of a single fruit onto a single tree. In addition to having more variety in less space, these combinations are also self-fruitful because the flowers on one side can pollinate the flowers on the other. This means that I could get, for instance, a 3-on-1 cherry tree that would not only be self-pollinating but would also leave space for another fruit tree. Similarly, a 4-on-1 apple tree would be self-fruitful and be able to take up that second slot. However, and here is the biggest caveat of this approach, these types of combination trees tend to have fixed configurations so I couldn’t for instance get any 3 apple varieties I can imagine. I couldn’t get a tree with Gala, Honeycrisp and Granny Smith (among my favorites). Some types of apples which I particularly dislike (Red Delicious and Golden Delicious, and many of their various progeny) are very common on these types of trees.

Next time I’ll talk more about some of the possible combinations we’ve been considering.

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Author: Andrew Whitworth

I'm a software engineer from Philadelphia PA. Sometimes I like to go out to my garden, or step into my kitchen and make a really big mess of things.

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