Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry

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Fruit Trees: Part 2

Last time I talked about some of the fruit trees I was looking at, and discussed some of the problems. Today I’m going to list out a few specific tree configurations and talk about the pros and cons of each.

  • Two Sweet Cherry Trees: I like darker sweet cherries more than the lighter ones. I could get two varieties like Bing and Black Tartarian, or similar. I’d have to do a lot of work in early spring to keep these trees safe, but I’d probably end up with a good early harvest of lots of plump dark cherries.
  • One Cherry, One Peach: I’d need a self-fruitful Cherry, like a combination or a Stella. The peach could be any one of a number of freestone yellow varieties, preferably something with disease resistance. I’d have to do a lot of work to protect the cherry, and would have to hope that the birds and the bugs leave me enough at harvest time to actually do something with.
  • One Cherry, One Apple: Again, I’d need a self-fruitful cherry, and I’d need a combination apple (I don’t know of any tasty self-fruitful varieties). Since I can’t pick which few varieties of apple I’d want on the tree, this is actually not a great option.
  • Two Apple Trees: There are a few varieties of apples I really like: Gala, Honeycrisp, Stayman-Winesap and Granny Smith. However, they don’t all flower at the same time so an early variety (Gala) might not pollinate a later variety (Granny). Also, I think the Staymans like to have at least 2 separate pollinators, which I wouldn’t have. A Gala and a Honeycrisp tree would make for great picking in August and early September. Honeycrisp and Granny Smith would push the harvest time from September through October instead. This is a very good option, if I can figure out which varieties I want.
  • Two Pear Trees: We like pears a lot, but two trees full of them might be more than we can really deal with. We love turning apples into sauce, jam, apple butter, pie filling, etc. I’d also like to start making apple juice, cider and cider vinegar, if I can get the resources together. However, not all of those recipes work well with pears (especially the softer, more delicate varieties), or we wouldn’t want to do them as much with pears as with apples. Pears are known for being among the easiest fruit trees for the backyard gardener to grow, however, so I can’t rule this option out completely. This option is definitely in the running, because of the ease of growing them.
  • One Peach, One Apple: The peach would pick early, the apple (a 3-on-1) would pick later. Like the “One Cherry, One Apple” combo above, I wouldn’t have as much control over the particular apple cultivar used which makes this option less attractive.

We do have good sources of pick-your-own apples and peaches nearby, so that has to factor into our decisions to buy any trees. Next time I’ll talk about which of these possibilities we’ve decide on.

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Fruit Trees: Part 1

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.