This spring I am planting an orchard. I’ve got the spot picked out, and I’ve just submitted my order for trees. People like to say you can’t grow fruit organically, but I know it’s possible. Certainly, I buy organic fruit at the supermarket, and at my local farmer’s market. And I grew up eating cherries and pears straight from the tree. But I want my own fruit, and lots of it.
It seems like fruit trees are a good choice to grow in any landscape. Not only do they provide shade, oxygen, and carbon sequestration, they provide food. I learned the hard way at my old house not to plant one right over a patio—the dropping, rotting fruit and seeds make it hard to enjoy sitting there in the height of the summer. This time I’ve got the right spot picked out at the edge of the yard; it has plenty of sun, and it’s in my sight line so I can watch the fruit ripen.
The thing about fruit trees that can get a little complicated is that some of them need to be pollinated. And some are full-sized, while others are dwarf varieties. The best catalog I have found (again) is from Raintree Nursery, based in Washington State. Their catalog is filled with charts and details that tell you what to grow, and how, and what you’ll need to be successful. And they offer all sorts of old and new varieties. I am planting some apples, Seckel pears (my daughters’ favorite), sour cherries (my favorite), one sweet cherry, and two self-fertilizing Japanese plums called Hollywood—which not only sound like they taste great, and will make great landscape trees, but will also provide me ample opportunity to say to the kids (over the summer, after American Idol is done for), “We’re going to Hollywood, baby!” And out we will go to eat plums.
The great thing about getting fruit trees in the mail is that they are like sticks, very lightweight, and not big at all. It’s easy to dig a nice hole, fill it with compost and soil, and plant the little tree. Then, before you know it (usually in a few years), you are getting more fruit than you know what to do with. For about $30 dollars a tree you get about 35 years of fruit. That’s not quite free, but almost.
We do have some completely free organic fruit already. A friend of ours gave us a cutting of his fig trees. We keep them in giant pots and put them in our garage over the winter, but late every summer, we get gobs of figs that would cost us a fortune in the store. It’s the magic of nature—and friendship—at its best.