Friday, March 16, 2012

food forest planning (aka, i might be overdoing it a bit with the fruit)

I have a spreadsheet file that includes an embarrassingly large number of sheets devoted to growing things, a large percentage of which cover our future fruit trees, brambles, and bushes. and no, you still can't see it This is because I have trouble just picking a fruit-bearing specimen and must instead lay out all the attributes of each variety so that I may zero in on the ones best suited to our geographic location and climate and preferences. I like to pretend like I know what I'm doing

For some reason, I don't have this affliction (at least not as bad) with garden fruits and vegetables, probably because if something doesn't work out one year, I can always try another variety the next year (except for perennial vegetables, but there's only a few of those); trees, brambles, and bushes, on the other hand, must actually survive year after year and require a serious commitment of time, energy, and money, so the selection process is much more complicated for me. We're talking about our future food source here, people - this is important stuff.

There are many factors to consider when making such choices. Important ones include pollination requirements, minimum chill hours (this is still somewhat of a mystery to me, but I'm going to take my friend Anna's advice and just get trees that are not "low chill"), and disease resistance. (Truthfully, I haven't really delved into the disease resistance of any of these varieties because I'm not adverse to babying them somewhat, but if y'all have any suggestions or see me making some horrible mistakes here, lemme know. I'll pay you back for your expertise with bushels of your favorite fruit that you helped me grow!) Other considerations I deem important are harvest times (trying to spread the harvest out among several varieties of a particular species as long as possible), keeping capability, and flavor, of course.

Sadly, in addition, I need lots of COLORS. I can't be content with plain old red apples or purple plums. Honestly, it probably won't matter much to the locals that are my future customers, but I envision a honor farm stand that is just bursting forth with every color imaginable because of my judicious and thorough selection of fruits and vegetables and that ends up being a roadside attraction where the locals congregate and shoot the shit at. Like a bar. But since we're in a semi-dry county, a produce bar. HA.

Anyhoo, these are my selections:
  • Apples: Red Delicious (red), Granny Smith (green), Yellow Newton Pippin (gold/green), Golden Delicious (gold), Ashmead Kernal (russett), Arkansas Black Spur (dark red) and Gravenstein (green with red stripes).
  • Raspberries: Red Heritage (red) and Fall Gold (gold). duh
  • Plums: French Improved (purple), Methley (red), and Green Gage (green).
  • Cherries: Craig's Crimson (nearly black), Sweetheart (red), and Rainier (yellow with blush).
  • Pears: Red D'Anjou (red), Bosc (russett), and Blake's Price (golden). 
  • Blueberries: Patriot, Bluecrop, and Chandler for 90+ days of fruit.
  • Blackberries: Choctaw, which is the earliest ripening blackberry on the planet so that we can eat some fruit other than cherries in May (May might be a stretch; June is more likely. Still, that's early for blackberries).
  • Apricots: Harcot (red blush) and Gold Cot (golden yellow).
  • Peaches: Loring (yellow).
  • Nectarines: Mericrest (red/yellow) and Arctic Blaze (red/white).
kill me now, please

That's 21 fruit trees plus a shitload of brambles and bush fruit. It's fucking insanity, I know, but if I'm going to have a forest garden, I want it to be a literal forest. That I can sit in under trees in the shade and read a book to the dog while the chickens eat fruit tree nemeses and fertilize them and probably peck at my feet (hard) because they're mean fuckers like that.

And this doesn't even take into account the six citrus varieties that I plan to shuffle into the cabin at the first sign of fall frost. Maybe a cheap greenhouse really is in order - not for growing vegetables but for providing a suitable climate for those sissy citrus plants.

I should mention that I plan to keep all our fruit trees confined to a 10'x10' (or even smaller) canopy spread and height via aggressive pruning. And the citrus trees will be kept to potted plant size to facilitate their being brought into the greenhouse (otherwise known as: being demanding).

In case you needed a visual representation of the fruit color spectrum. It's ok, I did, too.
[ pinterest link here ]

Now that we have this frightening part of my mentality bared for all to see, let's go get (apple)sauced, folks, cuz it's Friday, woot woot!

~ mitsy


  1. Hi, Mitsy.

    I'm an ag extension agent over in Whitley County, KY and have been following your blog for a couple of months now. One apple variety I wanted to throw at you has roots near your homestead: Scarlet Gala. It was developed over the mountain from you in Harlan County, KY and is a popular one around here.

    Also, I don't know if you've ever looked into grafting or not, but it's a cheap way to get an orchard started, using cuttings from neighbors' trees you like. A lot of the Kentucky Extension Offices (I don't know about TN) sell rootstock for $1 each in January and February. It only takes 10 minutes or so to learn how to graft your cuttings onto this.

    Good luck. I like your blog.


    1. I love Gala apples! It's actually my favorite variety, but I didn't include it because the description from the place I was planning to order from didn't make it sound like a good choice for our locale. So I'm thrilled to learn of this variety! Thanks for the suggestion on grafting as well. I'll definitely keep that in mind. Happy St. Patty's day!

    2. Here's my way too much advice comment, as usual. :-)

      I do recommend paying attention to diseases if you're planning on going organic. I learned the hard way that our area has so many red cedars, you're going to be facing cedar apple rust even if you cut all of the close cedar trees down. Liberty is a very resistant apple tree that also tastes delicious.

      And you might want a June apple like Lodi or Early Transparent to round out your harvest season. (That said, I haven't researched all of your apple varieties, so I'm not sure that you don't already have an early apple.)

      Also, do you really like Red and Yellow Delicious and Granny Smith, or are they just the fruits you're familiar with? In my opinion, they're the most tasteless apples, but I'm an apple snob. :-)

      In the red raspberry line --- I've got Caroline Everbearing, which does great here, and I can give away pretty much an unlimited number of starts. Just let me know if you want some --- they grow *fast*.

      Pears --- I didn't look into your pear varieties, but I've been told fire blight will be the death of pears in our region if you don't choose resistant varieties. It's worth checking.

      Blueberries --- We're right on the border of rabbiteye blueberry territory, and I planted a bunch along with northern highbush to kinda hedge my bets against climate change. Just a thought....

      Nectarines --- I love them too, but they are a pain in the butt to grow. We finally cut down our nectarine tree because it was not only getting so many pests and diseases that it couldn't set fruit, it was also sharing those pests and diseases with the nearby peach trees. A healthy peach tastes ten times better than a sickly nectarine. All this is assuming you're not going to spray chemicals, of course....

      On a less specific note, one of the most important tips I've come across on forest gardening is to space your trees further apart than you think you should. Also, I've had terrible luck with dwarfs. I might be tempted to stick to widely spaced, big trees, maybe planting fewer at first and then carving out a bit more space for them as you go along. That will also help you learn your soil so you don't do what I did and spend a couple of hundred bucks on trees that all die because you don't know your site very well.

    3. Liberty looks like a good choice - thanks for the suggestion. And it's red, so it can meet my color criterion and I can omit the Red Delicious. ;)

      I do like the tart Granny Smith, and I read that Golden Delicious is a good pollinator, but other than that, I was just trying to round out the selections and take into account ripening times. I should probably do some research, though, and nix any that are not as resistant to cedar apple rust.

      I'll definitely take you up on your offer for raspberry starts when the time comes!

      The Blake's Price pear variety is supposed to be resistant to fire blight, but I'll check out the others, too.

      What problems did you encounter with the dwarf stock? I did read that it's not even necessary to choose dwarf trees because any tree can be pruned for size regardless of the stock.

      Have you tried using diatomaceous earth or other organic remedies for pests and diseases or are you trying to keep that type of maintenance to a bare minimum?

    4. Dwarf trees are supposed to produce earlier than standard trees, but ours seem inclined to just sit there, looking small and non-productive. Our oldest dwarf is a 7 year old apple tree that still hasn't bloomed --- not too odd for an apple, but odd for a dwarf. We cut down our dwarf cherry because it grew just enough each year to feed the Japanese beetles, then sat through the summers looking like a bundle of sticks.

      But keep in mind that we have some soil issues, so our trees really need vigorous rootstock to spread out through the sub-par ground. If we planted our trees in the prime vegetable garden areas, we might not have issues with dwarf trees. (But then where would we put our vegetables? :-) )

      Our most problematic diseases are fungal, which can't be treated with diatomaceous earth. I'm not really willing to use anti-fungals in the garden even if they are organic because I believe so strongly in the importance of beneficial fungi. That's why I select for varieties that don't get the diseases instead.

    5. I think I might just get our apple and pear trees from your local source, I like that it's local and they're actively preserving the heirlooms. A new post on my recent enlightenment with regard to fruit trees selections is definitely in order! Now I can't wait to scope out our future orchard during our next trip out.

  2. Any plans for grapes? They (along with your brambles) should produce fruit (and income) before your fruit trees begin to bear. You could always start with a few and expand with rooting some cuttings later if it is something you feel is worth growing.

    1. Grapes (and olives, too) have indeed crossed my mind a couple times, but for some reason, I thought they were finicky and possibly difficult to grow, so I haven't really spent any time researching them. I also thought that grapes took five years to mature before bearing fruit, but maybe I'm thinking of wine grapes instead of table grapes. Something to consider for sure, though - do you grow them?

      On another note, I'm totally revising all my apple and pear tree selections (and possibly all the other fruit trees) - I definitely want to increase the odds of our orchard surviving diseases, and although a few selections, like Arkansas Black Spur apple and Blake's Price pear, are disease-resistant, I'm discovering that many of the varieties I listed are not well-suited to our region and climate without pesticide intervention, which I want to avoid.

    2. I've read a lot about training grapes and they all usually say it takes 2-3 years to train them but ours grew out and filled our trellis in the first year. This year they are producing flower clusters so hopefully we will get fruit this year.

      Last year we dealt with black rot (which requires a fungicide like Neem) and leaf roller caterpillars (which required lots of smashing and then we resorted to Bt.)

      It may or may not be worth the extra effort to you though, but may be worth considering.

  3. That may be the best use of pinterest I've seen so far. I'm with you on the colors! I love colorful food. There's a worm business in my area planning to do a U-Pick food forest garden on 4 acres and I can't wait to see how it turns out!

    1. It certainly is conducive to colorful edible planning. :) Unfortunately, I've learned that many of the varieties I selected are not well-suited to an organic food forest system, so I've chosen new varieties that aren't quite as broad in the color spectrum but should yield more delicious and less troublesome fruit. More on that later!

  4. Don't forget to get you a few honeybee hives to serve your pollination needs plus watching and keeping honeybees is about the most relaxing thing known to man. In addition to the pleasures of owning such neat, rewarding little creatures you get that sweet honey that only the western part of our state will provide you with. That is Sourwood Honey. You are residing right there in Sourwood territory. This honey is HIGHLY sought after by individuals from abroad selling as high as $9.00 pint in select locations, $12-$13 pint for comb honey (sourwood honey with a piece of cut honeycomb inside jar containing capped over sourwood honey cells.)

    IF you pursue this venue, make sure you start out with at the least 3 hives so that you have enough bees if you suffer loss to one of the three. Also, it aids in the learning curve when you are able to compare hive behaviors amongst others in the vicinity, whereas just one hive there are no controls to compare behaviors, incidents, activity to.

    just my .02 cents worth

    Eastern NC

    1. I must admit, I have a bit of trepidation about raising bees, just because I've heard so many things about colony collapse disorder and horrible things going wrong when going the organic route. But! I'm warming up to the idea of only using honey as a sweetener, and surely all those honeybees (in addition to other pollinators) would be welcome in the garden. I might try to befriend some locals down the street that I've seen have hives so that I can get a better idea of what managing an apiary involves.