When it comes to growing our own food, the natural starting point for most of us is a vegetable garden. Yet by stopping there, (which I’m guilty of), means missing out on a lot. Growing fruit is just as important as growing vegetables because it gives us control over what is in our food and where it comes from.
But homegrown fruit also provides incredible flavors and a larger selection of varieties than what is typically found in the grocery store. And by growing fruit organically, we are reducing the demand for conventionally grown fruit…and that supports the environment.
For some, adding fruit to the garden can be intimidating. Yet by using sound gardening practices, growing a wide variety of delicious fruit from healthy trees and shrubs is possible in your own backyard or even a deck or patio. In speaking with many food-gardeners not currently growing fruit, a few objections kept surfacing.
In no particular order, here were the some of the most popular reasons for not starting.
Not enough room to grow fruit
Sure, if you’re growing a standard tree, but with so many options today for miniature, dwarf, and semi-dwarf, as well as the fact that almost any tree can be grown in a container, the as lack of space argument is no longer valid. No, you might not be able to have an orchard, but there’s no reason why you can’t have multiple containers of fruit bearing trees and shrubs. From a single strawberry pot, to container grown figs and even trees, all can thrive in a container. Or, select varieties bred for small spaces and containers.
Pest and disease issues are too common
One of the most often raised concerns when growing fruit trees and berry plants is their potential susceptibility to pests and diseases. Like any healthy garden and landscape, keeping a clean planting site is key. Pruning and destroying diseased limbs, removing mummified fruit, (especially in late fall/winter) to avoid re-contamination of diseases and spores, avoid planting in poorly drained sites, and don’t overwater to prevent root-rot and water molds.
And yes, some fruit trees, like apples are hosts to their fair share of pests. However, there are numerous effective conventional and organic controls. In addition, many of the perceived problems are only cosmetic. Personally, I’d prefer a blemished apple that’s perfectly fine to eat, vs. one that has been sprayed with a pesticide just to prevent a little cosmetic damage.
Too time consuming
The biggest issue referenced here usually pertains to the time invested in a pest prevention regime if you choose to do so. Using best practices to chose and site your plants properly from the start will go a long way to preventing many of the most time-consuming issues. Like the rest of the trees and shrubs in your garden, know before you buy. A good local nursery specializing in fruit can be a huge help here. Some of the best resources for selecting high quality plants appropriately suited for your region are online and mail order resources such as Stark Brothers, Peaceful Valley and Burpee.
Other important duties involve early pruning to train you trees for size and shape, and of course the all important harvesting. Yet let us all be reminded that time invested in harvesting is perhaps the greatest benefit of growing fruit.
The importance of maintaining a clean environment for aesthetics and to reduce pest and disease issues later will indeed require time. But on the assumption you are not growing a large orchard, presumably this task is easily managed along with your other weekend chores. Being vigilant with picking off young fruit early also eliminates excess fruit drop later.
Lack of success in the past
To borrow the phrase: “past results are not an indication of future performance”, should be applied her if your success in the past is lacking. The same principles that apply to the rest of the plants in your landscape apply to fruit trees and shrubs too. With all the resources available today, as well as newer, more resistant varieties, and your options and chances for success are greater than ever.
For more information on starting and growing fruit organically, check out this helpful book, Grow Fruit Naturally from my friend and expert fruit grower, Lee Reich, PhD. It’s been a go-to source of mine since it came out.