Fresh Homestead Fruit
Fruit trees take several years to start making fruit. Berries are faster, only a year or two. Fruit is cheap in the market when you think about the time, expense, labor etc. Why bother?
I never did like blueberries. One summer I needed a job so I picked blueberries. Noon came around. The stomach complained. I ate one of the blueberries, ripe, warmed by the sun. I like blueberries.
Red delicious apples are often mealy purchased from the market. My goats like them. I don’t. These same apples picked from the tree are firm and delicious.
Fresh fruit is far superior in taste to market fruit. It is picked when ripe, ready to use. That is why a homesteader should consider growing this crop.
Decision 1: Which fruits should you grow?
Both fruit trees and bushes are long term occupiers of places. They have requirements that must be met or they might grow but will never produce. Plum and apricot trees grow here in the Ozarks, even bloom some years. Spring frosts kill out the fruit before it develops. Even native wild plums have problems.
Fire blight arrived at our place years ago. It promptly killed several pear trees. Borers are also a concern for peach, plum and similar trees.
Wild black raspberries grow here. These may not be as large as special varieties, but they are still large and good tasting. There is no reason to grow tame ones.
Wild blackberries of many kinds grow here. Most ripen their small fruit a few at a time and tend to form large, thorny masses. Tame blackberries are much better.
Even more basic for this decision is which fruits you will eat. Having a beautiful apple tree bearing large crops of apples left to fall on the ground is wasting space. The deer will appreciate this then go on to sample the garden.
Some old varieties have unique flavors but little disease resistance. Other varieties are very disease resistant. Unless you plan to spend a lot of time spraying, pruning, caring for your fruit trees or bushes, stick to the perhaps less flavorful, but less work intensive, resistant varieties.
In the Ozarks there are two native fruits to choose. Pawpaws ripen in late summer and need shade and moisture. Persimmons ripen in late fall and grow in old fields with lots of sun. Both put up shoots to form colonies of trees.
Consideration 2: Where to put the fruits
Fruit trees now come as dwarf which are usually short lived, semi-dwarf and standard. I prefer the semi-dwarf as I can pick the fruit from the ground either by hand or with a picker. They take up less space than a standard sized tree.
The old way of planting trees was to create an orchard. This is fine, if you have a place big enough.
Another way is to use fruit trees as yard trees. They get large enough to be shade trees. They are beautiful when they bloom. They are conveniently close when their fruit gets ripe.
Bushes are another story, especially blackberries. These put up large canes that arch over to the ground and root to form a new plant. That nice, neat row quickly becomes a tangled mess.
Blackberries and similar bushes need to be in rows with wires to which the canes are attached. The berries are on last year’s canes. That means all the new canes the plants put up last year will produce this year’s crop. This year’s new canes will produce next year’s crop.
Once this year’s berry crop is ripe and picked, the canes can be cut off. The new ones are then trained up onto the wires and attached.
Grapes are another problem. Grapes don’t grow well in our yard as we are low with too much moisture and too many early and late frosts. We did give them a try.
Grapes can be grown in much the same way as berries using wires. This year’s grapes, unlike berries, are on this year’s growth. The vines are cut back every fall so they don’t get too long.
I have a wild grapevine on the back fence of my garden. It is a catch plant for Japanese beetles. Every fall I cut it back to the main stem. Every growing season the vines grow out fifteen to twenty feet, branching off to invade the garden, the apple tree and anywhere else it can get to. The branches have tendrils so they are hard to pull free once they are attached to another plant. Tame grapes are similar in this.
Grapes grown on a trellis are lovely. The vines can be left longer each fall. The bunches of grapes hang down from the trellis making them easy to watch ripen then pick. If you try a trellis, remember the vines will be very heavy and put strong supports under the trellis.
Warning 3: Creatures love fruit
Fruit makes great food even when green according to insects. They will drop by to suck up sap , lay eggs in and otherwise damage fruit. This will make the fruit misshapen with hard spots around the bites.
Commercial growers spray their trees and developing fruit to keep the insects away. There are organic alternatives. I haven’t used them and know little about them.
As the fruits get closer to ripening, other fruit lovers arrive. Woodchucks and raccoons climb the trees and nibble on the fruits, a bite here, a bite there, or disappear with the entire crop. They will keep at it as long as a single fruit remains.
One way to get rid of these fruit eaters is to shoot them. This does mean spending the night out in the orchard waiting for them to show up. Shooting a moving target with the only light provided by a flashlight is beyond most people.
We found another method. We got old duct pipe and put this around the trunks. A little grease around the top half made the metal too slippery to climb.
This works for creatures that can not jump. Squirrels jump. The trees need to be away from launching places and pruned up out of jumping range. Birds fly so they will devour some fruit unless you put netting over the tree and fruit.
Make sure no fruit is left on the ground around the trees to lure creatures to the trees. Over ripe fruit can be dumped out for these creatures at some location away from the trees. Pick all of the fruit off the trees.
Enjoy your fruit
Homegrown ripe fruit has so much more flavor than market fruit. Extra can be frozen or canned to use over the winter. It may be possible to have too much fruit; I have heard some people complain. That has never been a problem for me. I usually wish my freezer had more in it as it disappears all too soon.
Winter does roll around every year. Being cold is no fun. Many homesteaders choose to heat their homes with wood.