Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Planning: Fruit Trees

Coureton here again, many thanks to the lady of the house for her assistance keeping the blog up while I was a bit overwhelmed. Something we've thought would be nice, but hadn't put as much thought into as we might have before recently is the necessity and utility of fruit trees for a good homestead. Given the time constraints on fruit trees, they are something that need to be considered early on in homesteading. I started thinking about it early on reading homesteading books all of which include fruit trees, and preserves making. I let that particular portion of a homestead slip my mind until recently when the Arbor Day Foundation sent me a survey.

For filling out the survey and a small donation they are sending 10 flowering trees, and 2 flowering bushes. Utility wise these are not of significant utility to a homestead, but having more trees is not a bad thing, especially if we eventually get bees. The important part of that though was that I got reminded of trees, and started doing a little research on fruit trees. On the Arbor Day site you can buy both fruit and nut trees for a good price, though I am not sure how old they arrive. They also have good care and siting instructions for trees in general, but as always I wanted to do a bit more research.

There are many different sites about planting and caring for fruit trees, and there are some that are geared towards smaller production like this site http://guides.eartheasy.com/grow_fruit_tree.htm which has some helpful information. On the up side, unlike many of the things we are doing, like rabbits and other livestock fruit trees are fairly simple and clear cut with regards to information about them. While it does make the research process easier, not every site has all of the information one needs or wants.

Some things we know:
* There are three types of fruit tree, dwarf, semi dwarf, and standard. The norm now is semi dwarf for manageability and crop size.
* Fruit trees usually take 3 - 10 years to start producing fruit, and produce a crop for 15 - 25 years.
* Pruning is a skill and an art both which is vital to the production of the crop, and would require a post, or multiple posts of its own to describe properly.
* Pollination is likewise vital to a good sized and strong crop with many fruit trees, though not all.
* Soil type knowledge is as with any planting a very important factor depending on the type of tree.
* To extend the fruit season you get multiple types of fruits so you can be harvesting and eating from May to December.

Things we need to learn:
* Which varieties of fruit tree are local to us so we can try to use fruits that will survive easily here.
* How to make jams and preserves, which is covered well on just about every homesteading blog and book out there.
* How to properly prune fruit trees, though the guides seem fairly clear.
* What if anything else besides simply having multiple varieties we need for non self pollinating trees.
* Just talking to people about experiences with trees for a less book oriented view.

Right now we don't have an accurate cost estimate, but it looks like if we get the trees from the Arbor Day foundation we could get them for a fairly reasonable price. The estimate I've seen is that over the life of a fruit tree each piece of fruit costs about $.01, though I'm certain that doesn't factor in labor time. If they are just saplings which I haven't found out yet, we may be looking into adult trees for at least a few of them so we can get started with fruit in a year instead of 3-5. Given our varieties of soil I suspect that we will be able to have a decent number of fruit varieties, but I will need to talk to someone knowledgeable before I start making final decisions.

One of the major considerations that encourages us to look into fruit trees is wanting to focus as much as we can on perennial rather than annual crops. Annual crops tend to take more out of the soil than perennials, and require more skilled care, which is a challenge for inexperienced gardeners like ourselves. So this is just the beginning of this project, but expect to see more about it in the future. Neither the lady of the house nor I have anything resembling a green thumb, so expect to see a lot of  learning experiences.

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