Sometimes, I have so many things I want to share with you, I don't even know where to begin. Right now, I have posts written in my head about the sheep breed we're choosing (oh ya, did I forget to mention we're getting a ewe?), the bees that will be arriving, the pigs and geese that will be coming next month, seeds that will be started, fruit trees that are on their way, and on and on.
It may be cold, snowy, and dark outside. But inside my homesteading heart, the sun is beaming with all the possibilities of spring. Homesteading work takes time and proper planning – so now is as good of time as any to get a head start on the chores.
But where do I start?
Oh – this is so hard! They're all so exciting!
Okay. Maybe let's start with the fruit trees. Because if you want to plant a homestead orchard this year, now is the time to get them ordered!
Based on the advice of my friend Quinn over at Reformation Acres, I sat back last year and didn't plant any fruit trees or berries (even though I really, really, realllly wanted to) so that I could get a good handle on the layout of our property. This proved to be super important and I'm very thankful I took her advice.
After a winter on the property, I now know where the sun hits during the long and the short days. I know where a tree needs to be planted to avoid the shade of other trees and where one that needs full sun should make a home. I know where water drains and where is susceptible to dry out. All valuable information for the home orchard.
But before I could even think about ordering trees, I checked with a local orchardist about regulations in our area regarding planting fruit trees.
You see, we live in the Apple Capital of the World. THE WORLD, people. That means, having orchards is a way of life around here. For generations and generations and generations of farmers. They depend on these apple and cherry orchards to feed their families. The last thing I want to do is bring in a bunch of trees that will infect their trees and cause them ruin.
After determining which varieties I would like to grow, I send the list over to my orchardist friend. He gave the list a once over, offered a few tips on varieties, and assured me that all of my choices would be fine additions to the area, so long as they were properly pruned and cared for to prevent disease and pests. He also warned me that if I wanted all the neighbors to hate me, I simply must plant a pie cherry tree – one of the most pest-laden trees there is (ie: the ‘satan of cherry trees').
I assured him that no pie cherry tree would set root upon this ‘ol homestead. And with his blessing, I went ahead and purchasing the trees.
And actually, no cherry tree of any variety was ordered.
The two biggest crops grown around these hills are apples and cherries. I figure if I have a shot at gleaning or purchasing bulk of these fruits for cheap, there wasn't a big enough drive to try and grow them myself when I could instead plant trees that produced a more rare and valuable fruit for us. Fruit that wasn't so easily, or inexpensively, acquired.
Before we talk about the varieties ordered, let's talk about a few tips for planning the homesteading orchard:
1. Source your trees from a reputable company or friend: The last thing you want to do is spent three years watching a tree grow, only to realize it's the wrong variety or deathly diseased. That would suck, wouldn't it? This go round, I chose to order all my fruit trees from One Green World. I was super happy with their selection, customer service, prices, and shipping policies. On top of that, reading their magazine was like earning a horticulture degree – I feel so much smart! (I'm not, but I feel it anyway.)
2. Map out your available space: Trees get big! And unlike your tomato plants, you won't be ripping these up each fall to “try again” next year. Nope. If you're planting fruit trees, you're in it for the long haul. There are dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties commonly available which will determine how much space you need to allot for each tree. Make sure that once it's full grown, it won't shade your garden beds (unless you want that) or run into a building. Trees need room to breath, man.
3. Pay attention to pollination requirements: Each variety and species of tree has different pollination requirements. Some are self-fertile, meaning they don't require another tree for pollination, whereas others require another tree of the same (or different) species for pollination. Make sure you pay attention to this – there's no point in planting a beautiful pear tree if you don't have another tree around that can pollinate that awesomeness!
4. Consult your county extension office for regulations on growing fruit trees and maintenance requirements of fruit trees in your area.
5. Dream big! Life's too short to be afraid of the years of investment a tree needs before it will bear you fruit. Just get on it already! There's no time like the present. And the world will be a better place for it!
… all that being said…
Let's talk about the trees we've decided on!
Pears: Conference and Honeysweet
Both old European varieties, I couldn't pass up these beauties. Pears are my absolute favorite fruit to preserve and between all the pear butter, canned pears, pear suace, dehydrated pears, and frozen pears they'll be one of the most used fruits hands-down. Pears require another pear tree for pollination, so I purchased two varieties.
The ‘ol standby variety of plum that is most noted for it's incredibly purple hue. I love this variety – it's tart, sweet, soft, and yet still semi-firm. Dried plums are one of our favorite snacks and I can only dream of all the delicious plum sauce that'll be made! Plus, you can't beat the fresh eating of these bad boys. They're fantastic.
Even in fruit country, peaches around here are expensive. And I totally understand why – they're like gold coins hanging on the tree limbs. Sweet nectar from heaven, it's hard to beat a fresh peach. I eat them fresh until my belly wants to explode. And then I eat some more. I made sure to get a variety that easily lets go of the pit in the middle so that they can easily be canned.
Apricot: Puget Sound
One of the most missed things about Pacific Northwestern life last year in Alabama was eating apricots at the start of summer. I love that they ripen earlier than any other fruit so that I can be a total glutton on them before moving onto the next harvest. Canned and dehydrated apricots are right up there with chocolate in my book. And apricot jam? Fuh-get-about-it. Stick a fork in me. I'm done.
Persimmon: Nikita's Gift (hybrid)
If life in Alabama last year taught me one thing, it's how to lust after a ripe persimmon. There's no other fruit like it in the world, and in my humble opinion, it's one of the most decadent and delicious. Persimmons don't grow too well up here (we are Zone 6), but this hybrid is hardy to -10 degrees and apparently performs well in our climate. It may not work but it's worth a try! If I can enjoy this fruit once again, it's worth it! I'm a little worried that it won't get enough long days in the sun, so I'll be sure to plant it on a south facing slope where it can get as much direct sunlight as possible.
Lemon: Improved Meyer
Say whaaaaat? A lemon tree in Washington State? Again, my year in Alabama spoiled me to the taste of a truly fresh lemon. And luckily for me, lemon trees do GREAT in large pots that can then be brought in during the cold winter months. It's probably not going to be an easy keeper or a fast grower, considering it's a bit out of it's comfort zone in our climate, but we do have super-hot summers which will be helpful. Why the heck not give it a try!
Red Jade currents, Hinnomaki yellow gooseberry, Purple Passion asparagus, and Canby Thornless raspberries also made the cut and will be used for a variety of culinary adventures.
Each of these varieties will take time to establish. This isn't a fast-food drive through joint. Oh no. Years and years will be invested into caring and nurturing these beautiful specimens. I'm sure that some of them will fail despite our best efforts. But that's part of the joy. Imagine how good that first apricot will taste years from now!
On top of building patience and appreciation, I like to think about these trees still standing generations from now, in all their glory.
I think planting a homestead orchard is one of the most delicious ways we have to spread our love for this homesteading life onto our children.
What's in YOUR homestead orchard?
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