In the Garden:
Upper South
August, 2010
Regional Report

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Create an edible landscape by adding fruit trees and shrubs to your garden.

Exploring Home-Grown Fruit

'Tis the season for peach cobbler, raspberry sorbet, apple pan-dowdy, and pears cooked in red wine, among other delicious treats. It's been a great year for fruit of all kinds, but even in a year when some fruit buds get nipped by spring frosts, there seems to always be something good to eat. Growing your own fruits does require both a mindset and a skill set that has a learning curve. The trick, as it were, is to figure out where on the fruit-growing continuum you'd like to land.

Besides my own summer picking, eating, and preserving, fruit was recently brought very much to mind as I attended the annual conference of the North American Fruit Explorers, known by the acronym NAFEX (http://www.nafex.org). This is a group made up of both professional and amateur growers from across the United States and Canada. They are seriously into fruit, rabidly discussing the merits of different varieties and growing techniques. Even though I'm a slacker by their standards, I do have a wide variety of fruit in my garden. Over the years, I've come to find a balance between effort and reward. Here are some thoughts that might you find your own way with growing fruit.

Growing, picking, and preserving fruit take time and effort. There's a reason why fruits are often expensive to buy. Some fruits are much easier than others to grow. Sometimes there is no correlation between expense and difficulty of growing. And, for some fruits, growing them successfully requires some type of spraying program, be it chemical or organic. But - and this is key - you can cheat, if you choose wisely and are willing to compromise.

Choose the Fruits That Are Important to You
Let's take apples, for example. Personally, I want fresh eating apples year-round. Even if I figured out which of the handful of apple varieties out of the thousands available I wanted to grow, I would still have to choose which rootstock was best for my needs, then I'd have to plant, prune, spray, harvest, and figure out how to store and/or preserve them. For me, it's easier to just buy a bag of organic apples every couple of weeks. Sure, I don't get the wide variety available, but, realistically, I wouldn't if I was growing them, either. I do have two full-size trees that produces more apples than I could ever eat, even without pruning or spraying. One is a June apple that gets made into applesauce. The other gets the fruit dried, frozen, and made into apple pie filling.

The same scenario pretty much holds true for pears as well, although you can much more easily get by without spraying pear trees, especially if you choose varieties resistant to fireblight. Take it a step further and look at Asian pears. These crisp, juicy, sweet fruits are very expensive at groceries, yet they are among the easiest of the tree fruits to grow. And, no, I don't have an explanation, but if you've found that you like Asian pears, then it makes sense to plant two trees, which is necessary for pollination. My favorite is 'Raja,' and I'm still trying to figure out my second-favorite.

When it comes to cherries, I've almost thrown in the towel to the birds. There are a two young trees in my garden, but I'm not holding my breath. In this instance, it's easier to buy, but maybe you love cherries so much that you'll be willing to do the work involved to get them.

Peaches are so temperamental with regard to spring frosts, rain, insects, and diseases, that I've never seriously considered growing them. I do have one peach tree grown from a seedling that this year bore enough to encourage me to actually find out how to organically spray next year.

What I really love when it comes to fruit are the berry crops, ranging from strawberries to blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, and currants. These are incredibly expensive, especially when organically grown, but ever so easy to grow. If you're wanting to get started with growing fruits, this is the place that is most cost effective. Granted, you'll still have to mull over which varieties to grow, have a sunny area with good soil, learn how to prune, and keep the birds at bay, but you'll be richly rewarded.

Once you get bitten by the "fruit bug," don't be surprised if you find yourself growing some of the more unusual fruits that are well-nigh impossible to find in stores, such as persimmons, elderberries, serviceberries, pawpaws, hardy kiwi, and on and on. Growing fruit is a wonderful world to explore.



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