The fruits of our labor are starting to show themselves. Everywhere in the garden that I look, I am seeing fruits and vegetables that are ready to eat, or soon will be. Tomatoes and zucchinis, strawberries and raspberries, kale, and cabbage, and peppers. But more exciting than that are some of the perennials that have been planted over the last five years or so.
I began to plant fruit trees in earnest about five or six years ago and have continued adding to the count every year. I started out with a few apple trees and a cherry tree. That first year I planted a Meteor cherry, Ashmead’s Kernel (which was chewed in half), Haralson, Rubinett, and HoneyCrisp apple trees. Since then many more apples, cherries, plums, apricots, cornellian cherries, mulberry trees and other perennial fruits have been added to our foodscape.
When we plant annual vegetables, things like a tomato or a pepper or a kale plant, we reap the harvest in the same season. Our culinary desires are realized in one summer of photosynthesis and our hard work of weeding, mulching, trellising, tying, and pest control pay off in the fall when we start to eat whole meals that come right from the garden.
But fruit trees are a little different. They are slow growing, and mature at their own pace. Sometimes they get chewed in half by a loving (but stupid dog – sorry Harvey!!), or they get planted in a bad spot and get moved three times before they find their final home. Fruit trees are a test for us gardeners of how patient we truly can be and how well we design our forest gardens.
For myself the wait and patience is starting to pay off. This is not the first time we have harvested fruit from our trees, but this year on a few of our trees we are starting to realize the abundance that our future holds for us! Each year we have harvested a bit more than the last, and with each season the fruit improves in quality (most of the time). A good place to start is our cherry tree.
Over the last three years or so we have harvested a handful of cherries each season. Although last year was a complete loss due to a fungal infection, this year, whether it be climate conditions or the tree starting to reach maturity, the tree has bounced back and we have had the best harvest we have ever seen! While it is still a drop in the bucket compared to what we can expect in the coming years, the cherries we harvested this year were in almost perfect shape. Very little damage from pests, and the fungal rot that appeared last year was virtually non-existent this time around.
Meteor cherry, described by Michael Phillips, in his book The Holistic Orchard is
“Montmorency x Russian variety, introduced in 1952. Large, oblong, bright red fruit. Juicy, dense flesh. Natural genetic dwarf grows 8-10 feet tall. Large leaves help shield fruit from sunscald. Requires less pruning than average. Resistant to leaf spot. Spur type. Zone 4-8”
This description is fairly accurate with one major difference – ours is well over 10 feet tall. I have done a lot of pruning over the last three years, but mainly just to open up the interior for airflow and access for sunlight and harvesting. I suspect that in the next couple of years we will start to see the full potential of this tree for two reasons. First is that we now have bees on our property. I believe that our fruit trees have suffered because of inadequate pollination, and second, which goes hand in hand with the bees, is that I have grafted two other varieties, namely Evan’s Bali and Northstar onto our existing tree to aid in that pollination and also planted a Mesabi cherry in close proximity to the Meteor. Many cherry trees are said to be self fertile, but having another tree(s) of a different lineage will definitely help out in proper pollination.
Moving about 20 yards west of the Meteor cherry is our Haralson apple tree. This was planted the same year as the cherry and this year it is finally showing us what it is capable of. Though it is one of the oldest apple trees on our property, it is also one of the smallest. But do not let the size of the tree fool you, this tree is loaded with greenish orbs with a blush of red starting to show that will be finished ripening in the next two months. There are so many apples on this tree that I am probably going to have to put some support stakes into the ground to keep some of the overloaded branches from breaking (and this is after doing a major thinning out of fruit early in the season!)
Haralson was introduced in 1922 from the University of Minnesota fruit tree breeding program and was named after Charles Haralson, head of the program at the time. It is an all around good apple, mildly tart that is good for fresh eating, for baking, or as an excellent cider apple. Throughout the years Haralson has become a Minnesota classic and most orchards have dedicated space to this apple tree. I am glad that it is a part of my small orchard and it is finally coming into maturity!
This year also saw the addition of three grape vines planted along a south facing privacy fence we have running through our yard. They are using the vertical space provided by the fence and are part of a guild that contains apricot trees and strawberries. We planted three varieties – Catawba, Concord, and White Niagara and all three are doing great, but the White Niagara is by far the most vigorous. It has put on almost five feet of growth over the last few months, and has a small bunch of grapes ripening as well.
Grapes are a new plant for me and I have much to learn as far as proper pruning, disease, and pest control goes, but I am excited to have finally found a good spot for them, and even more excited to eat them! I also wouldn’t mind trying my hand at some winemaking as well. Now anybody who has followed this blog for any length of time knows that I am a beer drinker, but as far as homemade wine is concerned, I say “Bring it on!”
While there are many other things going on and growing here at The Dead End Alley Farm, that is a good review of the season so far concerning perennial fruit. It is fun to see some of these projects, or should I say plants, that were planted so long ago, begin to enter a new phase of their life cycle. Barring the premature death of fruit trees to disease or pests or strong wind, we can expect these trees to only grow healthier and produce more fruit with each passing year for a long time to come. It is one of the beautiful things about woody perennials, you plant them once and can harvest off of them for years, and sometimes even for lifetimes! Stay tuned for more fruit updates, I hope to do a few more apple tasting reviews this fall, as well as a few other surprises! Until next time, enjoy the rest of the summer … Peace & Cheers