1.) You are not going to beat Mother Nature. If your Extension agent or nurseryman says that your soil is too wet or your site too cold for a specific variety, heed the warning.
2.) Standard size trees (15 feet or more) are hardy, but their height makes them difficult to maintain and harvest. Instead, look at semi-dwarfs (15 to 20 feet), dwarfs (10 to 15 feet) and genetic dwarfs (5-7 feet). The latter are the least hardy, produce about one-fifth as much fruit as a standard tree but do well in containers and require less winter cold to flower.
3.) When selecting trees, it helps to know that some varieties are not self-pollinating, meaning that you need two compatible cultivars planted near each other, and that some are self-pollinating but are more productive if cross-pollinated. Again, ask your nurseryman or Extension agent about the pollination requirements of the varieties you are considering.
4.) Don’t be afraid to try something different. There are many non-commercial, heirloom varieties that are well suited to the home orchard. Again, ask for recommendations from local experts.
5.) If you live in an area with spring frosts, they will kill buds unless you are able to provide some kind of frost protection—overhead sprinklers, warmth from a propane heater or some type of wind machine. Before purchasing trees, buy a thermometer and see how low the temperature gets in the location where you want to plant. Planting genetic dwarfs in large containers that you can move out of harm’s way may be your best bet.
6.) The amount of fruit on even a small tree can be staggering. Don’t waste your money on trees that will produce fruit no one uses. Unless you want to give away the fruit or sell it, buy only the trees that bear fruit you and your family like to eat.
7.) For disease- and pest-free fruit, planting in healthy soil is your best bet. Sticky tape, pheromone traps and handpicking bugs from fruit will deter pests. Organic sprays are also available.
8.) Fruit trees need yearly pruning. Watch a pro before you try your hand. Once you get the principles down, you won’t have any trouble.
9.) Start with two or three trees before you plant more.
This article originally published in THE NEW PIONEER® Winter 2015 issue. Print and Digital Subscriptions to THE NEW PIONEER magazine are available here.
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