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Organic Gardening
Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.

Grow a Pole Bean Hut to Enchant Garden Visitors

I have always wanted to grow a bean hut. I was inspired by the book Roots, Shoots, Buckets, and Boots years ago, but the fun projects always get pushed to the bottom of the list. We finally made it happen last summer at House in the Woods Farm.

Our CSA members come to the farm weekly to pick up their share of the harvest. A bean hut is a great way to engage children on the farm or in the garden. I enjoyed watching the children’s eyes widen when they could finally see the purple beans hanging from the vines. Their grownups would pick them up so the kids could stretch up and pick a long purple bean from the roof of the hut.

It was so easy to set up — I am not sure why it took so long to bring to fruition. Here is how we did it.

Designing a Bean Pole Hut

We propped up a 16-foot cattle panel, folded over longwise into a trellis. It makes a nice rounded walkway, like a gateway into our garden. With our panel folded over, came out over 6 feet tall and about 5 feet wide. We secured down a strip of plastic mulch under the panel on each side, to keep down weeds where the beans are planted.

Our mulch went all the way across the trellis, but strips on either side under the panel would be sufficient. We set the trellis over it, pressing it into the soil a bit to take hold. Holes for the beans go on the outside edge of the trellis every few inches. The bonus is that the trellis is set up and ready for next season, too.

A trellis could be set up in different shapes. It could be a bean teepee, a gourd hut, or a tunnel of beans and gourds. It could have a little table and chairs in it, or a couple seats made out of big tree stumps. Imagine the possibilities!  

gourd in the hut

Bean Varieties to Plant

I planted purple pole beans. Any pole bean will work. Avoid bush varieties. These need to be pole beans in order to climb the trellis. Pole beans love to wrap around poles and reach up to the sky. I also planted gourds on the same trellis, but I might just make it all beans next year.

The miniature gourds climbed the trellis and mixed in fine. I was trying to mix beans and gourds so that the beans are harvested first, and then the gourds come in. The bright-yellow mini gourds were like little surprises throughout the hut. Gourd plants need more spacing than beans in the ground. I got a few mini gourds and plenty of purple beans. The larger gourds didn’t survive the competition.

Materials for the 'Floor'

We put white plastic under the trellis for weed control, but that was a slipping hazard when wet. It would be ideal to use woven cloth or a layer of straw. You could plant some grass or fast-growing clover, but it would need to be planted right away to strengthen before people will be walking on it. I might still put a strip of plastic mulch under the panel for the place the seeds are planted.

How to Plant

We started bean plants from seed in trays in spring and then transplanted them. You can seed them directly, and weed them once a week until they are established. Plant every 3 to 6 inches. A bean trellis can be planted outside anytime between May and July. Two successions could be planted for an early and late crop.

I might experiment with doing only beans and then another year, only gourds. Or perhaps spring beans and then pull them and plant fall gourds. The combination possibilities are plentiful.

bean hut

I look forward to planting some joy again with another bean trellis this season. It was such a delight for CSA members coming to our farm to pick up their produce. Picking some beans from the trellis is a great way to involve little ones in the garden.

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 MOTHER EARTH NEWS Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life on the farm's Facebook Page. For more about House in the Woods Farm, go to the House in the Woods website, and read all of Ilene's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How to Plant and Care for New Fruit Trees

Once you’ve invested in new fruit trees, you want to make sure you get them off to a good start. Every step from digging, planting, mulching, watering, staking and pruning is important to their long-term health and survival. You’ll be able to do a good job with your fruit trees by following these steps:

New fruit trees that arrive by mail are best left in their box, in a cool place, until you have time to plant them. Before planting, soak their roots in water at least an hour to overnight.

The best holes for fruit trees are dug to fit the diameter and shape of the individual tree’s roots. Never prune roots to fit the hole! The depth of each hole is determined by the graft line. This line is recognized by a change in bark color or by a diagonal scar in the bark. This graft line must remain just above soil level to prevent “suckers” that will continually need removing.

When digging the hole, mix the topsoil with deeper soil. The cardboard your tree arrived in can serve as a surface on which you place and mix soil. This mixture is then placed around the new fruit tree’s roots. Using just topsoil or lighter soil in a hole whose walls are made of clay allows water to sit around the roots and drown the new tree. Scoring the sides of the hole with the edge of a shovel will also help to keep water from collecting around the roots.

Hold your new fruit tree upright as you place soil around its roots, and then step on the ground around the fruit tree’s trunk to remove all air pockets. Fruit trees can be planted by one person, but it does help to have a helper holding the trunk to assure it stays upright and the graft line remains just above-ground.

plant fruit tree

Immediate care of your newly-planted tree includes pruning, staking and watering. A newly planted fruit tree should be pruned to about three-feet in height. This will help to balance its new growth to the tiny roots it lost when transplanted. Begin training its branches to angles of ten and two-o’clock by bracing them away from the trunk with wooden, spring-type clothespins.

Staking is done through a fruit tree’s first year until it expands its roots. Dwarf trees, however, need to be staked long-term. Use a firm rope attached to a sturdy stake which is braced at a slight angle away from the tree. The stake is placed on the windward side—the direction from which the wind usually comes. Protect the tree trunk from damage by running the rope through a short piece of hose where it will touch the tree’s bark.

Make sure your tree gets about one-inch of water each week for its first year. Dwarf trees will need this attention long term.

Mulching the ground around fruit trees is essential to protect their roots and to gradually change the soil into what will allow fruit trees to thrive. Grass growing around fruit trees doesn’t support their roots, so mulching heavily out to the “drip line” is important. Imagine your tree as an open umbrella and make sure to keep it mulched as far out as its outer branches reach.

Wild fruit trees thrive at the edge of forests, and that’s is the type soil you want for your fruit trees. Although vegetables do best in soil with a high number of bacteria and a slightly basic pH, fruit trees thrive where the soil has a high number of fungi and a slightly acidic pH. To achieve this, use high-carbon mulch like leaves, straw and shredded branches. Garden compost can also be used if it is mixed with a lot of similar brown material.

Protect the trunk of your fruit trees as soon as you plant them. Rabbits, voles and mice use the young fruit trees’ bark as food. Even a small bite to the bark provides an entry-point for pathogens, and if a fruit tree’s trunk is girded, it will die. Sun can also damages tree trunks in the winter when heating and then cooling results in the bark cracking. These cracks provide an entry point for pathogens.

A six-inch drainage tile around a new fruit tree’s trunk can keep small animals from damaging the bark. Alternatively, vinyl spiral tree guards come in two-foot lengths and can be used for years. Because the vinyl is white, it also prevents “sunscald” by reflecting the sun.

Vinyl tree guard

Another method of preventing sunscald is to simply paint the trunks of your fruit trees with white latex paint. Either one-half strength with water or full-strength white paint prevents the trunk’s bark from heating and then contracting with cooling. Some people find that full-strength latex paint is also effective for discouraging damage from mammals.

The original care you take with new fruit trees will translate not only into protecting your investment but also having healthy trees and fruit for decades to come. It pays to dig their holes well, provide the right mulch and protect their trunks’ bark. In the next two blogs, I will explain further methods of having healthy fruit trees without the use of chemicals.

Mary Lou, a retired physician, homesteads with her husband in Ohio where they grow most of the food they eat. Mary Lou's book, Growing Local Food, can be purchased through Carlisle Press at 800-852-4482.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

10 Unexpected Bee Facts

Honeybees are a critical part of our food system, and they are also downright miraculous insects. Even the most well known facts about honeybees are somewhat unexpected, but the more you delve into their unusual lives, the more surprised you will be.

Bees Don’t Hibernate

Instead of migrating like so many animals or hibernating through the freezing winter months, bees stay awake and are, in fact, quite busy during winter. They are not flying back and forth from flower to hive, but they are maintaining their hive and keeping their queen healthy.

c3331Once the temperatures start to dip below 50 degrees F, honeybees gather in a “winter cluster” in the hive, beating their wings rapidly to keep the hive temperature between 40 and 95 degrees. They use all of the honey they’ve gathered over the summer to keep themselves well fed, and on warm winter days you will see them buzzing around, stretching their wings and tossing debris out the hive opening.

They’re Fast Flyers

The average speed of a honeybee in flight is 15 miles per hour, but a hurried worker bee has been known to fly up to 20mph. This enables them to travel up to seven miles for nectar and return to the hive in a timely manner.

The Queen Lives the Longest

While most worker bees only live for a few weeks, and drones (the male workers inside the hive) survive for a few months, the queen bee of a hive can live for up to five years. As long as she is healthy and producing eggs for her colony, a queen will be well cared for by her hive and can keep producing for several years.

The average queen bee will lay 200 eggs a day, replenishing her workers and drones and giving the hive new life as it grows.

Honey Never Expires

Honey is inarguably a pretty miraculous food.  It may be the only food that never truly expires or goes bad. The eternal life of honey is thanks to its chemical make up, which is very low in moisture but is “hygroscopic," meaning it wicks moisture for the air around it.

The oldest jar of honey ever found was over 5,500 years old, and was found in what is now Tbilisi, Georgia. Scientists say that this ancient honey is still edible, and would most likely taste very similar to today’s honey, but it’s uncertain if any of them have actually tried it.

A Bee Sting Can Be a Good Thing

The painful, itching spot where a bee stings can also be good for your health. Bee venom treatments are not uncommon today, and are used to treat symptoms of various ailments including arthritis and MS. Bee venom contains certain compounds that help to block inflammation, which can lead to blessed relief for many patients.

Of course, bee venom therapy should only be conducted with great care. Most people react to a bee sting with a red welt in the area and some irritation and itching, but some will have severe swelling and pain, and those allergic to bees can go into anaphylactic shock.


Bees Can Recognize People

Your little buzzing friend may well know exactly who you are. Honeybees are capable of recognizing individual human faces and can remember a person’s features from one sighting to another. Research has indicated that bees can recognize a face that provides them with sugar water, versus one that does not.

Only 'Worker Bees' Sting

Female bees who are not the designated hive queen, known as “worker bees," are the only ones equipped with a stinger.  Larger male bees, known as drones, rarely leave the hive and when they do they are relatively defenseless without a sharp stinger.

Unlike other insects which will usually bite their victims, honeybees only sting if they feel threatened and once they have stung, they will not survive. Other kinds of bees and wasps can sting and sting again, but the honeybee leaves behind its stinger. This self-amputating strategy is fatal to the bee.

They Travel Far And Wide for Honey

Bees are some of the hardest workers in the world. To produce one pound of honey, a worker bee must visit two million flowers. This typically means flying over 55,000 miles for a single pound of honey — but the average individual bee only produces 1/12 teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. That means that the whole hive, between 20,000 and 60,000 honeybees, must work full time to produce 60-100 pounds of honey in a year. This amount of honey allows them to survive the winter with honey left over in the spring.

The 'Waggle Dance'

To show the rest of the hive the way to a nectar-rich patch of flowers, a worker be will do a little dance for the hive which is known as the “waggle dance”. This complex system of giving directions can also tell the rest of the bees the way to a water source or help them plan the location for a new hive. This completely unique “language” or method of communicating involves indicates the direction of the sun and includes a rapid vibrating of the bee’s abdomen.


They Pollinate More Than You Think

It’s true that other insects and animals can pollinate our crops. In China, apple farmers spend hours hand pollinating their trees with delicate paint bushes. Wasps, beetles, butterflies, hummingbirds, and even bats do their share of pollinating. But that is only a small share of the pollinating needs of our world.

Scientists estimate that the humble honeybee is responsible for up to 90% of the pollination of all fruit, vegetable, and seed crops on Earth. With bees dying off at an alarming rate thanks to a combination of modern factors, the survival of the human food system becomes ever more endangered.  Without the honey bee, it is hard to believe we would have any viable crops.

Kirsten Lie-Nielsen is rebuilding a 200-year-old homestead in rural Maine, using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Find Kirsten online at Hostile Valley Living's site, Facebook page, and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Fibersheds: Regional Textile Systems

black walnut shirt and homegrown vest--BLOG

Food, clothing, and shelter are the three basic necessities of living. Sustainable food and shelter seem to get a lot of attention these days, but not so much for clothing. Unless you live in a nudist colony, you wear clothes every day. The choices you make when acquiring clothing support the textile system that made it available. Even if you buy used clothing, ultimately you are still supporting the system that produced it, but that’s another story.

What is a Fibershed?

Unfortunately, the textile industry could use an overhaul to make it friendlier to the environment and to provide better working conditions to its workers. We need to ask how the land and the workers that produced this clothing are compensated for their efforts when we spend our money, because each dollar spent is a vote for how we want our clothes produced.

In the above photo, you see my homegrown, handspun, handwoven, naturally-colored cotton vest with a shirt I made and dyed with black walnuts. I already had the skills to grow and sew the cotton for the vest and to sew the shirt. I had to learn to spin, weave, and work with natural dyes to complete the vest and shirt. It has been a fun journey, but to clothe a whole society I realize it is not realistic to expect it all to be done in the home. You can learn more about my fiber journey and purchases of fabric that I didn’t produce myself at Homeplace Earth.

How Big is Your Fibershed?

In 2010, Rebecca Burgess formed the nonprofit organization Fibershed. She was concerned about where her clothes came from and set out to see if she could develop a wardrobe that came from within 150 miles from her home. She didn’t go it alone; she had friends to help her. Fibershed has since moved on to more projects that you may be interested in. It takes a lot to transform an industry, or to build a new one from the ground up, but you have to start somewhere.

Just as you may have stopped buying prepared food in favor of cooking and maybe growing your own, you can work to move your textile consumption to a more local and/or sustainable level. Start asking where your clothes come from. How big is your fibershed?

Even if we could produce enough cotton, wool, and flax for linen in our regions, there are not enough textile mills to take it from fiber to cloth and on to garment. If you have a small flock of sheep you can send your fleeces off to wool mills to be cleaned and spun into yarn. However, if you have cotton from your own field, you would be hard-put to find somewhere to send it to get ginned (seeds removed) and spun into fiber. Not a problem if you are doing it all yourself for your own family’s consumption, but to clothe a society we have to think bigger.

Take Back Your Textiles (System)

There are many opportunities open to those who want to help develop regional fiber systems. Burgess’ Fibershed is taking the lead to identify the opportunities and to promote regional textile systems. Maybe you will find a niche in there that you can fill. I know two people who have ginned their own cotton, but cannot find a processor to spin it into fiber. Fibersheds developed to handle the needs of each region — wouldn’t that be great?

Cindy Conner is the author of Seed Libraries and Grow a Sustainable Diet and has produced DVDs about garden planning and managing cover crops with hand tools. Learn more about what she is up to at Homeplace Earth. Read all of Cindy's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Answers to the Most Common Gardening Question


As the Snarky Gardener, I’m asked gardening questions all the time. Before, during, and after gardening presentations, on Facebook, at work, at business meetings, and during evenings out with friends. Sometimes the questions come at the beginning of the season (“I started tomatoes from seeds and now they look bad. What’s wrong?”). Some are during the season (“My tomatoes have black spots on the end of them. What’s wrong?”). And other questions come after the season is over (“My tomatoes produced poorly this year. What’s wrong?”). Of course, people ask about vegetables other than tomatoes, but since they are the most popular, that’s what I generally get asked about.

What’s the Most Common Gardening Question?

What I have noticed over time is the questions I receive seem to be bunched up, meaning I hear the same question over and over again. It’s not the same question from year to year, but just the same for a specific season. For instance, this last fall, I had several people ask about their tomato production. Most either had only a few green unripe tomatoes by the first killing frost, or they had like one tomato all season. So in this instance, the question was, “Why didn’t my tomatoes produce?”

The Answer May Surprise You!

The answer I gave every time was, “Yea, it was a bad year for tomatoes. I think the drought and other weather conditions here in the area slowed growth down.” What I didn’t tell them (because it would sound like bragging and make them feel bad) is that while I had lowered production, my garden still produced plenty of tomatoes.

Being an experienced gardener means you have gardened for multiple seasons, enough to know that each year is unique. The novice has no past to recall as a reference and believes it’s just their bad gardening skills. But you are probably wondering, “Why did the Snarky Gardener’s garden produce so much more?” Are his mad gardening skills that much better?

Here’s the Actual Answer

Because I have all this experience, I’ve learned much through the school of hard knocks. The lesson I’ve been taught above all else is that if you want a certain level of production, plant more than you think you should. The gardening philosophy I have developed is what I like to refer to as “Prepare for the Worst. Hope for the Best.”

As a gardener, losses are pretty much guaranteed. Weather, bugs, errant lawn mowers, and groundhogs are all gunning for your produce. Building these losses into your expectations will go a long way to keeping your sanity.

The Secret to a Productive Garden

Taking the extra production idea and building on it, your next step should be to plan an overarching design to your garden. This should include a wide variety of vegetables from all (or most) of the plant families. Don’t be one of those gardeners who just plants tomatoes and peppers. I know, those both taste great fresh out of the backyard garden, but tomatoes and peppers are from the same plant family, the Nightshades. They both like the same conditions (hot and relatively dry) and have the same pests (like the tomato hornworm).

In case you didn’t know, some common vegetable families are: nightshades, alliums (onions), brassicas (cabbage), legumes (peas and beans), spinach, mints (oregano, sage, thyme, rosemary, basic), grass (corn), and carrot (including parsley and dill).  

Add on One More Layer

So now you have all kinds of families planned for your garden. It’s the time to think about timing. Many people believe (or care to believe) that gardening starts around Memorial Day and ends after the first frost near or into fall (at least that’s how it is in my part of the world here in Northeastern Ohio). You till up the garden, plant everything at once, then sit back and watch the vegetables pour in during July, August, and September.

What happens if you get a frost after you plant? Or a deluge of rain in June? Or little to no rain during the summer than a whole bunch in September? Again, you need to build this into your plan. You should be planting something every month from spring to fall. I start my planting in March (peas, onions, and potatoes) and stop around September (spinach, lettuce, and turnips).

The Spice of Life

They say variety is the spice of life. For the garden, varieties are the spice of life. Different varieties of the same vegetables help to spread to risk. The second reason my tomato production was better than others was I utilized many different varieties.

I grew four different types of cherry tomatoes (Snarky Orange, 'Sweet 100,' 'Husky Cherry Red,' and 'Chocolate'). I also mixed in hybrid tomatoes with my open-pollinated ones, including one called 'Fourth of July' from Burpee that was developed to produce early and often. In total I had a dozen tomato varieties. Some did better than others, but most importantly, I had plenty of tomatoes to eat.


There are two takeaways here. One is don’t think your gardening problems are necessarily caused by your lack of experience. Ask people who are close to you physically, like your neighbors or local experts. If others are having the same issue, then you know you are not alone. And if you find someone who is not having the same problem, ask questions to find out what they did different. Gardening is certainly a learning experience.

The second takeaway is plant much and often. The more you mix things up, the better your overall results will be, both in gardening and in life.  

Don Abbott (aka The Snarky Gardener) is a gardener, blogger, author, educator, speaker, reluctant activist, and permaculture practitioner from Kent, Ohio. Professionally, he's a software developer but spends his spare time producing food at Snarky Acres, his rented 0.91-acre urban farm. Don is the author of The Snarky Gardener’s Veggie Growing Guide: Create Organic Abundance By Embracing Your Garden’s Wild Side. He is also the founder of the Kent, Ohio, chapter of Food Not Lawns and received his Permaculture Design Certification from Cleveland-based Green Triangle. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How to Make a Cold Frame Step by Step


Cold frames are easy to make at home using salvaged windows, wood, strong hinges, some wood screws, and handles if you wish. The only tools required are a drill and a screwdriver.

How to Build a Cold Frame

First source your lid (or lids). An old window or even a shower door will work well. Then cut lengths of lumber to size to match your lid. You can choose how tall you’d like your cold frame to be, but make sure it’s one board higher at the back than at the front to enable the frame to soak up maximum sunlight.

Cut one of the side boards diagonally along its length to give you two triangular boards, one for each side, to match the slope from back to front.

Screw all of the boards to four corner posts that match the height of the front and back boards. You’ll also need two battens to use as props for venting the cold frame on sunny days.

Screw the side boards to their corner posts, using two screws at each end of every board. Drilling pilot holes before screwing the boards into place makes this easier. Screw the narrow end of the triangular top board on each side down into the board below to fix it into place. Then screw the front and side boards to their battens in exactly the same way.

Carefully line up the lid or lids with the back of the frame, and screw on your hinges. Longer lids may need several hinges along their length.

Screw the props that will support the lid into place, making sure they’re just loose enough to swivel up easily. You’ll need a short one on the front and a longer one on the side. You can also screw on some handles if you wish.

Using a Cold Frame

Cold frames can be sited on soil or on any level surface. They’re great for keeping salads going throughout winter, starting off tender crops, or hardening off indoor-sown plants.

When you click on the selection bar drop-down box in our Garden Planner and select ‘Structures,’ you can choose a cold frame to add to your plan. You can then drop the cold frame over your crops, and their growing season will be automatically adjusted to take into account the protected environment within the cold frame. You can also add other season extenders you may be using such as greenhouses and row covers to your plan.

See how to build your own cold frame in this video:

Get More Tips With These Great Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.

Choosing the Right Fruit Trees for Your Home

Whether you have just moved into a new home or have lived there for decades, it’s always the right time to plant fruit trees. A small investment of time and money will reap delicious, chemical-free fruit in only two to five years. Most fruit trees cost between $30 and $40, but can contribute to a life-time of health and enjoyment. Begin now by deciding what fruit trees you will plant.

Which Fruit Tree is Right for You?

Before heading to a local nursery or perusing a catalog, do a bit of daydreaming to figure out what fruit trees you will enjoy long-term. First of all, what fruits do you relish--apples, cherries, peaches, pears, nectarines? Living where there’s frost may mean we have to forego banana and citrus trees, but we still have lots of fruit trees to choose from.

After deciding what fruits are your favorites, it’s time to figure out which variety, or “cultivar,” of fruit would be best for you, based on what you would like to do with your fruit. Do you envision canning or freezing it for winter consumption? Or perhaps your mouth is watering for a slice of warm cherry pie? What about drying your own fruit for nutritious, chemical-free snacks? Does pressing apples for cider sound like a fun, autumn activity?

Chris and Roz

Finally, there’s nothing wrong with just eating fruit right off the tree. Imagine plucking a fully-ripe peach, soft enough to barely indent with your thumb. When you take a bite and have its warm, sweet-tart juice fill your mouth, your efforts will have been rewarded!

After matching specific fruits and then varieties to your needs, it’s time explore what fruit trees are practical for you to plant. That means choosing varieties that will grow well in your geological location, how much room you have and what varieties are available to you.

What to Consider when Choosing Fruit Trees

Hardiness Zone is the term used to tell what plants can grow in your area based on average minimal winter temperatures. For example, I used the online site, to discover that Ohio is now Zone 6. Catalogs or online sites will tell you which varieties of fruit trees will thrive in your hardiness zone.

Size of fruit trees makes a difference to what will “fit” at your home. The size a tree grows to — dwarf, semi-dwarf or standard — depends on its rootstock, but also how you prune it. All trees grow full-size fruit and most will produce fruit in two to five years from when you plant it.


If a small, front yard is the only potential site for a fruit tree, plant a dwarf fruit tree and be the envy of your neighbors. You can keep it pruned to a beautiful “vase-shape” or a space-saving “central leader” (see my blog, Fruit Tree Pruning Basics.)

If your backyard could use a tree for shade, then plant a semi-dwarf fruit tree or a standard fruit tree. If you have a lawn, turn it into an orchard! By caring for fruit trees instead of mowing grass, you’ll be investing in your own health while providing habitat for other species.

Choosing between heirloom and disease-resistant fruit tree is next. Some believe that growing disease-resistant varieties is necessary to grow beautiful fruit without chemicals. After growing both heirloom and disease-resistant fruit trees, I’ve found that both can result in healthy trees and beautiful fruit. I’ll describe the holistic methods that make this possible in later blogs.

I’ve found that the down-side of the newer apple varieties is that they lack the flavor of the treasured heirlooms like Granny Smith, Golden Delicious and Cortland. Newer varieties of fruit trees may be bred for disease-resistance, but are also designed to meet the demands of commercial growers for easier shipping and appearance, rather than flavor.

Find out if your fruit tree needs another tree as a pollinator before making your final decisions. Not all fruit trees do, but as someone who has waited seven years for our first pear, I wish we realized sooner that it needed a pollinator tree!

Apple trees often need specific pollinator trees too, but interestingly, crab apples will pollinate most other apple trees. If you don’t have a specific pollinator for your apple tree, plant a crab apple tree within 100 feet or graft a branch from a crab apple tree to it. This will keep your apple trees bearing well.

It’s important where you buy your fruit trees because getting the right fruit tree in excellent condition from a knowledgeable source is essential to get off to a healthy start and have long-term success. You may live with your trees for decades, so your original choice is important.

Resist the convenience of buying potted fruit trees from a chain store. A bare-root tree from a reputable nursery will grow faster and have a better chance of success. I have no local fruit tree nursery but have had decades of success from StarkBro’s ( If you hear of a smaller nursery that sells healthy, bare-root trees that also have known rootstock and are knowledgeable of what will thrive in your area, buy from them!

Planting and caring for fruit trees require so little effort compared to the decades of pleasure and fruit they provide. My next blog will discuss how to plant and care for your new fruit trees.

Mary Lou Shaw, a retired physician who emphasized preventive medicine, is now homesteading with her husband in Ohio. Besides growing their own food, the pair help preserve genetics and knowledge needed by others to foster rare breeds. They have a large garden and orchard, Dorking chickens, Narragansett turkeys, Dutch Belted cows and bees. Buy Mary Lou's book, Growing Local Food, through Carlisle Press at 800-852-4482. Read all of Mary Lou's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.