A Small Orchard's Big Monetary Returns From Dwarf Apple Trees

Bill Cahill gains the best monetary returns with dwarf apple trees that produce full-sized fruit with better fruit quality and in greater abundance than standard-sized trees.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Editors
October/November 1996
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They produce full-sized fruit, though—indeed, better than full-sized—and of better quality and in greater abundance than standard-sized trees or the semi dwarfs that have become the commercial grower's favorite.
PHOTO: ROBIN THOMAS
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A small orchard's success relies on big monetary returns from dwarf apple trees. (See the apple orchard photos and diagram in the image gallery.)

A Small Orchard's Big Monetary Returns From Dwarf Apple Trees

If Bill Cahill climbed an apple-picking ladder at the top of his orchard hill he could see the high-rises of Manhattan-deepest New York City. But Bill doesn't have a ladder. He doesn't need one because his trees are dwarfs—short enough to be harvested standing flat-footed. They produce full-sized fruit, though—indeed, better than full-sized—and of better quality and in greater abundance than standard-sized trees or the semi dwarfs that have become the commercial grower's favorite. Bill's four-plus-acre orchard is so productive it is a viable agricultural business in Suffolk County, New York—some of the highest-priced residential real estate in the nation.

A lawyer by profession and experimental orchardist by avocation, Bill is a member of such fruit-science organizations as the American Pomological Society and the International Dwarf Fruit Tree Association. In his 22 years of practical research, and as a profitable orchardist since 1988, he's discovered the magic formula for making big bucks from small acreage, showing the way to keep traditional farmlands of Long Island and other near-city real estate in agricultural production rather than being taxed into the hands of developers. And Bill and his fellow experimental orchardists are showing one way that MOTHER'S readers—whether we live in a high-rent district or in dollar-an-acre hinterlands—can support a homesteading life or earn retirement income by harvesting high-quality, high-profit fruit from tiny but superproductive dwarf trees that we can grow on just a few acres.

Here is how MOTHER interprets the major elements of Bill's magic formula:

1. Raise premium examples of popular fruit pears, peaches, apples, cherries, plums (and maybe a few loquats or pawpaws for the fun of it—but just a few). Keep the crops conventional, but raise uncommon varieties of superior quality that are too demanding or delicate for commercial production and shipping and/or are unusual enough in size, color, shape, taste, or novelty to command a premium price.

2. Plant superproductive dwarf trees that can be grown intensively on small acreage and that you can tend and harvest yourself with a minimum of outside services, sup-plies, or labor. And grow your produce as naturally (organically) as possible.

3. Market directly to a discriminating, quality-conscious consumer who is willing to pay a premium price for a premium product; or sell your product as close to that final sales point as practical.

Premium Fruit  

A small operator can not hope to compete in a global tree-fruit market dominated by Big Fruit from the days when Dole Pineapple ran Hawaii as an antebellum plantation and United Fruit ruled Central America like a fiefdom. The old fruit cartels are gone but industrially managed orchards cover hundreds of acres in fruit growers' dream climates of Washington State or New Zealand, in the

sun-drenched, irrigated kibbutz farms of Israel, or the Low-Country greenhouses of even-temperatured Holland. With multi-million-dollar investments, captive refrigerated shipping lines, warehouses where fruit can be stored at the edge of freezing and in an oxygen-depleted atmosphere that prevents decay-and all of it coordinated by computer-the big operators can market fresh-picked-quality fruit 12 months of the year worldwide.

The big fresh fruit marketers, however, are limited to a relatively few varieties - those that are proven sellers. (It took years of money-losing imports from New Zealand for Big Fruit to displace the old Greening green-skinned multi-use cooking/eating variety with the longer-season Granny Smith in the U.S. market.) A small-plot orchardist is limited to selling fresh fruit in season but can choose among hundreds of varieties and then hand-nurture a product that is unique in style, of unmatched quality, and tree-ripened to the peak of perfection, to command top dollar.

These days, "certified organic" fruit has an added appeal that commands a premium price in sophisticated markets. After decades of being the scruffy, slightly suspect stepchild of chemical-based commercial agriculture-trying to sell overpriced, stunted carrots or knobby, bug-bit apples-organic has come of age. State-chartered or less formal regional organic certification programs define and enforce standards for nonchemical, earth-friendly agriculture to guarantee consumers a pure and natural product. Note well, however, that like Bill Cahill's Fort Salonga Farm in Northport, New York, most high-cost/high-profit organic food markets are located in upscale, sophisticated markets where health-conscious shoppers with the money to spend are happy to pay premium prices for supreme-quality produce grown organically without dangerous chemicals, and using earth-friendly cultural methods.

Small Trees, Small Acreage 

To grow premium fruit worthy of a premium price, the grower must practically know each apple, peach, or Asian pear by name. This is possible only by planting full-dwarf trees like Bill Cahill's, that produce larger and better-quality fruit but occupy only 12 square feet of land and grow no more than 7 feet high. Dwarfs can be grown in densities of 1,000 per acre and more (compared to about 25 standard-sized trees or 120 semidwarfs per acre). Once mature (in four years, compared to eight to ten years for standard trees) they produce as much as one bushel per tree—or 1,000 bu./acre (compared to 10 to 15 bu./standard tree by 25 trees/acre = 250 to 375 bu./acre).

Semidwarfs occupy a quarter of the space of a standard and can produce about 5 bu./tree—or twice that if they are new spur-type semis. Their production of about 600 bu.!acre and up offers considerable commercial production advantage over standards, but the trees grow to 15 feet-too large to allow the intensive culture necessary for superpremium fruit—and still reach only half the production possible with true dwarfs.

The trees are expensive to propagate and buy, and they must be individually nurtured and tended and exquisitely pruned for peak production. They should be nourished individually as well. Diseases must be hand-monitored and controlled. The heavily fruit-laden branches of many trees must be propped (and re-propped and re-re-propped) to prevent breakage, and the harvest must be hand-thinned once or twice a season to cull out misshapen or insect-damaged individuals and to more frequently develop giant size and superior quality. It is a labor-intensive product for perhaps eight months of the year. With luck, you can spend the winter months when your trees are dormant taking it easy yourself. One mini-orchardist we know spends her winters in the Arizona desert where she "doesn't have to look at a green-leafed tree for months ... till I get to missing the little darlings.”

Market Direct 

To repay the time and money invested in an intensively managed, high-output orchard, the grower must reap maximum benefits from a relatively small production. This means not only getting "top dollar" but keeping as much as possible of every sales dollar-not just the few pennies a commercial orchard keeps from the 994 a pound their mass-produced, pre-bagged product sells for in the supermarket.

You can blame the middleman if you like, but figure that for each step in the marketing chain that the grower is removed from the consumer-sales point, his return is cut about in half. That is, the grocer will keep at least half of the 99 cent retail cost; the wholesaler will keep half of the 49.5 cents the grocer pays him; and the broker or storage warehouse will keep half of the 24.75 cents he gets from the wholesaler, theoretically leaving the grower with a thin dime and two or three pennies a pound¬or less than five bucks a 40-pound bushel.

But since he grows standard-sized trees that produce about 10 bu./tree—but grow at a density of only 25 trees/acre—he gets only 250 bu. x 40 lbs/bu x 134/lb. = $l,300/acre gross. Deduct the high cash costs of mechanized chemical-dependent commercial fruit culture and he's lucky to net a few hundred bucks an acre.

In comparison, MOTHER knows of some super-premium growers who get $1.50 per apple! Lessee, a good full-dwarf apple tree that's been in the ground five years will produce a bushel a year. A bushel per tree times 1,000 trees/acre times 100 apples per bushel will net you ... well, the math is a bit more complicated than that, but Bill Cahill averaged a good $18/bu. his first year of selling from a stand in his garage back in the eighties. Bill's initial planting density averaged about 639 trees/acre. Prices have gone up some since then, but assuming that (what with winterkill, replanting, and other exigencies) about two-thirds of Bill's 4.5-acre orchard is in full production in any typical year, he'd be picking almost 2,000 bushels. If he is able pick and peddle what amounts to 40 tons of apples direct to consumers—that's a potential gross of over  $7,800/acre/year. Even if he paid pickers twice the typical 70 cents for a bushel-and-a-half-peek-sized box, the gross return would be over $35,000. That was when he was just starting out. Today the orchard is a Long Island attraction with 4,000 trees, and draws 6,000-plus visitors a year. Most of the nine kids Bill and Ursula raised are grown and gone, so he has to farm out some of his tree-maintenance and harvest labor. His costs per acre are up from the beginning, but so is the return, as it should be after 22 years of hard work.

In your own preliminary cost/income estimates, you'll have to factor in the cost of land and trees, fertilizers and pest repellents, picking bags and boxes, a storage shed, trucking and hauling, sales taxes, and chiropractors bills for your strained back-that will likely cut net income by one-third to half of the gross. Till you get your own direct sales up, any outside sales sources will take at least half of what re¬mains. But if you'd like to follow Bill's lead, here are the first steps you can take to providing a homestead's cash needs or a retirement income-or start a booming enterprise like Fort Salonga Farm by planting your own orchard of small trees to get a whopping return from a small acreage.

Take Stock 

First step: assess your objectives and abilities. Consider first that good dwarf orchard stock is expensive—$l0 to $20 a tree. That's $10,000 to $20,000 an acre! And don't give up your day job; you can't expect to see a meaningful return for four years minimum; Bill Cahill didn't break even for over a decade. How much money do you have or how much can (and should) you borrow? How much of the work can you and your family hope to do? Remember, no matter what the weather, when fruit is ripe, those hundreds of bushels per acre must be picked and put under shelter within a few days—even if it's pouring rain.   

And, then, each tree must be pruned each winter, trunk and limbs must be scraped and sprayed or dusted and cleaned up after. Sheep or hogs will eat windfalls for you, if you want to take on livestock. Don't expect to pasture horses or goats with your fruit trees, though; they'll eat the buds and then chew around the bark, girdling and killing the trees. If you live in deer country, you'll have to protect the trees-especially for their first several years, and (in snow country) especially in the dead of winter when forage is hard to find. You can try a spray of one egg per gallon water. It works for a week or so in hot weather when the egg rots; the deer smell it even if you and I can't. Only a 7-foot fence will keep them out for sure. Black plastic mesh is reputed to work for less than the cost of steel mesh-but any fencing is expensive.

Then, assess your market (If still looking for a country place, put the local produce market at the top of your list of selection criteria.) Check local supermarkets to see if superior-quality organic produce is sold in quantity and at a higher price. In my part of Maine these days, medium-sized McIntosh apples (from storage) go for 994/lb. Certified organic Macs sell for $1.l9/lb. The only real premium price is $1.49/lb. charged for certified organic Gala, Mutsu, and Fuji apples. These varieties are the current rage--smallish red!yellow-streaked Japanese varieties (that have been grown in the States for 40 or 50 years, but are just now catching on). To my New England taste, they are bland and almost too sweet. But they are selling. And the supermarket examples could stand improvement in size and looks. Were I planning a dwarf orchard just now, I'd consider growing superpremium versions of these varieties, except that orchard lots of dwarf trees may be hard to locate at a reasonable price. And there are probably a thousand other folks having the same thought, so the market may be flooded with premium Fujis in the five years my orchard would need to mature. (But maybe I could export them to Japan. The Japanese are paying top dollar for giant tuna caught off our coast, and for black urchin roe and edible kelp as well. Hmmmm. You can see where this can get you.)

Back to reality. Are farmers markets active all summer long? If you plan to sell from a stand or "tailgate" off the truck, can you get to those "affluent" areas where people buy organic foods or do you have access to a highway frequented by potential buyers with money (grocery shoppers or tourists such as fall-season "leaf-peepers" from the city)? If selling from home, can you funnel a stream of buyers to your place? Once a buyer finds your stand, and is satisfied, she'll be back—and bring friends. The problem is getting her there in the first place. Remember, advertising pays (so long as you don't overspend). Start by posting notes on bulletin boards and buying small ads in the local weekly papers and classified advertisers. Bill Cahill publishes a clear, detailed map to direct new buyers to his orchard.

Mrs. Ski 

To illustrate how to operate a farm stand, let me tell you about Mrs. Ski. In the ocean-resort community where I summered with my grandparents as a small child, there was only one road to town. Everyone from "the shore" had to travel it twice to get to the grocery, drugstore, or gas station and back. On the road was a small, neat sand-country farm operated by an older Polish couple with a name no one could pronounce, so we called them the Skis. All we ever saw of Mr. Ski was a figure on a tractor in distant fields and occasionally trudging down their lane with a basket of assorted fresh fruit and produce.

Mrs. Ski, always in a long dark dress and head kerchief—an old-country "babushka," we kids were told—-with a gold tooth and huge smile, operated a small farm stand on the highway. Her English was halting (but better than your Polish, we kids'd be told when we mocked her), her change making deliberate, and her prices a little high by store standards but nobody complained, as the produce was still sun-warm and dew-speckled fresh. She never had a lot of any one fruit or vegetable so we never knew if we'd have melt-in-your-mouth strawberries, crisp summer squash, or pie from her plump early-summer apples for supper that night-or whether we'd catch her open at all, as she always sold out in an hour or so.

One summer the stand didn't open and we learned that she'd flown to Europe to collect her sisters in the post-World War II ruins of Poland and bring them to America. This was in the very early Cold War days, and what with the cost of piston-plane travel, bribes, and political wheeling and dealing across the Iron Curtain, her mission must have been very, very expensive. And every red cent (ha ha) came from the proceeds of her little stand. After her trip there were several babushkas at the stand, all with huge gold-toothed smiles and small quantities of high-priced, perfect fruit and vegetables. The stand went on to send at least one grandson to Harvard.

The Skis had the perfect farm-stand formula. They were slightly exotic (rumor had it that Mr. Ski had ridden with the madly gallant Polish cavalry that faced Hitler's invading panzers on horseback with drawn sabers), providing a slight show-biz aspect that makes any sales outlet a fun place to go—the reason that malls have Muzak, game centers, and exotic food stalls and you might consider having a pony ride or apple-dunk at your stand. Bill Cahill specializes in hosting preschool to second-grade classes. Kids learn about grafting, bees, and pollination; get to pick an apple; and take home a bag. They have a great time, learn a lot, and maybe come back with their parents next weekend.

Most important, the Skis' stand was located on a road well traveled by folks "going to the grocery anyway" and was open when they were in a shopping mood (no point locating on a road packed bumper-to-bumper with job commuters twice a day). Their produce was supreme quality and fresh off the land (leave a few leaves on your own fruit). Quantities on display were limited (though the garden might have been overflowing for all we knew) so buyers felt they were competing for a scarce commodity. Prices were just enough higher than store prices that buyers noticed (you get what you pay for, and quality isn't cheap ... right?) but not so high they felt gypped.

Like Mrs. Ski, you should grow and sell based on quality, not on price. Ever hear the story of the Scotch whiskey makers who had a superior product, a great-looking bottle, and good North American marketing channels, but couldn't move the product off the shelves…till someone had the brilliant idea to double the price?

With preliminary research done, it's time to make friends with the local USDA Cooperative Extension Service-the county agent. This government office is dedicated to promoting agriculture and will give you free advice on every aspect of orcharding from land assessment to finding the nursery that's best for you. (For good guidelines on this latter, extremely important aspect of orcharding, see Tim Hensley's article in this issue.)

Locating and Assessing Land  

Choose your land with potential crops in mind. Everybody knows you can't grow citrus in Minnesota, but a lot of similar conventional wisdom isn't necessarily so. Tim Hensley disproves the commonly held belief (among us Yankees, at least) that apples don't thrive in the deep South. And hybridizers have extended the climatic limits of many fruits. For example, conventional peaches do best in zones 5 and warmer. But Reliance, developed at the University of New Hampshire over 20 years ago, can survive -20 degrees Fahrenheit I know, I've grown it. The fruit is "free stone" (you don't have to pare it off the pit), pits are small, and quality is wonderful if the trees get 100 percent full sun and are watered if the ripening season is droughty. Reliance comes on in late August in New England-well after the June/early-July flood of Georgia Elbertas and California plums has lowered the price of all stone fruit to pennies a pound. Even in Georgia you can get premium prices for late locally grown peaches, fresh and full-ripened on the tree. As your own experience with rock-hard store-bought peaches has proven, I'm sure, tree-ripened peaches don't ship.

See the books and nursery catalogs for a hint as to which species and varieties will do best in your area; but rely on your nurseryman, county agent, and local experts who will have detailed and accurate advice that isn't available in print or on the Internet.

Fruit trees do best on rolling hills where air flows continually as temperatures change during the day, drying leaves to discourage molds and mildews, and where rain water drains rapidly, preventing "wet feet:' Upper elevations are best, as they get the most sun and stay warmest in cool weather. Valleys and closed dips in a rolling landscape can be frost bowls, collecting cold air that can kill buds during spring frosts and kill trees in deep winter—-when those up on the hillsides remain unscathed.

Tree stands bordering the orchard can act as windbreaks to deter winter blasts that can break often-delicate branches and even trunks of some dwarfs. But plan to fell any trees that are less than 20 feet from the border lest their more vigorous roots compete for food and water with your fruit trees. It is a good idea to get out the chain saw and stump puller and establish and maintain a 20- to 40-foot-wide strip of meadow all around the orchard. It may take time, but it's best to remove all rocks and stumps in the strip so it can be mowed to keep down sapling growth.

Soil Quality 

Be sure the soil is of essentially good tilth; you can't add sand or humus to improve several acres as you can to a small organic garden. First of all, the soil must be well drained. Waterlogging—-even for a few weeks in spring—-will suffocate fruit trees. You want a good, deep soil; the darker and thicker the upper layer of top soil, the better (though you can add compost to improve topsoil quality over time). Dig under the upper level of top soil to reveal the subsoil. A thin skin of soil over rock ledge that may have supported a pasture won't nourish or support the roots of an orchard. Avoid a base of light sand or heavy clay. A few rocks don't hurt-indeed, they add trace elements as they gradually decay. The county agent will know local soils and can offer expert advice.

The pH (relative acidity) of the soil is crucial. Take a small pH kit along when land-looking. Most North American soils are slightly acidic, which suits most fruit trees just fine. Apples like a pH between 5 and 6.5 (on a range from 1 to 14, with 7 being neutral). Large stone fruits prefer slightly less acid soil: pH of 6 to 7.5. Sweet cherries like pH 6 to 7.5, sour or pie cherries prefer pH 6 to 7, pears 6 to 7.5, apricots 6 to 7, plums 6 to 8, and nectarines 5 to 8. Only blueberries like it acid: 4 to 5.5. Soil can be sweetened with lime and acidified with added natural compost or pine needles. Changing pH more than a point can be costly and take time but is worth it if you can't find perfect soil to start with. Planting trees in a pH they can't tolerate is asking for disappointment.

Layout and Preparation 

An orchard is a lifelong investment. Suppress your eagerness to plant, and take the time to plan carefully and prepare the essential foundation-the soil. Your extension agent can help with soil analysis and correction for your selected fruit crops; once trained exclusively in chemical agriculture, the younger members of the corps are now well versed in organic techniques as well.

You can buy soil-test kits and become a soil scientist on your own. But for real accuracy—-and especially to test for the more obscure trace elements—-you need a professional lab.

A trace-element story that made the rounds back in the seventies was about a Yankee organic-gardening couple who re-tired to a Florida citrus grove, canceled all the chemical fertilizers and bug sprays, and began using organic methods. One year the half-grown fruit suddenly turned black on the ends and dropped off and the trees began looking jaundiced and dropping leaves. From an old-timer whose citrus-growing experience pre-dated chemical agriculture, they learned that the problem was a combination of iron and boron deficiency that was once common in the fast-leaching sandy soil, but compensated for (just) in the chemical sprays. On his advice, the folks bought a box of unplated 20-penny common steel-wire nails and a case of 20-Mule Team Borax. They hammered several nails in each tree trunk and scattered Borax on the soil and were back in production practically overnight.

If the county agent can't direct you to local sources of organic soil additives (other than limestone, which satisfies both organic and chemical ag.), locate an organic grower or the nearest certifying agency. You can have leaves or tree chippings dumped on your place by landscapers and make compost in quantity to supply most nutrients. For trace elements, we on the seacoast rely on seaweed that contains everything that is in sea water (and that is every natural element on earth-common, scarce, and downright rare). Inland orchardists can purchase liquid kelp concentrate that is not cheap, but need be applied sparingly and not often at all.

Chances are, your orchard is former farm land or pasture, and has been depleted. Supplement with organic additives and plow in as much organic matter as you can. Plowing under a cover crop or two before planting will do wonders for soil character. Continue to plant rye or winter wheat and till between rows as young trees are developing. Once the orchard is established, plant and mulch-mow a nitrogen-fixing ground cover containing a legume such as clover-rich pasture grass or even alfalfa.

Orchard Planning 

In planning the orchard, you want to get the most trees in the available space while providing each optimum sun and growing space and leaving enough space between them to tend and harvest. Your fruit science specialist at the extension office can offer particularly good advice as to layout, as the genesis of the service was in promoting con-tour planting and soil conservation after the Dust Bowl of the thirties. (I know, I'm citing the county agent a lot-but he or she is your best friend, believe me.)

In general, you want to run rows of trees so none will shade its neighbors as the sun passes from east to west during the entire growing season. The farther north you are, the lower the sun angle in spring and fall, so the farther apart trees should be—especially if located on a north slope.

Different varieties and cultivars have different growth habits-variations in height, spread, and density-that must be considered. Apples tend to be more robust than stone fruit; cherry trees are smaller than larger-fruiting types (and relative size of planting stock is seldom an indicator of ultimate tree size). It is best to make a de-tailed map of the plot using square-lined graph paper. Orient grid lines north-south and east-west, draw contour lines to indicate elevations and dotted lines to show air flow. Then experiment "planting" the orchard different ways. Bill Cahill averages 907 trees per acre, plants his dwarf trees four feet apart in the row, and leaves twelve feet between rows. Weak-rooted trees on Malling #9 rootstocks are supported by a pole and a single long-run wire and "could withstand a hurricane;' to quote Bill.

Varieties 

Pick your fruit and varieties carefully to match your soil and climate. Fruit have natural climatic preferences depending on how many days they must remain dormant in winter to replenish strength, how cold they like their winter sleep to be, and how long they take to mature. Some of these characteristics are inbred; others have been bred in by hybridizers (as in the Reliance peach, mentioned above, which has a northern hardiness zone in addition to peaches' normal range of zones 5 to 8). Conventional apples grow best in zones 5 to 8, with the shorter-season and hardier varieties thriving well into zone 4. Granny Smith takes 105 days, and simply will not ripen up our way in Maine, so we still grow old-fashioned, small but superhardy green Lodi apples. As Tim Hensley will tell you, some apples (that wouldn't handle Maine winters) will do well all the way into north Florida. Pears do not fruit consistently in the far North, but the Stark Brothers Nursery (owned by the heirs of plant pioneer Luther Burbank) has developed the Starking Hardy Giant Asian Pear, a round, firm-fruited pear that does well into zone 4. This is a novelty to the American consumer, and worthy of consideration in any snow-country orchard. It is a "pear-apple" type that you can let ripen on the tree (unlike conventional pears that must be harvested green and let mellow indoors; if left to ripen on the tree they make wonderful pear nectar/cider but become grainy and too gritty to eat).

Would-be dwarf orchardists should honor trees' climatic preferences but may well make the most money growing and selling varieties such as the Reliance peach that were specially developed to extend the season beyond a tree's native/normal range.

Most fruit trees need another variety (blossoming at the same time) for full pollination. And you will want a mix of different fruit of different varieties in different skin colors and textures, for cooking or eating and to have them ripening throughout the season. The equation can be extremely complex. Take advice from others, but use your own good judgment; for example, it is smugly conventional wisdom among home orchardists that we'll grow anything but the sugary, blah-bland Red Delicious. But this beautiful red-skinned/white-fleshed variety that grows in a hand-filling heart shape and with low acid content (at least in the sweet soil and balmy temps of Washington State) is America's most popular eating apple. Know why? Most apples are eaten out of sense of taste and love of sweets harking to breast-milk-fed infancy, kids prefer apples that their parents find insipid. As suggested above in discussing Gala and Fuji, the Japanese also prefer a sweet, bland apple. After decades of trade-barrier negotiations, efforts to tap that lucrative export market with tart Yankee apples are failing. If the Japanese like Fuji and Mutsu as much as our kids like Red Delicious, why not grow them?

Take a due from the master: Bill Cahill started out growing and selling Red Delicious (bland or not). But his Red Delicious were of giant size and superior quality. If there's one thing kids like better than a sweet/bland apple, it is a GREAT--BIG one. See the sidebars for some varieties to consider. Bill grows 69 varieties these days, ripening from August to November.

And use your imagination and native skills, know-how and intuition. I recall, when I lived in Pennsylvania, neighbor Nancy had a huge, old apricot tree of unclambered around and made tree houses in its low-spreading, welcoming limbs, their mom never pruned or sprayed it, and the tree produced mounds-veritable heaps¬of perfect sun-golden fruit that split in half and free from the pit with the flip of a knife. We used to gang up on the tree, eat ourselves to bursting, harvest what we had time to, split the fruit, and dry it in the sun between old window screens. The tree supplied two families with more than enough dried apricots for a year-and we only got in a fraction of the crop.

These days, certified organic dried apricots (kept moist and fresh-colored with natural orange-juice-derived vitamin C rather than sulphur) sell for over six dollars a pound. Fruit are dried to half their live weight to keep, and you only need 35 split fruit to make a pound. I have often wished I had scions from that tree today to try grafting onto sturdy dwarf wild plum roots. You know, I bet that tree is still standing. It might be worth a trip back to Upper Bucks County.


Related Articles:

Old Southern Apple Varieties
Southern Apples: Varieties, History and Planting Tips
Growing Dwarf Fruit Trees
Fruit Tree Planting Tips
Organic Pest Controls for Fruit Trees
Specialty Fruit Varieties for Small Orchards 


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