Start an Organic Fruit Orchard for Food Independence

Learn how to start an organic fruit orchard including tips on pruning and planting raspberries, blackcurrants, stone fruits and more.

| January/February 1976

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    It's important to prune fruit trees for maximum production.  
    Illustration By MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff
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    Gooseberries like plenty of potash and should be pruned similiar to an apple tree.  
    Illustration By MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff
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    While pruning, it is important to distinguish between leaders and laterals.  
    Illustration By MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff

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Ah, the vicissitudes of time. Two years ago, when there were NO currently relevant small-scale-farming introductory handbooks available, many of us welcomed the publication of Richard Langer's Grow It! with open arms. Now that we're all older and more experienced, however, some folks find it increasingly easy to criticize that breakthrough beginner's guide which brings us to another breakthrough book that is just as important (probably more so) now as Grow It! was two years ago — and which may well come up for its share of criticism in another 24 months or so. Be that as it may, John and Sally Seymour's record of 18 successful years on a shirttail-sized homestead in England is important now and should offer welcome encouragement to today's back-to-the-landers — both real and imaginary.  

Fruit and Nuts

"A man who refuses apple dumpling cannot have a pure mind." — Coleridge

It is one of the many disadvantages of the landlord and tenant system that there are so few fruit trees in English cottage gardens. No landlord is going to plant trees for his tenants, and no tenant is going to plant trees for his landlord. "No man," wrote that great prophet of the soil, Philip Oyler, "unless he is a saint, can be expected to give the land the same care (the care it needs) if he is a tenant or an employee as he would as an owner." That is so obvious that one would not think it necessary for anybody to say it, but it is necessary. He also wrote: "We should accept it as fundamental that each individual has a right to a plot of the earth on which he was born to as much as he and his family can farm well."

Assuming that our self-supporter does own the land he is living on, he will obviously wish to plant fruit trees. If there are any old neglected fruit trees on his land he will be wise to leave them in a year or two and see if they can be got to fruit well by heavy manuring, pruning (just cut a lot of the branches out of it), and winter washing. If the old tree still doesn't bear, try root pruning, that is digging down and cutting a lot of the roots with a sharp spade. Bark-ringing is another method that has the same effect: Remove a strip of bark right round the tree a quarter of an inch wide. More may kill the tree, but a quarter of an inch is not too much for the bark to jump again in a year or two so that the tree can go on growing. Bark-ringing and root pruning give the tree a nasty shock, which may be just what it wants to start it fruiting again. You can't do this with stone fruit by the way, only apples and pears.


Meanwhile, whether you have old trees or not, you should be planting new ones. Do this any time when the sap is down, i.e., in the winter. Go to a neighboring fruit grower (if there is one) or a local nurseryman, and get from him the best varieties to plant on your soil. Get early varieties as well as late, so as to spread the eating season (late store better than earlies: the latter should be eaten at once) and also get various kinds of trees, i.e., some cordons or espaliers, some half-standards and some standards. The reason for this is that your cordons or espaliers, being small and kept small, will fruit several years before your bigger trees, and thus will begin to give you fruit fairly soon. The half standards will come into fruiting next, possibly when your family or community is increasing and you need more fruit, and the standards will come last, but will go on and keep you in fruit for a lifetime. They have the enormous advantage that animals can graze beneath them. Three-year-old trees are best to buy, although you might try to put one or two older trees in, with enormous care, hoping that they won't die. I have seen ten-year-old apple trees planted, and they survived, but it was done by an expert.

As for varieties: this book is not long enough even to discuss this subject. Either gen yourself up on this, or go to a local expert. Make sure he knows about stocks too. It is most important that your chosen variety is grafted on to the right stock, i.e., a dwarfing stock for small trees (such as Mailing No. 9 with apples), a non dwarfing stock for large ones. If, your "expert" doesn't know about stocks, find one that does.


Fermentation Frenzy!

September 12-13, 2019
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Fermentation Frenzy! is produced by Fermentation magazine in conjunction with the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR. This one-and-a-half day event is jam-packed with fun and informative hands-on sessions.


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