Fruit Bounty

Frost Peach tree (cultivar)

The fruit is holding well through a summer of little water but great sun and warmth. Our zone 1 frost peach has received regular watering and watchful tending. This tree is trellised against the south side of a kitchen. As we continue to shape and train the branches, you’ll soon be able to pick a fresh peach through the open window. The tree also offers summer shade to keep the building cooler during summer heatwaves (nature’s air conditioning). Growing peach trees in Western Washington can be a great challenge. One of the most common afflictions to stone fruit- and especially peaches- is leaf curl fungus (Taphrina deformans). I’ve found that keeping the tree warm and dry during the spring dampness of our region is the solution. South facing building walls are a great heat reflector.

Another pair of fruit trees in our zone 3 area receive no water, but do rest at the edge of a slope transition where water gathers in a swale. These trees are being woven together into an arch on the front of a hedge being cultivated on contour across the landscape. These trees have also weathered more exposure (no shelter from a building or warm catchment), and sheep have grazed them back a few times before they finally got above browsing mouths. One of the two cultivars lost its grafted variant. I’ve not seen much fruit production, but there are some nice large peaches there none the less. They had amazing flavor, but also harbored earwigs in the pits- which did nothing to the fruit or great taste, but made for unwanted chase in the kitchen.

It’s a great year for the pear trees too. Our Bartlett Pear tree has the most fruit I’ve ever seen on it’s branches. It does not receive regular water, but does reside near a rain catchment system that has passive flow into the fruit trees when it rains. The fruit is not mature yet, so I am hedging my bets more will fall before they are ripe unless I start watering. This is the “game” with fruit trees- lots of flowers, lots of little fruits start to grow, then weather/deer and sheep brows/drought drop/hail storm will lead to the appearance of great harvest followed by vast attraction into a good pick with one or two pies to show for it (which can be enough). The other great challenge to my pears is birds. They know when the fruit is going to ripen and literally show up and wait nearby, counting the days, and pecking into the ripe flesh just as it starts to soften.

Apples are one of those dream fruits we all want in our perfect orchard layout. The indigenous folks that live in this bio-region cultivated a native Pacific Crab-apple in all their established villages. Today, a cultivar from far off Kazakhstan, a distant cousin of Malus fusca, has become a top cash crop for The State of Washington. Though you are far more likely to see extensive commercial orchards on The East Side of The Cascades, Malus domestica thrives across most temperate climates, including Western Washington.

At EEC, we have a well established grove of apple trees which have continuously provided fruit through late summer into early fall each year. A grey water system feeds the above photographed trees, which are still showing signs of drought- having a lot of fruit, but little flesh on each ovary. We’ve chosen not to irrigate these trees beyond the grey water, which is limited, being fed by a single kitchen sink. We will have plenty of apples, but this year, they may be small and dry from these older trees.

In another part of the land, a zone 3 orchard of very young trees- Mom’s orchard- is surviving with limited deep watering irrigation once a week. This is part of the establishment period, where the trees will need water to survive in drought years like this until their root balls mature. Eventually, they will cultivate enough canopy shade to require little water to survive. Once this orchard begins production, it will have a lifetime of about 15-20 years before climaxing production and then transitioning into native habitat with a planting of evergreen trees. In a typical industrial fruit orchard, there are many chemical additives to irrigation for growth assistance, and topical sprays of endless varieties to combat fungus and insect damage. We have no chemicals on the land and do not need them- it’s more important at EEC Forest Stewardship for the ecology as a whole to be integrated. This means we work with many different kinds of fruiting plants to prevent a massive crop failure. If one type of apple tree gets sick, it will not spread easily to other kinds of fruit trees. Insects have so much choice, they don’t tend to attack any one tree enough to offset its production. Climate is out biggest threat, as heat will stress the trees into dropping fruit before it’s ripe.

Our most productive fruit comes from berry bushes. The two mature blueberry shrubs on the land are sometimes accosted by sheep- but this year we managed to protect them and still have berries on the bush. The most prolific and abundant berries are those of Rubus armeniacus. This species is an invasive of Western Washington, and a bane to many cultivators. However, its has come to play a significant role in covering up bare landscape where temperate rainforest has been removed, and produces a juicy, yummy fruit. We’re harvesting over five gallons worth (it only takes about an hour to harvest that much) to make wine this year (2021). Blackberry can also be used to make jams and jelly, pies, smoothies, and freezes easily, like most fruit, to be enjoyed later in the dark winter months, when fruit is a welcomed sweet treat.

Fruit trees are such a dream come true here on the land, and having acquired an acreage which already had well established trees on the landscape helped a lot in getting a good harvest from the start. Out of the trees I’ve planted since, only a few are actually producing now. It can take about five years before you enjoy the fruits of your labors, so if you are planning fruit trees, plant them NOW. I’ve staggered my plantings a bit, first making sure I had the water systems in place to manage larger plantings. If you don’t irrigate your fruit, you’ll have much less production. Here in The Pacific Northwest, there are also so many native fruits on the landscape- though they are not apples and oranges- to be sure. Still, it’s good to look at what has already evolved in the area, and roses do well, so apples are good; there are native cherries, so plant those, and berries are a must- but there are so many native ones, I’ve not focused on them as cultivars. Our stone fruit is hit or miss. The native oso berry is a small fruit that is like a plumb, but tastes like cucumber. Plumbs can do well here, but the three I’ve planted have struggled, and two lost their grafted producer and are now root stock suckers- not fruit producers. That’s ok, because I can always graft something else on, and flowers for pollination still happen in the mean time.

If you are planning fruit trees into your land, take the time to look at what verities are already doing well in your climate. Try to seek out older heritage verities which are designed to work in diverse climate shifts. Also take to heart the time and energy you’ll need to keep fruit trees productive. You have to do major thinning each winter, and for EEC, it takes weeks to prune all our trees for maximum productivity. We also accept blight and bugs without putting up much fight. Some people do monthly sprays and costly amendments to boost their harvests. That’s not the holistic way, and ends up being a struggle you’ll loose in the long run. Fruit trees just don’t have a long life, and neither will you if you are constantly babying them into production. Quality of life should always outweigh quantity of production- especially if you are a homesteader or croft tender. In this neck of the woods- you always have blackberry to fall back on as a solid fruit crop, no matter what your cultivars do.

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