My Mini-Orchard and Backyard Fruit Production

The third time is a charm.    Two years ago I planted two mini-dwarf Jonagold apples in containers.   They looked great until one windy fall day a strong wind snapped them in two.    Last year I ordered several mini-dwarf trees and ended up killing them all due to the weather and a few really stupid mistakes (like forgetting to put drainage holes in the containers and then getting a torrential downpour, possibly over-fertilizing with rabbit manure, poor mulching and not having enough organic matter in the soil to allow oxygen to circulate).       So I’ve made some expensive mistakes, but I figure that if I don’t learn from then and try again it will be a complete waste…. This year is going to be different.

So far I’ve put in two mini-dwarf Jonagolds and an Enterprise.   I just picked up a two year old columnar apple from a garden center as well.   I’m planning on visiting that garden center again right before they close on the 4th of July to see if they have any more of these trees on sale.    I also put a Pix-Zee mini-dwarf tree into the ground in my front yard and right now it looks great.      I ordered three beach plums, which are kind of like a shrub.    Only one of them is growing, but that’s ok.   They were only a couple of dollars and if one takes, I’ll be happy.        My crabapple and stella cherry I put in the ground last year are growing, although they didn’t grow as much as I would’ve liked last year.

I have four or five large containers open that are suitable for mini-dwarf trees and I’ve been doing what I can to get the soil ready for trees.    I’ve been stirring up the dirt and trying to work more carbon material in.   I drilled a lot of holes into all of my containers so they should have good drainage and I’m hoping to get some good worm activity in each one, so they’re more like an extension of the earth rather than a large plastic bucket with a lot of dirt in it.      Hopefully I’ll be able to fill them this fall.

I planted three currants (two red, one black), three lignonberries and one gooseberry in containers.   I put one blueberry into the ground and that’s doing well.      My blackberry patch is three years old now and going apeshit.   I can’t remember if I started with two or three canes of two varieties and now there’s probably about a dozen including a few black raspberry canes that made it over from the guy next door.    I have three aronia bushes which are growing kind of slow due to limited solar exposure.   I tried to transplant them the other day to a sunnier area, but their roots were too deep so I gave up – I guess that’s a good sign.  Hopefully this year they bear fruit.    Last year was rough because it got warm quickly and then we had a late frost while everything was flowering.

Last year my kiwis didn’t do anything because of that cold snap.   All they did was stay alive, which I guess I should be thankful for.   I think they’re starting to grow this year and hopefully I get some kiwis out of them.      I put in two grapevines this year, one that I’m going to train to climb my deck and one that I want to train along a privacy fence.    Both are growing, so we’ll see what happens there.

Last year I didn’t get any strawberries, or at least not many.    I think this was in part due to the cold snap and a puppy that trampled them.   I think there was also a bit of confusion between me and the wife over who was going to water them and pick them that year too.     This year I have about twenty plants in whiskey barrels that are starting to put on baby strawberries.  They’ve also spread outside of the barrels into the ground around them.    I put in about fifteen plants, including a few everbearing varieties into a rockbed on the front of my house.    Hopefully they go nuts.   The nice thing about a sprawling plant like that is that they’ll go anywhere they can grow.   My front yard is shady so planting anything can be hit or miss – the strawberries themselves can determine the right spots to grow better than I can.       I don’t know if I’ll get much out of the new plants, but if so that should be a pretty good haul.

The funny thing about having all of this is that my average-sized yard really doesn’t seem all that busy.     Here in Zone 5, there’s all kinds of things that can grow here.    There’s all kinds of things that grow anywhere.   If people would open up to the idea of putting in plants that produce fruit over purely ornamental ones as well as the idea of eating a wider variety of fruits, we probably wouldn’t need to fly in as many strawberries from California or Mexico or apples from Chile.

Another cool thing about most of these plants is that once they’re established, they don’t take much work.     My blackberries, for instance, I took about five to ten minutes to prune back the canes this year.   I haven’t watered them at all (but then again, we’ve had a ton of rain).   I know where they’re going to grow every year and when.   That takes away a lot of the guess work/planning that comes with annual plants.

Right now I’m working on the soil in a few of the containers and hopefully I’ll fill them with some more mini-dwarf trees in the fall.    I’ve been stopping by a certain garden center to see if they have trees on sale – if there’s a good enough discount, I’ll clean them out of columnar apples.

I also planted about a dozen ground cherry plants around the yard, hoping that they end up taking off on their own next year.   They are a wild edible in this part of the world.

Here’s a few photos:

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A line of mini-dwarf apple trees behind my raised beds.   The first one is a columnar something-or-other and then there’s the jonagolds and enterprise.   Further down the line are currants and gooseberries.

 

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Pix-Zee mini-dwarf peach tree with some strawberries in the rock bed.

The Mini-Orchard Is En Route

After racking up a large shopping cart at Raintree Nursery, I finally pulled the trigger and ordered some trees.   Off the top of my head I ordered the following:

 

3 mini-dwarf apples –   Jonagold, Enterprise and Honeycrisp variety

5 columnar apples – Scarlet Sentinel –   these are a couple feet wide and 7′-9′ tall when mature.

1 Stella dwarf cherry

2 dwarf Empress peaches

1  Necta Zee dwarf nectarine

1  Centennial semi-dwarf crabapple  –

1  Chicago Fig

1  Russian Tea plant

From a different company I ordered miniature orange, lime, lemon and tangerine trees as well as a miniature pomegranate and a “cold hardy” banana.   These (along with the tea and figs) will have to come inside during the winter.   I plan on putting in the effort to maintain these trees, but to be perfectly honest I’ll consider any produce received from these trees as a blessing.   The price for these plants was low enough to take a chance on them, but I’m a little skeptical.   I know for sure they’re not going to be loaded with fruit like the trees in the picture.   If it does work out, how cool would that be?

All of these trees/plants (with the exception of the crabapple and cherry) can be grown in containers.   This makes sense for me because I would like to not be at my current location in a few years and it would be nice to be able to move the trees within my yard and possibly to a different location if we do move.  The plan right now has us keeping this home as a rental, so if we put in a couple trees we will still more or less have access to them.  Worst case scenario, we’ll have done something nice for the new owners and be out $50 (unless they add to the property value and appeal?).

We won’t get any production this year from the trees, but there’s a chance that we could start seeing fruit next year.    The trees in addition to everything else going on will keep us busy, but it should be a rewarding endeavor.    They should arrive around the middle of April and I’ll have containers and soil waiting for them…