Home Orchard Fanatic

It's been pretty quiet on the house front lately, as the foundation work crawls to a close. So on Saturday we went to an apple tasting.

The tasting was held by a representative of the Dave Wilson Nursery, at the Regan Nursery in Fremont. We tried about eight apples, five figs, a couple jujubes (an odd little fruit from Asia that looks like a date and is crunchy like an apple), and a persimmon.

This was all in the name of deciding which trees to plant in the garden this winter. For us, the big winner was a Flemish apple called Belle de Boskoop. It has a brown, potato-y skin, a good crunchy texture, and a complex flavour. Definitely not an apple you would find in a supermarket, which is sort of the point of having a home orchard.

Another nice apple was the Akane, formerly known as Tokyo Rose. It has a really nice flavour, and a texture that stood up well. With those two in mind, plus the Jonathan that was already planned for the third spot, we have one more apple tree to pick. Unfortunately, they didn't have samples of any of the contenders for that spot: Spitzenburg and White Winter Pearmain. If I can't find samples of these in time for buying, I figure I'll just get the White Winter Pearmain, which is a good, steady artisan apple. Our neighbor wants us to plant Cox's Orange Pippin, but that ripens at the same time as Jonathan.

We also were talked out of our choice of fig, the Desert King, on account of it apparently being an unremarkable fig chosen primarily if you have trouble growing figs, which we should not. The guy running the tasting gave us some ideas, and now we have some figs to track down. I'm only planting one fig tree, though, so the decision doesn't have to be made now. The apple trees are being planted four in a hole in order to maximize our fruit choices on a relatively small lot (about 1/6 of an acre, a quarter of which is covered by the house). Planting like that means you have to choose them all and plant them all at the same time, or you run the risk of hurting the growing trees by adding another one the next year, or later that winter.

Planning a small orchard is a fairly complicated task. You want to be sure that you're growing varieties you like, of course, but you also want to be sure that you don't have four thousand apples in September and none in July or November. This means working with ripening dates and charting out when the varieties you like will come ripe, so that you can stagger the trees you plant. So far we've only worked out a few of the varieties of trees we'll be growing. I planned the nectarines and peaches based on reviews and a chart, because the season has really passed for them. I planned the asian pears based on the few I knew and their required pollinator. Now we're almost done with the apple choices. There's still some citrus choosing, cherries, and blueberries to work out. Not to mention the eternal question of the quince, which we're mainly growing as a preserving fruit, though there are some varieties that can be eaten straight up.

Tune in in January for the massive digging of holes.

posted by ayse on 10/24/05


I haven't been to an apple tasting this year and I am missing it!

We drove up to Santa Cruz last year for an heirloom apple tasting and had such a great time. But like in your case, they didn't have all of the apples we were considering. And of course, there is always the variable that apples taste different in different soils and climates. Between the tasting and a discussion with a nursery in our zone, we made our order and planted seven apples trees last year if memory serves. We planted a multi-variety cherry, two figs, and another tree or two. One of the figs didn't make it. The rest look great.

Oh, the hole digging. Our holes were 4-5 feet deep and wide and we layered them with compost, leaves, grass, and soil. Talk about work!

At our previous house we planted as well and apparently a pool has been put in their place. Some people have no vision. Or perhaps some people don't like fresh fruit as much as I do.


I'm looking around for another apple tasting, and maybe some place where we can try more kinds of figs (though it's getting late in the season for that). So far no luck, though we might just be able to find a farmer's market or two that has interesting varieties.

As for digging holes, we are lucky because with the light sand we have in the yard, digging deep holes and mixing in compost is not terribly hard work; a few years ago I dug a 3-foot hole in the yard in about 15 minutes, even stopping to puzzle out why there was a rusty pipe two feet down.

I don't understand people who would replace an orchard with a swimming pool. But then again, some responses to the idea of planting as many fruit trees as I'm planning have been along the lines of, "what are you going to do with all that fruit?" Why, I'm going to eat it, of course.

Good God, how much land do you have? My lot is 50'x130' and I'm hard pressed to find decent spots for more than 2 new trees without taking down some of the mature ones there now. I've got 18 mature ones and a couple saplings. 3 of the mature ones are already marked for death ebaces one grew badly because of the POs negligence and the other two are in the way of house expansion.

Our lot is 52x150, but bear in mind that there are no trees at all on any of it (in fact, there's nothing growing at all on large swaths of it, around where the foundation work is still slowly inching to a close). We'll also be using high-density planting techniques, with four trees spaced about 18" from each other in one hole. That makes for a lot of trees in a relatively small area. (Four apple, two nectarine, two peach, three asian pear, four cherries, a fig or maybe two, three blueberries, two mandarins, a lemon, a lime, an orange, two quinces, a crabapple, two kiwis, and a passionflower -- OK, those last ones are vines, but they take up the room of a tree.)

The idea is to be able to have at least two kinds of fresh fruit from the garden all year round.

I should post a picture of the landscaping plan.

With them that close together are there any cross-pollination issues to consider or are of them female trees?

Actually, you need cross-pollination for some trees -- apples, pears, and blueberries. It helps them produce fruit (or better fruit). That's why I started thinking about growing more than one variety in the first place (though actually it turns out that the varieties I liked are almost all self-fruitful, which means cross-pollination is a plus but not required). The only plants we're putting in that are male/female are the kiwis, so we're putting in one of each sex. Everything else is bisexual (in the plant sense).

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