Thinking of starting your own orchard? Here are 5 important tips to consider when growing fruit on your homestead…
Providing for your family by growing your own food is one of the most rewarding aspects of homesteading. Raising animals, growing a garden, and planting an orchard are several ways to feed yourself and your family in a more self-sufficient way. Each comes with its own challenges, but many people find growing fruit trees somewhat intimidating. In fact, starting your own orchard can be fairly simple, and once you have healthy plants and trees established, they can provide you with fruit for years to come with just a bit of annual maintenance.
Below are some helpful tips for starting an orchard, including how to choose the right fruit trees and berry bushes for your climate, and why the variety and pollination type is so important when it comes to fruit production.
Keep in mind that starting your own orchard is a long-term commitment, so if you are in a temporary living situation, you will want to wait until you have a more permanent place to plant your fruit. Most fruit trees take about 5-7 years to begin bearing fruit. Berries are faster, and most will start bearing within their first, second, or third year, depending on the variety and type. Some berries can also be successfully grown in containers.
Here are 5 things you will want to carefully consider when choosing what to grow in your home orchard, according to the Pioneering Today podcast:
- What types of fruits does your family most enjoy eating?
- How much space (and sunlight) do you have on your property?
- Is your soil good for growing fruit plants?
- Does your area and garden zone provide enough chill hours for your fruit plants to thrive?
- Do you you have (or need to add) plants and trees that will cross-pollinate with each other if necessary?
Keep in mind that most types of fruit – especially trees – need at least 8 hours of full sun per day during the spring and summer months. Some berries (like raspberries) do okay with a bit of partial shade in the afternoon.
Another important thing to think about is the pH of your soil. Most berry plants and even some fruit trees prefer more acidic soil, so if your soil is more alkaline then you’ll want to amend it before putting in berry plants (especially blueberries, raspberries and elderberries).
Types of Fruit Trees
When it comes to fruit trees, you’ve got three main types:
- semi dwarf
The type(s) you choose will depend a lot on what sort of space and timeframe you’re working with.
Standards are full sized varieties of trees. They can get up to 25+ feet tall when fully mature. My parents have standard apple trees that are over 60 years old and still producing. These are the big boys.
Semi dwarfs, as their name suggests, are not quite full-sized, but not quite dwarfs either. They’re right in the middle, usually between 12 to 15 feet tall and pretty wides. But they still have a really good life span on them. They’re gonna give you fruit for 20, 30 or 40+ years.
Then you’ve got your dwarfs. These are the ones that can be grown in containers. Usually they get between 8 to 10 feet tall when fully matured. They have a shorter life span of 15 to 25 years of bearing fruit.
Chill Hours needed to produce fruit
The next thing that you really need to look at when you’re putting in your fruit trees and/or your berry plants is something called chill hours.
Chill hours are basically the number of low-temperature hours that certain plants (ie. blueberries) need to go through in the winter in order to produce blossoms and set fruit. Apple trees, blueberries, and quite a number of other fruit plants do require chill hours, so be sure to investigate before you decide what to plant if you think your winters may be too mild…
Fruit trees produce blossoms, and anything that produces a blossom needs to be pollinated in order to produce fruit.
Self-Pollinating vs. Cross-Pollinating Fruit and Berries
Blossoms on plants that are self-pollinating have both the male and the female part inside that blossom, so it pollinates itself without any outside help. Self-pollinating plants include tomatoes, beans and legumes.
When it comes to your fruit you’ve got some varieties that are self-pollinating and some that aren’t. It’s really crucial when you’re putting in fruit trees that you know whether what you’re planting is self-pollinating, or whether it requires cross pollination.
When it comes to your cross-pollinating varieties, you need a different variety of the same type of fruit to cross-pollinate with. For example, if you’re starting a home apple orchard, you’ll still cross-pollinate an apple tree with another apple tree, but you’ll need a different variety of apple tree.
If youI have two Honeycrisp apple trees they’re not going to pollinate each other. You need to have a cross pollinating variety that will cross pollinate with a Honeycrisp somewhere nearby…
Even self-pollinating varieties of apples will give you more of a harvest and do better if they have a cross-pollinating variety nearby them…
A great solution for pollinating apple trees is to plant a crab apple tree in your orchard.
Crab apples are great because they will pollinate with just about every other apple variety and they have two bloom sets, which means there are blooms on the tree for a longer period of time than almost any other variety. This is helpful because whether you have other apple trees that bloom early or late in the season, the crab apple tree will most likely be in bloom at the same time and can therefore cross-pollinate with the other trees.