Why have four fruit trees when you can have twenty? Why have only two varieties of apples for cross pollination when you can plant seven and snack on apples all season long? In November, I would have answered, “because I live in a city” with the tonal equivalent of a “duh” embedded within the response. But then, as I was searching for which heirloom varieties of fruit trees I wanted to purchase, I discovered Backyard Orchard Culture. Indeed, why would I have only four fruit trees when I could have twenty?
Backyard Orchard Culture is the use of high-density plantings of trees in order to maximize harvest and the length of that harvest time through the selection of varieties that mature successively. The trees are carefully pruned to not grow beyond a chosen height. For us, smaller trees will be easier to manage than larger ones, and while I certainly want to can fruit, I’m not sure that the frantic canning of an entire apple tree’s fruits would make for a particularly good week or so on my part. By having more and smaller trees, we can enjoy a larger variety of fruits for a longer period of time. My original urban homestead plan was for two apple trees, a cherry tree, and a peach tree. How quaint. Today, we planted seven apples, six cherries, four peaches, two figs, and a plum tree. For those of you who are interested in learning more about Backyard Orchard Culture, Dave Wilson Nursery has an entire video series that I found instructive.
We purchased our trees from Trees of Antiquity, a family-run organic nursery, and I cannot tell you how many hours I spent reading through all the different descriptions of the various kinds of heirloom trees to develop my lists (yes, lists) on trees I liked with their distinct characteristics. Whittling down my list to 20 trees was difficult. My goal in selecting trees was to (1) select heirloom varieties, (2) have fruits ripen successively with assured cross pollination, and (3) select varieties with some disease resistance wherever possible. Also, to mollify the husband’s horror at the eviscerated orchard budget, two of the trees underwent a magical transformation from bearing the pears I had imagined to bearing figs, which is definitely what sealed the deal on our mini orchard for my fig-loving husband.
After dreaming about fruit trees for the last year of home ownership, those dreams are now planted in our garden where we will continue to cultivate their fruition.
Our Mini Urban Orchard:
- Arkansas Black Apple, 1886
- Ashmead’s Kernel Apple, England, 1700
- Cox’s Orange Pippin Apple, England, 1830
- Gloria Mundi Apple, New York, 1804
- Stayman Winesap Apple, Kansas, 1866
- Summer Rambo Apple, France, 1535
- White Pearmain Apple, England, 1200
- Black Republican Cherry, Oregon, 1860
- Black Tartarian Cherry, Russia, 1794
- English Morello Cherry, 1500s
- Kansas Sweet Cherry, Kansas
- Montmorency Cherry, France, 1600s
- Napoleon Cherry, Europe, 1700s
- Fay Elberta Peach, 1945
- Peregrine Peach, England, 1800s
- Polly White Peach, Iowa, 1920s
- Red Haven Peach, Michigan, 1930s
- Stanley Plum, New York, 1926
- Verte Fig, Spain