My first attempt at planting and growing fruit trees began this summer. One day in May as I walked into a local store for Fevertree Tonic; there was a display of cherry juices and a cherry tree. The sign said “fill out the card and win a cherry tree.” So I did! Normally, I don’t! But this time I decided why not. A question on the card asked for reasons why cherry juice is good for you. And that reminded me of something. Several years ago, while riding my motorcycle around Denver on a very hot day, the fingers on my right hand swelled up. I had no idea why, but I could barely squeeze the brake. On top of that, it was very painful. The doctor at the clinic said he thought it was gout. Gout? Why would I have gout? I was under the impression that men typically came down with gout. And, I thought, doesn’t it normally affect one’s feet? It’s been about 6 years and I don’t remember what the urgent care doctor prescribed but I did my own research. My general practitioner wasn’t so sure it was gout in the first place. And whether or not it was gout I read that tart cherry juice can alleviate the swelling and the pain and to keep gout at bay. So I added tart cherry juice to my diet. Whether cherry juice has helped or not, it has never happened again. Was it gout? Who knows! Maybe it was a spider bite or a bee sting. Anyway, I received a phone call in June informing me that I won “the grand prize!” It turned out to be a 5′ Montmorency cherry tree.
I was planning on adding fruit trees to my yard eventually and this was the perfect start. I did my homework and found out this type is self-pollinating. That’s good. Also, it bears tart cherries! Hopefully next year, it will bear fruit. Though I doubt seriously that it will bear enough fruit for a pie! So now I have the fruit tree bug! Back in August I picked up a honeycrisp apple tree that I found in the back of a nursery with several others. It is about 7′ tall and had about 10 apples hanging from small spindly limbs due to being root-bound in a 4-gallon pot.
Now I really have to do my homework! I don’t have a lot of experience in growing fruit trees. And my mind just went into overload! What do I need to do to properly plant this tree? Is it self-pollinating or, as I learned, self-sterile? Since I consider myself to be an organic suburban radical gardener how do I grow this appropriately? After reading about apple trees, I found out the honeycrisp is self-sterile and needs another type of apple tree, other than the same species, to pollinate. I have a 40-year old crab apple next to the house and my neighbor behind me has a giant 40-year old apple tree. I learned these would be sufficient. The master gardener at the nursery told me that another tree has to be within a mile. A mile? Okay. I read that within 30 feet is better. Now, where should I plant this tree? This can be the most difficult aspect of planting for me—answering the question on where something should be planted! But I have learned that with most things I can change it out later. Obviously that’s not going to happen with an established tree! I thought about out front, on the side yard, because I am planning on redesigning the front to make it more of an edible landscape. Until I found out how tall this tree can get (15′-30′) and how wide it can spread (10′-15′). Well, that’s not going to work. I decided to plant it in the middle of the back yard. Next I’m going to need to prepare the hole for the tree. How wide, how deep? Most sites suggested 4′ wide and 2′ deep. Okay. That’s doable. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I remember hearing about planting trees only in months that contain an “R.” Does this apply to apple trees too? Also, I purchased this tree in August. August is typically very hot and that would require a lot more water to keep it going. So I decided to wait until September to plant the tree. I brought the tree home about the 2nd week of August. I figured I had plenty of time to get started on that hole. And as usual for me, it’s now September 3 and I am finally getting it started!
Most of my weekends have been filled with compost outreach at the local Farmer’s Markets. While there I engage in very interesting conversations with my teammates about farming, different types of practices, food and current events. I’ve mentioned the tree and some ideas were shared about how to plant. One of the guys recommended I talk to the instructors in my upcoming permaculture class about ways of planting the tree more efficiently. Another mentioned hugelkultur. While I’ve heard of hugelkultur, I’ve not used these methods, so I do not have any experience with it that I know of. There are practices I have used or learned and some I have never equated with an actual “name.” But I’m not sure how well that works with fruit trees, or rather, if there’s some amount of time that it needs to be set up first and then one can plant. So I can see that more research on hugelkultur is in my future.
Another conversation led to increasing the planting area for the apple tree all the way to the (full-grown) drip line. Wow, this will be a gigantic hole and also a lot of work for me! It’s just me and a shovel! But I don’t believe he meant a 15′ circle with two or three feet of soil removed. At least I hope not! I’ll be digging this into October. Well at least it’s another month with an R! So here’s what I’m planning to do. I am going to dig the main hole about 4′ wide by 2′ deep and slope the hole to be deeper in the center. Then I am going to cut out the yard in a 15′ circle about 6-12 inches deep beyond the main hole. Next I’m going to take leaves that I collect from the neighborhood and mix up with soil along with my cured compost. This should make a decent planting area for the new tree. The conversation then turned to what should be planted beneath the tree. Something to keep the grass from returning and something that would not rob the tree of its nutritional requirements. Then thoughts entered my head about some rain harvesting. I can redirect the rain from the back downspout through 3 or 4 hoses and allow certain areas of my garden and yard to receive more water and two can be directed to my two fruit trees. I do have a rain barrel under one downspout, but that’s illegal here. I like to use the rain water when starting new plants, shrubs or trees. So far, the rain police have not stopped by. But it also hasn’t rained much lately and the barrel is now empty. Is redirecting the water considered “collecting it” or is it truly a redirection? Well, I have time to research this and will just add it to the list. In the meantime, I need to get that hole finished!