And so it begins: the genesis of a fruit orchard

The winter of 2007/2008 was the first in our house and it was a time of recuperating from our first marathon gardening season. It also gave us the luxury of time, which, of course, we spent dreaming of future projects and actually planning for the next gardening season.

My first project – a fruit orchard – took more time to organize than I ever thought possible. While I knew I wanted an orchard (I fantasized about idyllic days spent picking my own luscious fruits or picnicking in the shade of my fruit trees), I found it took a tremendous amount of research and planning to actually do it. I tried not to obsess about it, but there was so much to consider! Planning a flower garden is a piece of cake – if annuals don’t work out, there’s always next year. If perennials aren’t in the best spot, I have no qualms about moving them. But an orchard was such a commitment and seemed very unforgiving.

The easiest decision was what kind of fruit I wanted to grow – lots of apples, a few pears and plums and maybe some cherries and apricots. I wanted to grow some heirloom fruits – given the limited choice in supermarkets I wanted to help maintain the biodiversity of lesser known varieties. (Jennifer Bennett reports that in 1892, 878 varieties of apples were sold in North America; by 1922, only 100 varieties remained. According to Slow Food USA eleven varieties now make up over 90 % of apples grown and eaten in the U.S., with Red Delicious alone constituting 41%.) I also wanted fruit that could survive our Zone 5 winters; this includes species native to North America and others from cold climates as well as newer trees bred for Canadian winters. (The University of Saskatchewan has developed an impressive number of trees suitable for the Prairies.)  I also wanted some varieties that were, more or less, disease resistant. I also considered how the fruit (primarily apples) would be used: for eating, cooking or storing? Although I was reluctantly prepared to wait five to seven years for my trees to produce fruit (I was, after all, in this for the long run), I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I could source dwarf and semi-dwarf trees, which would fruit in three to five years. By happy co-incidence, most of the dwarf or semi-dwarf root stock was also very cold hardy. The last consideration was matching flowering dates to ensure pollination – in order for cross-pollination to occur between two or more trees, the varieties must bloom at the same time, or at least overlap.

Once I was satisfied with these decisions, it was time to decide which varieties of the different fruits were suitable. This is where the fun began, as I tried to identify varieties which satisfied as many of my demands as possible. Fortunately, I discovered Siloam Orchards, located in near-by Uxbridge, Ontario. This family-run orchard specializes in heirloom, Canadian and winter-hardy apples and plums. Their website was (and still is) difficult to navigate, but it was better than trying to co-ordinate purchases from suppliers scattered across the country. I discovered that many nurseries had the trees I wanted, but did not ship (mostly because they sold in five-gallon pots. Trees are normally shipped bare root). Another reason for using Siloam was that we could pick up the one-year-old “whips”, thereby saving the $40 minimum shipping charge. Shipping charges quoted by some other nurseries were about $25/tree (basically doubling the cost of the tree). Despite the fact that the orchard was a house-warming gift from my mother, I was loath to spend that kind of money.

I placed my order with Siloam on January 10th. Two of my original choices, however, were unavailable. I chose two replacements, but was frustrated to find that these alternate choices were also unavailable. The folks at Siloam were, however, very knowledgeable and helpful and through telephone conversations and emails I was able to identify two acceptable replacements. In the end, I managed to secure five apple trees, one pear and one plum from Siloam, three apples and a cherry from T&T Seeds in Winnipeg and a hardy pear from Boughen Nurseries in Nipawin, Saskatchewan. I figured if fruit trees could grow in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, they wouldn’t have a problem in my orchard.

By the middle of February my orders were in and confirmed for spring pick-up or delivery. It was now a matter of waiting (impatiently) for spring!

Here are the trees I ordered and planted in 2008:

Fruit/Variety Characteristic Use Zone Harvest
Siloam Orchards:
Hibernal Apple Heirloom Cooking/storage 3 Sept.
McMahon White Apple Heirloom Cooking 3 Oct.
Minnesota 447 Apple Cold hardy Storage 3 Oct.
Northern Light Apple Cold hardy All purpose 3 Sept.
Salome Apple Disease resistant Storage 3 Nov.
Mt. Royal Plum Hardy Canadian Fresh/preserves 4 Aug.
Summercrisp Pear Disease resistant Fresh eating 3 Sept.
T&T Seeds:
Gemini Apple Cold hardy Fresh/storage 2 Aug.
Goodmac Apple Cold hardy Fresh/storage 3 Oct.
Norland Apple Cold hardy Cooking/storage 4 Aug.
Pembina Plum Cold hardy Fresh 3 Aug.
Evans (Sour) Cherry Cold hardy Fresh/preserves 3 July
Boughen Nurseries:
Ure Pear Cold hardy Fresh/preserves 3 Sept.
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5 Responses to And so it begins: the genesis of a fruit orchard

  1. We are enjoying your messages. By reading, we get to do the permaculture stuff at least vicariously. Great info on the orchard and other edibles. You must be starting to think about pruning. I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject, because I have not found a lot of concise useful information on pruning fruit trees.

    Thanks for sharing
    Gary

    • joycemhiggs@gmail.com says:

      Welcome to the club, Gary! I did have to prune for the first time last year (subject of a future post) and it was traumatic (for me and Mike). None of the drawings in any books looked anything like my little trees. But someone recommended a book to Mike – we’ll check it out and post whether it’s any good. This is one area that a mentor would be a godsend. But, the upside is that none of my trees died, so it couldn’t have been that bad a pruning job.

  2. Mike says:

    I’m very excited for you, that sounds like a very good selection of trees. Other than the Summer crisp pear those varieties are all new to me. I wish you the best of luck with them and hopefully in …what, maybe 3 – 5 years you will start to have nice fruits from them. We are just now in the last couple years reaping the rewards of our fruit tree plantings.

  3. joycemhiggs@gmail.com says:

    I actually had one plum and one apple last year (although the birds got one and the worms got the other)! My biggest challenge is pruning (more next post). Without a local mentor, I’ve been researching online and in the library. Do you know of a comprehensive guide to pruning?

  4. Mike says:

    Here is a link on pruning that I like as it was easy for me to understand when looking at my own young trees.

    http://www.weekendgardener.net/how-to/prune-apple-trees.htm

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