I'm curious if anyone is interested in backyard fruit growing. I have an average size suburban yard. I've been developing a small "backyard orchard" by reading and trial-and-error. Rather than a couple of full size or semi-dwarf fruit trees, I have dwarf and superdwarf trees, vines, bushes that yield fruit over an entire summer and into the fall. It's not perfect, and it takes some effort. The effort is not a bad thing, it is a form of meditative puttering.

Currently, we have:
3 super-dwarf apple trees. 2 bear about 3 pounds of fruit per season. One is "fruitless". They are still quite young, so I have some hope for larger crops.

1 "flagpole" apple tree. This one occupies about 4 sq feet of ground space, and is 8 feet tall. The fruit are good, but not very produtive. I need to work on my pruning methods. Last year there were about 25 apples on this tree.
3 genetic dwarf peaches. Peaches require special treatment in my climate due to disease. I've learned how to get a reasonable crop, enough for a household of 2 ravenous peach lovers, and prevent leaf-curl disease.

1 muiltigraft pear. The multigraft allows for pear production without having to buy a pollinating tree We have been eating pears for the past 2 weeks, every day.

5 sweet cherry trees. My partner loves cherries, and eats them by the bowl-full.

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5 fig trees. My success with figs is mixed. The trees are young, cutting-grown. I think that this year will be great, 4 of the trees have 30 to 50 figs each. The summer crop was small but tasted wonderful, and worth the effort.

5 grape vines on an arbor. This takes almost no garden space, since the arbor covers a pre-existing deck. Another vine over a gate, again occupies essentially no garden space.

Multiple berry bushes and plants.

The "Backyard Orchard Culture" method involves, keeping fruit trees or vines pruned to small size, so that they take less room. In addition, the small trees are often planted close together, which results in a dwarfing effect. The trees are kept pruned short enough that no ladder is needed for harvest. The trees are summer pruned, which restricts growth and encourages formation of flower buds.

This year we added 2 Asian plum trees and a multigraft Asian pear. We may get a taste next summer, but it will probably require another year to get a few bowls of fruit from each. I love fresh Asian pears this time of year, and they keep better than the European dessert pears. We also added a tart cherry, for frost resistance and prolonged bearing. For next year, I'm perusing a catalog for an long-bearing mulberry tree, and a couple more miniature apples.

Home grown fruit is often so much sweeter and more flavorful, compared to store-bought, that there is no comparison. The grapes are almost like candy. The berries are sweeter and juicer than anythign from the store. Fruits take longer than veggies, but they are worth the time and effort. It's like living in my own eden.

If there is interest in comparing methods, varieties, successes, failures, pruning methods, I would love to discuss more. Obviously, growing fruits is one of my personal gardening passions. I would also be willing to trade cuttings (grapes, figs) or scionwood (apples, pears), if anyone is interested.

Tags: backyard orchard culture, fruit trees, gardening

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Replies to This Discussion

Gorgeous photos! I'll be back to read the rest of your post later. I'm definitely interested in backyard fruit growing, although we're more than likely to repurpose our hayfield, which gets the most sun and has the best drainage. Unfortunately, I have very little to share, and much to learn.

You... can... grow... figs? I love Vermont, but maybe I need to consider moving elsewhere. We supposedly can't grow peaches, too, but I'm thinking about planting a couple in a microclimate in our yard and babying them.
These are some of our grapes as of today. This variety is Venus. They are so sweet now, it's like eating candy.


@Méabh,
Figs grow well into USDA Zone 7, maybe zone 6. My microclimate is zone 8 so they do well. The trees survive a freeze down to about 15F, some down to 10F. There are New Yorkers, up to Buffalo and Rochester, and Canadians growing figs, but it takes dedication and a strong back.

This is on one of my fig trees today. The variety is "Hardy Chicago", a Sicilian variety brought the the US by Italian Immigrants. Supposedly, it will survive a hard freeze, then grow up to produce a bush with figs the next fall. We had a record winter last year, freezing down to about 18F, and there was no dieback on any of my fig trees.

When the figs get droopy and start looking bad, that's when they start oozing nectar and are oh so good. They can't be shipped like that, and they don't ripen off the tree. So the only way to get truly good fresh figs is to live where you can grow them, or grow in containers, or bury the tree in the winter. I just finished covering the trees with a net to keep birds out.


You may not have figs, but we don't get maple syrup. So it depends on what you like.
Here's the staus report on our backyard "orchard" -


The "Garden gold" genetic dwarf peach, suddenly decided it's ripening time. We have 2 bowls of peaches. Some will be frozen for future use. Some will be eaten. The other genetic dwarf, "Honey babe" had fewer peaches, a month ago. The garden gold peaches were smaller - I kept asking myself if I should have thinned them more, and the answer is "yes". Next year I'll thin to about a hand-span apart. The peaches this year are small, but so aire the seeds, and the flavor is peachy, sweet, juicy. Worth the trouble. The tree is 5 feet tall, it looks taller because it's in a raised bed.

Grapes - continue to ripen. We are eating a pound every day. They get sweeter every day. Big production from a small amount of garden space.

We are getting about 6 figs, every 2 or 3 days. Enough for eating out of hand.

Apples will last longer, starting to fall off the trees, so we will need to pick them now.
Hi Daniel,

Your back yard looks exactly like mine right down to the fence (no dog however). I plant vegetables willy nilly also, an addition next year is a vegetable bed I have just prepared. I have about 25 fruit trees and berry bushes. Mostly trees. The first year I planted all kinds of bush and berry bush items and then lost track of what they were. Not enough sun killed off quite a few, so I removed a huge maple tree for morning and late morning light. Bush cherry is very hardy however. I am colder than you (0 deg. F. is normal winter) and even though winter temps are usually 40 deg F. average, we get that cold snap that precludes figs and pomergranates and other things I love. Figs are just marvelous, fresh with heavy cream and sugar. I see you have "horse figs" which are quite prolific, milder flavored and huge. We used to eat them skin and all. The small figs have the most intense flavor of course.

Your "summer pruning" interests me, would you give me a brief explanation/rationale? Seems my book(s) don't cover that. Next late winter is going to be my first pruning experience. 1/2 of my trees bore fruit after just one year, not much but significant. My peaches and apricots went from a singular stalk to 2" trees in just one season! I plan on pruning out the main stalk going straight up in an attempt to keep the height down, prune out the center and then prune all the less than horizontal branches at the bottom? The pruning books I have assume we know a lot and are rather vague, offering a lot of choices as to method but never getting into the nitty gritty.

I have a granny smith apple that produced 25 apples in the second year from a singular stalk planted early in the previous spring. I was amazed. But most amazing is that the apples that I picked AFTER the first frost this fall, were so sugary that the juice ran down your arms and face, and "clung", sticky. They attained full size early and then just hung there for 2 months, green bitter and all...then voila! Never heard of this...but then again I am a "Gonzo" in everything I try...just read the books and start doing it. If you can read you can do anything is my motto.

I want grapes BAD but I can't seem to get any to start...I need cuttings but the most I need is instructions on when to cut them, plant them and where. What are the soil requirements? Any help would be appreciated.

As to fruit preparation, In the absence of volume this and last year, I bought from local producers and ordered crates of fruit from a friendly grocer/vegetarian/bulk type store. I wash the fruit and cut and core (peel if necessary), place them in quart canning jars, a dash of salt, a squeeze of lemon juice and 3 or 4 tablespoons of honey. Tighten lid and then turn upside downside over and over (for juice) for a couple of hours...FREEZE No Processing. I do cherries with seed in and also tough to seed plums and apricots. If the fruit is really green and firm, you might want to add a tablespoon or two of water to encourage the honey to produce more juices. You might notice that apricots and peaches treated this way, when opened, will almost immediately brown on top from exposure to the air but this doesn't affect taste at all...have to eat them within a week however, whereas plums/strawberries last for weeks.

I have strawberries everywhere and they are doing poorly, very poorly for some reason...some stunted wayyy into the season and large clumps will suddenly brown, wither and die. I am burying them in rich potting soil as we speak. No matter where I plant them, they do not do well. They came from a lush strawberry plot of a friend on the Oregon West Coast so maybe they are just not suited to my clime? However, the Mexican strawberries and Oregon strawberries I managed to buy by the case freeze best of all. They just never seem to spoil if I follow the above mentioned procedure.

I make my own yogurt, grind my own wheat and bake...so fruit is a big thing in my diet. Yogurt and strawberries with a thick slice of buttered wheat Toast is heaven.

Off topic: I might mention buying uncooked tapioca pellets at bulk food stores by the quart/lb...lots...laughs. I get raw Jersey milk (11% butterfat) and make tapioca pudding which is as simple as falling off a log. It is absoultely delicious and everyone raves over it as it quickly disappears. I had to devise a double open (no lid needed) boiler as standard double boilers are just not large enough. If you make it, make a lot. I use an old Fannie Farmer recipe slightly altered if you want one?

Later...
Ogden,
Sounds like you like to do a lot of the do-it-yourself stuff that I like as well. It does take time to learn what will grow in a particular microclimate. For example, I'm about to give up on apricots and apricot hybrids, they grow and bloom and bear one crop of fruit then the whole damn tree dies.

Use the link in the original post to get to the Dave Wilson Nurseries method for summer pruning. It's working very well for me, for apples, pears, sweet cherries, figs. I'm branching out to sour cherries, Asian plums, Asian pear too, with 2009 being the year that I planted them. Possibly, they'll bear a few fruit in 2010 but I expect that the first good year wont be until 2011 or later. Takes some patience. This winter I'll also plant a Mulberry tree, which I intend to grow by the same method, and keep covered with netting to keep birds out. I'm also adding 2 more apples on M-25 rootstock, to keep them superdwarf, maximum size about 6 ft although my other trees on the same rootstock are 4-5 ft tall at 5 years old. We are still eating apples from those, I have an apple or 2 a day. My favorite so far is Jonagold and an unknow small variety that I grafted onto 2 of my trees from a neighborhood tree, small crisp moderately tart, but I don't know what it is.

The main rationale behind summer pruning is it is more dwarfing than winter pruning. It also exposes fruit to sunshine. It keeps the center of the tree open to reduce disease. Summer pruning is easier on the person doing it, because the weather is nice. For some trees, like Plums and Cherries, winter pruning might let more disease into the fresh cuts, via rain, while summer pruning lets them dry out and seal before the rains come.

I summer pruned the grapes because they grew so rampantly. The chickens love eating fresh grape leaves, so nothing went to waste. The major pruning for grapes is still midwinter. Look around your area, see who has grapevines that bear well for them. Most of the home depot and Fred Meyer's grape plants are varieties that don't do well in the Pacific NW. Summer here is too cool and short for COncord and similar popular varieties. Better to check into Raintree which is in WA State. "Price" is very much the best one so far for me, very early, plump grapes, although you have to like ones with seeds. Interlaken is second, and Venus is third. They are VERY easy and fast to grow from cuttings. I just cut in January, and plant in the vegetable garden with 2 or 3 nodes buried, and 1 or 2 nodes exposed. That method gives me about 50% success, which given that one vine can supply a few hundred cuttings, is more than good enough.
Quick question: Grapes: Prune AND plant cuttings in winter?
That's what I do. You live in a colder place - may not be possible to plant cuttings in winter due to soil freezing. In that case, I would treat them briefly to a 10% bleach solution to kill mold, bundle them, and put them in the fridge until it warms up. That works well with fig cuttings too.

This guy is the grape guru of the Pacific NW, and gives his method in the link.

here is a more 'official' method.

My personal tradition is to prune the grapes on New Years Day. By pruning midwinter, they don't bleed sap. Since my vines are mature (8 years old), I cut off about 90% of new growth, leaving about 2 buds from this year's growth. Those 2 buds on each spur are what give my next year's crop. By the end of the year, they will grown 6 to 8 feet of new growth.

Two years ago, I chopped up all of the prunings and used the result to mulch around a fig tree. I had hundreds of little grape vines grow there from the chopped prunings. No rooting hormone, no special treatment at all. I've started both grapes and figs by just sticking them into the vegetable garden, just to see what happens.
Aaron, a liter seems like a lot of urine on one tree, unless it's big. I pee in a different part of the home orchard each time, to spread it around. But if your tree is thriving, who am I to argue?
Daniel: So its ok to pee on all fruit trees? I am a big booster of outdoor peeing. Might as well DIRECT it properly. That would be the height of micturating (in an artistic sense) I am getting tired of writing my name in the dirt.

The Indians collected urine and used it to cure deer and other hides. It ammoniates in a few days so essentialy you are putting ammonia into the soil. Ammonia what? I don't know...good Google search.
OK...Googled urine agriculture...

Urine is very high in nitrates, much lower in phosphates and potassium...excellent fertilizer, essentially ammonium nitrate on breakdown. It must be cut with 8 water to one urine (8 to 1) OR IT WILL BURN THE ROOTS.

So, in the winter when you aren't watering it is not a good idea. In the summer you should spread it around, preferably on wet/damp ground. The mercury, cadmium and other toxic metal levels are of a concentration that would preclude organic certification of your crop but acceptable levels for human consumption. Depending on your diet, the salt content might affect the plant.

In moderation it appears to be an OK fertilizer, however it is not utilized to any noticeable degree worldwide.

It sure has a lot of uses however. Good for cleaning a wound, making gunpowder etc etc...
There have also been some threads on GerdenWeb about use of human urine, and the old Organic Gardening and Farming (Rodale) folks were proponents as well.

What comes out in urine is partly what has gone into you. If you have mercury fillings and ingest or inhale heavy metals, yes there will be some in the urine. If you don't drink much water, the urine will be more concentrated. If you drink a lot of water, it will be more dilute. If you eat a lot of salt, the urine can have high amounts of salts. Many medicines are also cleared via the urine. Penicillin was processed from the urine of soldiers who were given it, during shortages in WWII. Also, some hormones exit via urine. Narcotics, of course - that's how people are screened for narcotic use. Happy earthworms.

As for fertilizer, it's mainly high nitrogen. Too much nitrogen leads to green rank growth, good for grass and leafy crops. Trees, given too much nitrogen, will grow very fast, but the wood will be weaker and the tree may not be as freeze tolerant in the winter - especially if applied late summer. Fruiting vegetables like tomatoes may tend to too much leaf.

However, I doubt that one or 2 people can supply enought urine to make much difference. I might be wrong. If it's rainy, or if you irrigate the area, the urine will wash into the soil and become diluted, and just become part of the natural cycle. I have one area that my dogs generally use, and it does kill the grass if I don't water it regularly. In the center of the area is a ginkgo tree that has grown incredible fast, usually 2 to 3 feet a year, and is becoming a handsome specimen. Other ginkgos in my yard, seeds from the same source, are only 1/3 to 1/2 as big.

Don't get arrested. Don't flash the neighbors. Don't go in the same spot every day. You'll save toilet water, which is siginficant in dry regions. Water it in so there's no smell. If you have a compost pile, that is another place where you can make use of urine. Again, it's a nitrogen source, so it can help if you are composting paper or straw.

Back to the backyard orchard, as long as it's not all in one place, it should be OK. Supposedly you should avoid any nitrogen supplement around grapes, they'll be all leaf and no grape, but my grapes are overproductive, if anything, and are right next to the dog area. Same rule would likely apply to any fruit. Moderation, moderation.
I'm a big fan of growing our own food. In my northern California climate I'm growing lemon, lime, mandarin, grapefruit, white peach, Italian plum, d'anjou pear, asian pear, hollyleaf cherry (California native), almond, and apricot trees in my backyard. It's a medium/large suburban yard but we've got a swimming pool smack in the middle, so the trees pretty much line the fences. I originally planned on espaliering, but chickened out as it seemed more high-maintenance than I'm ready for. Most of the trees are semi-dwarf and are planted about 6-8 ft apart. I also have a fuji apple, pomegranate, and a couple pineapple guavas planted out front where I water only frequently. Just recently learned that there are dwarf fig trees, so I'll be sure to plant one!

How did you fend off the curly leaf on your peach tree? Is there a natural way to do this? (How do peach trees survive in nature? (do they?) I haven't sprayed my peach tree for the past 4 years. It usually gets a little curl in the early spring. Once the weather heats up though, the curled leaves fall and the remaining leaves are fine. Last year though.... the whole tree got the curl and all the leaves fell! New ones came though and it still produced, but only about a 3rd of the prior year's yield.

We get occasional freezes here (recently down to about 24F) and I've learned a few tidbits to help the less hardy plants.
1) Using x-mas lights on our lime tree only saved the foliage right next to the lights.
2) Using a floodlamp under our lemon tree saved many fruits in roughly a 3 ft wide column going up through the tree. No lemon tree foliage was damaged by the freeze, but a few lemons that were out of the warming column have started rotting.
3) One pineapple sage plant died back completely to the ground from the freeze while a taller one growing beneath a tree suffered no die back at all. So, exposure (to the cold night sky?) seems to make a big difference.

For future freezes, I'll try a combination of floodlamp below and a sheet above to save the less hardy fruit trees.

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