How to Grow Fruit Trees
How to Plant Fruit Trees
Our Holistic Pest and Disease Management
Sources of Inspiration and Suppliers
Please note we do not endorse any group or organization listed, they are listed alphabetically. The list is simply meant to provide you with a starting point of resources into the wonderful world of growing healthy food and soil. Additionally, we would rather point you to the respective experts in their fields, rather than simply re-selling their products; sources with a "W" at the end indicate they are a wholesaler for medium to large scale operations (or are applicable to them), "R" indicates they support retail sales (or are applicable to them).
Advanced Compost; high quality compost, a great option for those local to Wilmot Township. W/R
Apricot Lane Farms; these fine folks created The Biggest Little Farm documentary, a must-see for permaculture inspiration! W/R
Avalon Orchards; certified organic u-pick orchard. R
Black Swallow Living Soils; source for organic neem oil and other soil amendments. W/R
Fiddlehead Nursery; edible perennial plants for small-medium spaces. Wonderful selection, we recommend booking a guided garden tour with Ben, it's awesome! R
Field and Forest Products; organic mushroom spawn material with very simple instructions for production of any size. W/R
Fungi Perfecti; trees and fungi are a package deal, you can't have one without the other. Paul Stamets, renowned mycologist is a great resource on everything mushroom! W/R
Ground Covers Unlimited; cover your orchard floor with native (some options are edible) perennials. Family owned, excellent source for plant/soil knowledge. W
Holistic Orchard Management; our go-to troubleshooting teacher, Michael Phillips. We recommend getting either his book or DVD, both are filled with a plethora of useful information. W/R
Les Fermes Miracle Farms; we were so intrigued by Stephan Sobkowiac's N-A-P orchard, we copied it in out new (2019) test orchard. W/R
Of Apples and Cider; renowned for his cider and book, Claude Jolicoeur is the authority on growing Canadian-hardy cider apples. W/R
OMAFRA fruit tree problem identifier; a useful source to help figure out what's eating/affecting your tree(s). W/R
Orchard People; Great resource for fruit tree care, excellent free info for pruning tips, pest management and how-to-everything for backyard orchardists. R
Organic Gardener's Pantry; we get our effective microbe mother culture here for the 3 spring sprays. Great source for certified organic soil amendments. R/W
Rittenhouse; we bought our 50 gal. sprayer here years ago, a reliable source for tools, sprayers, etc. W
The Savoury Institute; planning to incorporate animals into the orchard/food forest? Allan Savoury's book on Holistic Management is fantastic. We use his approach in planning our business, as is applicable to every business, no matter what kind. W/R
The Urban Orchardist; For the backyard and community orchardist, Matt is offering specialized fruit tree care, consulting and more. Focused in Guelph, ON. R
Tropic of Canada; ever wanted to grow your own pineapples or black pepper? Specializing in container friendly tropicals that can be grown in Canada (indoors in winter), great selection, great service. R
Vanden Bussche Irrigation; all your irrigation supplies in one spot with timely delivery. W
While this list leaves out many great resources, it's a start; there are more and more local permaculture-based farms, craft cideries, and related businesses opening up with fantastic offerings and a focus on local, natural farming and fermenting. We encourage you to visit your local cidery, chat up the farmer at your local market, and support whoever is growing food/drink the way you think is right, closest to your home.
Top 10 Backyard Food Forest Planning Tips
With more and more talk on organics, natural farming and all things in between, we have never been more connected and able to share information and our experiences. You CAN grow fruit/food naturally, with no chemicals. I do not have a pesticide license, and I grow fruit trees. I respect that this is completely a personal choice, and both methods have some pros and cons depending on your metrics.
3) How much time do you want to spend on your orchard?
Do you envision yourself tenderly picking each bug off your fruit, spraying some substance to dissuade would-be fruit pests, or completely letting nature do its thing? All are fine options, but I wouldn't recommend peaches or Honeycrisp apples to the 100% naturalist. If you are committed and super keen, grow whatever you like! If you are more middle of the road, like myself, consider choosing disease resistant varieties. Putting time and effort in to do your homework before planting will set yourself up to ease down the road. For example, don't plant the peach in the open pasture so you have to wrap it, mulch it heavily, and coddle it through winter, when you could have planted it in the shelter of the windbreak on the hill, where frost won't bite off its early blossoms. Also, look up your temperature zone. This is a good indicator of what you can or can't grow. That said, the intrepid gardener knows you can grow just about anything anywhere; where there's a will, there is a way!
4) How long do you want to wait for fruit?
Most berries, peaches, apricots, some apples, and sour cherries will see some fruit in their first 2-4 years. However, you can expect 5-7 years for sweet cherries, some apples, and pears. Saskatoons can take up to 15 years to come into full production. That said, within each type of fruit, so much can vary. Apples are a good example; Norland and Yellow Transparent tend to bear within 3 years, and are called 'precocious', while other varieties, like Honeycrisp, can take 7 years or more. On top of that, how active you are as an orchardist will also make an impact. The diligent orchardist will prune and nurture their tree into bearing earlier, while more easy going folks may have to wait a bit longer if they leave it up to Mother Nature. The variety of rootstock plays a roll too, particularly for apples: dwarf rootstocks will bear sooner, where semi-dwarfs have more vegetative growth to make before they focus on fruit production.
Apple trees range from approximately 8' to 20' but within those values, dwarf apples grow about 8' to 10', semi-dwarfs around 12' to 15', and full size will approximately 15' to 20'. We graft the remaining types of fruit onto full size rootstock for maximum winter hardiness, thus: pears are around 16' to 20', plums are about 18' to 20', sour cherries 12' to 15', sweet cherries 16' to 20', peaches 12' to 16', quince 12' to 16'. Between each type of fruit, different varieties have different levels of vigor and will grow to slightly different heights, which can also fluctuate based on soil health and location. That said, you can keep your trees to nearly any size with diligent pruning; though fruit production might suffer if you are too aggressive. Make these pruning cuts while the tree is dormant in February-March.
6) How many trees do you want?
Sometimes it's preferable to have more trees in a tight space for the collectors sake of maximizing cultivars (and the more pollinators, the merrier!), despite the additional work of staking your dwarf trees. Thanks to our ability to graft, 4 or more dwarf trees can fit where one semi-dwarf stands. Conversely, it also gets 4x or more expensive. But yet another thing to consider on the financial end: if you are thinking of getting (for example) 20 trees anyways, with the price difference between 20 trees with the quantity discount at 15% off and 50 trees at wholesale pricing of about 50% off, it might just be worth it in the end.
7) How much space do you have?
If you have lots of space, I encourage planting full size or semi-dwarf trees. They will last longer and they fit in well with organic/permaculture style orchards or food forests, where you can add helpful plants such as comfrey, horseradish, berries, etc. between the trees. Dwarf orchards are well suited to intensive plantings as close as 2' together and conventional management styles for ease of picking and spray regimes. Dwarf trees (avoiding tip bearing varieties like Golden Russet) are prized also for espaliering (training) against/or as, a wall or fence. Some spur bearing varieties that are particularly suited for it are Golden Delicious, Cox Orange Pippin, Egremont Russet, Freyburg, Belle de Boskoop and Liberty.
8) What is your budget?
Besides the obvious price break for quantity and wholesale orders, something to consider when planting an orchard is how much bang for your buck you'll end up with. For example, planting peach trees can add up quick in dollar value, compared to the modest apple. But, how can you resist an aromatic, succulent, tree-ripened peach grown in your own backyard?!
Planting a dwarf tree will yield less fruit than a semi-dwarf, and live a shorter life. If you are trying to maximize the amount of fruit you will get to the cost, I advise sticking with semi-dwarf or full size trees, with some berries on the side (currants or raspberries, etc) which are easy to propagate more once you have a mother plant established, if desired.
9) What flavours/textures do you like?
Sweet, tart, mild, crunchy, softer, a bit of bitterness or full of flavour? Different types of fruit suits different needs, and one size doesn't fit all. This largely applies to fresh eating, but if you have a specific quality that you prize, do a little research and make sure your getting what you want.
This past season, the plums blew me away: yellow-skinned, super sweet, melting flesh (Mirabelle), little blue-skinned sweet, spicy and juicy (Krikon Damson), small blue-skinned flavourful and jammy (Mount Royal), big red delightfully sweet-tang and winey (Waneta), large purple-red skin with juicy sweet flesh (Yakima). And as always, everything has more pizzazz off the tree. You think Macs are soft? Eat one fresh off the tree and tell me they don't have a most satisfying crunch! If you are close enough, come out to our annual fruit tasting, the weekend after Thanksgiving. In 2019, we tasted just over 80 varieties of fruit, mostly grown on site in our test orchard, all grown locally!
10) How would you organize your orchard?
Layout is important. Once you have your choices picked/as you pick your choices, take some time to make an accurate map. Google maps can be quite helpful in larger spaces! And update it as you plant it. Nursery labels fade faster than you think! I've planted my share of trees/plants over the years, and I make a map for anything that will last over a year. If you are planting more than a couple trees, consider spacing and what pattern (diamond, square, etc.) you want. Our test orchard is spaced in rows 12' apart, with 15' driveways between the rows. This works for full-size/semi-dwarf trees. If you are planting dwarf, you can plant much closer- do some research when planting larger quantities of trees so you do it right the first time. Also consider how you want them organized; ripening date is a common way of sorting, but type of fruit, use, tree size, etc. are also valid ways of organizing.
In conclusion, it's all connected. I encourage you to think about all of these factors when planting food, and of course, to try something new. Push your limit a little every season. It keeps us supple and growing inside. I've killed so many plants over the years, but I've grown so many more than I could ever have imagined! I wish you all the inspiration and drive to see your dreams through while you plan your own food forest/orchard/backyard/field/place!