The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Filling in fruiting gaps

Gooseberry layering

This has been a great year for free fruiting perennials.  Not only do our figs and grapes seem to be rooting very well, I found another eight gooseberry plants that have popped up around the base of one of our older gooseberries.  With such a profusion of riches on hand, the question becomes --- how many of these newly-rooted fruit plants should I put in the ground this fall, and how many should I give away?  Plus, I also want to fit in another hardy kiwi since I've decided to give ours a few more years' grace and also to try the specific variety and source Throwback at Trapper Creek suggested.

There are two main factors involved in my decisions --- filling in physical gaps in the core homestead and filling in temporal gaps in our fruiting schedule.  Starting with the latter, the table below sums up fruit plants we already have on the farm (or are definitely installing this fall):


Variety Harvest date Dependability Work
Fruiting now
Honeyberry, Blue Sea ?early May High? High
Honeyberry, Blue Velvet ?early May High? High
Strawberries mid-May to mid-June High High x
Raspberry, Caroline Red June through Fall High High x
Black Raspberry, Jewel early June Medium-high High
Raspberry, Bristol Black mid to late June Medium-high High x
Apple, Early Transparent
late June
Red Currant late June High? High
Gooseberry, Poorman late June High High x
Gooseberry, Invicta late June High High x
late June to ?Aug.
Blackberry July Medium High x
Plum, Imperial Epineuse ?July Low? Low
Apple, Pristine July to Aug. Medium? Low
Apple, Summer Rambo July to Aug. Medium? Low
Grape, Mars Seedless ? late July to early Aug. Medium? Medium
Grape, Thomcord August Medium? Medium
Peach, White mid August Low Low x
Peach, Cresthaven md Aug. Low Low
Plum, Seneca mid Aug. Low? Low
Grape, Reliance ? mid Aug. Medium? Medium
Fig, Celeste ? Aug to frost High? Low
Apple, Zestar! Sept. Medium? Low
Grape, Marquis ? Sept. Medium? Medium
Kiwi, Hardy, Dunbarton Oaks Sept - Oct Low? Low
Apple, Liberty Sept to Oct. Medium? Low
Apple, Sweet Sixteen Sept. to Oct. Medium? Low
Fig, Chicago Hardy Sept. through frost High? Low x
Pear, Seckel Sept. (and keeps) High? Low
Pear, Keiffer late Sept. (and keeps) High? Low
Apple, Winesap late Sept. (and keeps) Medium? Low
Watermelon October Medium-high Low x
Kiwi, Hardy, Ananasnaya Oct. Low? Low
Apple, Virginia Beauty Oct. (and keeps) Medium? Low x
Apple, Red Empire Oct. to Dec. Medium? Low x
Apple, Grimes Golden Oct. to Jan. Medium? Low
Apple, Enterprise Oct. to Jan. Medium? Low

Even though it seems like we've got the whole fruiting season covered, it's worth noting that some plants are very undependable --- for example, we've only gotten fruits from our peaches one year in three so far.  Other plants --- like most berries --- are quite dependable, but take so much time to pick that I can only handle so many plants.  Plus, who knows which of the varieties that haven't yet fruited will end up working for us, and which ones will be ripped out for one reason or another?

Fig cuttingsAll of that said, there are potential gaps in August (if the peaches fail), September (if the apples fail), and among keepers.  Increasing our fig planting seems like a good way to potentially fill the August and September gap with a dependable and only medium-work fruit, and grapes might also hedge our bets during the late-summer period.  I suspect we don't really need any more gooseberries, though, since they produce at the same time as Early Transparent apples, black raspberries, and red currants, but I'll slip in a couple since gooseberry bushes are small and fruit even in partial shade, so they help fill troublesome spatial gaps.

Speaking of which, where do I have room for new plants?  We're working hard not to expand our boundaries (except for potential pastures), but there are still a remarkably large number of sites right here in our core homestead:

Possible plants
By well
shady, kill-mulched spot
1 gooseberry
Along pasture fence
shady, kill-mulched spot
1 gooseberry
extra gooseberries
Gaps in forest garden
Mostly sunny, high-groundwater (but can plant on mounds)
5 figs
Old grape row in mule garden
Sunny, trellised
3 grapes (or 2 grapes and 1 kiwi)
South-facing side of gully
Sunny, would have to be terraced (lots of work)
3 grapes
South side of front porch
Scorching sun in summer, but potential frost pocket

Homestead mapThe spots to slip in gooseberries are pretty obvious, and the figs will work well in the forest garden as long as I build quality mounds to keep their feet dry.  But what's a good fit for the porch-side plantings, which have the primary goal of shading our living quarters in the summer?  I'm leaning toward grapes at the moment, although I'm not sure the plants will thrive there.

I know it seems very early to be planning our perennial plantings, but if I set my sight on new spots now, I can just dump wheelbarrows full of weeds there to build mounds and act as a kill mulch, keeping soil preparation time to a bare minimum.  Plus, knowing how much room I have for new perennials keeps me from trying out twenty new varieties that won't fit in our core homestead.  (That said, if you have types of fruit to suggest that would round out our planting, I'm always open to suggestions because there's nothing I love more than trying new plants.)

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I notice red currant on your list, but no black currant. I MUCH prefer black currants to the red ones. They are great on their own, can be turned into juice and frozen for a homemade sore throat remedy (that really works), and make a fantastic jam if you are lucky enough to have extra. Also, I think I remember reading several posts back (I read from the beginning over the last couple of months and have only recently caught up) that you were looking for plants to make a hedge - I have a gooseberry hedge along the side of my front yard and it works really well if you plant them close enough together. It takes a while to fill in if you have a large are, but you can keep starting new ones from the plants you already have.
Comment by Natalie Thu Jun 20 10:23:49 2013
You can not have too many gooseberries. It is not possible!
Comment by Katharina Thu Jun 20 10:29:43 2013

I have a similar list, though I'm still feeling my way through the harvest timings. I'm in the Pacific Northwest, so it is interesting to see some of your anticipated harvest dates. For example, I think of blackberries as very much an August and into September fruit. You will see varieties of blackberries for early, mid, and late season, at the One Green World nursery website and notice that only the earliest ripen in July in our neck of the woods.

I also see watermelon on your list in October. I would think watermelon and other melons would do really well in Virginia and would fill August/September timeframe.

I like rhubarb and have 4 plants in early years. It comes in earliest in April (it can be forced a bit earlier with an upside down very large bucket/pot. I do not like strawberry-rhubarb pie. I do like plain rhubarb pie, rhubarb cake, and lightly sweetened stewed rhubarb with cream or over ice cream. It is also used as a sweet/tart vegetable in meat stews in persian cuisine - particularly pairing nicely with lamb. It is incredibly easy to maintain. Simple weeding and mulching with compost should keep it happy. Rhubarb freezes so nicely, it is also useful for winter gaps. (I'm trying to figure out how to candy it; have tried it and love, love, love it.)

Gooseberries - again while the tart pie ripe ones are ready in June, we are eating gooseberries through July as they ripen and sweeten. I figured out the variety that came with my place is Captivator (I located a tag), and I've also since added Red George, Hinnomaki Yellow, and Jostaberry from One Green World. You might try more red, pink, and white currants in some of your gooseberry identified locations. I have one red currant now, but definitely have more currants on my list for expansion as well. Elderberries might also do well tucked into a corner that gets only partial sun. Elderflowers add an interesting component to early berry salads and makes a lovely syrup. I wonder about infusing elderflowers in honey for sweetening drinks like lemonade. I also like to toss some elderberries into whatever fresh fruit bowl I have available. I'm not sure I would eat only elderberries, but elderberry muffins, pancakes, in addition to complementing other fruit as something slightly different and flavorful.

I'm also thinking about currants and lingonberries. Both are slightly tart, but add interest to fall apple/pear sauces or compotes. We have a lot of wild salal. It isn't as sweet as a blueberry, but definitely is an interesting berry to eat fresh. I pluck and eat when I'm out hiking or walking.

I am so jealous of all of your figs. I still don't know what figs I have, but there are 4 struggling trees. Two I found had literally been frozen or eaten completely off and I just happened upon 3 little fig leaves emerging from the soil amidst the weeds and grass! Those two are now about 2 feet tall. The largest one was completely overgrown with weed trees and shaded by brush. It now gets almost a full day of sun and is getting larger, but still hasn't produced anything. I'm hoping it might try this year. And the final one was also completely overgrown and still is only about 4 feet of growth with small diameter branches. I think we are probably still a year or two away from any figs and probably longer from any type of significant fig production. I miss my large mature fig tree in Virginia.

While not fruit, I keep them on my fruit list because they are perennials and need to fit into the same space - Nuts. Nuts are what I'm struggling with from a space perspective. I have two almonds, and a neighbor brought over two oregon filberts (hazelnuts.) I love walnuts and would like to try pecan as well. Nuts typically need two varieties of each type, and there is no such thing as a dwarf or semi-dwarf nut. They also can take a decade to mature. This is why I want to get nuts in sooner rather than later - get them going. I'm desperately trying to figure out where I can stick two english walnut trees this fall, which I hope to get along with my next orchard investment of a Brooks plum, an Asian persimmon (still deciding Fuyu or Hachiya) and probably three grape vines.

Comment by Charity Thu Jun 20 21:35:08 2013

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