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

Our most dependable fruit plants

Baby pear fruits

It's that time of year again --- fruit-dreaming season! This year, the crop I'm watching most closely is my seckel pear, which does appear to have set around half a dozen fruits.

Falling flowers

Of course, lots can happen between now and fruit-ripening season, but spring freeze damage and the plants' ability to hold onto the developing ovaries are usually the deciding factors in whether or not we'll get to enjoy a given fruit each year. For example, our apples are right at the stage where failed flowers fall off at the lightest brush of a finger. The photos above show the same twig before and after my test touch --- there might be one apple staying in that cluster...if I'm lucky.

Winter-killed blueberries

Blueberry flowersUp in the blueberry patch, there's yet more bad winter-kill news. None of the rabbiteye blueberries outright perished in last winter's cold, but all were damaged. On the other hand, our two northern highbush blueberries are a year or two slower to fruit, but they shrugged off the extreme cold and are now coated with flowers. I guess I'll be digging up the rabbiteyes and giving them to my mom (who lives in town, at least one zone warmer), then focusing on northern highbush blueberries in the future.

Developing gooseberry

Next door, gooseberries and currants continue to prove themselves as ultra-dependable berries. Last summer, something defoliated our gooseberries long before their time...but despite the damage, the bushes are loaded with fruits once again. Winter cold, spring snaps, and apparently whatever ate their leaves aren't nearly enough to faze this thorny but productive bush.

Growing strawberry fruits

Speaking of ultra-dependable, our strawberry fruits are plumping up as always. Whenever I wonder why everyone doesn't focus on strawberries as one of their primary fruits, I remind myself of the hard work that goes into weeding out runners to ensure my plants stay big and the fruits taste delicious. But if you're willing to weed, it's hard to go wrong with this fast, productive fruit.

Strawberry comparisonIn other strawberry news, now's a good time to report on my oat-mulch experiment. As I suspected, oats seeded around strawberry plants in the fall competed with the main crop, resulting in much smaller plants with many fewer flowers in the spring. The plant on the left was in the control half of the bed, mulched with straw, and the little plant on the right further back was surrounded by a living oat mulch. I had to try the technique after reading about it...but I'm glad I only experimented on a very small scale. I estimate production under the living-mulch system will be a third to a fourth of that under my usual system.

Returning to the point of this post.... In the end, it feels a bit strange to be focusing so hard on fewer species --- apples, pears, raspberries, strawberries, northern highbush blueberries, Red raspberry flowerand gooseberries --- with so many experimental species being ripped out this spring. (Hardy kiwis, figs, and grapes are still borderline enough to stay...for now.) On the other hand, I learned from each "failed" species, and I'm now realizing that keeping only the dependable producers will mean nearly as much fruit with only half the work.

Mark and I envision a farm where we grow all of our food in half or a quarter of the current time in just a few years, and I can definitely see our garden working toward that point as we expand the top producers and cull the duds. Of course, I'll probably spend any time saved on further experiments. But what can you do? I like to try new things....

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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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Have you gotten mulberry fruit? Worth keeping around? I think there is a reason the 'old standbys' are old standbys. Not that new fruit isn't worth at least trying, but our predecessor homesteaders knew something about making their work count and prioritizing.
Comment by Charity Thu May 7 12:12:10 2015
Charity --- Thanks for the question! I clearly grow too many kinds of fruits since I'd completely forgotten about the mulberries. :-) They're absolutely trouble-free, and even though I planted them for the chickens, Mark liked the berries so much last summer that I think I'll start harvesting more for us this year. So, yes, add mulberries to the easy and dependable list!
Comment by anna Thu May 7 12:55:10 2015

Hi Anna and Mark,

I had been wondering which crops to spend my time with?

Nice list :) :).  And comments too :).

Comment by John Thu May 7 13:00:07 2015

What's happening with the hardy kiwis? With great hope, we've just bought some of these plants (zone 6b). What have been your problems? Anything you can tell us based on your experience that might help us? Thanks.

Comment by Carole Fri May 8 11:08:26 2015

John --- Glad I could help!

Carole --- Hardy kiwis are great...except that they leaf out too early every year and then die back during Dogwood Winter, which largely prevents them from blooming. Of course, they leaf out again later, but the plants have already spent a lot of energy on the double-leafing, and thus don't seem to have energy left to fruit (although I live in hope....).

I've since read that Issai might leaf out late enough to avoid spring freezes. A friend gave me a rooted cutting a couple of years ago which might be proving that fact...or might have been winterkilled. I'm still waiting to see if it survived last winter's deep freeze.

If I had to do it over again, I'd find some way to prevent the hardy kiwis from leafing out so early. Maybe if they were on the north side of the trailer, the shade might slow them down? Or maybe if I trained them along the side of a building, I could drop an insulative layer over top of them before freezes? Not sure....

Comment by anna Fri May 8 12:36:41 2015
In southern PA we always had the best luck with the Herberts a northern variety with big clusters of big blueberries... now that we're in SW Virginia, I started with more of the "southern" blueberries and they're just not doing well... I'm replacing several dead bushes with northern varieties (including my old friend Herbert) hoping they do better. Sounds like you're experience is similar. Good Luck :)
Comment by Anonymous Sat May 9 21:35:42 2015

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