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

What fruit should a weekend homesteader plant?

Chicago hardy figsA few weeks ago, I caught a stomach bug and spent a few days with absolutely no interest in food.  On our farm, I manage the larder and meals while Mark does the dishes and grocery shopping, so without me on the job, several figs and raspberries rotted on the vine.  The waste was extremely minimal, but it got me thinking about one of the biggest hurdles non-full-time homesteaders face --- putting in the daily time to make sure they pluck produce at its peak.  That thought set me pondering which fruit types are best and worst for the true weekend homesteader who only has two days a week to visit her garden.

Even though I think of them as productive and low work, I realized that most berries wouldn't be appropriate for the true weekend homesteader.  Raspberries tend to mold in our climate if you go more than a day (possibly two if it's sunny) without picking, and I discovered that ripe figs (although not a true berry) won't last much longer.  Strawberries are probably in the fig category, while blackberries are a bit more resilient and might manage if picked only twice a week.  Blueberries would thrive on this treatment due to their firm skins that give you a long picking window (although blueberries do fail the test of producing at a young age, not requiring nitpicky soil treatment, and being easy to propagate).

Ripening peachHow about tree fruits?  Only our peaches and apples are producing so far, so I can't really write from personal experience, but it seems like (at least in a humid climate like ours) peaches require attention a few times a week during the harvest season.  Apples are much more forgiving, and a weekend homesteader could easily pick the bulk of his apple crop during one crisp Saturday, then eat homegrown apples all week (or month, or winter).  From what I've seen elsewhere, I'd say pears are similar to apples (although you do have to take them out of cold storage a few days before eating to allow pears to fully ripen, so that takes a bit more management).  Plums are likely to be similar to peaches, but I'm guessing a bit less prone to rot (so easier to ignore for days on end).

On our farm (as long as I don't have a rare stomach bug), I actually prefer fruits in the berry category since I like the daily harvest better than the gushing influx of bushels of luscious orbs to be managed all at once.  (Not that the flood isn't exciting.)  But if I left the farm before sunup, returned after dark, and only had Saturday and Sunday to tend my homestead, I'd stick to tree fruits.  How about you?  Do you have any recommendations for fruit types that can handle days of neglect and still provide a bountiful crop?

Our chicken waterer makes it easy to leave town for several days without worrying about your flock.

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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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It has become tradition for us to fix a sugar frosted cranberry & pear cake for thanksgiving and Christmas every year. My granny has a young pear tree of unknown variety and no longer gathers the fruit with the diligence she once had. So, when we need pears to cook with (or make our holiday cakes with), we just rake the leaves and snow back from under the pear tree, and gather the left behind pears. Granted the texture is much softer, but the flavor is outstanding! Plus it has become a nice little tradition, and isn't that what life is all about?
Comment by Robert Wed Oct 9 07:46:21 2013

I know that many of the readers of this blog can't grow citrus, but they are the go-to fruit of my farmden. I grow cold-hardy Asian citrus- sudachi, kabosu, yuzu, mikan (satsuma) and of course kumquats. Think of sudachi and kabosu as lime replacements, yuzu as lemon replacement, satsuma as orange substitutes, and kumquats as delicious snacks. Great for Sudachi Pie, margaritas, kabosu-ade, and general cooking zest. But sour- don't get me wrong. The pucker factor is there. It took me a while to enjoy it, but now I can't live without them.

I would say look around for mature fruit trees at old farmhouses in your area. In my area every old farmhouse has at least one mature persimmon, chestnut, and ume (Asian plum) tree. They just grow here with no fuss or problems.

The problem is that I don't particularly like Asian plums.... So I trade their fruit for ramen at the local ramen shop, and all is happy.

That is my advice- grow what grows well, and if you don't like it, learn to like it or trade it. (At the local farmer's market, sudachi were selling at 3/$1.... I must have a hundred bucks worth on that 6 year old tree....)

Comment by Eric in Japan Wed Oct 9 09:08:34 2013
Back in the summer when I was harvesting wild raspberries, I didn't find it too much of a problem to go out every two or three days to get the berries, even with two jobs. I would get home from my day job and walk out to the bushes (which were in a wooded lot about a half mile down the road behind a closed gas station) and pick as many as I could. Then as my husband passed on his way home from work he'd pick me up by the side of the road. Very rarely was I still picking or waiting very long. Granted, very few people can manage curb side pick up while they're harvesting! But I can see berries being a good backyard fruit!
Comment by Emily from Bristol Wed Oct 9 09:52:15 2013
Emily makes a strong case that a few minutes a day for fresh berries should be doable. One of the cases for year round vegetable gardening is that if one variety doesn't make it or something gets away from you, then there is another season coming and something else to put in . . . that way missing something or losing something is just a month or so and not the year. With that in mind, I think that weekend homestead fruit planning should be staging, similar to what you have done with your calendar trying to get fruit to eat each month of the year. Stone fruit can be overwhelming because you have so much to deal with at once - but berries (including gooseberries and pink/red currants - my preference over black currants for fresh eating) should be manageable in smaller numbers. They might require a bit of picking over more frequently, but can be planted and eaten over a long season with the early and late varieties of each. If one can manage not overplanting, then you don't get hit with the guilt of missing some or having to deal with significant volumes for preserves. And if you have an extra cup or two here or there and freeze them whole, then eventually you will have enough for a batch of mixed berry jam or winter smoothies. With the addition of one or two fruit trees that don't require significant maintenance and can reliably produce in your area, then don't get overwhelmed if you can't keep up with preserving everything. Keep poultry and have a compost heap . . . enjoy what you can, preserve what makes sense from a time and resource perspective, and then just toss the rest into compost or give to poultry (or invite others to come and pick - that is what my mother regularly does when her raspberries and blackberries are at their peak.) The freezer is an easy and flexible preserving technique when time is short, particularly with berries.
Comment by Charity Wed Oct 9 12:13:42 2013

From my experience peaches are a definite no-In Georgia, I have to do a lot of spraying for diseases and insect pests (plum curculio). When my trees reach the harvest stage, i pick them every couple of days over two weeks or so. Some apples are a possibility, although they can be attacked by the curculio, too (so far mine have not been, but apples are usually a favored crop for them). The most carefree plants I have are blueberries and blackberries. Both can probably be picked over a one-week time frame to get decent, perfectly ripe, or slightly over-ripe fruit.

Nuts are an obvious different possibility (even though you have noted the hassles involved with black walnuts, they can produce a usable crop with minimal care...pecans, too).

Comment by Anonymous Sat Oct 12 09:12:43 2013

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