The Island Garden
Around Jamestown, apples grow well, as do peaches, plums, pears and even apricots. You can also grow soft fruit, such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and, if you want to, gooseberries, rhubarb and black, red and white currants. All you need is a small patch of ground and a little TLC.
But as they get larger, fruit trees need a little care, which usually takes the form of spraying and pruning. Soft fruit will need pruning and a little compost. But once your fruit bushes or trees are established, they can give you enough fruit to last an entire year.
When buying a fruit tree or bush, first look at the space you have available. An apple tree – when fully grown – may take up a 10-foot-diameter circle of your yard. A rhubarb plant will take up a 2-foot-diameter circle, while a blueberry bush can maybe take up a circle that’s 4 feet in diameter. A regular apple tree might grow 15 feet tall, but a dwarf tree might stay at 6 feet. Frankly, for a smaller yard you should buy a dwarf or semidwarf tree. (If you have space for only one apple tree, buy a grafted tree with three or four different varieties of apple on it. They are available at Miller Nurseries.)
Next look at the variety. If you are buying blueberries, for example, buy several bushes. One bush should be an early-fruiting variety, another a midseason variety, and the third a long-season variety. If you don’t vary the production times you will get all your blueberries at once and have to freeze or preserve them before you can use them. I have six blueberry bushes all with different fruiting times and find that we can crop blueberries for about six weeks during summer. Similarly, buy early-, mid- and late-season strawberries and raspberries to prolong your harvest.
To get the best production, keep your bushes pruned – this is best done over the winter months – and fertilize by spreading compost around the bush stem or tree trunk in spring. Compost helps prevent weeds, keeps the soil moist around your plants, and allows nutrients to get to the plant roots every time it rains. I have found that sidedressing with compost increases the yield tremendously. Similarly, plants such as rhubarb and strawberries get side-dressed with compost at the beginning of each season, which results in increased yields.
Around my garden, it is in the winter and spring months that fruit trees and bushes get most of their attention. Fruit trees are pruned and sprayed with dormant oil to kill off insects and the eggs that nest in crevices in the tree bark. All the fruit trees get this treatment and get sprayed again with a copper-based fungicide in spring. After the blossoms have dropped the trees are sprayed again with either a dormant oil or a horticultural oil. I find that horticultural oils and fungicides seem to be all that is needed to keep insects at bay until apple maggots and coddling moths arrive, then more stringent methods are required.
I detect the arrival of coddling moth and apple maggots by placing sticky red balls in the fruit trees. As soon as the insects show up I spray with an organic insecticide such as neem oil, which is available at Jamestown Hardware and The Secret Garden. Hopefully this controls these damaging insects, but they often need several sprays to get rid of them completely. After that, the fruit will grow to size and with any luck not have any insects. All the sprays I use are organic, but if you really want to eliminate problems without spraying you might want to wrap your fruit trees and shrubs with a lightweight spun fleece to keep insects out.
For soft fruit, winter is also a time of work. Last year’s raspberry canes – which are silvery grey – need to be pruned out, and this year’s canes cut to about 4 feet high. Prune out the old dead wood on black currant, red currants and gooseberries. Beware of the gooseberry spines: They can hurt!
The runners on strawberries can be cut and the small new plants moved to another location if desired. Remember to keep strawberries watered when they start making fruit.
With a little TLC it is fairly easy to grow tons of your own fruit organically – fruit that you can store or freeze to enjoy year round. It is relatively easy to make a fruit smoothie with last year’s fruit from the freezer. It is organic, tasty and healthful. Shouldn’t you be doing it?