This is The ChangeUnderground for the 19th of April 2021.
I’m your host, Jon Moore
Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!
Last week I looked at specialising in herbs, this week the focus is fruit.
There is much to recommend this approach to food production in the backyard and on a smallholding.
I divide fruit into three areas. Tree fruits, bush fruits and ground covers. Let’s start with the ground covers.
Fragaria ananassa, Strawberries are the obvious choice. Because you can grow them for a few years, they fit nicely into an eight bed rotation. It would run something like this:
Bed 1 Sweet corn
Bed 2 Tomatoes
Bed 3 Beans
Bed 4 Potatoes
Bed 5 Cucurbits
Bed 6 Strawberries one year old
Bed 7 Strawberries two year old
Bed 8 Strawberries three year old.
Then move each bed forward each summer replacing the three year old strawberries with sweet corn and the cucurbits with strawberries in their first year. You would probably need to buy these in as strawberries are susceptible to viral infections. If you found you didn’t have any viral effects, you could take runners from the first year’s plants, pot them up and use them in the new bed once the cucurbits were out.
In theory, with good soil health and choosing older varieties of strawberries the viral thing wouldn’t be an issue. Maybe starting from seed using heirloom/heritage varieties would be a work around. I’d go for the older varieties as they haven’t had the “market” pressures to produce large, brightly coloured, tasteless fruit that transports well. Strawberries have been subject to this effect as much as tomatoes.
As an alternative, there’s a species (Fragaria vesca) known as Alpine Strawberries. These are related but different. Smaller fruits with a huge flavour punch they do not transport well at all. Available in white and red, they are on my to plant list.
A more traditional set of fruits would be from the cucurbit family. Rockmelons, (cantaloupes in some places), water melons and sweet squash/pumpkins would all be alternatives in the ground covering area.
The bush types of fruit open to a much larger range of choices. Blueberries, raspberries, brambles, jostaberries, tazzberries, currants, gooseberries and I could go on. These are biennials (raspberries and brambles) or perennials, the rest. Even the biennials have perennial roots so they can all form a backbone structure to a garden. Each bush needs more space than say a strawberry plant but the productivity per unit area is about the same or higher. Why would you choose to go down this path? Well harvest times and this will vary as will the actual bushes/brambles you can grow where you will vary but the harvest times could be set up to match holidays or children’s school holidays so that plenty of labour is around when you need it. Otherwise, after planting, it’s just the pruning and the feeding. Harvest really is the big time for these fruits.
Now if you’ve picked older varieties for flavour purposes, the berries will need to be frozen or preserved in some way. Of course huge amounts can be consumed fresh and I am guilty of this when it comes to the raspberries in particular. But this uneven workflow could be just the ticket with your lifestyle. In a larger backyard or allotment situation it may be a great little money earner, especially with a value add. So rather than just fresh raspberries, you could make and sell raspberry jam, raspberry coulis, raspberry cordials, raspberry wine or even dried raspberries. With most of the fruits mentioned above, all of these could be an option. In fact, with the time management involved, fruit patches could be spread out across a suburb or neighbourhood using other people’s land where you pay for that privilege in fresh and or preserved fruit treats. This type of fruit, bush size, is not a particularly popular niche. Either it’s produced across vast acres under polytunnels here is Tasmania or it’s just a bush or two in people’s backyards. I would think eBay, at the least would be a good place to test selling some of the preserved fruit options. Wine might not be legal, except for personal consumption but the other options would be perfectly fine.
This is where your options both open wide and come crashing against space limits. I remember a few years back, well ten as it turns out, we had an ancient pear tree with thorns growing all over it and weird bumpy fruits that were the best tasting pears I’d ever eaten. I never did track down the variety but I did discover there are at 30,000 named varieties around the world. This tree was 20 metres (60 feet) tall. Gnarled and twisted and at least 110 years old it would not be a variety for the backyard or a pot on the balcony. Grafted onto dwarf rooting stock and espaliered along a fenceline or garage wall it might be a choice to make. The spines probably ruled it out but the point is there are so many choices, one would fit well.
I wouldn’t be sticking to pears either. Depending upon your location, other pome fruits, apples, quinces and loquats would be good. Stone fruits are another option as are citrus. Even almonds and hazelnuts could be worked into the garden plan.
The reasons for bush fruits are not dissimilar to why you’d favour tree fruits. With a few trees and longish fenceline you could space out the harvest for a more gradual approach across the harvest time. From early varieties all the way through to late ones your choices would determine how busy you’d be for how long. The same preserving ideas would apple to these fruits as all the others and for the same reasons. We fed our excess fallen fruit to our yos before mating to have them on a rising plane of nutrition leading into mating. This meant far more twins which seemed a good swap for some spoiled fruit. Here we just feed them to the pigs and the chooks and still have plenty for eating fresh, preserving and baking.
Much like the herbs last week, I’m not suggesting you can’t mix fruit ion with other foods. Indeed a mix of vegetables, herbs and fruits is what I grow here. The point of the last two episodes is to show that a little specialisation could have you growing more of your own food than you realised, especially if you don’t have the time for gardening all year.
There is much to be said for perennials systems. They tend to be more stable over time, they solidify the soil structures around them, providing anchor points for mycorrhizal structures and capture carbon for the long term.
I’d love to see more fruit trees as part of municipal plantings but I can see the fruit industry whinging about unsprayed crops and disease harbouring clusters of fruit trees. We can but see the vision and work towards it.
A quick reminder that The ChangeUnderground is supporting the Bubugo Conservation Trust in Uganda through ten percent of the course sales and the Buy Me a coffee link at WorldOrganicNews.com (Link in the show notes)
If you have any questions, thoughts or suggestions, I opened a new Facebook group I’ve called, imaginatively, The ChangeUnderground Podcast Group. You search on the FB or there’s a link in the show notes and in the transcript over at WorldOrganicNews.com episode 253. And big hello and welcome to Pat and Aimee.
Remember fruit growing is a great way to decarbonise the air and recarbonise the soil.
Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back next week.
The ChangeUnderground Academy No-Dig Gardening Course:
Bubugo Conservation Trust