Growing Fruit on your Homestead
There is an old saying, “the best time to plant a fruit was 20 years ago. The next best time is now” (Chinese proverb). For any homestead there are a lot of options to consider when selecting fruit trees. Apples? Pears? Oranges? This is a list of some alternatives that are just as wonderful and often have many other benefits besides good taste.
What to grow?
But first there are two main considerations. First, your climate and USDA hardiness zone. Second, what you are willing to try! I beseech you to look past the normal fruits that are grown commercially throughout the US. Especially if you live in the south where chill hours may not be enough for the more traditional fruits. These are some great ones to try. Many of them are not grown commercially because they don’t ship well. But nothing beats a sun ripened fresh fruit from the garden!
Exotic Fruit Trees
6 to 11, best suited for 8-10
About and Care:
There are many varieties of fig trees. Fig trees are deciduous. This means they drop their leaves every fall. There are cold-hardy cultivars that can grow in areas up to zone 5 including Chicago, Celeste and Brown Turkey. You can grow them in pots pretty easily.
Fig trees produce fruit that range in color and size. Generally, figs are around 2-3 inches long, about 1-2 inches at the thickest part and turn into a dark purple. There are some varieties that remain green even when ripe such as Adriatic, Calimyrna and Kadota.
Be sure to keep in mind that they need to be self-pollinating varieties. Most reputable local nurseries will carry these. Figs are ripe for a short period of time on tree but will be . They are also a beloved favorite for many birds and other creatures. Water for the first couple of years. Side dress with compost or light fertilizer in the spring. They grow up to 30 feet tall. One of the great aspects of figs is that they are relatively disease tolerant and parasite resistant.
Taste and Use:
Honey like syrupy taste that is similar to berries, best fresh but can be made into jam and canned or dried (most common) like raisins/prunes
Sources: https://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/how-to-grow-figs; https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/fruits/figs/cold-hardy-fig-trees.htm; https://www.thespruce.com/all-about-figs-4021777; https://www.thespruce.com/fig-varieties-4057270; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_fig; http://www.lsuagcenter.com/NR/rdonlyres/C8C23BD3-6905-4850-A776-D2589863A34A/38103/pub1529Figs.pdf; https://gardenerspath.com/plants/fruit-trees/how-to-grow-fig-tree/
5A to 9
About and Care:
The Paw Paw is a North American native that has many names: Indiana Banana, American Custard Apple, Pawpaw and Pawpa. Like figs, they have an extremely short shelf life and do not make good candidates for shipping. Perfect for backyard eating!
Many pawpaws are difficult to start from seed because they require a certain amount of “stratifying” (which is a period of cold). Also, they can not be allowed to dry out. Despite this, there are several reputable nurseries that carry Paw Paw. One of the best features of the Paw Paw is the hardiness. They are grown from Florida to Canada and should be no problem for your backyard or farm.
The main issue with pawpaws is in pollination. This may require hand pollination as the bees do not seem to care. With a little love, this can definitely be a good addition to your homestead.
Taste and Use:
People have described the taste as a mix between bananas, pineapples and mangoes. They have a smooth texture, similar to a banana. They are actually a type of berry that grows 3 to 6 inches long. Pawpaws ripen from green to yellow to eventually brown. The skin and the large seeds inside are not edible.
Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asimina_triloba; https://www.starkbros.com/growing-guide/article/all-about-pawpaws; http://www.thesurvivalgardener.com/how-to-grow-pawpaws-from-seed/; https://www.wildflower.org/expert/show.php?id=8990; http://www.blossomnursery.com/pawpaw_habitat.html; http://www.lsuagcenter.com
8 to 11, down to 11 degrees Fahrenheit
About and Care:
Originally from South America, this tree has become a popular landscape hedge. Part of the reason it is not commercially available is the difficulty in knowing when they are ripe. It is visually difficult.
This underappreciated little evergreen hedge tree carries a delicious fruit and grows up to 20 feet tall and wide. It has the added benefit of being a home for small wildlife and the hummingbirds enjoy the flowers. They grow more like a hedge than a tree but can reach up to 20 feet tall and just as wide. The flowers are edible too! But don’t eat too many as you will want to wait for the fruit.
Because of its tropical nature it is an evergreen, which is also why it makes a nice hedge. Wait for the fruit to drop for the sweetest taste. Pests are rare. These plants prefer slightly alkaline soil and good sunlight. Saplings can burn in the sun.
Most people eat it fresh, cut in half and scoop out the flesh. Also, pineapple guava can be hidden in many sweets and as uses similar to other tropical fruits.
Sources: https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/fruits/pineapple-guava/feijoa-pineapple-guava-info.htm; http://www.ediblelandscapingmadeeasy.com/2011/12/21/pineapple-guava-a-great-shrub-for-your-edible-landscape/; http://homeguides.sfgate.com/tell-pineapple-guavas-ripe-72668.html
Loquat (aka Japanese Plum)
Hardiness: 7 to 10, down to 10 degrees
About and Care:
First of all, the loquat is an excellent evergreen hedge plant that produces lovely fruit for the homestead. The loquat tree is known for being able to grow in the understory with some shade and still produce a crop. Also, they are great as a wind break. Loquats make a good looking espalier which more sensitive to pruning plants would not make good candidates for. Loquat trees can grow to 25 feet tall. Also, this tree is also fairly hardy. It is able to withstand temperature down to 10 degrees Fahrenheit (zones 7-11).
In addition, the fruit, which ripens in late winter, can be destroyed by temperatures below 27 degrees. Also, the loquat makes an attractive evergreen through zone 7. Fruit production is best in zones 9 and above. In my experience, we have several of these at my work (zone 8b) and when they do produce, its a lot! However, it is definitely not every year as some winters are more mild than others.
There are lots of health benefits of loquats including reducing blood pressure, preventing diabetes and lowering cancer risk. They have a tart taste to them and large seeds that need to be removed. Some people eat them without the skin.
Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loquat; https://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/loquat.html; https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/fruit/loquat.html; https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/fruits/loquat/growing-loquat-fruit.htm; https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/citrus/loquat.htm
8b to 11
About and Care:
Avocados hail from South Central Mexico. They produce a large berry that we all recognize. It is an evergreen that grows up to 80 feet tall. Pollination is usually completed by honey bees and other insects.
Especially relevant, the most hardy variety is Mexican. Seems like many people have more success growing avocados in pots and bringing them in during the winter. Avoado seeds are easy to sprout. However, those usually do not produce fruit. Therefore, you are most likely to have success when growing grafted trees (not from the seeds) and having at least two for cross pollination.
First of all, unlike most fruits, avocados are buttery and fatty. In general, avocados are used in Mexican and TexMex cuisine, especially for guacamole.
Sources:https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/fruits/avocado/indoor-avocado-plant-care.htm; http://homeguides.sfgate.com/need-two-avocado-trees-reproduce-64818.html; http://homeguides.sfgate.com/make-avocado-tree-bear-fruit-44718.html; http://www.extento.hawaii.edu/Kbase/crop/crops/i_avocad.htm
What we have here?
Here we have a lemon tree, loquat, 3 blueberry bushes, a strawberry patch (they’re perennial here), a fig tree, paw paw and two enormous 100 year old pecan trees. As a result, we get a good amount of fruit, however, we are hoping for more soon!
What fruit trees do you recommend? Leave a comment and thanks for stopping by!
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