While it may seem a bit early to already be thinking of next year's harvest... I'm already thinking ahead. What can I say, other than I'm a planner and I have a lot of time to just think while I'm in the car on my commutes to and from work and meetings.
We inherited a home orchard in dire straights when we purchased our house two years ago. We have more than twenty apple and pear trees that are in desperate need of some TLC. I am focusing on giving this to them this year - by pruning them back (they're waaaay overgrown right now) and cleaning them up, making them healthy again. We've cut down several trees beyond repair and have several more to remove this year, but all in all, I think there's still hope for most of them - the pears especially.
Anyway, I've been talking to some of the local orchards that have stands at the farmers markets I visit and have been learning more about different varieties of fruits. So I'm thinking ahead to next year's (tree) planting season (mid-March to early-April) and want to keep track of the fruit trees I'd like to invest in. I hope to one day have a self-sufficient home orchard that will allow me to share the bounty with my friends and family! How great would it be to have access to super tasty, organically grown fruit??
This will be my running list of ideas that I'll update whenever I learn more and/or make a new decision. I know I won't be investing in all of these trees next year, but I'm going to start at least. This year I had the best intentions to plant peach trees, but our local nursery never got their stock in, for some reason. So next year, I've got to do some catching up. I'll be talking with a couple of my local nurseries in the next few months to discuss their access to and likelihood that they could/would order me certain varieties of trees. If I'm not successful on the local route, I'll be ordering them from some tree farms in neighboring states that have websites featuring online ordering systems so that I can ensure I get the varieties I really want.
First up... sweet cherries. I plan to plant sweet cherry trees next year (2010). The variety I've been most impressed with have been the Hedelfingen cherries. They are so sweet, they're like eating candy. Probably the sweetest cherries I've ever tasted! Although, the grower I know that grows this variety says that the sweetness of the cherry is dependent upon the drainage of your soil... the better drainage you have, the sweeter the cherry will be. Either way, I will definitely be getting a Hedelfingen tree. Sweet cherries need to be planted in groups of two or three different varieties that all ripen at about the same time to allow for cross-pollination. I need to do some more research into my second sweet cherry variety, but from the little research I've done so far, I'm thinking the Emperor Francis might be my next pick. And third, would be Kristin. All three of these varieties are hardy, which with my living in Michigan is a major necessity!
Next up... peaches. I'm hoping to plant peaches next year (2010), as well. Peaches are self-pollinating, so I really only need to plant one variety, so I'll probably just start with one and then add another peach tree or two in later years to allow for staggering the ripening of the fruits so I can have a longer harvest. Redhavens seem to be the most popular peaches to grow in Michigan. I like them because they're great for canning and/or eating fresh, and they're freestone. They're also bud-hardy... meaning they have a higher resistance to spring frosts (which happen often in Michigan and are usually a major factor in why many home-growers have trouble growing peaches in the area). So a Redhaven will probably be my first peach tree.
Next... tart cherries. I think I'll hold off till 2011 to plant any tart cherry trees. Tart cherries are necessary for cherry pies and while I don't make many at this point, I'm sure I would if I had the convenience of having my own fruit in my own orchard! Tart cherries are also self-fertile, so there's no need for more than one tree or variety. I think I'll start with a Montmorency, as they are very productive and very hardy.
Next... nectarines. I love, love, love nectarines! They are probably one of my favorite fruits. I'd love to plant a nectarine tree next year, but I think I will hold off until 2011. Nectarines can be difficult to grow in Michigan, so I think I need to learn and gain some more experience growing and maintaining a home orchard before I throw a nectarine tree into the mix. Fantasia nectarines seem like a great choice, as they're hardy, disease-resistant, and very productive. Nectarines are self-pollinating, so I only need one variety, but a second will be very tempting! Redgolds have all the same qualities of the Fantasias, so I think that'd be a strong runner-up. Although, it might be fun to throw a white-fleshed variety into the mix, too. Arctic Glo nectarines have a good hardiness and disease resistance rating, so maybe that would be a good pick, too.
Next... plums. While I don't have any knowledge of growing plums (other than I've heard they're difficult to grow in home gardens), I'd still like to try them at some point. I think I'll wait till 2012 or beyond before adding plums to the orchard, though. I'd like to plant some Japanese varieties, of which I'll need at least two that bloom about the same time to ensure cross-pollination. The Early Golden variety sounds like a strong candidate as it is very sweet, vigorous, and hardy. The second variety that sounds good to me is probably Methley. As for European varieties (which also need to be cross-pollinized), Stanley sounds like a winner, as well as Victory. But I'll do some chatting with the orchards to find out what varieties they've had luck with on plums before I'd try them myself.
Next... apples. Even with all of the apple trees on the property at the moment, I'd still like to plant some new ones... some new varieties. I'm not sure what varieties of apple trees we even have, though I suspect most of them to be McIntosh and Jonathan apples. I don't want to add any apple trees into the orchard until I've "healthified" the existing trees, though. There's no sense in spreading any bugs or disease to a new tree. So I won't be planting any new apple trees next year so I can see how the existing trees do after a season of TLC this year. I'm thinking 2011 will be a good apple tree planting year. I'd love to have a Crimson Gala tree... gala apples are my favorite and I just like the timing of this gala variety. I'd also love to have a Golden Delicious tree, as I love golden delicious apples, too!
And finally... pears. I really don't think I'll need to plant any pear trees at this point, as we have a good number of them already - and four or five different varieties, both asian and european. So I think I'm set there.
As far as other fruits in the garden. I planted two Darrow blackberry bushes this spring that seem to be growing moderately so far. I'll watch them to see how they do next year and I may add another bush or two to their patch. I've also started a raspberry patch with some transplants from other parts of our yard and from a colleague of mine that seem to be growing very well. With the way raspberries spread, I don't think I'll have to do any more planting for awhile. I do want to invest in some blueberry bushes next year, though. I know you need a couple different varieties with similar bloom/ripening times to cross-pollinate and ensure the best yields, but I'll have to do some more research into what varieties produce the best in this area. Initial research has me interested in North Blue an North Sky and Tophat varieties... all of which have the sweet, wild blueberry flavor - yum! And at some point, I'd like to build a strawberry patch, too. Whether we'll have the time at some point this year to buy the wood to build the patch and then get the soil going, we'll just have to see how it goes. I'm thinking it might be two more years before we get any strawberries growing, though. I think the only thing missing are grapes, really. I don't know anything about growing grapes yet, so don't really have an interest in them, but maybe that will develop over the years. We had some grapes on the property, but Kevin tore them out last year since they were pretty diseased.
So that's my list... quite a big one, yes? But it'll be so awesome to accomplish! And really, having a home orchard and berry patches don't require that much effort if you're growing organically... which I'm planning to do. I did buy some chemical pesticides last year to use, but after reading the packages was too freaked out to use them - that is some really scary stuff that commerical and non-organic home growers spray on their fruit!! Its just not for me, if I can avoid it, which I know I can. :)