For food production on a small homestead (or even an urban backyard), you really can’t beat a fruit tree. Trees will provide you with bushels of fruit every year, and can keep producing for decades with little added work on your part.
In most parts of North America, you can grow apples, cherries or pears. If it’s a little warmer for you, add in peaches, apricots or plums. Living in a tropical part of the world, then the world of citrus opens up for you. The choices are almost endless.
You’ll need to figure out how much space you need before you begin. A full-grown standard tree can require at least 10 feet of space all around it, but a dwarf tree can be happy in a space of about half that. It will only give you half as much fruit, though. Still, it can be a great option for small spaces. Also remember that a full-grown tree will cast a lot of shade. Don’t accidentally wreck your garden space by planting your trees on the wrong side.
Now you’re ready to go. Fruit trees are sold as young saplings rather than seeds, and their ages can vary by supplier. Typically, a tree will start to give you fruit at around 5 years of age, so your wait time will partly depend on how old the sapling is. Whether you have to wait 2, 3 or 4 years, it will be worth the wait once the fruit starts coming in.
Planting and Care
Once you have your little trees, it’s time to get them planted. Dig a hole that is about 2x as big around as the sapling’s root ball. Set it in gently, then fill in the space with good rich soil mixed with compost. A solid stake can help keep your skinny little tree upright for the first few years. Water it when the weather is dry, and that’s really all there is to it. Trees are wonderfully easy to take care of.
Insects can be a problem and there are some sprays you can buy commercially to treat your trees if necessary. In many cases, you are getting so much fruit that a few bugs don’t really impact your overall harvest.
As your trees get bigger, keep an eye out for dead branches. Cut them out right away to prevent damage to the tree if they break and to reduce places for unwanted insects to nest. Also, trim any larger branches from the middle of the tree (carefully!) to help get lots of sunlight all through the crown of the tree. More sun means more fruit.
And speaking of fruit, you’ll want to pick your fruit when its ripe but before it starts to drop off the tree. The fall will really give most fruit a bruising, leading to quicker spoilage and insect damage. Granted, a really large tree may make it hard to get those top few apples or pears, so have a ladder handy.
Once you start harvesting fruit, you’ll come to love your trees though after the first few bushels, you might start to wonder what you’re going to do with it all.