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Monday, October 8, 2012

Having several fruit trees is not all sunshine and roses

So, I've been very busy the last few weeks. It's the main fruit harvest season around here.

That motley assortment of containers is the
 bulk of our plum and blackberry harvest.
This is one of 3 freezers, it's about 36 inches
tall by 24 inches wide by 24 inches deep.
While I really appreciate all the fruit that we harvest each year, washing, processing and finding storage for all of it is a lot of work.

We have 4 apple trees, 2 pear trees, 1 plum tree, 2 cherry trees, and 1 crabapple tree, that are bearing. We also have a couple of fruit trees that are not bearing age yet, but will be in a couple of years. In addition, we have strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, currants, grapes, and figs. (The figs and grapes provide so little, I just snack on them when working outside.)

In September and October we harvest apples, blackberries, plums, pears, crabapples, and cranberries. I try to do a little of it everyday, with the hopes that I'll get it all done before a hard frost. But I can only work so fast. I need my entire family to pitch in to get this done in time.

My husband picked all the plums, about 8 grocery bags full, and about half of the blackberries. My daughters picked the other half.

My daughters and I spent several hours last weekend processing plums, and about 3 hours yesterday finishing all the washing, pitting and chopping of plums for the freezer. I can now say we are finally done with the plums for this year.

I also washed my last 2 quarts of blackberries today. They are tucked into the freezer, along with about 25 other quarts of blackberries.

I have harvested the apples off of 3 of the 4 apple trees, and will start in on the fourth tree this week. When that tree is harvested, I'll begin with the late pears. (Apples and pears are actually my favorite part of the harvest, because for the most part, I just load them into the spare fridge, right off the trees.) 

Next weekend, my family will pick the crabapples, and I'll process those into juice for jelly-making, for later this winter. And then last of all, my son and I will harvest the cranberries. He has always picked cranberries with me. It's sort of "our" thing.

It takes every member of our family to harvest and process all this fruit. It's a lot of hard work, but when I peer into one of our 3 freezers and see it packed with containers of fruit for the winter, I feel a sense of satisfaction. I will likely not need to buy fruit, except oranges and bananas, for the entire winter and into spring.

Knowing how much work goes into this harvest, I would never fault anyone for not wanting to have these fruit trees. It's not all sunshine and roses. But I'm grateful for the bounty that they provide. 


  1. Hi Lili.

    I am really enjoying reading your posts about your garden and fruit trees! I'm trying to soak up all of the information I can from them.

    Being raised in a rural area, I watched my parents plant/harvest a garden each year. In addition, they had a few apple, pear and peach trees along with strawberries, grapes, blueberries, gooseberries and rhubarb.

    However, when I got married I moved into an apartment in the city. Later we rented a house in a suburban area and didn't have room for gardening besides a few containers to plant the hot peppers my husband loves.

    This year we bought a house in the country on 5 acres. We moved in early September and I am so excited to be able to start a garden in the spring. I don't remember much of the 'how-to's' of gardening though.

    Also, this house has a small orchard. There are 3 peach trees, 3 pear trees, 3 apple trees and 1 crab apple tree, 1 grape vine and also hickory and walnut trees. I don't even know where to start caring for the fruit trees (pruning, fertilizing (?), spraying for pests (?), etc.)

    There are a few crab apples but the pear and other apple trees are bare. I don't know what to think of that. My dad thought maybe since we had an extremely mild winter, the trees all bloomed early and then were frozen in a late frost. Or maybe they are still not old enough...even though they are pretty good sized.

    I could tell there were peaches this year (in my area, peach harvest is in June) becaue of all of the peach pits lying under the trees where the fruit laid and rotted. The trees look a little neglected and I don't even know where to start. I'm going to do some online searching about care of fruit trees.

    I am finding it helpful reading your posts about gardening and harvesting though. If you ever feel like doing a post on caring for fruit trees I would love to read your advice!

    My mom used to can and freeze fruit and garden produce and I remember it was a lot of hard work. She doesn't really do any of that anymore.

    Even though it's hard work, I can't wait to have my garden to work in and harvest next year. I'm hoping to have some fruit too!

    It's so rewarding to be able to put away food for the winter and know that you did the work yourself. I also want to teach my sons (10 and 16) some of the gardening skills.


    1. Hi Angie,

      Congratulations on the new home! You'll be making wonderful memories for your family to cherish.

      Like your dad said, it could be the winter producing an early bloom, and no bees buzzing about. Any inclement weather that will keep the bee population down during blossom time will affect fruit production. For us, that is often rain when the cherries are in bloom.

      The other thing that happens with a lot of fruit trees is they can get into an alternate bearing schedule, where one year they bear heavily, the next year next to nothing. If the trees bore heavily last year, then this year could be their off year.

      Without seeing the trees to guess their ages, I don't know if they're really mature enough for heavy fruit production. 1 of our pear trees had it's first ever heavy-bearing year. It just finally made it to maturity (we planted it in 2003). We have 1 apple tree and 2 other pear trees that aren't mature enough yet (planted in 2009).

      Trees on dwarfing rootstock (you can usually tell because they have a "knot" near the base of the trunk where it was grafted onto a dwarf stock) bear younger than trees not grafted. Our 1 apple tree from 2009 is not dwarfing and will likely take another 3-4 years to fruit.

      As you get to know your neighbors, if you see that they also have fruit trees, you can ask about their apple harvest this year, if they noticed a drop in production, or if poor weather hit right at blossom time, or a freeze shortly after. I found our neighbors to be a wonderful source of information on our particular micro-climate. One neighbor successfully grows figs, whereas mine have not done as well. This neighbpr gave me some really good advice that I'll follow in this next year.

      One thing you can do this year for your peaches is to rake up all the pits under the trees and get them out of the area. If you have any sort of insect problem, the pits could harbor and perpetuate it. Same thing with the leaves, they can harbor fungus and other disease.

      After a good raking, I like to spread some purchased high-quality compost around the base of the tree, leaving a ring of about 10 inches radius from the trunk of no compost. I use purchased compost as it won't have weed seeds or the specific diseases or insects that I'm currently battling. And for the first few years of all the trees I used those fertilizer spikes, specifically for fruit trees. A little pruning in the dormant season and that's all I do (and the pruning is more cosmetic than anything else).

      Good luck with yours. I'd love to have peach trees. Think of all the peach cobbler, pie, and jam you'll have next year! Yum!

      Thanks for reading! Crazy as it sounds, I often wonder if anyone is reading at all.

    2. Lili,

      Thanks for the tips...very helpful in getting me started! :)

      I for one, read your blog daily. Well, actually, I read it Monday - Friday but I catch up with the Saturday and Sunday posts on Mondays. Lol.

      I'm glad I found your blog because I really enjoy it.


    3. Hi Angie,
      I just now heard on the evening news that in many areas, a warm March (speeding blossoms) followed by a freeze in April (damaging blossoms) has caused a shortfall of apples. You're not the only one who didn't get apples this year. Hopefully next year will be a harvest to remember for you!

  2. Wow. That's a lot of fruit! Holy crap! I didn't even know people ate crabapples! And cranberries? They grow outside of a bog? I don't even think I know what a currant is. That's amazing that you can grow all that and eat/preserve it all. I can barely try to use up the fruit I buy in a grocery store. That is super impressive.

    1. HI Mallory,
      Yes, crabapples are edible. A friend of mine has a crabapple tree with larger fruit than mine, and she chops the fruit up for crisps. I just use mine for jelly.

      And cranberries grow just on regular soil. The whole bog idea comes from traditional harvest technique of flooding the field at harvest time. The cranberries have tiny pockets of air, so they float, making harvesting easier. Ours are just on a flat part of the yard, so we pick ours just off the vines, no flooding.

      A currant is a tiny berry with seeds inside, smaller than a grape. Because their so seedy and sour, they're best for juicing for cordial or jelly-making. We have red and black, but they also come in white. They're high in pectin so I use mine for jelly. The leaves on the black currants make a nice addition to tea.

      It is a whole lot of fruit! Good and bad! Someone has to pick and process it all, but it gives us basically free fruit for the year (I think the trees have already paid for themselves in fruit in previous years).

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. I would love to have all your trees, of course I don't mind the work outdoors, but it's the processing of everything that would drive me crazy. It's wonderful that your family helps with the chores involved in having the orchard.

    1. Hi Lois,
      yes, I'm fortunate to have willing family members to help out. I never would have gotten through all this without them!

      I was out picking apples today. Being out on such a lovely day is really nice. I understand that it has turned wintry in many parts of the US. I hope you're all tucked inside, warm and cozy, if the snow got to you, too!

  4. I love currants. In England we had black, red and white currants. Delicious eaten out of hand, with cream, part of a crumble (bit like a crisp) and jellied. Use a fork to gently strip them off their stems. Here in Canada, we finally have our acre and I've planted an apple tree and a pear tree with space for more. I found gooseberry bushes on sale and planted them in what's going to be a "bush fruit bed". I've started a raspberry bed and cut out of the lawn a space for cranberries and blueberries. Can't afford the earth yet - hopefully that'll be my birthday present from my husband. My neighbour has blackcurrant bushes so together we're trying to "layer" the longer stems to make new bushes for me. I'm trying so hard to stay patient and keep telling myself it takes time to build up a good orchard frugally.

    Do you dehydrate anything. I would love to, but am loathe to buy a dehydrator as I'm trying to get away from electrical-reliant devices.

    Love reading about what you do.

    1. Hi Jessica,
      I'm curious, were your currants in England very seedy? Both my black and red are quite seedy, but I don't have anything to compare them too (currants aren't all that well known in the US).

      I wish you lived nearby, I could supply you with so many red currant bushes. When the mature fruits fall from the plants, their seeds make new "babies". Currants propagate easily, so your neighbors currants should layer pretty quickly. I've rooted flowering currants by just putting branches into dirt.

      Good luck with your bush fruit bed!

      I do dehydrate plums. I use a dehydrator, but you could also dehydrate in summer on stainless steel screens or some sort of food-safe mesh, stretched on a frame. Lay fruit on screens, and cover with a worn (and thin) tea towel. Set them out in the sun during the day, and bring them to a sheltered spot or indoors at night. Sort of an old pioneer way to dehydrate.

      Are your apple and pear trees self-fruitful? Or do you have pollinator trees nearby? I've read that pears need a pollinator quite close, as their blossoms are not as attractive to bees as some other fruit trees.

    2. I don't recall seeds being a problem in the currants.

      I shall try outside dehydrating again, however with the humidity here it takes a while and I found things going mouldy once stored :(

      The apple tree and pear tree are what my ex-grandfather-in-law used to call a "poor man's tree" insofar as there are several varieties on one root stock so I guess they are self-pollinating. Not my ideal, but as I could only afford one tree, I decided on that. Next time I can get a single variety!

      I miss Bramley apples, the best cooking apple ever.

    3. Maybe my currants are just a very seedy variety. But they do make excellent jelly that does not need added pectin, so I'm happy with that!

      With dehydrating, it's very damp here in the Seattle area, so even after dehydrating, I freeze my dried plums, for the reason you cited -- home-dried fruits going moldy after storing. The drying and freezing means it takes less space in the freezer. You could also try dehydrating in your oven, leaving the oven door cracked open, and the light on (i think you preheat it briefly as well, first). The temperature setting on my dehydrator is 135F (58C), for fruits and veggies. If you could replicate that temperature in your oven, you could dry fruit on cake cooling racks, indoors.

      I looked at 3-in-1 trees also. That'll give you the pollination you need alright. Maybe you'll grow your own Bramleys in the future! Exciting, right? Your orchard is underway!

  5. My granddaddy had a huge orchard -- many varieties of apples, pears, figs, etc. We spent a tremendous amount of time putting things away. (3 of the families all working

    It will be great when you can pull out such great fruits this winter.

    1. Hi Shara,
      I can only imagine how much work harvesting such a large orchard would entail! Although it must've been a lot of work, there must have also been a lot of good family time together. I enjoy the time that I get with each of my kids, when they help me out with something like processing the fruit or picking the cranberries.

      Yes, I'm looking forward to being able to just open a container from the freezer to bake a pie or cobbler, or simply stewed fruit (it's simple, but a favorite of mine).

  6. I can relate to all of the processing that you did. It is very hard work. Are your blackberries wild or cultivated? I usually find the wild ones better tasting. What do you think?

    1. Hi live and learn,
      The blackberries are wild. Here in the Pacific Northwest there are wild blackberries everywhere. We work at containing them to one specific patch in the yard.

      Oddly, they're not native, but were introduced to the area. But they do so well here.

      I've never thought about the comparison of taste between wild and cultivated blackberries, but I guess you're right about that. I think they are more flavorful. The only drawbacks to these wild ones is they are both thornier and seedier. But we don't mind the seeds, and if someone is careful, they can pick relatively free of scratches.

      Do you have wild blackberries in your area too?

    2. We have blackberries a lot of places. However, as you said, they are thorny and brushy. And they're a good place for snakes. When we were kids, my mother made us dress from head to toe, to avoid these things while we were picking. So we were always very hot while picking. In my yard, I only have wild black raspberries which we don't like. So they are for the birds or an occasional nibble while we're on a walk.

    3. Oh, snakes, yuk! We have very few snakes in our area, and they're mostly small ones. One year, though, we had a snake in the woodpile, and I would not go out there to get wood, not at all. My husband wound up moving the entire pile for me, far away from that snake. He was small, but I did not want to encounter him!

      We have other wild bramble berries here, as well. One called a salmon berry. My neighbor used to make jam with them. They're red and quite tart, but I leave them for the birds.


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