Friday, March 4, 2011

Fruit trees!

When you think of Canadian fruit production, exotics such as Asian Pears, kiwis and lemons don't typically come to mind. One man is out to change that-- Ken Taylor of The Green Barn Nursery, located just south-west of Montreal, Quebec.

He led one of the sessions at the EcoFarm Day conference and his message was simple: if you're looking for a sustainable, viable way to farm, grow more fruit and nuts. Even on a micro-scale like ours, it makes good sense. As as country, we import 99% of fruit consumed, with seedless grapes being our #1 crop import, and we have very little in the way of commercial nut production. And Canadians love their fruit and nuts.

Sounds great, but what's particularly exciting about what Taylor is doing is he's growing varieties that don't just survive, but thrive in our northern climate. His philosophy is one of zero interference: no weeding, fertilizing, watering, pruning or spraying. As Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm encourages farmers to 'let a pig be a pig,' Taylor preaches to 'let a tree be a tree'.

Over the last 30+ years, he's achieved amazing results field testing for hardiness, disease resistance and maximum production with minimum input. He calls himself a 'mad scientist' (he does have a PhD in chemistry to back up his claim) and rightly so; for example, he's had great success with innovative breeding techniques, such as grafting a two-year-old heartnut scion on a five-year-old root, reducing the years-to-production to 1 to 2 years, down from 12.

His top 10 list of must-grow fruit and nuts includes: pears, walnuts, Asian pears, plums, table grapes, hazelnuts, raspberries, chums (cherry/plum cross), cherries and mulberries.

Notice there are no apples on his list? That's because he's discovered that other cultivators, such as Asian pears and even his own apple-pear variety, have a higher pest and disease resistance and require no spraying, as compared to the ubiquitous Macintosh apple, which requires heavy chemical controls.

We've already planted a few apple trees -- Gala, Freedom and Liberty varieties, plus we have two old trees that are still productive but could use some pruning.

But this year, we're excited about adding these to our wee orchard:

• Two Northbrite pears: a disease-resistant, highly productive pear that you plant and then leave alone

• Two Heartnut: a fast-producing tree that starts bearing heart-shaped sweet walnuts in two to six years

• Two sweet cherry trees of the Theranivee variety that produce loads of large, mahogany-coloured fruit with sweet black-red juice

• Two chum trees: a mix between cherry and plums, combining the best characteristics of each

• Two apple-pear trees: a very winter hardy, vigorous growing, disease-resistant tree that produces red-blushed yellow fruit with crisp, juicy, sweet flesh and it stores forever.

And in the fall, we'll be planting two Asian pear trees (we're on a waiting list) that grow prolifically without chemicals or fertilizer and improves in storage.

All photos courtesy of The Green Barn Nursery

It's a big investment but I think it'll be a fruitful one (ba-da-bump.) Of course the ordering is the 'easy' part. Now I just have to get someone to help me dig all those holes, haul the manure/compost, install the deer fencing around the orchard...

If you're interested, let me know. I'll pay you in fruit, in about 1 to 2 years.

Ed. update: Since publishing this post, I've discovered the chum varieties I wanted are sold out, so I'm bumping those onto next year's wish list, and I've requested two mulberry trees instead.

The Illinos Everbearing variety produces fruit all summer long only one year after planting. Birds love them, so I'm planting one for us, one for our feathered friends. Maybe then they'll leave the cherries alone!


Mr. H. said...

Now I'm a bit jealous, heartnut has been on my wish list for a couple years...I might have to bite the bullet and give them a shot. We have also been considering paw paws and plumcots. That chum you are ordering sounds really interesting to. Good luck with all those wonderful varieties.

Fiona said...

Thanks, Mr. H -- I'm really looking forward to the heartnut, and plumcots seem to be popular here, too, as the nursery was sold out. As I said, it's a big investment, but I think it'll serve us well. We always wanted to have an orchard -- this year we've decided to cut back in other places and just take the plunge!

Mama Pea said...

Oh, WONDERFUL information to have, Fiona! Although we're (obviously) not in Canada, we have lots of problems getting fruit to mature up here near the Minnesota tundra. Hubby has fantasized about being able to have nut trees but we don't know of anyone in our area that is doing it. We'll definitely be contacting The Green Barn Nursery. Thanks again for this very helpful info.

David said...

Fifty years ago every farm had a fruit orchard here in Nebraska but now as the farms grow bigger and the derelict home farm houses with their orchards near by are left to fend on their own. The newer farm places are more sterile and mostly have machine sheds, repair shops, fuel stations, and cattle feed lots. Hardly ever is there a sign of fruits, nuts, or berries. It's really sad how things have progressed here in the heart land of the U.S.A. Orchards are actually something that can be passed down to the next generation. I certainly hope that things are better for you there in your land.

Mama Pea I love Northern Minnesota and have spent much time around Pine River, Marshall Town, and Detroit Lakes. In my younger days if anyone was headed north to fish, I some how weasled my way to go with them.

Have a great orchard planning day.

Erin said...

Sounds great! As far as grapes, we have some great varieties coddled by the U of MN that have spawned some pretty big vineyards near my hometown in MN, developed for the cold weather, worth checking into!

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