Do you find most store bought fruit to be tasteless and yearn for fresh fruit that actually tastes like fruit? What you need is your very own urban orchard!
Back in 2005 we started to look for a new house in a better neighbourhood closer to my work at the university. We also wanted a bigger, more modern house.
The garden wasn’t a huge criteria at the time as we had just started to grow some vegetables, fruit and flowers in our first house. We were still like many people, buying most of our vegetables and fruit at the grocery store.
Our real estate agent let us know that a house was for sale in our chosen location. I took a break at work and met my wife at the house. Nice looking house in a nice neighbourhood. Inside the house was a bit dated and we could see it would take a bit of work to update it.
However as we stepped out on the back deck, can you imagine the sight that greeted us?
In addition to extensive vegetable beds, we saw an urban orchard full of fruit trees of every type, variety and maturity!
We knew right away that this was the house and property for us.
You can’t buy 20 year old fruit trees and plant them in your garden, so we considered these to be priceless. You could say we bought an orchard with a house attached!
Fruit in an Urban Orchard
Here is what is in our orchard:
Planted under the southwest roof overhang of our house for protection from rain. Here on the west coast of Canada we get a disease called peach leaf curl in spring when we have rain. The overhang helps a bit but some leaves still get it if sticking out past the overhang. This however doesn’t seem to affect fruit production.
Sweet Cherry Tree
The birds, raccoons and squirrels get a lot of them but we still can enjoy a few pounds. The tree is planted on the northwest side of our second floor deck, so we don’t get much shade from it. Ideally if it were on the west side of our deck, we’d benefit from some shade when relaxing there.
Since our climate in summertime is Mediterranean, these do quite well. In the Mediterranean a second crop ripens in fall but in our case we only get the first crop ripening due to our short stretch of hot weather in summer. We used to actually have four trees but they were too crowded and we really didn’t need all of them as well, so we cut down two.
We have one transparent variety for applesauce and one other variety (not sure exactly what the variety is) for regular eating.
One pear tree is a dwarf variety, but with two different kinds of pears. It does quite well considering it’s size. The other tree is grafted with one half bearing Asian pears, the other half regular pears. It doesn’t do as well as it is next to a tall hedge so doesn’t get enough sunlight.
Yellow Plum Tree
It’s now doing much better after we cut down a hedge next to it. Although the racoons like the plums as much as we do, so we lose a few to the masked bandits!
I bought a few canes and planted them on the south side of the house. They have spread to give us a dense patch which produces berries in early summer and then again in late summer/early fall (sometimes into November!)
Strawberry Crate Tower
From just a few plants that we at first didn’t know we had when we moved in, we now have a strawberry crate tower, and a few other container with more strawberry plants.
We have three plants which were recently transplanted into a more sunny location. They are still recovering so are not producing much. Thinking of getting more and having a nice patch in a row in a sunny spot in the garden.
The previous owner of our house made wine but we don’t drink wine nor have the knowledge to make it. We just pick them and eat them (lots of seeds though!) or make jelly from them. I recently build a new cedar arbour to support the vines when they are fully developed. A second benefit of having grapes is harvesting the grape vines for making mulch or using as starter fuel for our wood stove in winter.
We bought this in spring 2018 for a steal at our local nursery’s garage sale. Keeping it in my greenhouse and it has grown quite a bit. I might have to transplant it into a bigger container. Hope to eventually get some bananas from it!
Fruit trees and bushes once established can be quite resilient. However neglect, wrong planting location and disease can cause you to lose it (hopefully just the tree/bush and not your temper when it dies!).
An urban orchard is susceptible to all of the problems you might encounter in the rest of your garden.
Here are our “failures” in our urban orchard:
- Peach with grafted apricot – died because it didn’t get enough water one summer
- Red plum tree – died because the previous owner cut some of the roots while digging backyard pond; limbs kept dying off until finally the whole tree died
- Banana tree (previous) – died the first winter as I didn’t know I had to protect it from cold temperatures
- Passionfruit vine – tried to save it when rebuilding the greenhouse but it died
- Two kumquat trees – same fate as the passion fruit
- Chestnut – I believe though this was an inedible one so no food value for us. Main reason to cut it down was it was growing too close to our cherry tree. It was a donation probably from a squirrel or a bird that buried a seed in that location.
Care and Maintenance of Fruit Trees and Plants
An urban orchard can mean a bit of extra work on top of the day-to-day gardening you do.
But this effort is well worth it when you bite into a fresh strawberry or peach! Or spread your own homemade jam or jelly on a waffle or piece of toast.
Pruning Fruit Trees and Bushes
Pruning will keep your trees healthy and your berry bushes from taking over your backyard. It can be a very intimidating task for beginners but once you have done it a few times, it becomes easier as it is with most things.
More info on when to prune and how to prune in How to Prune Fruit Trees.
For raspberry pruning check out the special article and video.
Fertilizing Fruit Trees
Just like the rest of the garden, fruit trees need nutrients to set fruit and resist disease and pests. Check out this article for my special recipe I make and apply each fall.
For the fruit bushes and strawberries I usually provide them with a drink of fish and seaweed fertilizer once a week starting in spring when they are growing and getting ready to blossom and fruit.
Like all other plants, fruit bushes, plants and trees need adequate water. Fruit is mainly composed of water, so watering them enough will result in juicy, flavourful fruit. My automated sprinkler system waters most of my fruit trees and bushes.
However there are some areas that need individual hand watering as they are not well covered by the irrigation system. It’s something you have to stay on top of and remember to do.
If you don’t then you end up like me, losing one peach tree that happened to be in a bed that receives no automatic watering.
Spraying Fruit Trees
I only spray an organic dormant spray of horticultural oil and lime sulphur to try and kill some of the overwintering bugs and caterpillars.
Finding the right time to spray is always tough. We either have rainy days in winter or we have wind, both weather conditions that you can’t spray in. And with a full-time day job, I have to catch the right spraying day on the weekend.
Banding Fruit Trees
I wrap my trees with foam underlayment and then apply Tanglefoot, a very sticky resin. This captures some of the winter moth females as they try and climb up the trees to lay their eggs. It’s always amazing to see what got stuck in the resin on it’s way up or down the tree.
I’ve created an article and video on how you can band your trees.
Tying/Supporting Berry Canes
Our raspberry canes need to be tied to support wires to keep them from toppling over from the weight of the fruit. I have installed a few posts with arms and then stretched copper house wire between them as support wires.
Sometimes our apple or pear trees have so much fruit the branches bend almost to the ground! I simply use some wooden stakes to prop under the heaviest branches to support them off the ground.
And I tie our peach tree’s branches to anchors I have installed in our house wall. I had one branch break from the weight of all the peaches one year!
Harvest and preserving fruit
The most rewarding part but also the most work is harvesting and preserving our urban orchard’s abundance. This is one of those garden tasks that you simply can’t delay, just like with watering.
Harvesting fruit sometimes requires some special equipment, especially with fruit trees. And you do have to time harvesting for when fruit is at the height of best flavour. More info on how to harvest fruit in my article Harvesting Fruit 101.
When the fruit is ripe it needs to be picked and then quickly processed. You usually can’t eat it all when it ripens and while you could give it away, that means not having any in wintertime and thus having to buy expensive out-of-season fruit.
If you have a day job, you may want to try and take some vacation around harvest time like I do to be at home to harvest and preserve. Or get some help from family and friends, but remember to give them some fruit as a thank you!
- Make jam/jelly: We’ve made plum jam, peach jam, strawberry jam, apple jam, grape jelly.
- Preserving/Canning: One year we had so many pears we just packed them into mason jars with water and canned them – tastes great in the middle of winter in oatmeal with some cinnamon. We also preserve our jam/jelly when we make it.
- Freeze: We freeze peaches (peeled and halved), figs (halved), raspberries and strawberries. The trick here is to freeze them on cookie/baking sheets and then move them into freezer bags – easy then to take out only what you need. Having a chest freezer, even just a small one, is handy. Just make sure it is an efficient model otherwise you may pay a lot to keep your fruit!
- Applesauce or plum sauce: We cook on the stove until broken down. Then it’s frozen in yoghurt containers but could also be canned.
- Store: We usually have several boxes of apples that we store in our garage or basement and they kept fairly well for a month or two until we can eat them all; other fruit is more perishable and needs to be stored in the fridge until we can do something with them.
- Dry: We have an electric dehydrator that we use to dry our fruit. We mainly dry apple slices but have also tried fruit leathers/rollups with pureed fruit. I plan to experiment with drying other fruit and vegetables as well.
Let’s eat fresh fruit!
So when the fruit ripens or once you have the fruit preserved, what can you do with it? Only limited by your imagination but we typically use fruit as follows:
- put it in cereal or oatmeal for breakfast
- use it in green smoothies
- eat with yoghurt or ice cream as a dessert
- eat as a snack, especially handy with dried fruit
- use in baking recipes such as pies, scones, muffins, crumbles, etc.
- put applesauce on mashed potatoes. Germans call this Himmel und Erde (Sky and Earth) seeing as apples grow in the sky on the tree branches and potatoes in the earth.
- put jam and applesauce on toast/waffles/bagels/etc; a layer of good quality nut butter first then jam on locally baked bread is heaven on earth
- make plum sauce for homemade chicken nuggets or fingers or tofu
Growing fruit and having your own orchard can be a lot of work. But the rewards are so great! Especially when in the depths of a cold winter morning you can pull out some tasty fruit from the freezer or pantry and make a nice hot bowl of oatmeal to get your day started.
You can’t put a value on that other than “priceless”!
If you enjoyed this article, have something to add or have any questions, please leave a comment below.
Wishing you all the best!
Tranquil Garden Urban Homestead, Victoria, BC