Stella Otto: The Backyard Fruit Gardener

Today's Tip: Mow vegetation short around the base of fruit trees and bushes to reduce winter habitat for rodents.

The Backyard Orchardist, 2nd edition: Excerpt

Author: Stella Otto

Pages: 320
Size: 6x9. Trade paperback
Black & white line art illustrations
Resource lists
Trouble shooting guide
Monthly almanac
Glossary. Index.
$24.95 USD

ISBN: 978–0-9634520–4-7

Pub Date: Jan­u­ary 18, 2016

Published by: Otto Graphics (Distributed by: Chelsea Green Publishing)

Excerpt from The Back­yard Orchardist, 2nd edition

From the Foreword

…Until 1820, and to a lesser extent until 1860, hor­ti­cul­ture meant fruit grow­ing for most Amer­i­cans. Most of the plants sold by com­mer­cial nurs­eries before1860 were fruit trees. Much of the gar­den lit­er­a­ture before 1860 dealt with apples, peaches, pears, and grapes: eighty-nine pomo­log­i­cal books were pub­lished in the United States before 1860, and about three hun­dred between then and 1920.

…the bur­geon­ing farm to table move­ment, and a renewed inter­est in heir­loom apples, edi­ble land­scapes, and self suf­fi­ciency are ideal trends that set a foun­da­tion for the revival of back­yard orchard growing.

…Stella Otto’s The Back­Yard Orchardist is the answer for gar­den­ers seek­ing a return to the endur­ing plea­sures of har­vest­ing these sweet, juicy gifts of nature, what Thomas Jef­fer­son referred to as “pre­cious refresh­ment.” Fruit grow­ing is the crown jewel of hor­ti­cul­tural plea­sures, and only back­yard har­vests pro­vide the com­plex­ity of fla­vor – fruit that is sug­ary, vinous, and tart at the same time – that one finds in a back­yard fruitery.

From Chap­ter 1. Enjoy­ing Fruit Trees in Your Land­scape

… One of the first things you will learn is that fruit grow­ing is an avo­ca­tion that takes a lit­tle bit of fore­thought and patience. For prac­tic­ing these virtues you will be well rewarded, how­ever. You will have the pride of say­ing “I grew it myself” and the oppor­tu­nity to enjoy the sweet­ness and fla­vor that only tree-ripened fruit offers. You will also become privy to the art and sci­ence that is behind the mys­tique of fruit grow­ing. The Back­yard Orchardist is meant to be an encour­ag­ing hand and per­sonal con­sul­tant through­out the adven­tures of fruit grow­ing. You will soon find out that fruit grow­ing is both a sci­ence and an art. As you begin your adven­ture with fruit trees, you may want to read through The Back­yard Orchardist com­pletely and then return to those chap­ters most per­ti­nent to your cur­rent needs.

Tak­ing a holis­tic view of grow­ing fruit trees can save you time. Many of the things you do to your fruit gar­den are inter­re­lated; as you take one action you may save your­self another. So, observe, explore, keep a few notes, and don’t be afraid to try some­thing dif­fer­ent if what you are cur­rently doing is not bring­ing the expected results. Above all relax, be patient, and enjoy! Most fruit trees are quite resilient and will allow you to make a few “mis­takes” along the way. Con­sider them learn­ing expe­ri­ences and don’t worry; most fruit trees will bounce back. Although there is much to be learned, it cer­tainly doesn’t all need to be done at once. Start small with one or two of the eas­ily grown trees. By the time they are bear­ing fruit you may find that you have a much greener thumb than you ever envi­sioned. Yes, grow­ing fruit trees is fun and not all that dif­fi­cult. Let’s take a look now at the many ways that you can enjoy fruit trees in your landscape.

Fruit Trees for Self-sufficiency

With uncer­tainty and tur­moil so often being the head­line of the daily news, many peo­ple today are look­ing to their gar­dens for a sense of secu­rity and self-sufficiency. By pro­duc­ing, pro­cess­ing, and stor­ing food from your home gar­den, you can reduce the effect of ris­ing gro­cery store prices — much of which is dri­ven by mar­ket­ing and trans­porta­tion costs rather than actual improve­ments in food quality.

Grow­ing fruit trees brings a great deal of pride, along with feel­ings of suc­cess and self-sufficiency. Being able to share the fruits of your labor with friends and fam­ily while say­ing, “I grew it myself,” can be as reward­ing as the joy of know­ing that you have learned new skills in the process.

From Chap­ter 4. Apples

The apple is the tree fruit most widely adapted to grow­ing in back­yard orchards through­out the coun­try. It has many vari­eties to choose from and is one of the most pop­u­lar eat­ing fruits.…

Flow­er­ing and Fruiting

Just as the apple tree has a cer­tain habit of grow­ing, it also has a cer­tain way in which it pro­duces its flower buds. Every type of fruit­ing tree must pro­duce some buds that will pro­duce new branches (or veg­e­ta­tive growth) and some buds that pro­duce blos­soms (and con­se­quently fruit). Some types of fruit trees pro­duce all of their flow­er­ing buds on wood that was pro­duced dur­ing the pre­ced­ing grow­ing sea­son, or said another way, on last year’s wood. Other types of trees pro­duce flower buds on wood that is sev­eral sea­sons old and some pro­duce flower buds on short, mod­i­fied branches called spurs.

On apple trees most of the blos­soms are borne on fruit­ing spurs. These spurs are gen­er­ally short, com­pact grow­ing branches less than four inches long. Most com­monly, one year they will bear a fruit bud (or flower bud, the terms are used inter­change­ably) as their ter­mi­nal bud. The fol­low­ing year a veg­e­ta­tive bud will be pro­duced at the spur ter­mi­nal but growth will be short and com­pact. Pro­duc­tion of fruit­ing buds and veg­e­ta­tive buds will alter­nate in sub­se­quent years. This alter­nat­ing of fruit and veg­e­ta­tive pro­duc­tion will give the spur a zigzag appear­ance to its growth. Illus­tra­tions of a Fruit­ing spur.) Of course, not all spurs are pro­duc­ing veg­e­ta­tive buds in the same year so there is nor­mally an ade­quate sup­ply of fruit buds to keep a crop grow­ing every sea­son.
Another fac­tor to keep in mind is that, although it is not vis­i­ble to you, the apple tree is already devel­op­ing its fruit buds deep within its tis­sue the sum­mer prior to the year in which the bloom becomes vis­i­ble. Start­ing in about mid-June, the fruit bud tis­sue starts its devel­op­ment and dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion. The process is com­pleted by late March, shortly before bloom. Sev­eral fac­tors, includ­ing the amount of light, water, and nutri­ents avail­able can affect the devel­op­ment of the bud.
The pro­duc­tion of flower buds alone is not enough to ensure pro­duc­tion of a suc­cess­ful apple crop. It is really only the first step.…

Sweet Cider

Press­ing cider is an excel­lent way to use sur­plus or blem­ished fruit, but it is also an art. Indeed, cider con­nois­seurs would argue that it war­rants its own chap­ter (or even book) rather than a mere sec­tion. It is also worth­while here to dis­tin­guish between “hard” cider—the fer­mented drink of our fore­fa­thers, that is mak­ing a resur­gence today and “sweet” cider—the mod­ern, unfer­mented bev­er­age made pos­si­ble by refrig­er­a­tion or pas­teur­iza­tion. What fol­lows will mainly be a dis­cus­sion of sweet cider.

Much of what gives a really good apple cider its magic fla­vor comes from the fact that it is a sub­tle blend of sev­eral fac­tors that affect our taste buds: sweet­ness, tart­ness, astrin­gency, and aroma. Most of the best ciders will com­bine sev­eral apple vari­eties that bring together these fac­tors. Through exper­i­ment­ing, you will come up with your own “secret recipe” that you enjoy most. For sweet (that is non-fermented) cider, try start­ing with a mix that is two parts sweet, two parts tart, one part aro­matic, and one part astrin­gent varieties.

Appre­ci­ate, too, that each grow­ing sea­son is unique and will influ­ence the fruit some­what dif­fer­ently from year to year. This helps give each new batch of cider its own dis­tinc­tive fla­vor. Here are a few pos­si­bil­i­ties to get you started. Most are not strictly cider apples, but rather multi-purpose vari­eties that are worth plant­ing in the home orchard for var­i­ous rea­sons, cider pro­duc­tion among them. Drink up and enjoy!

(A chart of sweet cider vari­eties fol­lows at this point)

Chap­ter 14. Grow­ing Fruit Trees in Containers

Are you wor­ried that lim­ited space or a chal­leng­ing grow­ing cli­mate might make you forego your dream of enjoy­ing your own tree-ripened fruit? Worry not! Con­tainer grow­ing can put your dream within reach.
As an apart­ment or con­do­minium dweller you can indeed enjoy the ben­e­fits of grow­ing fruit trees. You will just need to select the proper dwarf or minia­ture fruit tree that is well adapted to grow­ing in a suit­able con­tainer.
Con­tainer grow­ing is also use­ful in north­ern cli­mates where you may want to push the bound­aries of winter-hardiness. With mod­er­ate effort, it can allow you the plea­sure of grow­ing fruit such as figs or some cit­rus. In hot dessert cli­mates, where you need to tem­porar­ily pro­tect your tree from exces­sive heat and sun­burn, mov­able con­tain­ers can be your answer.

Keep­ing the Container-Grown Tree Healthy

Many of the activ­i­ties involved in keep­ing a fruit tree healthy apply to a container-grown tree just as they do to a garden-planted one. Along with repot­ting, which was dis­cussed ear­lier, mod­est prun­ing of the branches is also ben­e­fi­cial. Pro­ce­dures are sim­i­lar to those out­lined in chap­ter XYZ. The amount of wood removed would be in pro­por­tion to the container-grown tree’s size. Buds can also be pinched off in the sum­mer to fur­ther con­trol the size of container-grown trees. In this pro­ce­dure, the tips of vigorous-growing branches are sim­ply pinched out by hand, much the way many house plants are occa­sion­ally “pinched.” The effect is much like a heading-back prun­ing cut.
Just as the field-grown tree can only sup­port so many fruit, this holds true for a container-grown tree. The num­ber of leaves that are needed to sup­port each fruit is dis­cussed ear­lier in the indi­vid­ual fruit chap­ters and remains an appro­pri­ate guide to cal­cu­lat­ing the crop load for a container-grown fruit tree.
Insect and dis­ease con­trol meth­ods are also the same as for full-size trees, although more care­ful atten­tion should be given to con­trol of mites.