The cherry on top.
By Hans Wieland
From our autumn issue. Subscribe here.
A friend once told me that he had lost his fear of heights by climbing a big cherry tree to get to those sweet forbidden fruits! Eating fruits straight from the tree or bush is probably the best advertisement for growing them organically. The flavour and aroma of freshly picked strawberries, figs, plums and pears eaten on a warm sunny day beats anything coming out of a fridge or cold store. And I believe growing fruit is generally easier than growing vegetables, because fruit bushes and trees need far less attention, don’t take a lot of maintenance and will generally give you a good harvest. Fruits are a great low fat source of nutrients, vitamins and important antioxidants. Not only that, children love the sweet taste and fresh or dried fruit make a great healthy alternative to sugary sweets.
How to start?
A vast array of fruits can be grown very easily in pots, containers, gardens and orchards. Some are ideal for small spaces; like strawberries or potted raspberries. A few bushes of currants and gooseberries will yield enough for a family. Most of us can find a space in our gardens or around the house to grow fruit and late autumn is a good time to get started.
Tried & Tested Tips
- Fruit trees and bushes ideally like a slightly sloped south facing and sheltered site, preferably with a loamy, free-draining soil.
- Avoid frost pockets. This is very important and can’t really be compromised because late spring frost can damage flowers and you lose your whole crop. If you have a sloping garden, don’t plant your fruit at the bottom.
- Choose a sunny side. Fruit does best in a sunny position, part shade is ok, but longer periods of shade have to be avoided. Blackberries and currants are more tolerant of a little shade.
- Not in a windy spot. Areas exposed to strong wind are not great for fruits, flowers, fruit and branches can be damaged by high winds so avoid them or provide shelter through hedges or wind breaks.
- Improve your soil with well rotted compost or farmyard manure by digging in or filling your plant hole or mulching around your tree. Well drained soils are best.
- Choose your rootstock according to growing space: M27 produces a dwarf tree up to 6ft, has a good life span and is fairly hardy, but needs staking for life, whereas MM106 will produce a semi dwarf tree up to 20ft and will need 3-4 years to produce.
Varieties and Taste
When growing fruit organically, choose varieties with a known disease resistance and hardiness to avoid disappointment and look for the best taste. Cox Oranges perform poorly in Irish conditions, so go for Charles Ross or Ard Cairn Russet. If you like Raspberries try Autumn Bliss and Allgold. Elsanta strawberries are in my opinion the juiciest, and if you haven’t tried White Alpine strawberries “you haven’t lived”. Be adventurous and plant a fig tree, an apricot tree or a grape vine in a polytunnel or conservatory.
However, you should also be prepared for the fact that you won’t be the only one who’d like to eat the fruit! If you don’t want to share with or loose your whole crop to birds, plan a fruit cage and protect your crop with a netting.