Whenever one of my friends get married, I promptly buy off register and send the happy couple a pair of apple trees. There’s all sorts of potential symbolism (fruitful lives together, sweetness of love, many years together, etc), but the piece that matters to me is the self-sustainability aspect. A fruit tree is a solid step towards food sovereignty and a healthy life, all in your own backyard.
Today’s post isn’t about weddings, but about the investment in the future. A fruit tree takes about five years to bear fruit. Planting and tending that tree is an investment in your future meals: apples in the lunchbox, quarts of applesauce in the pantry, Thanksgiving pies, fruit crumbles at dinner parties, or baked apples for breakfast.
There are some challenges: you need a bit of land (ideally a bit of land that will be yours for a few years). Generally, it’s worth planting a tree or two even if you’re not planning to stay. Because 1) you might stay and 2) someone else will probably live there later. Fruit trees generally start bearing about 5 years, while nut trees may take as long as 10 years.
If you are concered about space, you can buy dwarves and experiment with multi-grafted trees. What does that mean? It means different branches of the tree produce different varieties of the given fruit. The advantage to that is that you get the pollination of two trees and two different kinds of fruit.
How to Plant a Tree
1) Acquire it. I tend to order from a few nurseries, and search carefully for trees suitable for the region where they will grow. Trees of Antiquity has been one of a favorites: they have great heirlooms, none of their trees have ever died, and the customer service is great. Organic trees tend to sell out, so order early. I aim for October, and almost always order by November.
2) Dig a good sized hole. Spread your arms out in a big circle. Make it bigger than that. And if you’re standing in it, make sure it’s deeper than your knees. Digging a big hole makes it easy to add plenty or organic matter, which the tree can use as it breaks down over following years.
3) Layer in that organic matter with the dirt you dug out. In the photo, you’ll see hay (complete with goat manure and urine), rabbit manure, and composted leaves. Uncomposted leaves, vegetable kitchen waste, and grass clippings are also possible options. I would not usually recommend using uncomposted material in food gardening, but you won’t be picking anything off the tree for years.
4) Add the tree. Keep the soil line on the tree in line with the soil line in the ground as you fill in the hole. Depending on the tree, you may want to mulch. Otherwise, just water it a couple of times as you plant it.