To satisfy shipping and storage requirements, many fruits are picked much too green to ever ripen properly even after they are gassed to attain the ‘ripe fruit appearance’ necessary for our supermarket shelves. Some of the best tasting varieties are not even GROWN by commercial fruit growers, for the same storage and shipping concerns.
The tomato, technically a fruit, is a perfect example of supermarket fruits that never ripen, that never develop that luscious taste we remember from long ago. Our grandparents grew many varieties of tasty tomatoes; now just a small handful of varieties are grown commercially. Unfortunately, you really cannot buy that fresh, juicy taste in the supermarket anymore.
That’s also true now for so many fruits… the fruits our grandparents grew, and which we still can successfully grow in our backyard ‘orchards’. We simply got out of the habit when cross-country and international shipping began to provide fresh fruit out of season locally. What a treat it used to be to find an orange or a tangerine in a Christmas stocking when there was snow outside on the ground! Sadly, over the years the quality and selection of shipped fruit slowly declined, but not before many of our fruit trees were long gone from neglect.
It’s time to take another look at a backyard orchard! Imagine walking out your backdoor as the sun is just breaking over the horizon, picking your way carefully along the dewy path to select a perfectly ripe pear or nectarine for your breakfast cereal or yogurt. Imagine a house full of kids and grandkids picking ripe peaches to make homemade ice cream. (You DO still have the old ice cream freezer in the attic, don’t you?) Staining your hands picking mulberries for a pie, and picking apples so they can bob for apples at the Halloween party or make a pie. Remember all the glistening jars of canned preserves, fruit butters, applesauce and more that used to sit on the pantry shelves? I bet you can almost taste them... and the fresh fruit they came from right now!
Growing fruit trees in your backyard can be very rewarding in many ways: fresh fruit to eat, fruit to can, preserve or dehydrate, the exercise, the emotional satisfaction and even some food for wildlife come readily to mind. Once you decide that you will have a fruit orchard, the next considerations are how much garden space, and choosing varieties both for your zone and your taste buds.
I have read that on just one acre of land, you can grow between 100 and 200 fruit trees, choosing kinds and varieties for a constant supply of fruit (or nuts, another article currently in process) maturing almost all year long. You can be sure of having some kind of fresh fruit to pick even in the cold winter months listed among all my articles on common berries, uncommon berries, small-space orchards, backyard fruit orchards and backyard nut orchards. So, no matter the size of your yard... even if you just have a balcony, you CAN grow fruit!
Apples (Malus × domestica)
Cherries (Prunus avium or Prunus cerasus)
Peaches (Prunus persica)
Pears (Pyrus communis )
Plums (Prunus prunus)
Many of us grew up around apple, crabapple and cherry trees and sometimes if we were lucky, pears, plums and peaches. Few of us had or knew of jujubes (Korean dates), figs, apricots, nectarines, loquats, rowan berries, Japanese persimmons, Asian pears, raisin trees, kiwifruit, or goumi. A few of these less familiar fruit trees mixed into our backyard orchards might just open a whole new world of flavors!
Loquat aka Japanese medlar (Eriobotrya japonica) is a warm climate Chinese evergreen tree, now grown in Florida, other parts of the deep south, and California. The 1”-2” long orange-colored fruits are sweet with a slight acid aftertaste; the thick skin should pull off easily when fully ripe. The seeds are TOXIC. The fruits have a high sugar and pectin content like an apple, good for eating fresh, and make marvelous jelly and pies. They generally need a pollinator, and flower in the fall or early winter. Fruits ripen in late winter and early spring. My brother’s 20 year-old trees are under 10’ tall. (See photo above.)
Rowan, European Mountain Ash aka Ashberry (Sorbus aucuparia) is usually a tall tree (up to 40’) although some are quite small, grows in zones 3a-7a. Rowan cultivars with superior fruit (berries) for human food use are available but not common; mostly the fruits are gathered from wild trees. The berries of European Rowan can be made into a slightly bitter jelly which in Britain is traditionally eaten as an accompaniment to game, and into jams and other preserves, on their own, or with other fruits. The berries can also be a substitute for coffee beans, and have many uses in alcoholic beverages: to flavor liqueurs and cordials, to produce country wine, and to flavor ale. Try squeezing some of the fresh berry juice and putting it into a gin and tonic - it makes a convincing alternative to Angostura bitters. They bear fruit from July/August into November in the UK. (See photo above.) Cook with apples to make a superlative bittersweet jelly for game and lamb.
“In Britain it (the Rowan) was thought as protection against witchcraft as it bears a 5 pointed star at the base of each berry (have a look it is there!). It afforded such protection to all homes near it and was particularly useful with cattle and horses. Rowan boughs were hung over stable doors to prevent witches from riding the horses and hung in cow byres and dairies to prevent the cows and dairy products from enchantment. People even carried bits about with them. It must never be cut with a knife (according to folklore). It was also used for divination of metals. The bark and berries also yield a black dye.” ~Baa. Another myth: in the dairy room, butter churns and other objects coming into contact with milk were sometimes made of rowan wood, supposedly to prevent the milk turning (going sour).
Sea Buckthorn, Sea Berry, Seaberry (Hippophae rhamnoides) Zones 3a-7b. A very valuable shrub for the edibility and environment and grown extensively outside the United States. High in vitamins and nutrients, especially Vitamin C. It is a very attractive shrub in the landscape and needs both male and female bushes for pollination. Very easy to propagate and great for wind and soil erosion. The berries are very sour when eaten alone but put some into the blender with water and sugar to make a wonderfully refreshing drink.
Jujubes, aka Korean Date (Zizyphus jujube) grows in zones 6a-11 and will reach to 15’ but can get much taller. The tropical Chinese Date or Chinese Apple (Ziziphus mauritiana) found in zones 8-11), only grows to 8-10’. The common jujube (Ziziphus zizyphus) is not really tropical at all, and attains from 20-30’ in zones 6a-11. They are very productive with fruits that are from 1” to 2-1/2”. The texture is similar to quince, but becoming sweet and chewy when dried… hence the name Chinese Dates. They need 2 varieties to pollinate.
Figs aka Brown Turkey Fig (Ficus carica) are not unusual but most Americans (myself included) have never eaten a fresh fig, said to taste like a mix of peach and strawberry. Figs are usually found in warm climates like the dry, warm Mediterranean, but are actually hardy to 12ºF when dormant. They do best grown in zones 7 and warmer, but will grow back in colder areas if winter-damaged. Actively growing trees can be damaged at 30ºF. This tree is deciduous and typically grows from 10-30’, with 2 crops a year. The first crop grows on the previous season’s growth and is often killed by late frosts. The second crop is in the fall, on new growth and must be allowed to ripen on the tree. They can by dehydrated, and store well. A slow-growing variety may be grown in a container and sheltered inside from harsh winters.
Raisin Tree (Hovenia dulcis) grows in zones 5a-9b. It can grow to over 40’ but rarely reaches more than 20-30’. “The edible 'raisins' are not a fruit at all but a short, swollen mature flower stalk or peduncle which supports the inedible seed pod. As the pod matures, the peduncle of stem attaching it to the cluster swells, becomes knobby and turns a translucent reddish brown. A pear-like flavor develops as the sugars increase, and the peduncle is ready to eat when it falls to the ground. Although the edible portions are small, close to the size of a raisin, the crop is copious. The brown pod which is actually the fruit is not used.”
Hardy kiwifruit (Actinidia arguta) is another uncommon fruit with a delicious flavor. It is a cousin to the supermarket kiwi but sweeter; small like a grape, and with a smooth edible skin. It is a strong vine that needs support like a trellis or a grape arbor. It grows in zones 4a-8b, in full sun. Arguta Kiwis are hardy to -25° F. Arctic Beauty is hardy to -40° F. Actively growing plants should be protected by covering at night when frost threatens in spring. The fruits mature in late summer and early fall, are excellent to eat fresh or used in pies, jams and preserves. They contain 10X the Vitamin C as lemons (by weight). Most cultivars need a non-fruiting male for pollination, although the cultivar “Issai” is self-pollinating. Anna, earlier-ripening Geneva and Dumbarton are some particularly good fruiting varieties.
Japanese Persimmon (Diospyros kaki), zones 7a-10b. The bright orange apple-sized fruit is said to taste like a mango, only sweeter and is tasty fresh, dried, candied and preserved. The tree is very ornamental and can grow from 15' to 30' depending on cultivar. The cultivar 'Fuyu' got rave reviews in PlantFiles as did 'Jiro'. The 'Jiro' cultivar is said to taste like pumpkin and can be used in breads, cookies, and muffins when ripe.
Goumi (Eleagnus multiflora) is a 6’ tall bush bearing 'thousands' of tasty red berries said to taste like pie cherries. Zones 4-8. The Chinese have traditionally considered them to be among a group of "nutraceuticals", or foods that are edible and have medicinal values. They are said to decrease cholesterol and have other benefits, but scientific evidence has yet to confirm this belief. Available from One Green World, Raintree, Rolling River and more.
Asian Pears aka Chinese Pears, Japanese Pears, Sand Pears (Pyrus pyrifolia) are a very crisp and juicy fruit growing in zones 5a-8b on trees from 10' to 30' depending on the rootstock used for the graft. The fruits are delicious eaten fresh but may also be picked a bit immature and stored in a root cellar for several months without affecting the texture or flavor (unlike the European Pears). Some Asian pears are partial self-pollinators but much larger and better tasting fruit is produced with a pollinator, and in cooler temps a pollinator is a must. The European pears like Bartlett make excellent pollinators. New Asian pear trees will bear fruit in 2-3 years where European pears seem to take forever to set fruit.
There are 3 types of Asian pears. They are (1) round or flat fruit with green-to-yellow skin, (2) round or flat fruit with bronze-colored skin and a light bronze-russet (3) pear-shaped fruit with green or russet skin.
My personal choices for some of these fruit trees for my yard, considering my Zone 5b, are Hardy Kiwifruit, Goumi, Sea Buckthorn, Asian Pears and the more commonly known peaches, and cherries. If I can grow fruiting trees, you can too... and depending on your zone, you might even have more choices!!!
A BIG Thanks to the following for use of their photos from PlantFiles: Raisin Tree,MotherNature4 Loquat, Floridian Rowan Berries, growin Fig in Pot,Kniphofia Crabapple branch, mgarr Jujube, Pinkangel420 Sea Buckthorn or sea berries,Lunavox Asian Pears, Kauai17
JAPANESE PERSIMMON MARMALADE Wash and cut up persimmons, discarding seeds and core.
8 c. ripe persimmon pulp Mash the pulp and combine in a large saucepan with: 1 c. sugar 1 c. orange juice Grated peel of 1 orange
- Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until thick. - Spoon into hot, clean, half-pint jars and seal. (Makes 6 half-pint jars)
To make the juice: Wash fruit, place in non-aluminum pan, add cold water just to cover, heat to a slow simmer and simmer for 10 minutes or until fruit is “washed out” looking. Strain juice and put remaining fruit through a fruit processor to squeeze the rest of the juice out (the sweetest and most flavorful juice, pretty pink color). I haven’t tried steaming the berries to make the juice, but that should work also. The squeezing step is very important though to get the flavor. Then make jelly following regular recipes. Goumi juice is low in pectin so you will need to use a jelly recipe that adds pectin.
Goumi ripen unevenly, when the fruit is soft and easily comes off the stem it is ready for harvest. Shaking the bush with a ground cloth beneath to catch the fruit that drops would work well. Recipe from http://www.raintreenursery.com/recipes/index.htm
Sea Buckthorn Juice and Jelly
Make the juice following any of the methods below. Heat the juice to almost a simmer, add sugar (to taste), cool and enjoy. Add water to thin if too strong, or mix with another juice. Sea Buckthorn juice tastes a bit like tangerine/orange/citrus blend. Make jelly using pectin in the recipe. Juice is high in vitamin C and A but low in pectin.
To make the juice: Place the washed berries, stem and all in a large non-aluminum pot, barely cover with water, bring to a simmer, cook until the fruit is somewhat transparent looking, or about 10 minutes, (much longer and your juice will taste stemmy). Strain the juice from the berries.
Or- place the washed fruit, stem included, in a steamer juicer, steam about 10 minutes. Or- use a juicer, relax the plates so you don’t crush the seeds, and remove the stems. Recipe from Raintree.
I have a 'growing my own food' obsession that comes from my overlapping interests in cooking, nutrition and gardening. I am also a "teacher", a writer, a builder… and a craftsperson and... and… and many other things, LOL. In fact, I guess I am a generalist, and a Seeker.
I live in the southern Appalachian Mountains on a hillside with a creek in front, and drive a 15 year old truck I lovingly call “My Farmer’s Ferrari.”