From Tree to Table

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The windy, rainy, foggy climate from Northern California to Canada doesn't seem like a fruit-tree climate. Don't fruit trees require copious sun and heat to thrive? Actually, no. Barbara Edwards' and Mary Olivella's new book, From Tree to Table: Growing Backyard Fruit Trees in the Pacific Maritime Climate, explains how to grow fruit trees successfully even in a Gortex environment.

Here are a few basic tips to inspire and get you started:

Take a neighborhood stroll. You might think you're going to be the neighborhood's fruit-tree pioneer, but if you take some time to walk past your neighbor's yards, or even stop to chat about gardening, you'll find that many people are growing a fruit tree or two in their backyards. Barbara and Mary suggest you take note of the location of the trees you find (sunny or shady location?; next to the house or more exposed?) and even ask some questions about watering, fertilizing, and pruning to learn from local experts.

Get to know your microclimate. Walk around your backyard, noting the sunny and shady areas, and the water-affected slopes and boggy spots. Chilly summers and lots of rain are definite downers for growing fruit trees, so look for a site with radiant heat (by a patio, brick wall, or back fence) and good drainage. But take heart! If you don't have the perfect location, know that fruit trees do survive in partial shade or full wind, or other nasty conditions -- just with some extra TLC.

Size things up. How much space can you give your fruit tree? Backyard fruit trees can thrive in hot spots alongside your house, in spacious rows in a big backyard, or in pots. Barbara and Mary list several space-saving techniques, all with one secret: pruning. Your fruit tree could shoot 25-30 feet high if you let it go, hunker closer to the ground with pruning, or be trained to run along a fence. Potted fruit trees require more care than planted ones, since you control their entire environment, but also produce great fruit. If you're especially concerned about cold weather, potted fruit trees can be moved to warmer, more sheltered spots during Northwest winters.

Be a busy bee. Your cold weather fruit tree needs some pollination assistance. Plant a couple easy-growing plants that attract bees, like rosemary, lavender, or lemon balm, and then watch the bees do the busy work.

Banish the pests. Depending on what fruit you grow, pests like moths and maggots can easily wipe out crops. But Barbara and Mary have plenty of simple, chemical-free fixes. The easiest one is the nylon footie, the thin sock you see at shoe stores. Just slide the footie over nickel-sized apples to confuse the maggots, and let the nylon stretch as the fruit grows.

Now watch it grow. Backyard fruit trees don't actually need much fertilizer. Too much fertilizer too close can damage tender roots. Mix up some compost tea if you think your fruit tree needs some extra nutrition. Otherwise, nourish your backyard tree with a deep soak once or twice a week -- although your watering strategies will obviously depend on variety, weather, and the age of the tree. Well-established fruit trees need less care, so you can sit back and watch the fruit grow.

When your first harvest of backyard apples -- or balcony Meyer lemons, or whatever cold weather fruit you plant -- is ready to pluck off the tree, shake your fist at the foggy weather and savor those crisp and flavorful bites. From Tree to Table also includes recipes from regional local chefs, including apple cinnamon scones and grilled fig and gorgonzola bruschetta.


--Adapted from From Tree to Table, Skipstone, 2011


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