Raising your own food – Gardening: Fruit bearing Trees and Bushes
Having a garden is a great way to augment your food supply that enhances your sustainability. But growing food can take some time and effort and some great advice is to start small and build up to the level you are able to sustain.
One way to reduce the amount of effort you have to expend to tend to your “garden” is to grow perennials such as plant fruit or nut-bearing trees or bushes. Depending on your location you should select plants that do well in your environment given the soil and the weather conditions. The USDA has designated eleven “hardiness zone” in North America and you can use this as a ready reference to determine what types of plants will grow best in your zone. Below is a map of the zones in the SouthEast United States and other areas and more details can be found at https://garden.org/nga/zipzone/
As you are picking the tree to plant, you should ask the owner of the nursery for their experience with each species and any special care requirements.
There are some fruits indigenous to North America like persimmon, pawpaw, and mulberry. Since they are indigenous, they require very little care.
Another handy guide to planting fruit trees in your area is available at http://www.fruit-trees.org/pages/us-hardiness-zones.php. For example, I am in Zone 8 so I see several species of apples, cherries, peach and pear trees that would do well in my zone. The site also provides some general information on specific trees as to what type of sun and soil the tree needs to thrive. I even see a sugar maple that will grow in my area (although it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, given the climate, might not get much sap). The Hardiness zone indicates the coldest weather that should be encountered in an area. You can mulch the base of a tree to protect the roots but wind chill and dryness can also damage a tree. In extreme weather you might have to wrap your trees to prevent damage – you can also spray your tree with water and the ice that forms will protect the tree temporarily.
Citrus trees are vulnerable to freezes so you might have to grow them in a green house or use special care to prevent damage during a freeze. We have some banana trees at our home in Mississippi, although they are subject to freezes we just wrap them in plastic and they do fine over the winter.
Fresh fruit is great to augment your diet and of course you can preserve the fruit you can’t or don’t eat fresh by making jelly (uses the fruit juice only) or jam (cut up and crush the fruit). Apple trees means you can make apple cider (regular and the good stuff with some yeast).
The mix and number of fruit trees you plant will depend on the land you have available and how you integrate your fruit trees into your overall land use plan. But once the trees mature and start bearing fruit, you will have a steady supply each season for many years.
Several fruit bearing bushes are also perennial. Blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries produce fruit rapidly (usually the second year) and multiply rapidly. They need pruning to maximize productivity. As thorny bushes, you can use them as a hedge to discourage intruders along your perimeter. They do well even in colder hardiness zones.
Strawberries tend to spread as ground cover and you may wish to limit their expansion.
Grapes are also a good perennial fruit. You can grow them on a trellis, on the side of your home (they provide shade in the summer and let sunlight through in the winter) or let their vines climb up your trees. They also require pruning to maximize their production.
Blueberries work well in high acidic soil like at the base of pine trees.
There are lots of other perennial fruit bearing plants that do well in the United States and North America. My recommendation is look to what species will do well in your area and plan to plant a variety of fruit bearing perennials. While you may want to keep a beautiful curb-appeal lawn in the front yard, transform your back yard into a food-bearing farm that supplements your diet with a lot of different foods and take advantage of perennials that don’t require replanting each spring. Good bang for the buck and a source of food you can depend on for years to come.