When I moved to Eureka, the first order of business was to buy an apple tree. We may not be able to grow tomatoes in the fog, but we sure can grow some apples.
I didn't know anything about apples. I called Raintree Nursery and was treated to a long and well-informed discussion of chill hours, pollinizers, and the strange and exciting possibility of planting two trees in one hole. (In response to comments on this subject, there are no special instructions that I know of on exactly how to plant two apple trees in one hole. Dig a hole. Plant two trees instead of one. That's how I did it, anyway.)
I recently placed another order with Raintree for more fruit–perennial fruit being the food crop that is easiest to grow considering my climate and my lifestyle. (Plant a tree. Wait a year. That I can do.)
Although I didn't buy all of these, here are a few of their more interesting offerings,which will give you a sense of why I like them so much. (photos courtesy of Raintree)
The Johnny Appleseed Apple–grafted from one of the only remaining trees known to have been planted by John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed.
Flower of Kent Apple–grafted from the tree that is believed to have dropped an apple on Sir Isaac Newton's head, inspiring his laws of gravity. Described as "green, pear shaped, mealy, sub acid and used for cooking." You just have to be a Sir Isaac Newton fan to want one.
The low-chill combo apple, a 3-in-1 that produces fruit in southern California, Arizona, Florida, and other such non-apple climates.
Mirabelle de Nancy plums, a type of sweet yellow plum found in farmers markets across France and made into brandy.
Fruits I've never even heard of, like medlars, which apparently taste of cinnamon apples and are soft enough to be eaten with a spoon, and aronia, a fruit native to the eastern US but bred and improved in Europe. It is, apparently, the next cranberry. Or blueberry. Or something.
You get the idea. The fruit trees Raintree sells are not just fruit trees; they are historical artifacts, exotic oddities, vacation souvenirs, adventures.
I love them for that. I am ripping other plants out of my garden to plant more of Raintree's fruit trees.
And I was very pleased to get an email from Raintree's Sam Benowitz–which I believe he sent out to a bunch of garden writers–emphasizing the need to get people good, accurate information about fruit trees if they are going to plant one. Here's a bit of what he had to say:
As you know, the cutbacks in funding for the Agricultural Extension Service in most states is hindering gardeners' access to valuable information. This has put more of the onus on garden communicators and nurseries to provide even more information to gardeners….
Ironically, I think that nurseries and magazines are doing a disservice to beginners by pretending that plants are easy to grow. Buying plants is not like buying other consumer goods where you plug it in and watch it work. It’s more like bringing home a new baby. If you bring home a new baby and sit it within your sight and do nothing to care for it, to say the least, your baby won’t make it.
So, I think it's better if people realize that with plants, they are embarking on a life-long scientific experiment where they need to record what they do and learn from their successes and failures. They need to go to successful neighbors for help too….
There's more to it, but those are the bits that make me appreciate Raintree so much. They don't pretend that there's nothing involved in growing fruit trees. I'm learning that the hard way with my poor, miserable indoor citrus trees. It is important to buy a variety that will thrive in your particular climate, survive your local diseases and pests, and have a mate nearby if one is required to set fruit. There are some things to know. But as Sam here points out–and as Michele says so eloquently in her new book–neighbors? Local nurseries? Great sources of information. It's all do-able.
In their catalog, which just arrived for 2011, Sam goes on to say more about this. He says: Look at your fruit garden as a private scientific experiment. Learn from your own mistakes. Develop some skills and pass them on to your children and neighbors as your neighbors are now, I hope, helping you.
Lovely thoughts, and a lovely catalog. Do go check them out.