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Edible Landscapes



How to Plan and Plant Edible Landscapes

By Griffin Abee

as written and told to Byron Belzak

My yard is a beautiful garden, an edible landscape. As my family, friends and I journey into the fragrance of beautiful blossoms, our mouths crave the succulent fruits, berries and nuts that we pass by. We are free to pick and enjoy virtually anything we see, for this is our own special place. Perhaps you will want to create one of your own, too.

If so, begin with planning and planting fruit trees. October is an ideal time to decide where you want to plant them. Moreover, it’s a relatively dry time to dig the holes and prepare the soil. Then you’ll be ready to plant in November, the perfect month here to find a new home for these special trees.

Unfortunately, most people in the mountains have gotten into the bad habit of not planting trees in the fall, preferring the spring planting season.

However, in my estimation, I believe that when it comes to tree planning and planting, there’s no better time than now. Roots need time to become strong, and the late fall and winter seasons allow the roots to grow slowly. Also, the wintertime does not require as much watering as do the hotter months. A strong root system will improve the chances of the tree surviving as well as bearing the most abundant fruit – and that’s what its all about.

TEST FIRST, PLANT LATER

This October test your soil. The local county extension service offers free testing; sometimes, they will even come out to your place and gather the samples. Your soil is shipped off to Raleigh for a small postage fee. In a short time you’ll receive the test results. In most areas of the Western North Carolina mountains, the soil is too acidic and will require application of lime to achieve the proper pH rating. Or your soil may need gypsum when it’s too alkaline. Once you’ve accomplished the proper pH soil rating, you’re ready to plant your favorite fruit trees and maybe a few you haven’t even considered.

MY WISH LIST OF FRUIT TREES

Here’s my quick, yet relatively complete – and certainly healthy – wish list of young fruit trees that can transform any mountain property, or simply your back yard, into an edible landscape, too. Our family loves ours, complete with fruit trees, berries and nuts that appear all throughout the year. It nurtures our children and provides our friends and neighbors with a real connection to Mother Earth. Such abundance and sharing with family and friends reminds me of the Maori saying: “The land is a mother that never dies.”

For something a bit unusual to plant on your land, there's persimmon. Everyone needs an outdoor conversation piece, so you may want to grow an Asian persimmon tree. Its sweet fruit is ready to be harvested in December. Yes, December! But make sure that it is ripe before you eat it. The best Asian persimmon trees to select are of the variety known as non-astringent.

Fig trees are another wonder. They produce fruit twice yearly, in the fall and early summer. A good home for your fig trees is in a protected area that has good sunlight. Many people plant their fig trees along a sunny side near their house or close to an out building, approximately five feet from the structure. Fig trees have a shallow root system, so one need not be too concerned about root intrusions into foundations. When the fruit appears, just pick and eat.

Cherry trees are so beautiful in early spring with their array of lovely cherry blossoms, followed by bearing fruit in late spring. Since they are one of earliest bearers of fruit after winter, cherries are one of my favorites. While most people at first blush want sweet cherries, I prefer my cherry fruit trees to be sourpusses. There’s nothing tastier than a cherry pie made from sour cherries; my family and friends know I’m right. 

Mulberry trees have a special place in my yard and in my heart, for they serve triple duty. First, they bear fruit for a good two to three months throughout June, July and August. Secondly, kids love to eat their fruit all summer and climb onto their low-lying branches. Thirdly, a mulberry tree is a bird magnet, and that’s a good thing. Because I’d much rather have my feathered friends munching on my garden’s mulberries that on my favorites, including cherry, plum and pear trees.

Plum trees, as many fruit trees, require male and female trees for cross pollination to occur and subsequent bearing of fruit. Ask your nursery professional about this important and sometimes complex matter.  

Peach trees are tasty additions to every edible landscape, but they can serve as a host tree that attracts Japanese beetles. The beetles may eat all the leaves, but won’t hurt the tree – and just might leave your other garden lovelies alone.

Pear trees are lovely fruit trees, particularly the Asian pear tree. You can harvest them one of two ways. Allow the fruit to drop and then pick them up ripe and ready to eat. Or you can harvest the pears while still hard and allow them to ripen indoors. Mmmmm, it makes my mouth water just writing about it.

Apple trees are on everyone’s list, but beware. It’s not such an easy thing to care for. Sorry to break the news to you, but apples are a difficult fruit to grow well. They require much attention and are prone to disease and other problems. While I love apples, I don’t always love all the work that they require. Besides, for us who live in the mountains, we’re blessed with the North Carolina Apple Festival in downtown Hendersonville every year to go and stock up. Yet, somehow it seems a bit unpatriotic not to have at least one apple tree in one’s yard, given it’s laden with such national lore from Johnny Appleseed’s plantings to, of course, dear mom and her apple pie.

Paw paw. Yes, I’ve saved the most curious, and not necessarily un-American, fruit tree for last. The paw paw tree bears paw paw fruit. The fruit is amazing, a cross between a mango and a banana and something else tropical. Paw paw fruit has a thin skin that you can peel off without needing a knife. It has large seeds inside its hollow body. You grab a hold of a paw paw with your two paws and break the fruit into two. Then with your fingers push out the soft fruit, remove the seeds, and plop it into your mouth. Paw paw is a perfect addition to every edible landscape in the mountains. I know you can’t wait to try one, so allow me to suggest that you go to Earth Fare and grab a couple. Right now. They’re in season.

NURTURE YOURSELF, NURTURE THE EARTH

Fruit trees nurture in more ways than simply the obvious. Creating your own edible landscape is life enhancing and therapeutic. Together, we can help re-green the planet. Fruit trees remind me that we are all caretakers of this earth, whatever jobs and hobbies we have. Designing and planting useful, edible landscapes – whether in a window box or in a farm field – are incredibly fulfilling aspects of life. Not only are you more in tune with nature, you’ll discover that self-sufficiency never taste so fresh.

About Griffin Abee: Griffin Abee is an experienced holistic permaculturist. She lives in Asheville and owns her own horticultural company. For more information, visit www.abeesfruittrees.com or call 828-778-2199.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The above article is a compilation of both writings by Griffin Abee and what she said in an interview with Byron Belzak. This feature first appeared in print in the October 2006 issue of Rapid River Magazine (www.rapidrivermagazine.com).

Copyright 2006 by Mediabear, all rights reserved to the authors.

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