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People, towns, businesses, farms and gardens all grow in Michigan soil.


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Taking Care of the Home Garden Orchard

It's time to thin the blossoms on your apple trees. Image by EllenM1 at www.flickr.com/photos/ellenm1/4539159805/

It’s time to thin the blossoms on your apple trees. Image by EllenM1 at http://www.flickr.com/photos/ellenm1/4539159805/

I was talking to Roy Prentice, Farm Manager at Tollgate Farm, about the fruit season coming up in Michigan. Roy reminded me of the need to thin fruit trees this year. If you have two or two dozen fruit trees on your property, you should know the benefits of thinning.

2012 was unkind to Michigan’s fruit trees. The early thaw/late frost killed a lot of buds. Many trees produced little or no good fruit. The trees will accommodate their own survival and produce a bumper crop this year. Many blossoms mean lots of fruit, but the fruit will be smaller than normal.

You may be happy with small fruit, but there is another effect that won’t make you smile. Alternate fruit bearing refers to trees that produce a lot of fruit in one year and almost no fruit the next year. Plant scientists say that the tree energy expended to mature a lot of fruit reduces the energy available to initiate flower buds for the following spring. So, if this year’s crop is heavy, next year’s crop will be small. You need to thin the trees.

Many fruit bearing trees are thinned just after the blossoms fall. If you are unsure about the current timing for your specific trees, check with your local extension service. There are several sprays available. You can also manually thin the trees.


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The Urban Orchard

Layout of estate in Gardens for Small Country Houses by Gertrude Jekyll and Lawrence Weaver. Image by Revival. http://www.flickr.com/photos/revivaling/4820312677/

Layout of estate in Gardens for Small Country Houses by Gertrude Jekyll and Lawrence Weaver. Image by Revival. http://www.flickr.com/photos/revivaling/4820312677/

To those of us who are, or aspire to be, avid gardeners, do you grow fruit on your property or in a community garden plot? Is it even possible, or cost effective?

I grow several fruiting shrubs in my quarter-acre urban lot. I don’t share berries with the birds; the birds get there first and eat whatever is close to ripe. Someone in the subdivision has an apple tree in the front yard. They don’t spray, and the fruit is oddly misshapen and pre-eaten by insects. Growing fruit successfully takes both planning and work.

Throughout through the pages of Gardens for Small Country Houses by Gertrude Jekyll and Lawrence Weaver, the layout drawings carefully show the location of the orchard. The book was originally published in 1914, the first year of WWI in Britain. Local greengrocers in town were small businesses and they brought produce to the consumer via a horse-drawn wagon. People in the rural areas grew their own food because they had to.

We don’t need to grow our own food. Today, we are delightfully pampered with out-of-season fruits and vegetables shipped from around the State and the world. Michigan is a fruit-growing powerhouse. Our farmers grow apples, blueberries, sweet and tart cherries, peaches, grapes, pears, and plums. Agriculture as a whole is the third largest economic sector in Michigan.

We might want to grow more of our own food. Michigan State University Extension has a wealth of information for the home orchardist.
The gardener’s guide to ordering fruit trees January 2, 2013 | Gary Heilig | It’s not too early to start planning for a backyard orchard.
• Several fact sheets (PDF) with tips for growing, among other things, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, apples, pears, and peaches.

We might prefer to buy local. Check out the CSAs (community supported agriculture) in your area. CSAs sell shares of the garden produce ahead of the season to help them fund their operations. Local Harvest has a list of CSA farms in Michigan, but farms enter and leave this market frequently, so check local resources for a newer list of CSA farms near you. There are farmers markets in season and the old fashioned farm stand by the side of the road. Locally grown fruit is more accessible than it’s been in years.

I don’t foresee a revival of home orchards. I do love to see a small vineyard planted in a front yard or a hedge of blueberries waiting to be picked. I’ll let the birds feast on serviceberries, elderberries, and blackberries from my yard. There are a couple of quince bushes still too young to produce fruit. I make become more protective of them. Time will tell.