Thursday, 1 January 2009

Growing fruit and nuts in the backyard

by Rhonda Jean
Down to Earth blog

Happy New Year to all our readers!

We have done a bit or reorganising here at the co-op and from now on, we will work to offer you daily posts about simple, green and frugal living. There are some new writers too, I hope you enjoy getting to know them over the coming weeks. Don't forget to "follow" us, or add us to your RSS, Atom or Google reader so you can see when the daily updates are posted. I encourage you to comment on the posts here. It gives us valuable feedback and often gives us ideas about future posts. There is an email address in the sidebar if you want to send us your suggestions or ideas for the site.

I am proud to be part of this wonderful team of writers and very pleased to be the first co-op writer to post this year.


Eureka lemons growing in our chicken yard

When you first realise the space you have available in your backyard is ideal for food production, most people start growing vegetables. All those delicious, organic vegetables that fill up our bellies, at little cost, and keep us healthy. It's such an empowering feeling to grow your own food. It tastes better than store bought produce, it grows from that small seed you planted, and it's organic - the best of the best.

Our lone pineapple, grown from a pineapple top

When you've been growing vegetables for a little while and start to gain some experience and confidence in your abilities, I encourage you to expand your repertoire and add fruit and nuts to your backyard food forest. Unlike most vegetables, you generally need only one fruit or nut tree or vine, and that one plant will take you through many years. However, some fruit and nut trees do need a pollinating tree nearby so check this out when you buy your trees.


Fruit and nut growing is suitable in all climates. In the hotter weather you have the tropical fruits like pineapples, bananas, avocados, melons, passionfruit and paw paws (papayas) and fruits, such as grapes, lemons, oranges, grapefruit, mandarins (I think these are called Clementines in the northern hemisphere). Pecans, macadamias, peanuts and cashews can all be grown in warm climates. In the colder weather you can grow delicious fruits like peaches and nectarines, as well as apples, pears, plums, cherries, apricots, raspberries and blueberries and a range of nuts like walnuts, pecans and almonds.

Blueberries - type Sunshine Blue

Technically I live in the sub tropics but as I'm inland and at the base of a mountain range, we get quite cold winters, by Australian standards. That means we can push the envelope a bit and plant tropical fruits as well as some generally grown in colder places. I believe that if you're living in area that is neither really hot or really cold, you can probably grow many types of fruit and nuts. If you decide to take the plunge into fruit and nut growing, find a good fruit nursery near you and ask them what will grow in your area. Remember too that you can modify your conditions with bales of hay and by planting against brick walls, which retain the heat of the day to release it slowly overnight. Don't forget dwarf fruits trees too. They are ideal for planting in a large pot, so can be taken inside in very cold weather, or moved into the shade in very hot weather.

Right now in my backyard we are growing oranges, lemons, passionfruit, red paw paw, bananas, pink grapefruit, grapes, loofahs, blueberries, avocados, loquats, pineapple x 1, pecans and strawberries. All the photos here are of our backyard fruit. However, not everything always goes to plan, we've just removed a peach tree and a nectarine tree because the fruit fly descended upon us these past two years and they were starting to attack our tomatoes and other soft fruiting vegetables. We have also grown, and removed, a macadamia tree. It attracted rats and needed a lot of water, so we got rid of it.

Red paw paw (papaya)

But generally fruit are hardy plants and after an initial establishment period, continue to bear fruit for many years. An exception to this rule are bananas which technically are herbs but are treated as fruit. They grow from suckers from which one hand of bananas grows over the course of a year, then is removed to make room for other suckers to bear fruit.

Strawberries - in their third, and possibly last, year.

Daleys Fruit and Nut Nursery (Aust)
there is a lot of info on fruit growing here
Growing fruit in the subtropics.
How to grow cashews.
How to grow fruit
Growing good fruit at home (USA)
Grandpa's Growing Tips
Fruit Trees
Lots of info about fruit and nuts from Mother Earth News

Loofahs growing on a trellis next to one of our large water tanks

Each type of fruit and nuts will require specific planting requirements, I have included links to information about growing various types of fruit and nuts above, but generally you'll need free draining, rich soil. You can usually get around problems like clay soil or poor drainage by adding compost. Before you plant anything - whether it be vegetables, fruit or nuts, you need to enrich your soil first. It can be real pain to have to wait until this is done, but enriching your soil with compost and/or composted cow, horse, sheep or pig manure, will make the biggest difference and I encourage you to take the time to do it.

So ask your tree seller how you should plant and in what location and be guided by what they say. Once the plant is in, take good care of it with adequate watering and mulching. Make sure you pull the mulch back from the stem because moist mulch up against the tree will cause stem or collar rot.

General maintenance will include simple things like checking the plant frequently for pests and diseases. We have a caterpillar here that can chew its way through half a grape vine in 24 hours. Search online for information about your tree or vine and learn what you can about what you grow. Slowly over time you'll know your plant inside and out and that will help it produce an abundance of fruit or nuts for your family.

And once you've tasted fruit from a home grown fruit tree there will be no going back to supermarket produce. What you grow will be sweeter and taste more intense than anything you will ever buy - even in the early years.

Next time I will write about growing loofahs. I get a lot of emails about them and they're a very handy plant to have in the backyard. Happy gardening everyone!