NZ Lifestyle Block
Choosing the right fruit trees for your orchard sounds simple, but it quickly gets complicated. It's a bit like choosing the right type of car. You may know you want a 4WD, but there's a big difference between a Rav4 and a Range Rover. Let's say you want plums, peaches, apples, and pears. Some of the things you need to consider for each one include:
■ disease resistance;
■ bearing age;
■ growth height;
■ crop size;
■ ripening time;
■ storage properties.
I added further complexity to my orchard because I wanted it to provide fresh fruit all year round, meaning I'd need a lot of trees.
With some temperate fruits such as plums, peaches, apricots, apples, pears, and feijoas, you can plant an early, middle, and late-season variety and harvest fruit for 3-5 months. The problem is an individual tree might ripen its entire crop all in one week.
Early season fruit is usually risky as late frosts and storms can affect fruit set. You may not get a good crop every year, but when you do, it's worth it.
Mid-season varieties are more reliable and usually more prolific. These are the varieties to choose from if you want good eating fruit and lots leftover to preserve.
Late season pipfruit, especially apples and pears, generally keep well, and you can store them for months.
The most wonderful thing about homegrown fruit is that you can make sure it will always be bursting with flavour. If you eat fruit picked from my orchard and then the same type bought at a supermarket, it's like comparing a Tesla to a Lada.
There are so many factors that contribute to it, including:
■ tree ripening (vs using gas after picking as done in commercial processing);
■ trace elements.
But the biggest factor is that I can grow a huge range of varieties with the best flavour. There are only a few commercial varieties, mostly very sweet, and they must also be quite robust (to survive handling/transport) and only ripen after we've bought them.
Home orchard varieties don't need to fit any of those criteria, so there's a much wider range of great-tasting fruit available.
This is another characteristic that's important if you like an easy-care tree and don't want to use chemicals. There's a wide range of heritage varieties, many of which will suit your climate and soil. Commercial varieties have specific climate and soil needs, and won't be as robust if you can't provide them.
Fruit growth begins when ‘male' pollen transfers to a ‘female' ovary. In nature, to maintain genetic diversity, the pollen usually comes from a completely different variety of the same type of fruit (known as crosspollination). Even varieties promoted as self-pollinating benefit from cross-pollination, generally giving you more fruit. Peaches, nectarines, apricots, and any citrus will self-pollinate and tend to do quite well (with some exceptions).
Pear, apple, feijoa, plum, and nut tree varieties usually need to cross-pollinate with another variety (although again, there are exceptions).
The most wonderful thing is it will be bursting with flavour
3 other things to know about pollination
If your neighbour has an orchard with the same types of trees, or you've planted more than one variety, your pollination requirements should be covered.
Other kinds of fruit from the same family may act as pollinators. For example, some crabapples will pollinate some apples,
and some nashi will pollinate some pear varieties.
European plum varieties flower early in spring, while Japanese and crossed types flower later, so they can't pollinate each other.
Frustratingly, few nurseries label plums as European or Japanese. A basic guide is eating plums are Japanese or crosses, while those used in preserving – prunes, damson, greengages, mirabelle – are European.
My other prerequisite for anything in my orchard is fruit must be nutrient-rich.
NZ research has found the Monty's Surprise apple has very high levels of cancer-fighting compounds. It tastes tangy if picked early (great for cooking), but sweetens as it ages on the tree.
Some of the most nutrient-rich options may only be available from a specialist nursery. For example, tart, dry, earthy aronia berries (Aronia melanocarpa) have one of the highest antioxidant activity levels of any fruit.