Think you can't grow your own fruit? Think again. Urban orcharding is gaining ground (pun intended). Bryan White of the Green House Farm often teaches about urban orcharding and soil building for the Valley Permaculture Alliance and he let us in some secrets for a fruitful harvest.
With Arizona's history, citrus is a popular choice. Can't remember when to fertilize? White recommends fertilizing citrus on each of the four summer holidays, concluding with Labor Day in order to have excellent spring fruit.
White grows a number of citrus varieties include tangelo, blood orange, meyer lemon (cross between a true lemon and a common orange) and Mexican lime. Mexican limes will be producing fruit now, while other forms of citrus tend to produce in the spring and sometimes in the fall as well.
If you've purchased a small tree from a nursery or from the Valley Permaculture Alliance, it will be about three years before you get fruit from it. White says the rule is "year one 'root,' year two 'shoot' and year three 'fruit.'" Citrus trees love the warmth, so they make a great way to form a border on the western edge of any property.
Another reason to make plans now? Many trees, like apple and pear need to be planted "bare root" in December or January or you can pick up some trees in containers at nurseries in the spring. It is a good idea to think about what you'd like to plant now and make a bit of room.
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But not too much room. White says the great thing about urban environments is that you can plant trees closer together and through winter pruning and summer pruning, you can keep the trees smaller. If birds get to the fruit you can easily drape the tree in nets. (Unlike if you allow a tree to grow to twenty feet.) White says even an eight foot tree can produce hundreds of fruit. And, another benefit is you won't need a huge ladder to pick your crop. He also uses the process of thinning his trees to gain a better quality yield and sometimes too much fruit and weigh down the branches until they snap. It is also important to think about how you plan to get water your trees. White says to water with potable city water, so obviously you may want to purchase a hose or bucket if you don't already own one.
In a small space you can also plant two to four trees that produce different fruits at different times and since you're likely to have smaller quantities of each kind of fruit you can "avoid the canning." White says to be careful with lemon though, one tree is plenty! White has trees like dwarf bonanza peach, plum and apricot, which you could plant to add variety to your urban orchard.
White also grows several types of fig. A warning: Don't be put off by how small a starter fig tree is--or any fruit tree for that matter. The key is patience and a little bit of planning it will be large in no time. It is not as instantly gratifying as vegetable or herb growing, but once you get your fruit tree going you'll have something you can enjoy for years to come!