Establishing an orchard is a big investment not only in money but in time and effort as well. At our new Nova Scotia homestead, getting an orchard underway was a priority last spring and continued this spring. Selecting what varieties to plant can be overwhelming especially when it come to apples as there are so many from which to choose. Factors we considered when selecting varieties included plant hardiness, the growing zone in which we reside, disease resistance, our intended end use of any fruit we harvest as well as our desire to have some Heirloom varieties in our orchard. See our post of Jan 29, 2018, Order Now for Spring Planting for details on all these factors.
We live in Canadian growing zone 5b, so to increase our chances of success, we tried to select varieties that are hardy to zone 5 or less. Because we want to keep our spray program to a minimum, disease resistance, particularly in regards to fireblight, was a major consideration so many of the varieties we selected take this into account. We also wanted the apple season to extend as long as possible by selecting a few “summer” apple varieties, “fall” apples and “winter” apples. Summer apples are supposed to ripen the end of August/beginning of September but are not long term keepers. Winter apples ripen in October, are meant to be stored for months and may even need time in storage to reach peak flavor. Fall apples ripen somewhere in between and have varying long term storage characteristics.
Garden Center or Nursery?
Sometimes fruit trees and berry bushes can be purchased locally from a garden center. One disadvantage with this option is the limited number of varieties that are available. In our experience, these places generally carry varieties that consumers recognize from a cruise down the produce aisle in the grocery store. These are not always the best choices for a home orchard however. Some may be contraindicated for your growing zone while others may be so prone to diseases that a vigilant spray program is required.
To that end, we’ve ordered most of our fruit trees from nurseries and have the trees shipped to us. As a result, our orchard contains varieties you won’t find in a supermarket. Our advice is to ask around and inquire from others how satisfied they were with the nursery they dealt with. We have found there’s a huge difference in quality between nurseries. When we pay our hard earned dollars, we have an expectation to receive prime, vigorous plants. Unfortunately, we fought with one nursery this year who provided some very poor plants. We won’t be dealing with them again.
Nurseries generally guarantee their plants. We had a couple fail last year, one of which was a blueberry plant. In most case, it’s not our or the nursery’s fault a plant croaks. The shock was too much and sometimes nursery stock simply doesn’t survive. It happens. So we lose a year and wait for a replacement the following year, but when you have to squint hard to see the replacement plant, something is wrong. This customer lost a year and the replacement plant the nursery sent is so small I need to put my hand behind it as a background in order to take a picture of it. That seems like poor business practice to me. Instead, send a vigorous replacement plant so the customer can make up for lost time. So it really pays to deal with a good nursery!
Speaking of a good nursery, many of our trees came from Silver Creek nursery in Ontario. Steph Roth who manages the nursery was great to work with. Their trees and plants are top quality and are packed with great care so they arrive in fabulous condition. The roots are well packaged in damp packing material so they arrive moist and not dried out. Our experience with Silver Creek the last couple of years has been outstanding not only for quality but for their customer service as well. Highly recommended. (We are only customers of this nursery with no other relationship. This year we placed a large order for plants that was lost and then delivered almost a month late by Fedex – in the interim, a whole new order was shipped out pronto to us. Very impressive.)
Fruit Tree Varieties
Apples are by far the most abundant trees in our new orchard. We find them to be one of the most versatile fruits and let’s not forget that an apple a day keeps the doctor away! Last Spring we planted the following: Liberty, Golden Russet, Duchess of Oldenburg, Honeycrisp, Fameuse otherwise know as Snow, Honeygold, Novamac and Nova Easy grow.
This year we have added Akane, Freedom, Fireside, Redfree, Spartan, Sweet 16, Wagener, Wealthy and Westfield Seek-No-Further. This will complete our apple orchard. Our selections include apples that are disease resistant, some that ripen early and some that ripen late so we have a long window of fresh apple eating, as well as some varieties that are old historical varieties. If all trees live and bear fruit we should have plenty to eat fresh, preserve for winter as applesauce, store in our yet to be constructed root cellar, and press into cider, some of which I will convert to cider vinegar.
About half of our apple trees are on the hardy rootstocks Beautiful Arcade or Antonovka while the rest are on the hardy semi dwarfing rootstock B 118. One tree, Wagener, is actually on the dwarfing B9 rootstock as that is the only choice the nursery had. While not as hardy as standard trees, the dwarf and semi dwarfs will bear earlier, a plus given our ages as we would like to be around to at least reap some of the harvest for all of our hard work.
Our pear trees came from a different nursery. When it came to selecting pear varieties, I couldn’t make up my mind so I ordered one of each kind they had, Patten, Clapp, Summercrisp and Luscious. The Summercrisp didn’t survive last summer so a replacement came this spring. I have noticed ants are particularly attracted to the just opening buds on the pear trees so I will have to be vigilant come warm weather to prevent any damage from them.
We love cherries but have never been able to grow them due to the inhospitable climates we lived in, both northern Maine and Saskatchewan. Now that we have moved to what we consider the “tropics”, we decided to give cherries a shot. I planted Montmorency, the standard for cherry pie and jam as well as Stella and Windsor, both of which are sweet cherries. The Stella didn’t fare very well for some reason this past summer so a replacement came this spring. The replacement actually looks better than the original plant.
We have also planted some cherry bushes from the “Romance” series that were developed by the University of Saskatchewan. We know from personal experience how harsh the climate in Saskatchewan can be so we figure if these bushes thrive there, they should make it here. These are sour cherries supposedly sweet enough to eat fresh. Can’t wait to find out if that’s true. Six different cultivars comprise the Romance series but we’ve only planted Juliet and Crimson Passion. If we can get our hands on Carmine Jewel we’d plant that one too. All the varieties get 6 to 7 feet tall and begin bearing about the fourth year.
We have two plum trees in our homestead orchard. For plums we selected Mooer’s Arctic plum as well as Toka. Both survived the winter and the Toka especially seems to be doing well.
Finally, call us foolhardy but we are even trying our hand at growing some peaches. Last spring I planted Redhaven and Veteran. I wanted to plant Reliance peach last year but the nursery was sold out. I tried again this year. Same thing, sold out. Both trees came from Silver Creek nursery. It’s early June and there are days we still wear a jacket and hat. It has been an exceptionally wet and cool spring. Some of our stock has yet to come back to life so it remains to be seen how our peaches and a few other plants dealt with the winter. It’s always exciting to see the trees coming back to life.
Until next time, keep the dream alive! We wish you a great day!
Ron and Johanna
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