An editorial post by our District Engineer, Derek Hann.
Historically, humans have had symbiotic relationships with many aspects of nature. We have been caring for livestock and growing grains for thousands of years. We have partnered with dogs and horses for survival since the dawn of civilization. However, our oldest reciprocating friendships may be with fruit trees.
We have been protecting, nurturing, and loving fruit trees long before agriculture was even a concept. When we eat fruit we are doing the tree a favor: we accept the gift of nutrients, fiber, and sugars, and in exchange we spread seeds so the trees can multiply. The trees want us to eat their fruit. That is why they make it.
I have five types of fruit trees in my yard at home: hardy kiwi, a cherry, a plum, a grape vine, and a very old apple tree. Even though they are just trees, I have unique relationships with all of them.
I have been trying for 4 years, but my kiwi have never produced. It has forced me to learn and do a lot of research to diagnose the problem. Are they too close together? Am I watering too much? Too little? I haven’t figured out the solution yet, but I savor the challenge every spring.
My cherry is steadily growing. The first year I only received 4 or 5 cherries, but last year I got a dozen. I anticipate steady growth year after year, and my end goal is to have enough to justify a pie. I love cherry pie.
My plum is a relief mission. It is actually 4 plums grafted together and it was a “rescue” from a nursery. It was on super sale and had clearly been a bit abused in the past. It hasn’t produced fruit yet, but honestly, I am just trying to get it to live through the winter. After being badly ravaged by moths this summer, it was touch and go for a while. By September it seemed stable, but we will see how it does this coming March.
For four years straight, my grape gave me WAY more fruit than I could use. This summer, I was surprised to get only 5 bunches. I have a few different theories (too dry, too much pruning, some root disturbance issues) but I really don’t know for sure what went wrong. It may just be grumpy. I will change a few things, and hope it does better next year. That is part of the fun.
My apple tree is probably 80 or 90 years old and very productive (400-500 pounds of apple a year!). No one knows what kind of apple it is, but it makes great cider and apple sauce. It is a beautiful tree - it is soft with moss and has four large boughs splitting from the trunk. We put a swing on one of the branches and my children spend the summer climbing all over it. It is the great strong-backed grandmother of my trees. I love her very much.
Many people forget about fruit trees when they are planning out their yards, but they should not be overlooked. They are so simple, so rewarding, and so beautiful. They represent our most ancient connection to the bounty of nature. They are fun to work on, soothing to look at, and their personalities are all so different.
This year, as you prepare to change and care for your property, do not overlook the potential of planting a new fruit tree, especially in an area that is currently lawn. Single truck fruit trees do not take up much square footage on the ground, but they will provide shade, beauty, texture and depth to your landscaping. They are a jungle gym for children, an umbrella, a parasol, a puzzle, a landscape feature and a food source all rolled up in one.
Best of all, they are our oldest friends.
If you want to talk to someone about planting fruit trees on your property next year, here are a few links to some wonderful local resources in Snohomish County.
WSU Master Gardeners:
Snohomish County Fruit Society: