- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
San Joaquin Valley farmer Mas Masumoto famously described the joys of fruit eating in the opening pages of his book Epitaph for a Peach. The prologue reads like a love letter to the old Sun Crest variety, planted years ago by his Japanese-American father. Sun Crest peaches are juicy and delicious but lack some commercial attributes.
On eating a fruit he calls a “treasure,” Masumoto wrote:
“You lean over the sink to make sure you don’t drip on yourself. Then you sink your teeth into the flesh . . . This is a real bite, a primal act, a magical sensory celebration announcing that summer has arrived.”
Many Californians can share Masumoto’s experience of lovingly caring for a fruit tree, patiently waiting for the bounty to ripen and savoring fruit still warm from the sun. However, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor emeritus Garth E. Veerkamp suggests gardeners not enter a relationship with an orchard before taking time for thoughtful consideration.
“When the decision to create a home orchard is based on little more than desire to plant a few trees and anticipate fruit, then failure is the probable outcome,” Veerkamp said. “When a home orchard is based on an understanding that it is, in fact, a living expression of genetics interacting with soils, weather, tree spacing, pests, and many other factors, then the outcome should be one of success."
Veerkamp wrote questions to guide aspiring orchardists in an inward examination of their lives before planting trees. Ask yourself:
- Do I really have the desire, time and stamina to establish and maintain the orchard?
- To what extent will the demands affect my relationships with others around me?
- Do I understand the cultural demands the orchard places on me and the yields to expect under good management?
- Can I accommodate, or, if not, balance the demands of tree care and harvest with my desire to not be tied down or to travel?
To help Californians understand orchard demands, the University of California has developed The California Backyard Orchard, a website with detailed information on orchard site considerations, tree selection, propagation, preparation, planting, irrigation, pollination, pruning, training, fertilization, fruit thinning pests and diseases.
With the help of the website, the full scope of orchard responsibilities can be balanced with the alluring promise of abundant and delicious fresh fruit before the shovel digs into the dirt.