Christy Wilhelmi of Gardenerd.com wants you to know that growing fruit is within reach. Her new book will show you how.
If you’re like many people, you might think growing fruit isn’t conducive to small spaces. Fruit trees are huge, right? They need a big backyard.
Not true, according to Christy Wilhelmi, the driving force behind Gardenerd.com and the new book, Grow Your Own Mini Fruit Garden: Planting and Tending Small Fruit Trees and Berries in Gardens and Containers. Between new dwarf varieties and modern pruning and planting techniques, backyard and patio gardeners can enjoy the fruits of their labor–literally.
Located in Los Angeles, Wilhelmi first came to fruit growing while living in an apartment. At the time, she grew on her balcony and in a small plot at her local community garden. Using biointensive methods, she learned to make the most of her space.
When she and her husband moved to a house with a yard, they continued using biointensive methods to maximize their growing area. This included planting fruit trees in close quarters and keeping them short, so they wouldn’t need a ladder to harvest. The results were well-suited to their needs and lifestyle. So why do we often assume that growing fruit requires a lot of space?
“Most of the information about growing fruit is geared towards the commercial farmer,” says Wilhelmi, who points out that university agricultural departments have conventionally been a key source. “The assumption is that if you have a bigger tree, you’ll get more fruit. But then, as a home gardener, you’re left with 400 plums you don’t know what to do with.”
A shift in how we think about growing fruit
Wilhelmi wanted to tailor her new book to people in small spaces. “That really involves shifting the paradigm and the way we think about how to grow,” she says.
The first shift is recognizing that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. Small backyard orchards may get less fruit per tree, but you can choose multiple varieties that ripen at different times. “You can have this succession of fruit coming out of your yard instead of one big plum tree or nectarine harvest,” Wilhelmi says.
Wilhelmi suggests familiarizing yourself with local diseases and choosing something that has proven resistance.
You can also choose varieties that are easy to grow in your area. Wilhelmi suggests familiarizing yourself with local diseases and choosing something that has proven resistance. Additionally, “…go with fruits that don’t have a whole lot of predators or insect pests in your area.”
It’s also important to remember that climate change is having an effect on what will survive over the long term. In some cases, fruits can adapt. In others, adaptation isn’t a solution, because it isn’t the fluctuating temperatures that cause the most damage, it’s the pests that come with them.
“As places get warmer, pests that usually die off in the winter don’t die off anymore,” Wilhelmi says, “so we’re seeing pests that we previously had only rarely, along with the uptick of new species that have infiltrated the system.”
Growing great fruit: the secret ingredient
Thankfully she has seen success with organic methods, but it pays to do your homework. Once you’ve chosen the best varieties for your space, feed your plants with high-quality amendments. Wilhelmi’s favorite? Worm castings, the nutrient-rich compost that comes from a worm bin or vermicomposter.
“Worm castings solve a lot of problems,” she says. “They work on a multi-micronutrient level and a broad spectrum nutrient level, and they also have an enzyme in them that helps fight off sucking insects. That is my favourite thing to put down if I see a tree is suffering and needs some help.”
She recommends making your own wherever possible. “Anything that gets put in a bag has to be sterilized to some degree…When it’s coming straight out of the bin, right from the worms, it’s going to be a lot more potent than what you buy in the store.”
Start where you are
Wilhelmi has gathered her extensive knowledge about grafting, pruning, planting and more into her latest book–a must-have for any aspiring fruit grower. Whether you plan to grow fruit in containers, raised garden beds, or in a tiny backyard, Grow Your Own Mini Fruit Garden has tips and advice that will help you succeed.
“I’ve really aimed to give people a way into the strategies and techniques that they can use to grow fruit in small spaces…It’s all about having the right information and tools to explore and experiment.”
Grow Your Own Mini-Fruit Garden is published by Cool Springs Press, a division of Quarto Books.