Heirloom Fruits From Your Yard

February 2011

By Carol Rossi, Sustainable Danville Area

Imagine a dessert so sweet and delicious it has graced European after-dinner tables for hundreds of years and is served as a final course at Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’ famous restaurant in Berkeley.  Imagine also that this delicacy is low calorie and good for you, and is produced with relatively little effort in your own backyard.  Well, stop dreaming and start learning about the versatility and amazing flavor of heirloom varietal fruits.

Shoppers are familiar with the handful of reliable, but bland, fruit varieties found in stores – varieties selected by commercial growers to meet certain needs such as ease of shipping, shelf life, massive production and uniform harvest times.  But many of the best tasting fruit varieties are not suitable for commercial agriculture and only the backyard grower can enjoy the crisp, nutty snap of an Ashmead’s Kernel Apple, the creamy and sweet flesh of a Seckel Sugar Pear, or the incredible candy-like sweetness of a Bavay’s Green Gage Plum, still considered the ideal dessert plum in Europe.

Variety and exceptional flavor are not the only reasons to consider growing your own backyard fruit trees.  Many of the fruits that grow easily in the Tri-Valley area – apples, pears, and plums – are also those most heavily sprayed by commercial growers with pesticides and preservatives, including known carcinogens and hormone disruptors.  With your own organically tended and nourished fruit trees you know your harvest is chemical-free, safe to eat, and family healthy but won’t cost the high premium of store-bought organic fruit.

Planting a tree is also one of the best ways to help the environment because trees sequester carbon from the air and into the soil.  One tree can process up to a ton of carbon in its lifetime!  Fruit trees condition the soil, provide shade, attract pollinators to your garden, provide wonderful compost material when their leaves drop in the fall, and are a fun and rewarding way to cut your carbon footprint by eating local.

Lastly, growing your own fruit trees is a great way to help the less fortunate and introduce people to healthy, flavorful alternatives to processed foods.   Did you know one mature fruit tree can produce 100-500 pounds of fruit annually?  If your family eats 20% of the fruit, imagine the impact you can make at a local food bank with your donation!

If you are inspired to grow your own amazing crops of delicious fruit The Urban Farmers is coordinating a group purchase of heirloom fruit trees from Trees of Antiquity, an organic tree grower located in Paso Robles.  Simply visit The Urban Farmers website for instructions on selecting your trees and placing the order, and to locate other resources such as planting preparation and the “Easy 15” fruit trees that grow well in the Tri-Valley area.  Prices range between $24.95 to $31.95, but parents, faculty and administrators affiliated with schools in the San Ramon Valley, Accalanes or Mt. Diablo School District or anyone mentioning Sustainable Danville Area will get 15% off the price of trees purchased during the sale.

Orders are due by Feb. 20 and trees will be available February 26 at the tree arrival party held in Lafayette.  The party open to the public, will feature UC Berkeley Professor and Soil Scientist, Steve Andrews, who will discuss the importance of soil and a planting workshop that will demonstrate how to plant, prune, and care for your trees.  Participants will also receive a free one year subscription to The Urban Farmers bulletin service that alerts tree owners when certain action (such as watering, pruning, harvesting) is required and how to do it properly.

As an added bonus, support for the Urban Farmers program enables fruit tree donations to schools within the San Ramon Valley, Accalanes, and Mt. Diablo school districts and at selected assisted living facilities.

An ancient proverb states “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago.  The second best time is now”.  Take advantage of now.  Twenty years from now future generations will be thanking you and enjoying the fruits of your efforts.

Read more from Carol Rossi, Champion of Organic and Sustainable Gardening in the Examiner.com

Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News/Alamo Today:http://www.yourmonthlypaper.com/pdfs/DT/2011/DT.2011.Feb.full.pdf