Gardening Guy: Growing Nuts and Berries | Weekend magazine
Every year you probably plant tomatoes. Wouldn’t it be great if they came back every year without worrying about preparing the ground, starting the seedlings in April and planting them? Well, that’s what nut and fruit trees and berry shrubs do: once planted (and mature), they produce food every year. For me, there is a definite attraction for plants that require less work.
I was recently sent a review copy of a wonderful book by Allyson Levy and Scott Serranno: “Cold-Hardy Fruits and Nuts: 50 Easy-to-Grow Plants for the Organic Home Garden or Landscape” printed by Chelsea Green Publishing. When I got it, I could barely tear myself away from it because it has so much to teach me.
Each of the species included has five or six pages devoted to it, and at least five excellent photos. The information begins with “Growing Difficulty Rating” – how difficult is it to grow? Most are easy. It includes taste profile and uses, pollination requirements (is it self-pollinating?), site and soil conditions, hardiness of the area, good cultivars to look for, and a paragraph on pests and problems .
I called the authors and asked them about their experience growing this diverse group of plants. They live in Stone Ridge, New York, a town about 100 miles north of Manhattan and about 10 miles from the Hudson River. They are in zone 6 where winter temperatures only drop a little below freezing most winters.
They are both artists and originally started growing plants to use in their art. About 20 years ago they bought 8 acres in front of them and started their own arboretum, later adding another 10 acres. Their arboretum is Hortus Arboretum and Botanical Garden and is a Level II arboretum according to the Morton Arboretum.
I asked them what fruit they would recommend if someone didn’t have any and wanted to start with the winners. Scott suggested blueberries and blackberries. Both are easy and tasty. Elderberries are good too, they said, although you have to cook the berries to make them palatable. Elderberries, honey and lemon juice make a good syrup, which I use to help prevent colds in the winter.
We talked about honey berries (Lonicera caerulea). It is a fruit that I will definitely plant this year. Although the fruit looks a bit like a large, oblong blueberry, it actually belongs to the genus with honeysuckle. It is native to the northern United States, Canada and Siberia. A friend gave us some to taste last summer, and I love the flavor.
According to the book, the blueberry is the first fruit to ripen here, a few weeks before the strawberries. But it’s a few weeks after they turn blue and seem ripe that they lose their astringency and become sweet. This is the kind of information that most books or plant labels don’t have, and only comes from someone who grows and knows the plant. Allyson said she found many berries hidden under the leaves. The fruit gets better every year, apparently.
Another fruit in the book is papaya, a tree fruit with a somewhat tropical flavor (cross banana with mango flavor?). As the book explains, you need two different trees (not clones) to get pollination and fruit. I grow it, but I started with only clones, so I haven’t gotten any fruits yet.
Among the nuts, they recommend hazelnuts. These produce nut like plants much younger than varieties like black walnut or pecans, which are large trees that require years to produce nuts. You must have two or more hazelnuts as they are not self-fertile. Scott pointed out that the native species has smaller nuts than some of the named varieties.
Pecans are discussed in the book. The biggest difficulty is not getting the tree to grow, but having a long enough growing season for the nuts to ripen. They need 150-180 days. But with climate change, that may not be a problem in 25 years. They note that you must have two compatible grafted varieties to get nuts, as the trees are not self-fertile. They are large, beautiful trees and should be grown in full sun and rich soil if possible.
A tree that is not native, but which produces a lot of food for deer, is the Korean umbrella pine. The pine nuts we use for pesto most often come from these trees grown in Asia. The cones open in winter and drop their oil-rich, calorie-rich seeds. Scott said that in Siberia, tigers depend indirectly on the umbrella pine because it feeds the deer and wild boar that the tigers need to survive.
The Arboretum and Garden of Hortus is open from Mother’s Day in May until the end of October, from Friday to Sunday. Admission is by donation. Due to COVID they scheduled online visitors to their website www.hortusgardens.org during the season.
This book is terrifically useful to anyone interested in growing fruits and nuts. I should note that it does not cover apples, plums and peaches because these fruits are well covered by other authors and, as they say, very prone to pests and diseases. The plants in question are generally easy to grow and trouble-free. Just what we all want!
Henry Homeyer can be contacted by email at email@example.com or by USPS at PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 03746. His website is Gardening-Guy.com.