The first trees to awake are the filbert and cobnuts, producing pollen filled catkins. Part of the hazel family of trees, they have tiny red flowers that are wind pollinated by the long catkin fronds that burst with a dust like explosion of pollen in the wind. The more trees you have in close proximity the more flowers will be pollinated which in turn produce the nuts at the end of summer in September.
After the nut trees, fruit starts to blossom, starting usually with my pear trees, we have just three pear trees, two in the food forest and a Lilliput pear in the side garden orchard that runs alongside the boundary wall and road.
In the food forest there are two varieties, a self pollinating Conference and a Humbug, a hardy variety which produces strange vertically striped desert pears with firm and juicy flesh.
Shortly after the pears the cherries blossom, Cherries are the most abundant trees in our garden with a big cherry that was next to the driveway when we bought the house and two patio Kordia varieties in the side garden orchard strip. The big Tree never produced fruit until we got the Kordias planted. Now the tree produces small but super sweet fruit. It’s not the biggest cherry tree ever (about 12ft), but still too tall to net, so the birds usually help themselves to the majority of the high fruits before we get a chance to collect them. The Kordias both produce very big, almost black cherries when ripe. Although the trees are small (about 5ft) the yield is pretty big each year.
Also in the side garden is a Morello Cherry that a work colleague gave to Karen (along with an apple tree), He was moving house but didn’t have space for the trees, so we ended up with them for free. The Morello is on semi-dwarf rootstock, and is currently about 6ft tall, after a couple of years of being planted it is now producing a good yield of sour fruit.
In the food forest there are three Morellos, a Stella, a Hedelfinger, and a saved variety called Attercliffe from Sheffield Fruit Trees – a nursery that saves scion from trees from around the Sheffield area, often trees that will be felled, they’re do an amazing job of saving heritage or old genetic trees, this one was grafted onto semi dwarfing root stock from scion taken from a sweet cherry in Attercliffe Cemetery in Sheffield.
I planted so many cherries in the food forest as they’re one fruit that is harder to come by fresh in the supermarkets, especially sour cherries like the Morellos.
The main problem with cherries is they don’t really keep fresh for long when they are ripe, they’re best when fresh, picked and eaten straight from the tree or preserved in some way (either in jams or by processing by removing the stones and freezing).
The food forest is very densely planted, with a tree layer that would be traditionally considered planted too close to each other. In nature trees don’t grow at 6ft spacing and in straight lines. Often saplings compete for light as older trees die back or fall, producing a thick forest densely packed trees. I find that by under planting with nitrogen producing plants like comfrey, peas and beans that the trees still thrive. The may be some point when they will require thinning out as they compete, but in the mean time I will have many years of fruit and nuts.
With the food forest, I want to try and replicate nature as much as I can. Using permaculture design to make a garden that produces tons or fruit, nuts and forage per year with no weeding or digging at all.
Alongside the Cherries the under canopy bush plants like gooseberries and currants blossom next, these are usually the first fruit harvests each year, We started out with just a couple of bushes in the side garden orchard about ten years ago. When I first planted the food forest I added three more varieties and took cuttings each spring when pruning any overlapping or crowded growth. Now around 7-8 Gooseberry bushes are scattered throughout the food forest as well.
At the time of writing I’m currently in the Lake District, and I’ve spotted some wild Gooseberries whilst out hiking. I’m going to take a few cuttings to bring home and establish to increase the genetics of the plants in the food forest.
Gooseberries are in my opinion a very underrated fruit and one you’ll never find in a supermarket. I make two harvests from each plant, The first harvest is to thin out the fruit, usually a little sour but perfect sweetened as you would an apple crumble and baked in a tart, pie, even for an apple sauce alternative. I usually use the first batch in brewing, making a sour Gooseberry Saison.
The first harvest allows the rest of the fruit left on the plant to swell further, these are usually quite sweet when fully ripe, sweet enough to eat straight from the plant without having to sweeten in any way. I often also use the sweet ones for brewing alongside the sweet cherries which go into a summer fruit beer. There’s always an abundance of the sweeter harvest of Gooseberries and red currants, so we tend to freeze them in ice-cream tubs and use them throughout the winter in smoothies.
The last of the fruit trees to blossom are the apples, I have three in the side garden orchard – A Golden Delicious, and two Red Delicious
In the food forest there are five, A Surprise which was planted a year ago, which produces fruit with bright orange skin and bright orange flesh, I nipped out the flowers last year after the flowers died back to let the tree put it’s energy into creating good roots, so I’m yet to try the fruit from this tree. A Tickled Pink another strange variety with Deep Red Skin and Red flesh, they produce the tastiest apples I’ve ever eaten, crisp, juicy and a little sour. A variety called Summered which I got in to help cross pollinate the Tickled Pink and two trees George Fox we grafted ourselves onto semi dwarfing rootstock in 2019 on a grafting course with Sheffield Fruit Trees These are heritage varieties that so far in 2022 haven’t yet fruited. They’re pretty tall. These two are also the latest variety of apples to awake and put leaves on in our food forest planting, I’m hoping that this year we’ll get blossom and finally fruit.
The other trees in the food forest are Plums and Gage. Two plants that we grafted ourselves onto quince root stock at the same grafting course at Sheffield Fruit Trees (A Beighton Blue Plum- From scion from a tree in beighton Sheffield and a green gage). We both tried double grafts, grafting two varieties onto the same rootstock, on one trees both of the grafts taken, on the other they both failed after looking promising for a year, I left the failed rootstock in to grow as a quince, which I’ll graft various branches with many varieties of plum each year as the tree ages, hopefully having a tree with up to 10 varieties as well as the fruits from the original quince rootstock. A Mirrabelle de Nancy a variety of cherry plum. None of the plum and gage trees we have in the food forest have fruited as of yet, plums and gage tend not to fruit until the trees are older – about 5-6 years old. I’m hoping I may get a little blossom and harvest from the Mirrabelle this year, even if just a few fruit to taste what’s to come, though it’s likely still too young.