Of all the plantings that can be done to prepare for a future disaster, few can compete with the sheer level of production and nutrition afforded by a well-cared for orchard. Once properly established, fruit trees can provide pounds upon pounds of fruit with little more than quick pruning and some mulch and water each year. As fresh fruits are easily one of the most difficult items to store while preserving all the the nutrients and flavors, having access to them via your trees will greatly enhance your survival diet. Of course, to do this you need to get those trees planted in the first place!
I don’t have 10 acres for an orchard, does this apply to me?
Before we get into the specifics of planting, let me assure you that almost anyone with at least a small area with access to the sun can grow at least a single fruit tree. Even if you lack a yard, you can grow miniature fruit trees in pots! Although having those 10 acres would certainly make it easier to acquire an abundance of fruit and overcome lean production years, the lack of soil space should not prevent you from growing a mini-orchard for yourself.
Are they worth the time and effort to get started? Why not just grow a garden?
Obviously you can do both, but an orchard is much more permanent and work intensive at first. Fruit trees are in some ways more valuable than gardens in that they produce with minimal work or time needed once the trees are firmly established. You may be tempted to think of a fruit tree as an uneeded convenience now owing to the amount of leisure time you have available to tend a garden and procure its fruits and vegetables, but especially in the first few weeks/months of a survival situation you will be severely lacking in free time. Trees don’t need constant weeding and care in order to produce, so while you’re busy repairing damage or guarding yourself from looters the orchard can be growing and producing the rations you need with minimal input needed.
The key to fruit trees is that their value improves past the first few years, so the sooner you get them started and growing the better off you will be.
What kind of fruit trees?
Firstly, I strongly recommend a variety of fruits regardless of your climate or limited planting space. Not only are different types of fruit trees less likely to succumb to the same disease or blight all at once (preserving your harvests) but the variety in taste and texture of the fruits will be very welcome.
Besides that, look into local nurseries that sell fruit trees (NOT big box stores!) to determine what seems to grow well in your climate and soil. Nurseries are more likely to offer helpful advice too which could help compensate for specific mineral deficiencies in your soil or protect your trees from a common pest insect. If you wish to go online instead, pay careful attention to their planting date and zone recommendations: unless you have a heated greenhouse most Northerners just aren’t going to be growing many oranges or lemons!
So long as the local greenhouse recommends it for your area, it should grow fairly well. Obviously you will want to use some judgement when it comes to special issues with your own land (potential for flooding/drought, proximity to forests or fields that may be vectors for disease) but even those can be overcome with time and attention to detail.
Dwarf or standard sized?
Generally speaking dwarf trees are designed to take up less space, grow faster, and generally are better suited for preppers without large yards to devote towards fruit trees. Indeed, dwarfs are commonly used for pot-growing in apartment complexes and other areas for preppers who lack yards at all! They tend to bear fruit more quickly than their larger kin, but unfortunately dwarf trees also tend to stop bearing large harvests of fruit much more quickly. A normal-sized tree may provide food for 10 years or more, while a dwarf could end its useful lifecycle within 5 years or less depending on the variety. Even if you have room for the larger trees, you may elect to include both to provide fruit faster so you’re not caught in year 2 or 3 of the planting and left with minimal fruit to harvest.
General Planting Tips
Always follow the directions from your nursery for best results, since they tend to have experience with the issues of owners trying to plant delicate seedlings and offer excellent advice. These tips generally apply to trees of all types and across the climate spectrum:
- Minimize stress on the tree for the first planting and the first year. Stress can be broadly defined as any negative effect that can require more energy or resources than the tree must spend to grow and thrive. Keeping weeds, bugs, and disease down all contribute towards reducing stress on your new trees. Furthermore, keeping the tree properly watered helps a great deal in minimizing stress and speeding recovery from any wounds it might sustain despite your watchful care. It’s vital that stress be minimized during the first year until the tree has established a deep, powerful root system that can withstand shocks to the system.
- Unless you picked a water dweller, avoid swampy or flood-prone areas. We tend to think that trees withstand flooding well, but a young seedling is not exactly up to that task. Roots rot readily, so any area of your yard that is frequently flood by rains should be avoided.
- Buy and plant more than you think you will need. Even a master gardener could not keep every tree alive, so buy a few extra and plant them at the same time as the rest. These extras can be cut down later if needed, so don’t feel that it is a complete waste. Alternatively, you can simply keep them all producing though the work involved in supporting so many trees to maturity may be a little much.
- Encourage pollinating insects to show up if you want fruit! Without bees or some other pollinator, you will have to collect pollen and spread it on the blossoms in order to get fruit later on in the year. It’s much more efficient to let the little guys handle it, so plant flowers and other plants that attract bees, or simply raise bees on the side and reap the benefits!
Hopefully these tips were helpful to you and encourage you to give at least one tree a try. You’ll certainly appreciate the natural bounty of a fruit tree even without a disaster looming, but if a survival situation were to occur a few trees may well save your life!
Let us know if you have any other tips or tricks for a gardener looking to grow a few trees!