Branching Out

In one of my earlier article about preparing a CSA to take an increasingly important place in the local food economy, I resolved to add more perennial plants to our product mix. And so I sit here with a print catalog and two open windows to online catalogs trying to decide which of the hundreds of choices would be best for our farm. It’s been 11 years since I’ve felt such trepidation, bewilderment, excitement and anticipation in preparing a product order for the upcoming season. I think selecting fruit trees, berry bushes and other perennial plants maybe just as much fun as my annual seed order. Just as with seed orders I best not let my eyes be bigger than my stomach. So what to start with first?

Trees

From the print catalog in front of me I could order peaches, apples, cherries, plums, apricots, pears, nectarines and various nuts including a pecan that is hardy to zone 5. Plus some exotic fruits I’ve never eaten (except figs of the “Newton” variety) such as pawpaws, persimmon, and figs.

I’ve decided this year it will be peaches and apples. The peach variety will be Reliance. According to the catalog it’s the most cold hardy peach, rated for zones 4-8. We’ve grown this one before. It did produce a good amount of tasty peaches. I will get two standard trees.

As of this writing I’ve not decided which of the wonderful apples I will order. I am leaning toward two varieties (recommended for cross pollination) of dwarf trees.

Bushes and Vines

I am tempted to order some golden raspberries. We grew some about 20 years ago. They were delicious although I don’t think they were as hardy as red varieties.

Currents, gooseberries and elderberries are fruits I’ve also never eaten, but they do intrigue me. The print catalog states that currents and gooseberries cannot be sent to Massachusetts due to White Pine Blister Rust, a disease effecting white pine trees; currents and gooseberries are part of the disease vector. An online company based in Massachusetts has some legal varieties of currents and gooseberries for Massachusetts. Perhaps I best read up a bit on White Pine Blister Rust and only order elderberries for this year.

Grapes

I harvested my first small crop of Concord grapes this past season. The plants seemed to grow well. I’d like to increase my Concord vines and branch out into the table and wine varieties.

Plants

Asparagus, rhubarb, horseradish, and Jerusalem artichokes. Two years ago Pete dug up and split quite a few of our rhubarb plants bringing our total to about 20 plants. We could use a few more. I had become used to the general public not having a fondness for rhubarb. I was taken aback at the very high percentage of my CSA members who were willing to come to the farm prior to the official start of the season to pick up or upick a bunch of rhubarb.

We have one 100′ row of asparagus not really enough for our full CSA membership. Some will go to the lucky first few members coming for rhubarb, and the rest is all mine. More asparagus should be planted

I have a small area of horseradish. I put a taste out on my assortment table on pickup days in late summer. Folks often choose the other veggies instead and I end up with lots of horseradish for my own use. I could use some more plants because I think many folks would try it if it wasn’t in competition from the other usual assorted vegetables.

Citrus

If I lived in such a climate I’d already have a nice selection. As a kid I saw citrus trees growing in the backyards of the folks we were visiting in Florida and California and was very impressed. Rationally I know growing citrus is no more or less impressive than growing peaches or apples but that which in unknown is always more exotic. And so I am going to order a Meyeri lemon tree to be grown in a container, moved outside in the summer and inside in the winter. It’s very tempting to also order the other suggested container adapted trees: Key Lime, Valencia orange, tangerine, Dwarf banana and even Arbequina olive. My container green thumb needs work so I’d best limit the experiment to the one lemon tree.

Honorable Mention

All perennial herbs and flowers especially those with medicinal properties. I need more study into the uses of botanical medicinals but my casual readings have led me to believe that most culinary herbs have historical or present day medical uses. Many flowers are either edible or medicinal or both. They are all beautiful and I firmly believe flowers are food for the eyes and spirit. More perennial herbs and flowers are on the list.

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

Edible wild plants are an entire article of their own. Many are available when much of the cultivated crops are not and are worthy of further study. Off the top of my head I have rose hips, nettle and purslane.

If you’ve kept a running total of the perennial plants I’ve promise to order and plant for this season it comes in at less than a dozen. It’s not enough to supply my somewhat large suburban community nor even a 35 member CSA, but it’s a start. It’s my first “semester” studying Fruit Trees 101, Elderberry Wine 101, Local Food Production 201 (I give myself credits for past CSA growing), and maybe even How to Fit Into the 100 Mile Diet 101.

So this season go out on a limb and branch out with some edible perennials, and remember these age old words of encouragement: Us small nuts will grow into mighty trees (paraphrased).

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