First garden order of the year: fruit trees and shrubs.

I went grocery shopping yesterday and was a bit startled by the increase in food prices, fresh produce in particular.  One of our purchases was garden seeds, which I’ll be starting in my little toilet paper roll seed-starter pots soon:

Last year I ordered cedar-apple rust resistant cultivars of apples — Empire, Enterprise, and Liberty — and a peach tree from Stark Bros, which I believe is the oldest nursery in the country.  I ordered these at the end of the summer when they were having a clearance sale.  I ordered the larger sized (“supreme”) ones but was shipped the smaller-sized trees because they ran out of clearance stock.  No problem, but they still charged me for the larger trees.  I emailed them to ask why and they replied they still felt I was getting a good deal since it was a clearance price.  I was a little startled by that response but I didn’t care enough to raise a big fuss.  The trees were good quality and arrived healthy and well-pruned, so I give them an A+ for their products but I’d have to give them a C for their customer service.

I’ve been planning since fall to do this year’s spring order from Raintree Nursery.  They are a well-respected nursery in Washington that carries many unusual cultivars.

Here is what I am ordering:

1. One cherry tree.

How to Grow Sweet Cherries, found on the Vegetable Gardener website, was an extremely helpful article for deciding what I wanted to buy.  Based on the author’s experience and recommendation, I’m choosing a semi-dwarf self-fertile called Lapins Cherry / Gisela 5.  Gisela rootstock was developed in Germany and requires a license to sell, so these trees are not easy to find.  Raintree is currently the only place I’ve found offering them.  The tree can be kept at about 10 feet tall and is resistant to cankers.

The rest of the items I’m ordering may sound a bit unusual to you.  However, the reduction in the diversity of our diets, a by-product of large-scale industrial monoculture farming, is concerning and my little way of fighting back is to plant a wider range of less-common fruit and vegetables.  If this interests you, the Unusual Fruit Plants for Gardens in the North-Central Region from the Michigan State Department of Horticulture is a wealth of knowledge.

2. Two huckleberry shrubs

Huckleberries are mostly found growing wild in the Pacific Northwest but can also be found in Michigan (see: Michigan huckleberries: small berries, big local history for more information plus a tasty-looking huckleberry pie recipe).  Sadly, wild huckleberries in Michigan aren’t easy to find due to habitat destruction.

Because these are mostly found in the wild and are impossible to plant from seed and are difficult to transplant, very few nurseries other than Raintree carry them, which is why I’m willing to pay nearly $20 per small plant.  I’m ordering Tall Mountain (some varieties of Huckleberry won’t survive our chilly Michigan winters, but this one should).

3. Serviceberries (also called Juneberries or Saskatoons):

My reason for planting serviceberries is because they are a fruiting shrub (or they can be pruned as small trees) that can grow in somewhat shady conditions, making them perfect for the second layer of a permaculture food forest guild:

I’m ordering the cultivar Thiessen.  I’m tempted to buy more, but serviceberries are in the same family as apples and thus are also susceptible to cedar-apple rust.  We’ve been working on cutting down all cedars on our property, but neither of our neighbors has done so, which means we can’t totally eliminate the problem.  I am planning to spray Immunox on my two non-resistant apple trees and will also spray my serviceberries.

Permaculture principles would dictate not to plant the serviceberries because I already know I’m probably going to face problems.  One tenet of permaculture is to minimize unnecessary effort by thinking through and planning things in a analytical way.  However, I also think it’s sometimes worth taking a risk to see if you can make something work if the pay off could potentially be worth the effort.  So I’ll start with one serviceberry and see how it goes.

4. Lingonberries

The National Gardening Association has a helpful article about growing lingonberries.

The lingonberry is a 12- to 18-inch-high evergreen shrub native to northern temperate, boreal and arctic regions of Europe and North America. In addition to inherent cold-hardiness (to -10°), once covered with insulating snow, it survives northern winters from New England to Minnesota…

Lingonberry plants spread by underground runners to three feet. The glossy, dark green leaves are 1/8- to 1/2-inch long and usually tinged red when new. This shrub is handsome enough for ornamental use — as a small-scale ground cover or informal edging around larger acid-soil plantings, for example. It is also attractive in containers…

hese fruits are tart. Make them into jam for a superb roast goose and venison topping. Pancakes covered with lingonberry syrup are a Swedish tradition. Use them in any recipe that calls for cranberries. Lingonberries are very rich in vitamin C.

I’m ordering Balsgard (developed in Sweden) and Red Pearl (grows wild in Holland).

Gardening is fun and enjoyable, something I would do as a hobby, regardless of any other reasons I may have for doing it.  However, the total for my order including shipping comes to $129.40.  As I put things in the ground, make infrastructure improvements, and set up our second attempt at raising chickens, I’m going to give you the dollar amounts that I’m investing.

The reason for that is because I want to make a point about how difficult this time period that we are in is; we need to start developing small-scale food independence but it’s expensive to do so, in some cases requiring two incomes.  Because I have to work full-time to pay for all this (though I’m lucky because I have much of the summer off), it cuts into my time to work on things around here.  It’s a tough time right now, but our agro-business food supply is simply disgusting and our supply web is only one Serious World Event away from major disruption, so it’s worth it.  Whatever your circumstances are, you can do something to raise food; folks did so during other difficult times in our history and we can do so again now.

Figure out what you can do now and start making a plan for this spring.

Happy gardening!