A backyard orchard was a key element on our “wish list” when we were shopping for a new homestead three years ago. We were thrilled when we bought our current property complete with a small, well established orchard. Neither of us had raised fruit trees before, so to our untrained eyes the trees all looked healthy despite several years of neglect by the previous owners. We naively thought raising a backyard orchard would be easy with little to no maintenance required. Unfortunately after our first full year on the homestead we realized that was not the case. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing when it came to proper pruning and pest management! I realized we desperately needed some help to learn how to properly care for our backyard orchard. We found the help we needed in the book “The Backyard Orchardist: A complete guide to growing fruit trees in the home garden” By Stella Otto. This comprehensive and user friendly guide is exactly what we needed!
The Backyard Orchardist is a thorough guide to growing fruit trees in a backyard. The original book was printed over twenty years ago so this new second edition is an updated, expanded version. The main topics in the book range from site selection to planting, tree varieties, care, pests/diseases and harvest. The book is broken down into five main sections:
- Getting Started with Fruit Trees
- Fruit Fundamentals-Growth Habits of Specific Tree Fruit
- Caring for your fruit trees
- Pests & Diseases
Our orchard was already well established when we moved here and the trees are probably close to 20 years old. We’ve continued to expand our orchard each year by planting more fruit trees in the open land to the northeast of the established orchard. When we planted our new fruit trees, we spaced them the same distance apart as the older trees in our orchard. After reading the chapter on site selection, I realized a few adjustments we can make to improve our orchard site with the next round of fruit trees we plant.
Living in a cold, northern climate like Montana limits the types of fruit trees we can successfully grow in our orchard. There’s a handy chart in the book that breaks the US down into growing regions and lists the types of fruit trees that grow best in each specific area. This is helpful information for us to know as we seek to expand our orchard each year and broaden the types of fruits we can successfully grow in our region. The second section of the book is quite helpful in exploring more in-depth the wide variety of fruit trees available and explaining growth habits, pollination, thinning, and harvest tips for each fruit type.
Section three in the book, Caring for your Fruit Trees, taught me a lot I didn’t know about how to better care for our orchard. I especially appreciated the chapter on Pruning Basics! Like I mentioned earlier, we didn’t have a clue about pruning methods before so the first year on our homestead I tackled the job to prune all the neglected trees on our property. I thought I did a great job, until a few months later when more little branches sprouted out of the tree where I had just pruned! All that hard work for nothing it seemed. That’s when I learned the hard way that there’s a lot more to pruning than just trimming off a branch. With the help of the tips I read in The Backyard Orchardist, we’re going to tackle pruning our fruit trees again this year. This time we’ll do it correctly and I’m sure our trees will be much happier in the long run!
Section four on Pests & Diseases was probably the most helpful section in the book. We’ve noticed several pest problems in our orchard, mainly affecting the apricot trees and the oldest apple tree. I wasn’t quite sure what all the pests exactly were but this book helped me to identify them all. The book has charts showing a black and white drawing of each pest and a description of what it is, the typical host plant and damage it causes. We want to address the insect pest issues while still maintaining an organic orchard. The book covers a wide variety of insect and disease control methods. While it does cover pesticide options, there are plenty of other pest and disease control methods that are more natural that we can choose from to address the pest issues we have.
The Backyard Orchardist is an excellent, comprehensive guide for homesteaders like us seeking to grow a small orchard to provide fruit to nourish our family. After reading this book, I feel more confident about being able to properly prune our fruit trees and how to tackle the pests before they destroy anymore of our precious apricots and apples. I just wish I had read this book two years ago when we first bought our new homestead!
Thank you to Stella Otto for providing a copy of the updated 2nd Edition of The Backyard Orchardist for us to read, review and share here on our blog!