Magazine article Sunset

Feel-Good Fruit

Magazine article Sunset

Feel-Good Fruit

Article excerpt

Plant now to harvest a pesticide-free bounty from your own garden BY JIM MCCAUSLAND

PEACH, GRAPE, blueberry, cherry, strawberry, and apple lovers are in luck: Though these crops are considered to be among the most pesticide laden when conventionally raised, they're a snap to grow organically at home. Now's the time to plant bare-root stock of these trees and bushes; strawberries put in the ground this month will bear as soon as this spring and summer, and everything else will start producing in one to three years.

21 BESTCROPS FOR HOME GARDENS: sunset.com/best-crops

WHAT TO GROW

Plus secrets for getting great fruit

Peaches

To avoid peach leaf curl (a fungal disease that affects wet leaves) in damp climates, plant trees against a southfacing wall under an eave, and prune them into a fan shape. And if you're short on space, plant three or four varieties in one hole, pruning off all but the outwardfacing branches.

Grapes

The vines are easy to train along fences, pergolas, and deck rails. Stick with American varieties (Vitis labrusca) grown on their own roots to avoid the mildew and root louse (phylloxera) problems common to European grapes (V. vinifera).

Strawberries

There are three main types. Plant June-bearing for one big crop in late spring or early summer, everbearing for spring and fall crops, and day-neutral for a large crop in spring and smaller harvests all summer. The plants produce less fruit as they age, so replace them every three years.

Blueberries

These shrubs do well in all parts of the West except the desert, and since many varieties have magnificent fall color, you can also use them as showy garden plants. In mild climates, spotted-wing drosophila (related to the common fruit fly) can be a problem. In that case, use row covers after fruit sets.

Sweet cherries

Birds prefer red ones, so select a yellow-fruited variety if they tend to eat your crops, or be prepared to cover trees with netting. Cherries do well nearly everywhere except the desert, where they get too much heat, and the low elevations of Southern California, where there's not enough winter chill.

Apples

Early-ripening varieties, which spoil quickly, are best used for sauce, while lateripening kinds last longest in storage. Apple maggot and codling moth damage fruit, but you can control them organically with sticky traps and Spinosad.

BIRDS & THE BEES Blueberries, cherries, and apples need to be pollinated, so buy a self-pollinating variety, pick a tree with a pollinator grafted onto it, or plant two varieties that cross-pollinate. Consult the Western Garden Book of Edibles (Sunset Publishing, 2010; $25) or a nursery for which ones do best in your zone. …

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