One of the questions we were asked recently is “how long can I stretch out my fruit season?”
A long season is something we’re constantly testing and aiming for by adding new varieties.
It’s one of the best tools available to increase your food security.
The main reason for this is that you get to harvest fresh fruit from your own trees for as long as possible, and not just at the peak of summer. This puts off the time when you have to start buying fruit, and saves money.
It also decreases the risk of losing your food supply to poor weather.
When bad things (like hail) happen, they rarely affect all fruit crops the same way. The more different crops (varieties) you grow, the less you risk losing everything in a weather event, or because of seasonal variations like a really wet spring.
Adding late-season varieties
One of the first things to consider when planning your orchard is choosing the right types of fruit to grow.
If you include some very late-season fruit trees (e.g., Lady William or Sundowner apples, or Winter Nelis pears), you might still be picking or have fruit on the trees well into autumn.
These very late varieties are an excellent way to stretch the season.
Typically at our place we’re picking Pink Lady apples in late April and early May. Lady Williams are even later.
Some varieties (like Lady Williams or Granny Smith apples, for example), will even store quite well on the tree for weeks or months before they need picking (as long as you can protect them from the birds, of course!)
The downside of late-season fruit trees
Extending the season has a couple of management consequences.
For one thing, you need to pay attention to the trees for longer. That means your monitoring visits should be ongoing, and your attention to pest and disease prevention shouldn’t stop either.
Late varieties can also have different water needs to your stonefruit trees. It can be hard to keep them in mind once the heat of summer is gone.
It can be easy to forget that as long as your trees have fruit, they still need water.
If the soil around your fruit trees is dry, make sure you water them as needed right up until the fruit is properly ripened, and completely harvested.
Once you’ve finished picking the fruit, you can usually drastically cut back (or stop) irrigating your mature trees, even in a dry summer.
In fact, stopping watering as soon as possible is one of the water-saving strategies we recommend in our short course How to Grow Fruit in a Drought.
(Pro tip: check the climate outlook to help predict how much help your trees will need from irrigation water in the coming couple of months.)
And remember that young trees are a different case altogether. They should never be allowed to dry out while they still have leaves on them.