The Zero-mile Diet: Grow Your own Fruit

A backyard orchard can provide large harvests in less time than you’d think

There’s nothing healthier than homegrown fruits that have been grown organically and ripened in your own backyard.

Nine years after arriving at The Garden Path we reap abundant harvests of grapes, kiwis, figs, plums, pears, rhubarb, cherries and apples, plus many varieties of berries. The best part is that it took only five years to establish this orchard.

In winter our freezer is full of frozen strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, currants and rhubarb. Freeze berries and chunks of rhubarb individually in a single layer on a baking sheet. This ensures the pieces do not stick together.

Pictured above: thornless blackberries

Bottled cherries, apricots, nectarines, pears and raspberries line the pantry shelf. Try bottling fruit in a honey syrup, made with one part light honey to four parts water.

I use a 1,000-kilowatt dehydrator to dry pears, apples, plums, figs and currants for fruit compotes and hiking treats. Last year I dried green grapes and was rewarded with the sweetest raisins I have ever tasted. Fruit finds its way into jams, juice, chutneys, jellies, butters and applesauce .


“Hinnonmaki Yellow” gooseberries

The first year on our property a 15-m (50-ft.) border was planted with raspberries, loganberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries and Josta berries. This is now referred to as the “Berry Walk.”

A raised bed of ‘Totem’ strawberries (June-bearing) and a different variety of rhubarb in every corner of the food garden were planted next.

In year two I added a small fruit-tree orchard of 10 dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees – apples, pears, Asian pears, plums, sweet and sour cherries, with nectarines, figs and apricots planted closer to the house for winter protection.

Plant hardy geraniums under fruit trees as a living mulch. This deters weeds, locks in moisture and keeps grass from growing up to the tree’s trunk.

The third year a 15-m (50-ft.) arbour of forest logs was built. Adorned on one side by climbing roses, the sunnier side of the arbour supports kiwis, grapes and a host of trailing berries tied up around each post.


You will get three years of good production from a strawberry patch; expect the second year to be the best.

Plant strawberry offsets in spring in well-drained sandy loam, with the crowns sitting just above the soil.

Strawberries grow best in slightly acidic soil (pH 6.0), so do not lime these beds. Adding granular organic seaweed helps the berries establish and promotes fruiting. Strawberries cannot compete with weeds so keep the patch weed free.

Choose between:
June-bearing: a large crop once a year (good for jam)
Ever-bearing: a crop in June and another in late summer
Day neutral: a constant production of fruit once established

Feeding tips

Each winter fruit trees and berry bushes appreciate a mulch of seaweed from the beach and a sprinkling of wood ash (uncontaminated) from the woodstove as a source of potash. In April/May it is time to apply nitrogen from animal manures, and feed with granular seaweed to promote fruiting. Mulching with shredded leaves helps lock moisture into the soil in dry summers.

Feeding Tips


Plant raspberry canes in spring in well-drained soil, where they will receive at least six hours of sunlight a day. For easier picking, build a wire support using 2×4 lumber, and dig out rooted canes that creep outside this framework.

I choose ever-bearing varieties, such as ‘Heritage’ and ‘Fall Gold’, which fruit in summer (July/August) and again in fall (September/October).

In early spring and again after the summer harvest, I cut brown canes that bore fruit down to the ground, leaving only the newer canes that bear the next harvest. Getting down on your knees at ground level makes it easy to see which canes to remove.


Before planting blueberries I added layers of pine shavings from the chicken coop to acidify the soil. This is important because blueberries need a low pH 5.0 to thrive. They also need at least six hours of sunlight a day.

Watch out for marauding birds as the blueberries ripen; I have planted blueberries in rows so that I can construct a cage of netting over them to protect them.

It’s best to have more than one variety for pollination and to choose early, mid-season and late varieties to extend harvest. It takes two years for plants to fruit, and several years for them to mature. The best berries are produced on two- to three-year-old wood. To prevent petering out, remove 20 percent of the oldest wood every year and cut declining branches off at ground level.

Currants and gooseberries

Currants and gooseberries belong to the genus Ribes, and are prolific for pies, desserts, jams, and jellies and wine making.

Fast-growing bushes root easily from 15-cm (6-in.) tip cuttings taken in fall after fruiting and left under cover (cold frame, greenhouse, garage by window) over winter in a sandy propagation mix (one part coarse washed sand to one part lightweight potting mix). Try it for yourself – I guarantee you will be amazed by your rooting success!

Blackcurrants produce fruit on one-year-old wood. In spring remove old wood and weak canes leaving six to nine strong ones. Redcurrants and gooseberries produce on two- and three-year-old wood. Wood older than three years should be removed, leaving eight or nine strong canes on the bush. Shorten longer canes for side-branching and fruit-spur development.

The currant fruit fly can be a pest as larvae decimate leaves and develop into small white maggots in the fruit. If you see this problem, control it by applying Safer Garden Dust containing Dipel Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) on a calm day.

Hybrid berries

Boysenberry: A cross of blackberry, loganberry and raspberry.
Loganberry: A cross of blackberry and raspberry.
Tayberry: A cross of loganberry and raspberry.
Jostaberry (Worcester Berry): A cross between gooseberry and blackcurrant.


In addition to providing excellent drainage and a hot location, pruning is the key to a good grape harvest. Grapes grow on the current season’s growth; pruning stimulates new growth from older wood. In spring while still dormant, select straight canes, approximately 5 mm (¼-in.) in diameter, and prune back to a few two-bud spurs on each branch, leaving no more than 50 buds in total for a moderately vigorous plant.


Kiwi vines are slow to fruit; it took seven years in my garden. Finally, after nine years, our vines are covered in fragrant white flowers that will be followed by lots of fruit. I’ll be sure to bring the fruit indoors to ripen before heavy frosts can damage it (as experienced in year seven!).

Kiwis are dioecious vines with male and female flowers on separate plants; you need one male for every six females. They bloom for a 10-day period starting mid-June, and good pollination depends on having lots of bees around at this time. Otherwise a paintbrush comes in handy for hand pollination to increase fruit set. It’s important to water kiwis consistently.

Pruning is needed to keep vines in check; this is best done in the dormant season before sap starts to flow. Before you get too carried away, keep in mind that it’s one-year wood that produces fruit. Some summer pruning may be required to control vines after fruit set.  Don’t prune later than August to avoid winter damage, and in cold regions provide winter protection for the roots.