Luther Burbank’s Plum Tree
In 1955 I was spending the summer camping in Wyoming, Montana, British Colombia, Washington, Oregon and California with my family and a friend. In Santa Rosa, California, we were lucky to visit Luther Burbank’s home—part of which was surrounded by his test gardens. Burbank was a horticultural genius and created many new crops that we take for granted today—including the russet potato, Shasta daisy and spineless prickly pear cactus.
Hidden among these gardens was a plum tree, about twenty-feet high and as large in diameter, with many branches. We discovered that it was not just a normal plum tree—but one with 30 to 40 varieties grafted on it! Just think—a full spectrum of colors, flavors and maturation dates all on one tree!
Just One or A Few Fruit Trees?
This got me to thinking. It is easier to take care of a few trees. You can make sure that the soils are in good shape, that the trees are exquisitely pruned and that each fruit is harvested on time.
But would just one or a few fruit trees produce sufficient fruit for a family of four? Here’s what I discovered might be possible:
One full-sized apple tree is placed on offset spacing 40′ apart and grows high 40’ high. At intermediate yields, the tree is capable of producing 1,200 pounds of apples. This would be up to 300 pounds per person each year! Pretty good! That is a little under a pound a day for the whole year! If you graft many different varieties on each tree, you will have just as many different colors, flavors and maturation dates. If you choose a good combination, you can harvest apples from late June until early December!
A full-sized pear tree is placed on 15′ offset spacing. At intermediate yields the tree is capable of producing 90 pounds of pears. If you grow three pear trees, your productivity would be 360 pounds of pears, or about one pound of fruit per family each day. Again, you can take advantage of grafting different varieties on each tree.
Full-sized peach trees are placed on 15′ offset spacing. At intermediate yields the tree is capable of producing up to 202 pounds of peaches, or a little over a half pound of fruit per family each day. You can graft different varieties on each tree as well.
Full-sized cherry trees are placed on 20′ offset spacing. At intermediate yields the tree is capable of producing up to 134 pounds of cherries annually. Two trees could produce up to 268 pounds of fruit per family each year, or about two-thirds of a pounds of cherries daily. Grafting works here too.
Regular-sized apricots are planted on 25′ offset spacing. At intermediate yields a tree is capable of producing up to 376 pounds of apricots daily, or about one pound per family daily. Grafting works for apricots as well.
Regular-sized plums are planted on 18 to 24′ offset spacing. At intermediate yields a tree is capable of producing up to 291 pounds of apricots yearly, or about two-thirds of a pound per family each day. Grafting works for plums, and there are lots of varieties to try!
If you have a mild enough climate without winter frosts, Navel and Valencia oranges are planted on 22′ and 24′ offset spacing respectively. At intermediate yields a tree is capable of producing up to 232 and 363 pounds of sweet juicy oranges respectively, or about two-thirds of a pound and one pound respectively per family daily. Exciting!
Which Fruits and How Many Trees Should I Grow?
The choices are yours. The important thing is to realize that it does not take a lot of trees to grow a lot of fruit. It does take about seven years for a tree to reach full production, so start as soon as is practical! If you do not have room for a tree, why not get together with a friend and share one?
• Luther Burbank Gardens http://www.lutherburbank.org
• Western Fruits, Berries and Nuts: How to Select, Grow and Enjoy. by Lance Walheim and Robert L. Stebbins. H.P. Books. Out of print. Get through your library’s Interlibrary Loan Service. Excellent. Worth several lifetimes of experience. Good for all tree raisers—not just Western ones.
• How to Select, Grow and Enjoy Fruit, Berries and Nuts in the East and Midwest by Theodore James Jr. H.P. Books. Out of print. Get through your library’s Interlibrary Loan Service.
• Citrus: How to Select, Grow, and Enjoy by Richard Ray and Lance Walheim. Out of print. Get through your library’s Interlibrary Loan Service. Visually exciting. Includes colors of juices made from different citrus crops.
• The Fruit Garden Displayed by Harry Baker. London: Cassell Educational Limited for the Royal Horticultural Society. Excellent.
• Fruit, Berry and Nut Inventory edited by Kent Whealy. Seed Savers Exchange.