Apples to Oranges


apple blossoms

Edible Landscaping

What comes to mind when you think of "landscaping"? Lawns, flowers, shrubs, mulch, perhaps a shade tree? What if you could have the beauty of flowers, the structure of shrubs, and never have to replant, mulch or mow? What if you could lower your water usage, reduce your "carbon footprint" and provide yourself with free, healthy, organic fruit as local as your own yard?


We've all been taught that trees take in carbon dioxide (CO2) which we put into the air as we breathe, drive to work, and make the things we need in our daily lives. People even buy "credits" to offset their "carbon footprints." Some of these credits go to planting trees in the rain forests. Why not plant a tree (or two, or three, or more!) right here at home?

Trees also release oxygen and moisture from their leaves, giving us clean air to breathe and cooling our urban landscapes. They provide us with shade and are home to a whole ecosystem of creatures, from pesky aphids, to the lady bugs and lacewings that eat the aphids for lunch. The gentle honey bees, native pollinating bees and butterflies need flowers for nectar and pollen. At night some moths even join in the pollintaing. Birds nest in the trees and nibble on bugs. Humming birds come for the nectar too.

The unmulched ground below the trees, kept free of weeds provides homes our native bees, who find it increasingly difficult to find an unmulched, unpaved, non-lawn patch of dirt to tuck their eggs into. These critically important native pollinators lay individual eggs in bare soil where they mature into new adult bees. They are not swarming bees and they don't live together in colonies. They go about their solitary business of pollinating mostly unseen and unthanked, all they need is for us to leave some natural soil for them. These little pollinating powerhouses are of even more vital importance since the recent losses of the non-native honey bees due to Colony Collapse Disorder. California's economy and your dinner, depend on pollinators.

Much of the fruit we eat, while it does grow on trees (or shrubs or vines) that absorb CO2, has to then be processed and shipped to us. The trucking, refrigeration and storage all contribute CO2 and other wastes into our ecosystem. A tree growing in your own yard is better than "carbon neutral," it is actually sequestering carbon in its roots, trunk and branches. The fruit it provides offsets foods like bananas that have to be shipped from far away. Growing fruit at home requires much less water and none of the potentially toxic chemicals and fertilizers used in conventional orchards. It also saves water that would be used in packing factories.

Fruit trees provide all the ecological benefits of shade trees with the added bonus of a bountiful harvest of clean, healthy "ecologically correct" fruit. They come in sizes that fit into any landscape. From True Dwarf trees, to Semi Dwarf, espaliers, and even standard trees. Fruit trees can be kept in pots on balconies or allowed to become grand specimens fit for climbing and hanging swings from. If you have a patch of sun, it could be put to good use providing you with fruit, fresh air, and peace of mind.


A young fruit tree is an inexpensive investment in your future. A little sapling from the nursery, a borrowed shovel, a bit of compost and you are up and going. With the cost of food rising, and the cost of organic fruit being beyond the reach of many, a little bit of time invested each season will bring great rewards. Depending on the type of trees you choose and their size when you plant them, you might have to wait a couple years before they are producing lots of fruit. But its worth the wait. Every year they will grow stronger and produce more and better fruit. You may even find yourself giving some of it away or even setting up a table at your local farmer's market. A fruit tree can produce more food than the typical family can eat, but with proper pruning, you can maintain it at a size that will produce fewer but larger fruits, that won't tax your capacity to use them up, but will amaze your friends. (Speaking of taxes, remember food you grow yourself doesn't come out of your after tax income, leaving you with more money save or spend on things other than food. You could even think of it as a virtual tax deduction.)

Fruit you buy at the store can never be as high quality as that you grow yourself. Have you ever paid a a heafty price for a big, beautiful, perfectly round peach at the store, only to find that it tastes like cardboard? What a waste. Most people have never eaten a tree ripe peach. They are too delicate to ship. Even the ones at our wonderful Farmers' Markets have to be picked a bit firm (under ripe.) Otherwise, they wouldn't survive the boxing and drive to the market, let alone the ride home in your shopping bag. If you pick a peach or plum in your back yard you will know that it's as ripe as possible, and boy, will you know it when you bite into it.

Fruit trees also add to a home's value. When a realtor lists a house, anything even passing as a fruit tree will get listed in the description of the property. They know that people love fruit trees. Fruit trees are permanent additions to your landscape (50 years plus in most cases) that become more beautiful and valuable as years pass. There are even companies that will bring you full sized trees that have been rescued from orchards fated to be plowed under for housing. Giving these larger trees a second chance requires some room and a much larger initial investment, but people spend the money, because they regret that someone didn't plant a tree in the same place 30 years ago. Plant a young fruit tree today, and your children and grandchildren will thank you.


In addition to the carbon savings of having the most local food possible, you can feel good knowing what your fruit has, or better yet hasn't, been sprayed with. By using organic solutions to pests and diseases you are protecting our pollinators and your family. You also can rest assured that fruit that you pick from your own trees hasn't been processed in a possibly dirty processing plant. The deadly strains of E. Coli and Salmonella we read about don't come from clean fruit.

Having readily available ripe fruit right outside the door encourages us to eat healthy food in season and provides us with snacks we can feel proud of rather than guilty about. A kid with their eye on the first apple or fig of the season won't trade it for a store full of high fructose corn syrup laden "treats." Good food is a joy to eat, especially when you can say "I grew that myself!" Pulling a packet of fresh dried figs or a jar of home canned cherries, peach preserves or orange marmalade out of the pantry on a dreary February day is nothing short of bliss.

Tending to our trees gives us a reason to spend some time outside, get a bit of light exercise and gives one a feeling of accomplishment that is an integral part of the human experience.


"Don't eat berries you find on bushes! They might be poisonous!"

Who hasn't heard that from their parents at a young age? Its good advice for toddlers, who put everything in their mouths, but it needs to be amended as the child gets older. There are lots of delicious berries and fruits that you absolutely can eat off of bushes and trees! For instance, wild blackberries are abundant in the Bay Area. Unfortunately, whole generations of young Americans have grown up believing that anything that doesn't come out of a box is dangerous, or at very least "dirty." Probably "yucky" too. Is it any wonder that children become picky eaters when everything they eat tastes pretty much the same? A new flavor comes as a shock.

Given a chance most children, like toddlers, will eat almost anything. And they love exploring new foods. Kids are curious by nature. If they are not taught to be afraid of food, they will surprise you with their unprejudiced palates. As we get older we make up food narratives. We associate certain foods with good experiences: apple pie, ice-cream, pancakes. If we have a bad experience with a food, we may reject it from then on. Maybe we were forced to "clean our plate" when it was heaped with mushy, over cooked, bitter brussels sprouts. It takes a bit of bravery to try them again years later, even if they are crisp, sweet and green with a lovely garlic sauce. Growing up with fruit trees can lead to a life time of healthy eating habits.

Its up to adults to show kids where food really comes from. Waiting for an apple to ripen over the long months of Summer might seem like an eternity to a 5 year old (or even a grown-up) but if they saw Mom or Dad enjoying an apple from the tree the previous Fall, and were given free reign to choose their very own "yummy" apple, the next season's fruit will be eagerly anticipated. In the mean time there are abundant lessons to be learned from patient observation.

Starting with the Spring buds poking out their fuzzy silvery noses, the blossoms come out to the delight of the gentle honey bees who gather pollen and nectar to take back to their hives, all the while pollinating the flowers so that we might have fruit to eat. The leaves unfurl dramatically over just a few days. The baby apples form as the petals drop. Tiny little fruits, smaller than gum-balls gathered in clusters along the branches. How can that little thing become a big tasty apple? You need to give it food and water, just like a person. Kids find this whole process magical, as well they should. The beginnings of a new crop never ceases to amaze us, if we just have the opportunity to see it happen. You don't have to go to a farm out in the country to see this. These lessons can be taught and learned right in your own yard. A dwarf apple tree is a great child-size place to start. Supporting your local "Edible Schoolyard" program is a wonderful way to bring this experience to children who don't have a chance to have their own little "piece of earth."

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