My Passion of Fruit Trees and Gardening
Through our fruit tree program, we offer a fruit tree education program that runs each fall in Arizona. Click here for more information about the program, how to take a class and on purchasing fruit trees in Arizona. If you are interested in starting this kind of program in your part of the country email Greg for more information.
One of my biggest passions in life has become the process of converting my yard to an edible landscape and teaching others to do the same. Part of the process involves a concept called food foresting which essentially replicates the process of a natural forest in your yard. The basis for the forest is the planting and growing of trees. In a food forest the goal is to strategically build as many food-producing trees into your space then build your annual crops around them. The basis for all of the trees that I plan is that they produce something edible.
This is my front driveway with a fig and peach to the left of the drive, a grapevine fence in the back and my hybrid Honda Insight in the drive.
Many of you know that I have had farmer blood in my veins for as long as my 46 years of memory can remember. I always assumed that I would find a small farm out there somewhere, in Cottonwood, Verde Valley, Waddell or maybe even in Deloris, Colorado. That was until a few years ago when two unlikely incidences collided. The first was a conversation I had with a long time friend about the status of his property. You see he has almost two acres in central Phoenix that is flood irrigated and he was doing a great job of growing a nice crop of Bermuda grass. I proposed to him that we work together and plant an orchard, trees which I would provide and care for and he would water and reap the benefit of yearly fruit. So we were off and I now had a problem…where do I come up with 50 to 100 fruit trees at a reasonable price?
The second was a realization that I had in one of my classes at ASU and that was that I am more interested in teaching about gardening and green living than actually growing and selling the food. The epiphany was that the space where I lived was already accomplishing much of what I wanted to do and in that moment the Urban Farm was born. In the space that is the Urban Farm I have the luxury of harvesting a fresh apricot in May while at the same time change your perspective about where your food comes from. I have mixed my vision of sustainable cities and learning which has lead me down a path of being a planter as well as an educator.
I have played with planting fruit trees here in the Valley for almost 35 years so when I purchased the Urban Farm it was a natural to practice with the planting trees. Now 17 years later I have 60 fruit trees and 10 grape vines representing 27 fruit varieties and a diversity that produces some kind of fruit almost 10 months per year. When it was time to start purchasing fruit trees I hit all the places from the local nurseries to the huge chains and back again and I found that for the most part they did not really know what they were talking about. I even purchased an almond tree that will never produce a nut here in the valley from a local nursery that should have known better than to sell that particular variety here.
In my search for a supplier of fruit trees I attempted to work with some of the local nurseries, but the best that they could do was way more expensive that I wanted to afford with most nurseries selling a potted fruit tree for $50 more (we do better than that). So I started a national search and ordered trees from a couple of nurseries around the southwest and landed upon a grower named Dave Wilson Nurseries for the deciduous trees and Sunset Nursery for the Citrus. Both turned out to be very nice and were willing to work with me to import excellent quality fruit trees at a reasonable price and spent a considerable amount of time with me teaching me the ins and outs of fruit tree culture and urban orcharding….and with a minimum order of 100 trees they would be more than happy to sell to me.
I remember a moment that in my head I could see multiple orchards spread throughout central Phoenix where I was using other peoples land and growing fresh fruit for the local markets. So, I in 1991 took on a goal of planting 500 of my own fruit trees within five years. This seemed like a big project but given my past history I knew I could do it. Little did I know that others would also be interested in planting their own trees. The first year I stepped out and ordered 125 trees – hoping to plant 100 for myself and have a few left over for others. I ended up planting 40 in the ground for myself and sold the rest of them to friends, neighbors and other fruit enthusiasts. In this time my dream of planting 500 of my own trees was transforming to empowering others to plant trees for themselves.
The second year of the fruit tree project I placed a carbon copy of the first years tree amount, not really knowing what I was going to do with 125 trees. So I started taking preorders for the trees and gave the first version of my fruit tree class. Before I knew it my community had scarfed up 115 trees. In doing the math I realized that I was exactly half way to my goal of 500 trees. It had just shifted from me doing all the planting to me empowering my community to do the planting. In the third year in a leap of faith and a little nudging from friends I ordered 270 trees. Which to this day is our standard order every year from Dave Wilson Nursery, plus with the added Citrus trees our normal tree distribution is 500 trees per year. To date we have encouraged local residents to plant around 2000 fruit trees, far exceeding my original goal.
With each tree you purchase you are benefiting from my years of experience and knowledge of growing trees here in the Valley. Each year we offer fruit tree growing and selection classes to help you select the appropriate tree for your needs and your space. We also have a tree planting day sharing how to correctly position and plant your new trees in your garden space as well as a tree pruning class explaining how to care for your trees once they are in the ground.
Each year we also donate trees to local schools and charities. If you don’t have room for trees in your own yard perhaps the local school or church would be interested in a donated tree. We will give away up to 25 trees, but if you would like to you could sponsor a tree or trees to your local school or perhaps your church has a large irrigated field growing only grass and you would like to work in your church community and plant some fruit trees.
Tree orders need to be placed and paid for by November 7th of each year. The trees then arrive from California and Yuma at the beginning of January at which time we have a tree pick and planting day where you learn proper pruning and planting techniques. We offer discounts on orders of 15 trees or more to help you install your new orchard. For a small fee we have people available to come to your site to help you evaluate the most appropriate placement and tree varieties for your space. Additionally we have a crew that can plant and place your trees for you.