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Growing fruits and growing vegetable are often two very different things. Just because you know how to grow a turnip, for instance, doesn’t mean you know how to grow a blackberry. Often, it is a matter of annuals vs. perennials, and the fruit generally takes a different system of maintenance, fertilization, care and harvesting than vegetables. That said, community supported agriculture customers sure do love to get fruit in their shares.
So let’s talk about some fruits that vegetable growers can introduce into their farms without a lot of stress to inject a little extra sweetness into their CSAs.
Note that I would take on no more than two or three of these in a year to start. Also note that some of these fruits won’t grow as well in certain regions as others. Though with the right varieties, and the right protection, most of these fruits can be grown anywhere. (Don’t believe me? Check out the book The Forest Garden Greenhouse, where permaculturalist Jerome Osentowski grows tropical plants in the mountains of Colorado.)
Strawberries are a no-brainer for most farmers. Though strawberry plants can suffer from fungal issues, and the fruits can be sensitive, strawberries can produce a crop within six months of planting (or faster under lights and in a greenhouse), which is definitely fast for most fruits. They will also produce well for about three years, though after that you will have to replant. Get a few different varieties and have successions all through the spring and summer.
2 & 3. Cantaloupe or Watermelon
There are only a few good annual fruits, and melons are one of my favorites. I generally recommend cantaloupes over watermelons because the vines tend to be more productive, they aren’t usually as big (depending on variety) so not as much space is needed for transport, and it is easier to tell when the crop is ready. However, having both can be fun for customers. If space allows (in your gardens and vehicle), it is worth becoming adroit with growing watermelons as well.
I love cultivated (that is, thornless) blackberries for two reasons: First, they are productive and relatively shelf stable as far as berries go. Second, for most areas they come almost immediately following blueberry season. Blackberries will take over their area, so plant them with that in mind. Decide early how you’ll manage them, and stick to it.
Raspberry plants are beautiful because you can get summer or autumn varieties, and having a combination of them will give you raspberries pretty much all year. The other nice thing? Some varieties of raspberry can simply be cut to the ground after harvest, which encourages fruit growth and makes their management a little simpler.
If your region is conducive to blueberries, there is no reason to skip this crop, if only to have some plants for yourself. Blueberries are fairly easy to grow, and they require very little maintenance in terms of pruning or space. They produce beautiful plants and can be grown from the North to the mid-South. Harvest can be time consuming, and as with all fruits, you will have to fight off birds, insects and a little disease. But, at least to me and my family, blueberries are worth it.
I hesitate to include figs because they are not a very shelf-stable crop, meaning that when they are ready they need to get to the customer pronto. But otherwise, a fig is a delightful fruit. The trees start to produce within two years and with the right care can survive fairly cold winters like those here in central Kentucky with a little protection and the right variety. Any farther north, I recommend growing them under plastic where you get the advantage of less pest and animal pressure anyway.
8 & 9. Pears or Apples
Trees require some patience. For most fruit trees, it takes five years before you see any real fruit and 10 years before you can harvest anything substantial. All the while, you have to prune them every year so they grow in an ideal direction. That said, the payoff is enormous. A healthy pear or apple tree can produce bushels of fruit every year with the right care, and depending on the variety, you might be able to keep them throughout the winter for your winter CSA.