My fruity endeavors, including espalier heritage apples on interstems

Hi everyone, just found this forum and have been reading avidly. Thanks to Scott and other admins for running it!

I have little experience growing fruit, but my wife and I started reading books about edible landscaping by Lee Reich and others and urban farming adventures a few years back and started working on plans for our small city yard. We really wanted to make a foundation we were enthusiastic about to build our edible perennials into, and eventually we saved up enough to make that happen in the back half of the lot. Most things were only planted in spring of 2014, with plenty not going in until this year. Someday we’ll do the front yard too. Here is most of the back yard as of a few weeks ago.

The foundation of the backyard fruitscape is a set of 7 small apple trees which I aim to espalier on a trellis I built against the tall back fence (which faces south - southeast). These are mostly G.11/MM.111 interstem, though some are straight G.30. I tried to match the height predicted for each by Orange Pippin’s height calculator to be somewhat higher than my trellis. The choices were some combination of what I like, what sounded like less trouble to grow, and what was available to buy in the combination of scion and rootstock to give the right height. I already would make some different choices even though that was only a year and a half ago!

Here are the varieties I’ve got so far:

  • Roxbury Russet
  • GoldRush
  • SweetSixteen
  • Wickson
  • Opalescent
  • Ashmead’s Kernel
  • Tydeman’s Late Orange

Here is the centerpiece tree, the Wickson, along with my middle daughter (age 6), from this morning.

Starting spring of next year I hope to graft other varieties on to the upper trellis rungs of some trees. I’ve been teaching myself grafting using wild trees on the bikepath to work. Last year I had lots of aphids and Cedar Apple Rust, this year less so. I’ve got some specific questions on various things on these trees that I’ll ask in future using dedicated threads which I hope some of you may be able to share your wisdom on. I’m truly a rank beginner and have much to learn.

I filled up the back terrace with the apple trees with various companion plants including lots of alliums. Whether or not this was the best idea is debatable, but it has it’s benefits. The espaliers are not using the top two wires yet so I thought this year I would try growing some scarlet runner beans and a winter squash up poles and onto these wires.

In the middle terrace, we planted 50 asparagus and 50 june bearing strawberries of two varieties.
The asparagus was a near complete failure for some reason, and we replanted with seeds instead of crowns this year. The strawberries on the other hand were AWESOME. My wife mostly manages the strawberries; picking runners, weeding, etc. For almost a month we averaged about 3 liters/day of amazingly good berries. I thought I would have to net, but weirdly we didn’t have much issue with birds or squirrels, both of which attack plenty of other stuff in the garden. I also thought we could never grow so many strawberries in our small space that we couldn’t just eat them every day, but I was wrong and our freezer and the bellies of friends were happy to take the excess bounty.

For other fruit we’ve planted blackberries, alpine strawberries, rasberries, grapes, red currant, clove currant, gooseberries, hardy kiwi, hazelnuts, goumi, haskap, autumn olive, chinquapin, jostaberry, and aronia. Most of these are not doing much yet. We are getting a few raspberries, expect a couple liters of blackberries, and we each ate ONE red currant berry last week. There looks likely to be a few alpine strawberries which is amazing since I planted them from seed inside in February. Next year we have a spot picked out for a small apricot.

Veggies currently occupy a couple squares in the back middle terrace, an area I took from the lawn which I jokingly call the Grain Maze, and a raised bed box in the front yard. In the pic below my son (4) is cutting mustard greens this spring.

Right now I’ve got potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, popcorn, beans, sunflowers, wheat, basil, leeks, garlic, cucumber. Earlier this year we had a ton of brassica greens, radish pods, radishes, snap peas, favas, and fiber flax. I’m racking my brain figuring out where to rotate 10 squares of strawberries in two years that hasn’t had any nightshade family in it for three years…

Anyway, just wanted to introduce myself and I look forward to continuing to participate in the forum. I don’t have much experience to offer, but may have useful things to offer to other beginners about what has worked for me so far.

I have detailed posts with lots of pictures on my blog on the planning and construction of the landscaping, as well as planning and first year experiences of the micro-orchard.

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Welcome! Nice looking yard. Bill

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Beautiful garden and family! Also this is a great posting and I appreciate your title. It’s the kind of descriptive title that draws in viewers and promotes solid search results. Thanks for taking the time to make such a good post!!

Nice looking lot, kids included :sweat_smile: .

I noticed you didn’t mention where you are located and or the absence of blueberries on your list, if you can give them a happy place (PH, sun, etc), they will pretty much grow on their own. Providing fruit from June through September with appropriate varieties for your zone.

I too planted Asparagus for the first time, crowns from Indiana Berry, they are going crazy the ferns have filled the entire bed, each crowns has a minimum of 8 ferns. I 've had to rope them off. can’t wait for years 2 and 3.


Welcome, and compliments on your endeavor! It looks amazing, and I love even more that the kids are out there. That’s a great sight.

Plenty of good brainpower around these parts on espaliers (not mine!) You’re in the right place.

I’m growing on a small lot too. It has its challenges! But makes you really think about what you are growing, I’ll say that.

Beautiful garden, I especially love the rock terraces. Were those in place prior to you starting the garden, or did you build those? I know MA has a lot of rock walls all over the place. My husband’s family was all from Somerville, btw. And you should be able to grow blueberries, a great addition to what you’ve already got going. Not convinced about the “companion” plant theory - haven’t ever seen any actual proof that they protect or ward off bugs or diseases, but certainly you’ve made very good use of your space, and your kiddos are going to learn a very valuable lesson. Glad you’re having so much success, and please do keep sharing, just a gorgeous garden and gorgeous kids!

Patty S.

Thanks for the compliments everyone! The rock walls were put in during the backyard renovation (at great expense, as they were a ton of work). I had wanted to build drystone walls myself for these, but fortunately my wife prevailed upon me to just hire it out. Otherwise they would have taken like 50 years to finish :slight_smile: Anyway, the mortared wall is better for kids running around on top. The lot is sloped and there is an ugly parking lot behind the back fence. The terraces allowed us to mostly flatten the three levels (lawn is still sloped but not as much), and to import topsoil for the top ~30cm of dirt in the terraces to cover up the existing material, which we found to have lead levels above the minimum number of concern.

On Blueberries:
We do really want to get some blueberries going, but I had read that trying to adjust your soil pH more than one point was going to take continuous work, and our soil was more than that above blueberry range. Since then though I’ve thought we should just do it. We also are still working out where to put them; there is a spot in partial shade in the western sidebar which is going to have some combination of hazelnuts (eaten by squirrels last year, trying again this year with a cage over them), climbing rose, compost house, chicken coop, and/or blueberry. We have thrown our dead xmas tree and the neighbor’s too on the part we probably will have the blueberries on to let the needles fall off there. I’m thinking of making a short raised bed for the blueberries and putting in some peat or coco-coir mixed with sulfur pearls. Possibly next year or the year after. Figuring out the plan is the main barrier.

Great looking ‘micro farm’! Your espaliers seem to be doing nicely. I bet that small bit of lawn will be filled with peach trees by next summer! Great looking family and they seem to like it all too!

I got around the soil amendment issue for blueberries by planting them in buried 29 gallon totes with the bottoms removed, and the soil level/root flare a few inches above grade. I made a mix of peat, lots of small pine bark, perlite, pine needles and a few handfuls of compost (for some microbes, not too much it’ll raise the pH). Added organic sulfur to start off through the mix, now I top dress yearly in spring. I also hugelkultur so there’s wood at the bottoms too, under the rootballs. (But that’s my little quirk.)

It gives them their own little peaty-acid microfield; no lateral movement of higher pH in, only downward drainage which you can address by top dressing.

I mulch mine with pine bark at the soil and needles to top it off feed with HollyTone and chuck in Miracid and sulfur each spring.

Oh, forgot the two Nanking Cherries we have too.

I should also mention that I intend to manage all this stuff strictly organically. If I find that impossible (not clear it is doable for apples, for instance) then I’ll plant different stuff.

Also, I didn’t have pictures of my eldest daughter (8), who this year is tending her own little patch which has popcorn, basil, and carrots.

Here she is spring 2014 practicing some bench grafting, which she saw me doing and wanted to learn (I’m also a beginner!)



That takes lots of work for an organized and productive garden. You’re very lucky with supporting wife and beautiful kids! I have two but none of them are interested in gardening… :cry:


That last picture is awesome! Warms my heart. I hope I can capture one like that of my daughter in a few years.

(also, the rock terrace walls are beautiful)

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I agree with Murky, love to see young children appreciate growing a garden. All my 3 girls were active in my garden. When my husband built me me gorgeous, awesome garden in Indiana (eight 12’ x 4’ raised beds in two 4-bed rows, with four 4’ x 4’ raised beds in between), my 3 girls all helped him build the beds, then haul in composted horse manure from our farm, and filled my beds. All 3 girls helped their dad, and they “gave” me my garden for Mother’s Day! Everyone helped plant, harvest, put up, cook, and sell. Those 3 girls are all adults, now, and all garden. My oldest is really turning into a wonderful gardener, and cannot wait to get into a bigger place so she can start growing fruit trees and have a real veggie garden. Well done, HollyGates, and I am in love with your rock walls, those were worth the investment. They will last forever, plus, they look absolutely beautiful and are perfect for your area. Can’t wait to see more photos.

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Great stuff! I’m hoping my kids share my enjoyment for fruit growing in the upcoming years. Right now my 5 year old loves picking and eating the fruit and strolling through the trees looking for bugs. Last night we picked a red solo cup full of blueberries and her and her mother ate them all before I had the time to put my tools in the shed.

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That is a seriously sexy landscaping! I suspect board member Lee Reich would be proud to know he was inspiring.

Great for youth but those pathways are pretty narrow for wheel barrel or elderly to comfortably traverse.

You also have a great eye for photography. Interesting angles and positioning people.

Thank you, I appreciate that. The paths are indeed annoyingly narrow. The walls are wider than the wood planks, for which I lay down rough cut local 2x12, but they are both rather hard to work on. You can’t kneel or sit facing the bed, instead you must be parallel to it, which is not the most ergonomic situation. Also the plants tend to spill onto the narrow path and obscure it. But it is so little growing area I don’t know if I would want to give up more of it for pathway…

It is not possible to get a wheelbarrow up into the terraces, which makes for extra work since one must carry shovelfuls of compost one by one up to the bed, but it’s not all that much area so with a snow shovel to help it doesn’t take too long. We could in future remove the center stairs and build a ramp out into the lawn, and concede to aging bodies and lay a wider pathway. If I make it to that point and still have the leisure and interest to tend this garden, that will count as success, eh?

I think as time goes on we’ll use up more of the lawn area for beds and trees. Still mulling and discussing ideas for those areas.

I’m not a talented photographer, but I take a lot of pictures and a small minority of them are worth sharing, if people are interested in the content.

I follow Lee Reich’s blog, and I’ve read all his books and own several of them (though they spend most of their time lent out to friends to try and generate new converts :slight_smile:

Which of those apples do you wish you had not planted, and which do you love? We seem to have the same tastes, but mine haven’t fruited yet.

Well, I’ve only really gotten fruit off Roxbury and Goldrush. I’m absolutely loving Goldrush. Only quibbles with it are that my season is barely long enough to ripen it, and it seems to be pretty susceptible to CAR. So far my CAR has not been so bad as to make me feel it is impacting the tree significantly. Other than that Goldrush has been super well behaved as a tree and has made a lot of excellent apples. I’d have more Goldrush if I were starting over.

Roxbury has also been good, but the apples have not been as good as the best Roxbury I’ve had from elsewhere, and the tree is a bit less perfect than Goldrush. But it is pretty good.

I ate one Ashmead’s Kernel this year from my tree, which was phenomenal. The tree seems low energy though; probably should have put it on something with more mojo than G.11/M.111 interstem. Or maybe it is in a poor spot.

I would not plant Opalescent again; it was killed very rapidly by fireblight when I got a little last year. Sweet 16 and Karmijn de Sonnaville lost limbs, but not the whole tree (KdS was a graft on Tydeman’s Late Orange, FB stopped at graft union).

Sweet 16 is too vigorous on G.30; if I were doing it again I would put it on B9 maybe. It has not yet shown any sign of fruiting and it wants to make a lot of upright growth, which is annoying to manage on espalier.

I would probably not go with Tydeman’s Late Orange again. No one seems to think it is anything special, and the tree has been very slow to grow. My plan is to graft most of it to other stuff, but the low vigor makes it slow going with grafting the other limbs. I got two apples from it this year but they were not great. However, I’ll give it a few more years I guess.

Still waiting on everything else. Good luck!

Thanks for that info! Helpful. Would you not plant Opalescent again due to the fireblight, or the apple itself is bleh?

I removed Tydeman’s Late Orange to make room for something else, so I’m glad we agree there. Although I really liked it for it’s sour citrus-orange flavor that I did not find in other cultivars, it’s the only reason I originally planted it.

Have you tried Karmijn or Hoople’s yet? My Ashmead’s hasn’t fruited yet but I’m reeeeeally debating on putting something else in its place… but I’ve heard so many good things about it. The only russets I have are Egremont Russet and Pitmaston Pineapple. I’ve downsized from 60 apple trees to 30, in order to make more room for plums… mainly because I can’t get fresh plums anywhere. Nobody grows them commericially here along Lake Ontario, and probably for reasons I will soon learn and I hope I don’t sorely regret that I made half my orchard plums…