Fruits in a Post-Peak Tompkins County

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By Angelika St.Laurent

Fruits are an important source of vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals in our diet. Traditional dietary advice recommends two to four servings of fruit a day. In addition to the nutritional benefits, the very sweetness of most fruits makes them excellent snacks and treats. Unfortunately, the tasty combination of high sugar content, ranging from 4% (cranberries) to 16% (grapes), and high percentages of water (usually 80% or more of the fresh weight) makes fruits very perishable. The transport of fresh fruits is very energy-intensive, since often cooling and high speeds are required. Even using today's (2007) high-energy transport systems up to 40% of highly perishable fruits, such as raspberries, are lost on their way from farm to consumer. Increasing fuel prices will drastically affect the availability and price of imported fruits, as the necessary speedy high-energy transport systems will become extremely expensive, and slower alternatives are likely to allow for considerably more spoilage on the way. A strong local fruit production industry is essential to provide enough fresh and affordable fruit to the local population.

There are several successfully operating fruit-growing businesses in Tompkins County and the neighboring Counties. However, the present harvest volume is not sufficient to supply the local population year round. Most commonly grown fruits are harvested from shrubs and trees. Thus, new orchards take a while to establish: Strawberries bear fruit a year after planting, currants and raspberries usually take about two years to come into full production, the onset of productivity in many modern fruit trees ranges from three to five years, with comparatively lower yields during the first years of production. The sooner an increased local fruit production can be encouraged, the less severe will be the shortage, when imports become exceedingly expensive.

Fruit trees and shrubs lend themselves to a variety of growing systems. High-density orchards are among the most productive agricultural systems. However, they require considerable up-front investments and have to rely on seasonal labor. Providing cheap loans for beginning farmers and help with hiring seasonal workers might ease the establishment of high-density orchards. Improved public transportation access to the orchard-site might make it more attractive to turn an orchard into a U-pick operation, which reduces the need for seasonal workers and improves the access to fresh fruit for residents with low incomes.

However, fruit can also be very successfully produced in small scale settings and gardens. Berry bushes, vines, and small, dwarfing fruit trees require little growing space and can fit in even small urban gardens. Owners of larger, suburban properties might be able to grow all fruit needed for their own consumption. Home fruit processing, such as drying, freezing, and canning can preserve the bounty of harvest time well into winter and spring.

Private gardeners might be encouraged to grow additional fruit for the public, if they are provided with a flexible option to sell their product during harvest time. Suburban land-owners might be convinced to lease part of their land to beginning small-scale farmers, if the land-owners could receive tax-breaks for agricultural land for small acreages. Access to rental cold storage places and rental certified kitchens (like in the Varna Community Center) also could be substantial help for starting small businesses.

Many fruit trees are a very pleasant sight, especially when spring flowers blossom. Using trees and shrubs bearing edible fruit for landscaping in parks, and eventually even as shade trees on sidewalks or along county roads could help to reduce acute shortages. Harvesting fruits on public land harvested on first come first served basis has been successful with fruit-bearing alley trees in Brandenburg, Eastern Germany. A sign at the entrance of a park might be enough to encourage residents in need to harvest.

Local fruit production is seasonal (see table). July to October is the time of most abundant fruit supply. Some fruit, especially apples, can be stored for several months. The supply of fresh fruit is lowest in spring. Novel ways of production, such as greenhouse production of raspberries, can provide fresh fruit in the off-season and should be encouraged. Currants and gooseberries are even more cold-and-shade tolerant than raspberries, and might also lend themselves to early spring greenhouse production; however, more research is needed to establish good growing procedures.

Table: Harvest and storage times for some fruits suitable for growth in Tompkins County:

Fruit J F M A M J J A S O N D
Apples Harvest               x x x x  
Apples Storage x x x x           x x x
Blueberries             x x x      
Cherries             x          
Currants and Goosberries             x          
Hardy Kiwis                   x x  
Honeyberry         ? ?            
Paw Paws                   x x  
Peaches and Nectarines               x x      
Pears (Harvest and Storage)               x x x x x
Plums (Harvest and Storage)               x x x    
Quince                   x x  
Raspberries (fieldgrown + tunnel)             x x x x    
Raspberries (greenhouse)     x x x              
Strawberries (spring bearing)           x x          

Action items for local residents to increase local fruit production:

- Buy locally grown fruit in support of your local fruit growers.

- If you have a garden, plant trees and shrubs of your favorite fruit varieties.

- If you have a garden but no time to plant it, consider renting out some space.

- Learn how to preserve fruit.

- Start now! Fruit trees take time to grow!

Action items for local legislators to encourage increased local fruit production:

- Enable small growers and home gardeners to sell their products to the public, providing them with flexible market options during harvest season and help with access to rental storage and kitchens.

- Encourage local fruit processing.

- Strengthen the already existing 'Pride of New York' label as a marketing help for local farmers and fruit processors.

- Work for easier tax-assessment of small acreages as agricultural land to ease the use of suburban properties.

- Sponsor gardening and canning classes.

- Encourage use of edible plants for landscaping in public parks.

- Encourage research on off-season fruit production.

- Help to establish public transportation access to U-pick operations.

- Help starting farmers with cheap loans.

- Start now! Fruit trees take time to grow!


Bethany Schroeder said:

I liked the example of fruit trees in Germany. I can’t help but wonder whether our local officials would cooperate.

denise mooney said:

our city forester has done some fruit tree planting around town already…but we could certainly use more!!!…

i have saskatoon (juneberries) trees growing next to my apt that the city planted a few years ago…

in london, there is a public park w a large area of nut-bearing trees where anyone can come to gather whatever they can find on the ground…lots of immigrants can be seen collecting there…

Great post! Should we consider planting oranges just in case the weather 15 years from now is better for citrus? I hope that’s not the case… But I love local fruits, so I hope people keep planting and harvesting them

Joel Gagnon said:

However desirable it might be to position ourselves ahead of the actual need, the economics of tree fruits, in particular, with their long lead times, would make it very risky to speculate.I expect the need will have to become apparent before there will be many new orchards planted.

Not mentioned was the need for suitable sites when planting fruits. Apricots are winter hardy here, but will only fruit in areas with exceptional freedom from spring frosts (the city and side slopes of major hills with good air drainage). I own a valley property. Frost resistance is very important to me. I manage to grow peaches only because I have frost-resistant varieties. Apples are very chancy because there is very little frost resistance in the species. Fluctuating spring temperatures, exacerbated by global warming, might make their culture even more challenging in the future.

Bottom line: it would be great to encourage fruit culture, but for it to be a positive and effective strategy, there needs to be links to information on appropriate locations, cultural practices, varieties suited to our area (which will have to be broken down into subsets based on microclimate), and perhaps an online opportunity for networking so expertise can be shared and newcomers encouraged.

This article was a great start and helps to focus atention on the future need and some of the things that can be done to help meet it.

Angelika said:


here is a link to a fine web-site with good local advise for fruit growing, and a lot of information:

So far, my experience with apples was, that I’ve got always some fruit, though the colder, moister years usually resulted in better harvest. Your valley location seems to be a particular challenge.

Margaret McCasland said:

Great article on fruits.

A question and a suggestion (to help people learn from my mistakes).

What are the implications for fruit growing of the more extreme weather we are already having due to climate change?
alternating droughts and floods;
longer warm periods in winter, with less snow cover during subsequent hard freezes
ice storms
more extreme weather events in general

Suggestion: could you add info re: weather-hardy species (in regards to above) and also re: good species for home gardeners.? A link to the appropriate CCE pages would be fine.

Learned the hard way: I let my kids each pick out a favorite apple variety and we planted one tree of each kind (I think they were Macintosh and Ida Red). It turned out they were appropriate for orchards with regular professional care, but not good backyard varieties for fruit (we did get a great shade tree for a small yard from the Mac).

Our next-door neighbor did her research and planted trees designed for backyard planting and she had much better success (and shared apples with us). BTW, this was in the city of Ithaca.

The three old farms I’ve lived on in Tompkins County (before and after my time in the city) had remnants of 19th c orchards with GREAT apples, pears, peaches, plums, etc on them.

Oh, yes, and elderberries were left off the list. Not a big seller, but popular as a traditional fruit and I believe native to the area . . . It may be especially hardy.

And mulberries! Some taste better than others, but easy to grow.

Angelika said:


thanks for your comment. Actually, we were planning on a second post specifically on nuts - They are similar with fruits, since they grow on shrubs and trees. But they store and ship so much easier that we felt in the context of energy decline fruits should be discussed separately.

The up-coming climate change worries me, too. My guess is, that irrigation will be much more important in future than it is now, since droughts are likely to become more common.

On the choice of plants: More variable spring temperatures might make it even more favorable to go for later blooming varieties (Black Gold, in Cherries e.g.) . Fall bearing raspberries grow all their fruiting canes during spring and summer, thus there are not problems with injuries from too variable winter temperatures. With Elderberries (thanks for bringing them up - they are just so healthy) weird spring weather shouldn’t be a problem at all, they bloom very late, in June. Local nurseries, e.g. Miller ( or Cummins (, sell a lot of fruit trees/shrubs, which will do fine in our climate. In Downtown Ithaca plants hardy to climate zone 6 might still have a chance, everywhere up the hill, hardiness up to zone 5 is a must. (Personally, I prefer to go with plants hardy to zone 4, just in case.)

If looking for some fruit tree fit for a small yard, it’s usually not so much the variety of the scion but the rootstock that defines the size. In apples, anything on a M.7, M.26, B.9, G.16 or G.30 rootstock will stay small - Antonovka and seedling rootstocks tend to produce big trees. There are also dwarf cherries, peaches, nectarines etc. available. Usually, the catalog of a good nursery will point out, which will be the final size of a tree.

Craig Cramer said:

Thanks for plugging the Cornell Fruit Resources website. (Sorry I’m late with this.)

Those interested in growing fruit at home might want to check out the Cornell Guide to Growing Fruit at Home, available online:

Also, a new publication came out last fall that fits the fruit season extension theme, High Tunnel Raspberries and Blackberries, available online here:

If you live outside New York’s Banana Belt, you must go to St. Lawrence Nurseries and get their catalog pronto. Cornell leans to info that’s good for where fruits already grow (ie. Commercial viability), whereas St.Lawrence caters to the rest of us who live in marginal places.
If you live in zone 4, you cannot grow peaches, sweet cherries, nectarines, asian pears, apricots, hardy kiwi and all the other exotic stuff that grows at Cornell and in the pages of the Miller catalog. Stop trying! Even in zone 5 all that stuff requires more attention than you can give it. And don’t try to fool yourself into thinking that your planting site is in the zone the map indicates: in much of the state the topography (altitude)will put 90% of many counties into the next colder zone. Or the next one.
St.Lawrence’s approach is evident on their excellent website: its about survival, all the more so as the weather gets more unpredictable. We want standard size trees with good rootedness, not dwarfs that need to be trellised. With vigorous root systems, not dwarfing rootstocks that need protection from competition from every weed. With guaranteed hardiness that comes with nursery stock grown in colder areas than they will be replanted into: nursery stock grown in zone 6 are not going to like your zone 4 site. It doesn’t matter if that -22degree night happens once every two years, or ten years: it will still kill your tree and waste all the work you did in protecting it from deer and rabbits and voles, controlling insects and disease, pruning, etc. Don’t waste your time.
After 25 years of planting fruit trees in a homestead-plus arrangement, I have learned some:
1. Variety counts. One year all of my eight different pear trees bore fruit, but all years at least one of them does, but a different one each time.
2. Protection. If you don’t protect fruit trees the moment they are planted, chances are good that something will eat them that night. I put in four 7-foot stakes around the tree, cross-braced at the top, and wrapped in chicken wire that comes within 18 inches of the ground. This gap allows me to check for stem-borers (the major insect tree-killer) all summer, and then in winter re-wrap the base in hardware cloth up to 1 foot (and buried in gravel around the base) and spiral guards against rabbits standing on frozen snow eating young bark. If you protect a hardy young tree it will live; if you don’t, it won’t.
3. If you’re not growing for market, you have the choice commercial growers don’t: less spraying for trivial cosmetic considerations. For instance, all my apple varieties are resistant to scab (the worst disease problem for apples) but they are susceptible to a host of “summer diseases(funguses)” that appear as blackish smudges on the skin. So what? Rub them off if you don’t want to eat the fungus (you eat mushrooms, don’t you?), if you intend to peel them, or squeeze them for juice. In fact, since you will use a lot of your crop not-fresh (jams, sauces, juice, canned) you can dispense with a lot of anxiety.
4. Tree fruits are the marketable commodity, but bush fruits (which are too delicate to ship well or store fresh) are the survivor’s food, and ought to be the first choice of relocalizers. In 30 years, my blueberries , gooseberries and elderberries have never failed, raspberries , blackberries and blackcaps yield 9 years out of ten, blackcurrants and redcurrants 8 of 10. Grapes work for me nearly every year though they are extremely hardy and less desirable varieties. Strawberries are certainly fussier though they also yield every year, if less reliable in quantity.

The nearly-extinct American chestnut holds some lessons in this regard. The Northern hardwoods ecosystem was greatly impoverished, less able to support top predators, when the chestnuts disappeared. Because although beech, hazels, oaks, and hickories all offer a lot of feed for a range of prey species when they fruit irregularly, only the chestnut fruited every year without fail. As we try to rebuild our local food systems along the lines nature does, lets keep our eye on those foods that can be counted on, like bush fruits, rather than those that extended their range in the climatically-good-old-days and for the benefit of commerce.

All I can say is I think this information is extemely valuable, and my hat is off to all of you. I look forward to seeing Jon & Bethany in Rochester on 3/27, giving their presentation.

Hi Angelika,

As a local fruit and vegetable farmer and fruit tree nurseryman, your article definitely hit close to home. While traveling thru the Czech Republic a few years ago (by train, but that is for another article), I was struck by the number of homes that had orchards rather than lawns. I thought it was beautiful. One may think that this it is not good from a fruit growers perspective, but I believe the opposite is true. Homeowners that grow their own fruit and vegetables develop an appreciation for quality and for the amount of work that goes into food production. The more people that eat fruits the better. Whether they buy them at Indian Creek Orchard or grow it themselves. I support both.

Getting the public involved in local agriculture is a must. Farmers market is pretty much tapped out as far as I can tell. The next level in Tompkins County is to get people to the farms. CSA’s are a good idea. They have been steadily growing, but they just don’t provide much fruit. We had 3000 bushels of apples go to waste this year for lack of customers. A lot of this was due to road construction during our peak months, but a lot is also due to poor advertising on my part. Advertising is extremely expensive and it’s hard to know how to most wisely spend your money. We are slowly learning, and word is getting out that our farm offers a full array of fruits and vegetables in a beautiful farm setting for U-pick. Pass the word, we have several u-pick farms in the area and none of us have too much business.

Fruit Trees…..As long as I am tooting my own horn. If you are intested in fruit trees, you can’t find a better place than Ithaca’s own fruit tree nursery. We graft all 30,000 of our trees ourselves and grow them right on the farm. From dwarf to full standard, from Akane to Zabergau, we offer more varieties than any other fruit tree nursery in the country. All in Tompkins County! You can visit our online catalog at or email me at indiancreekfarm@yahoolcom

Thanks for posting this great site.

Steve Cummins

Nickitta said:

Hi Stephen Cummins

Having grown up in a small town in France, even the smallest garden always had at least a couple of fruit trees (cherry trees, pear, etc.) Most homeowners knew how to grow and care for these trees. I then moved to the UK and what a contrast. Most back gardens were just lawns!

Planning for Energy Descent

Some time in the next 30 years, life will start to become very different from what it is now. By mid-century we will use much less energy; we will live every aspect of our life much closer to home; and we will be much poorer in material terms, because energy and wealth are basically the same thing in an industrial society.

Energy descent — a radical reduction in our use of energy — is certain, but it’s not clear yet which of several factors will cause it to begin. Perhaps we will decide to do the right thing about climate change and reduce our CO2 emissions 80 or 90 percent, which would require changes almost that large in our actual consumption of energy. And there are other ways we might experience a radical reduction in our use of energy; for example, economic collapse, or an expanded war in the middle east. But the factor that makes energy descent a sure thing and sets the theme for this century is "peak oil" — the leveling off of global oil production and then its eventual and inexorable decline.

The timing of the peak is debatable, with forecasts ranging from 2005 (that is, already here) to 2030. But most credible estimates agree with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which concluded in a recent study that "world oil production is at or near its peak," and with the director of research at OPEC, who said recently that "we are at, or near, the production peak of world oil, if not on the downward slope."

After the peak, the growing gap between falling world oil production and ever-increasing global demand will send prices skyward, with economic results that can only be imagined but will certainly include greatly restricted mobility due to the high cost of fuel and much higher prices for most goods, including food. The result will be less disposable income, a life lived closer to home, and a greater reliance on the goods and services that can be provided locally. Since the supply of oil and other fossil fuels is finite, this outcome is guaranteed. The only question is, Shall we plan for what we can see coming, or just let it happen to us?

A group of area citizens, TCLocal, has begun planning now. TCLocal contributors are committed to researching various aspects of energy descent in Tompkins County and writing up a preliminary plan for each aspect based on purely local challenges and resources. This is one such plan.

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This page contains a single entry by Angelika St.Laurent published on January 27, 2008 5:04 PM.

Roads and Bridges in a Post-peak Tompkins County is the next entry in this blog.

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