Growing Fruit Trees from Seed – What about Chill Hours?

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TB writes:

“You recommend getting seeds from low-chill fruits to experiment with/grow fruit trees from seed (for Florida). However, recognizing that fruit tree seeds have random genetics, that suggests that low chill adaptation might not be inherited. Also, experience with  apples suggests that some high-chill varieties can do very well in the tropics. [Irvine, California – in Orange County – used to be a commercial production area for apples!]

For experimenting in a warm climate like Florida, why not try seeds from cultivars that are (instead) selected for taste, size, or other features?  I have seeds from higher chill varieties (Catalina plum, an awesome white nectarine, a giant yellow apricot, sour cherries, etc.) and am thinking of experimenting with these in my zone 10 area.”
Good questions.
I am not at all against experimentation with planting seeds from fruit trees outside their “proper” range. However, there are a few different questions and assumptions we need to untie here before I get into that.
The reason I recommend planting seeds from varieties which are known to produce in your chill range is because fruit tree seeds do not have truly random genetics.
There is variation in what you’ll get, most certainly, but it isn’t a crapshoot any more than when you have children.
I’m of mixed German and Anglo-Saxon heritage. My wife is mostly Anglo, Irish and Welsh. We are solidly European in our genetics.
None of our children look like this:
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Or this:
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Instead, my children look pretty similar to my wife and I. Their eye colors range from blue to grey to brown and some of the children have brown hair, others have blonde – but there’s definitely a similarity in build, complexion, facial features and even temperament among our children.
The apple, as they say, does not fall far from the tree.
Genetics in fruit trees are similar. I recommend planting seeds from low-chill varieties in low-chill areas because the resulting offspring are more likely to be adapted to the climate than seeds planted from trees unadapted to the region.
That said, this seems to be more important with peaches and other stone fruit than it is with apples. Apples are a different case. Their relation to chill hours seems to be more fluid. Someone wrote me once and told me they were growing quite a few northern varieties in Zone 9, far from their supposed range.
I planted multiple varieties myself, then never got to see the experiment through because I moved to the tropics and left my mini orchard behind. I also own this book.
Peaches, however, can be really stubborn about blooming when they’re adapted to higher chill hours. I had some Florida King peaches (over 300 chill hours required) which staunchly refused to bloom for me for years.
They were grafted trees. It may be that Florida King peach pits would grow and adapt to a different amount of chill hours – but from what I’ve been told at UF, chill hours tend to be heritable.
By all means, collect and plant seeds from trees outside your range if you’d like to experiment. The genetics are variable and they may or may not work. My recommendation to plant seeds from varieties that grow locally is based on probabilities for chill hour success, not a sure knowledge that it won’t work.
Plant away and see what happens – there’s really no loss, and you may gain a new variety that produces in your area.

How to Germinate a Peach Pit (Animated)

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I decided to try something different on YouTube this week. Since my previous video on how to germinate a peach pit has been popular, I thought “hey, wouldn’t it be fun to animate the process with stop-motion?”

And so I did:

It’s really kind of a mess but this video will help me work some kinks out. I need to work on lighting, background and focus. The camera’s autofocus was not reliable and neither was the exposure, as you can see from frame to frame. I adjusted as best as I could in Final Cut after the fact but it’s not as good as getting sharp, well-lit shots at the beginning.

My YouTube viewers liked it, though, with the exception of one guy who wasn’t happy I didn’t animate all the way through to planting orchards and harvesting fruit:

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It’s always the potheads or the vegans…

If you are interested in seeing the results of growing peaches from seed, I’ve shared my successes both here and on YouTube:

I’d like to create more “Animated Gardener” videos. It’s fun to do and so long as I keep the videos short it doesn’t eat up too much time.

What do you think?

A Pruned Mulberry Tree

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Victor sent pictures of his mulberry tree, post pruning:

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In my previous post, it looked like this:

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I told him he could hack the living daylights out of it, but in his words:

“Like Moses tapping the stone, however, I hedged about cutting down to 4 feet and it’s more in the range of 5. Reverse of a rule in illustration- it’s always easier to add something to an image than edit it out- I feel like I’m in a position to cut some more if you think I haven’t gone far enough.”

He’s right – if you cut too far, you can’t add back. However, I had to learn that with mulberries (and peaches, incidentally), what seems like severe pruning rarely is. Most of the time, I wish I’d cut farther. By mid-summer I’m always saying “wait! Slow down, tree!”

Look at this peach for example. That sort of low, spreading form happens when you prune the young tree to around ONE FOOT from the ground. That’s severe! But it makes for a very manageable tree.

Victor’s mulberry will grow back and jump for the sky. And there’s always next year to prune more. I would probably take off a lot more of the small branches if it were me, but I didn’t start off pruning that way. I learned how much trees could take over time and had to be encouraged by people like Paul Miller of Rainbow Star Farm in Gainesville to see just how much potential a tree can have when tightly controlled. It feels like you’re going to kill it but you probably won’t.

Probably.

‘Tis the Season for Planting Bare-Root Trees

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My sister Stephanie bought a variety of fruit trees and has been busily planting them in her Delaware yard.

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Hard work, but she had some help:

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Bare-root trees are truly amazing. A lot of fruit trees, including apples, pears, and stone fruit, can be dug during dormancy, have the dirt knocked off their roots, have their roots pruned to almost nothing, be shipped across the country, and re-planted – and they’ll act like nothing happened in the spring, bursting into beautiful growth.

It’s still amazing to me. Trees sleep HARD!

My favorite source for bare root trees is Peaceful Valley in California, AKA Grow Organic. I’ve never had one of their trees fail on me, and I’ve planted at least a dozen. Willis Orchards, TyTy Georgia and Gurneys? Not so much. Avoid.

I have to admit, I’m a little jealous of Steph. I love planting trees. And look at that beautiful soil!

Germinating Peach Pits is Easy: Check Out These Pics

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My video on germinating peach pits has garnered almost 30,000 views since I posted it back in July:

Since posting that instructional video, I have received multiple comments and emails from people thanking me for showing them how to grow their own peaches from seeds.

My friend Amanda, who is NOT obsessed with me at all, sent me these two pictures recently of her peach sprouting success:

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Some years ago I discovered in some dusty corner of the internet that peach pits require cold stratification to germinate.

I put this knowledge to the test with great success, starting about 50 peach pits I found beneath an abandoned and squirrel-ravaged Tropic Beauty peach growing a few miles from my old place in North Florida.

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I did this despite the fact that there are hordes of small-minded gardeners in the world who take great pleasure in lecturing everyone about the utter worthlessness of starting fruit trees from seed.

These people are wrong. And boring. And stupid. And they smell.

Here’s a video I did showing some of my seed-grown peach trees in fruit:

And here are two pictures of some of the delicious fruit I got as a result of germinating peach pits in my very own refrigerator:

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In their SECOND year, my two seedling peach trees produced about five gallons of fruit. They continued to massively outproduce the grafted peach trees I planted before them, plus they grew with more vigor.

Growing fruit trees from seed isn’t a dumb thing to do. It’s a great thing to do. It’s a YUGE, high energy thing to do.

Sometimes the “experts” aren’t really experts. They’re just people who say things adamantly because they’ve heard other people say the same things.

Heck with that.

Better Gardening Through Experimentation isn’t just a film I made… it’s my modus operandi.

Thanks for the pictures, Amanda, and may your peaches grow and produce abundantly.

Finally, here’s how you germinate peach pits:

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Have fun!

Sprouting Apricot Pits

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Sprouting apricot pits is easy. You germinate apricots just like you germinate peach pits… and if you watch my video, you’ll be starting your own apricot trees from seed in no time.

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Look at the beautiful apricot pit bursting into life!

That said, no matter how many times you do something, once you do it on film you start to worry if you did it right.

When I did my “How to Germinate Peaches (and Other Stone Fruit)” video back in July I hoped I would have some success, even though I’ve done this before and never had it fail:

After buying the fruit, doing the work to make a nice video and posting it to YouTube… doubts entered my mind.

Could the fruit I chose be sterile? Might the pits fail to germinate and just mold over instead? Should I have cracked the pits first and just taken out the kernels?

Will the universe conspire against me to make everything I do fall into weeping and ashes?

Apparently not:

Now I have no idea if I can get an apricot to grow in the tropics but, by golly, I’m going to give it a go. I know it will be fine for the first half-year until it needs a winter dormancy. Maybe I can build a big outdoor fridge! Sprouting apricot pits is just the start… now I actually need to grow the trees.

That said, if my seedling peaches are any indicator, we’re going to do fine with the tree part:

Apricots are one of my favorite dried fruit. I wish I’d tried this with apricot pits back in Florida or Tennessee where I’d have a better chance of getting fruit, but we’ll try tricking them into fruiting here by leaf-stripping during the dry season. It could happen, and if not: well, we pulled off a good demonstration on how to germinate apricots, at least! The other pits haven’t germinated yet but they can take a few months. I’ll bet we get a few more soon.

Food Forest Spacing: How I Do It

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Dylan asks about food forest spacing:

“I have (a) question … about the permaculture food forest concept. How do you address the spacing issues? I don’t mean traditional spacing like planting 20 rows of corn at 16 inches apart and in rows 2-3 feet apart blah blah blah, but how do you make sure that you aren’t putting a plant out all by itself or vice-versa not having one plant shadow out the smaller bushes and shrubs and things like that?”

My answer on food forest spacing

 

That is a huge question.

Here is a picture of part of my previous food forest:

food forest spacing

There is a lot going on there!

Generally, I like to fill up the space with a bunch of nitrogen-fixing and biomass-producing species. I make sure that the large trees that you cannot keep cropped back, such as pecans, are placed towards edges will they will not shade everything else.

I tend to start a lot of trees from seed and cuttings and plant more densely than the final food forest will be.

Know this: you can prune and bend the living daylights out of many fruit trees and keep them from overcoming the space. Plant a lot more, then clear later as the need arises.

Nature will evolve a system.

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No, not like that.

No new species are likely to spontaneously generate in your food forest.

However, species will arrive.

Weeds, insects, birds, reptiles…

Things start to get exciting after a while as systems and checks and balances arrive.

Your initial biomass plants can be chopped and dropped to feed the trees you really love and want to produce food for you in the future.

In my book Create Your Own Florida Food Forest, I argue the value of a small plant nursery area. When you are spending big money on trees and shrubs, it’s hard to cut them down and you worry too much.

You can create 100 fig trees in one weekend via cuttings.

Or a flat of honey locust.

Or you can stick cuttings of Mexican sunflower and cassava all over the place.

Even starting your own peaches from seed is easy.

I let wild trees pop up wherever they like. Some can be grafted, others can be used for trellises, you can feed them to other trees by chopping them down or you can use the wood in your rocket stove. Food forest spacing isn’t a big deal. Just watch those un-prunable trees.

Planning is fine. Over-planning may mean you never end up with a food forest.

Nature is malleable – get out there and get planting.

No fear.

Sprout Apple Seeds for Fun and Fruit!

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How would you sprout apple seeds like these?

sprout apple seeds

If you’ve ever wondered how to sprout apple seeds, I demonstrate the process in a recent episode of Totally Crazy Easy Gardening:

A couple of days ago I followed up that demonstration with a report on how the germination had turned out…  and, I got Rachel to join me in potting up the young apple trees.

I was quite happy with the results. I believe we got a 100% success rate, as we didn’t find any seeds in the jar which hadn’t sprouted.  It took one month for the seeds to germinate in the refrigerator. Not bad at all.

As for the question “will these apples grow in the tropics,” yes, they should, since Kevin Hauser knows his stuff.

However, we may have to wait 8 to 10 years to find out if they will actually fruit…  and if that fruit is good, so-so, or poor. If it is poor, it will still be good for pies. Even crab apples have their uses.

How to Sprout Apple Seeds

All you need to do is eat a few apples and save the seeds. Plant the seeds rapidly and don’t let them dry out.

You’re not planting them in their final location at first. As you can see in the first video, Rachel simply puts them in some moist potting soil in a jar, and then places that jar in the refrigerator. A Ziploc bag works even better than a jar. Within a month, the seeds had already sprouted and were growing roots.

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Once you see little roots and shoots, transplant them just as we did in the second video.

Occasionally, apple seeds will already be germinating inside the apple or will start right away from the fruit. My friend Steven Edholm at Skillcut, remarked in the comments of the first video that many apples are stored under refrigeration which breaks the dormancy cycle of the seeds, so sometimes all you need to sprout apple seeds is to plant them directly.

Don’t place your newly transplanted apple seedlings right into full sun. Find a shady spot and put them there and take extra care when they’re young. Soon they’ll be large enough transplant into your orchard or food forest.

Why Sprout Apple Seeds?

I’ve always been a fan of growing trees from seed, particularly edible fruit trees. There’s a certain magic to growing something from a tiny little sprout into a productive and useful tree. I gained a huge amount of satisfaction from the peach trees I started from seed some years ago. When they started producing peaches, I firmly believe they were the best peaches in the entire world. In the entire history of peaches, there were no peaches as excellent as the peaches I started from seed. You can’t talk me out of this fanciful belief so don’t even try.

Sprouting apple seeds is an excellent homeschool project. The same goes for germinating peach pits, though it generally takes longer. If you live in a climate where apple trees grow, and they grow in a lot more places than you might think, why not start your own apple trees from seed? Then if they don’t turn out to be what you expected, go ahead and graft them.

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You can get my grafting movie for a donation of any amount at this link. It demonstrates three simple methods of grafting. (If you’re poor, or a widow, take it for free. If not, please deposit a huge amount of money into my PayPal account. Thank you in advance. Every little bit helps. And huge amounts of cash help even more.)

There’s really nothing to lose when you plant fruit tree seeds. You can plant more seeds for trees then you need, then thin them out. It’s not like you have any money invested in the process. All you’re out is a little bit of time.

If you had a tree that was absolutely abysmal and you didn’t want to graft it,  apple wood is great for smoking!

My friend William at Permacuture Apprentice wrote a nice big post on growing trees from seed that you might enjoy.

Go, plant those seeds. Once you start you’ll never look at an apple core the same way. So much potential!

An Orlando Food Forest

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Orlando Food Forest

A few years ago I helped some friends start a food forest near Orlando.

Last week the owner sent me some photos from this project and said I could share them here. Things are really starting to grow up – it’s amazing what a bit of time can do, particularly when you start a food forest on decent soil with lots of mulch.

The area where this food forest is located is surrounded by citrus groves and swamp. The soil has a good organic matter content with black muck mixed into the sand wherever you dig.

It’s hot and the air is still, however, so despite the decent (though sandy) soil, it’s not the easiest place to grow a food forest. The area is in between tropical and temperate, with at least a few freezes each winter that keep the owners from growing great tropical fruit like sapotes and mango… but not enough chill hours for good temperate fruit trees like apple and pear.

That said, the few freezes in winter haven’t hurt their banana crops too much:

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Those are “Dwarf Cavendish” banana trees. They also have some of my previous collection of bananas, including “Raja Puri,” “1,000 Fingers,” “Ice Cream”, “Orinoco” and even Cheeseman’s Banana, which is a wild type that’s more of an ornamental than edible.

Another difficulty when growing a food forest near Orlando is the brutal summer heat. To head off the weeds and the hot sand, the homeowners dumped tons of mulch from a local tree company.

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The mulch adds organic matter, keeps roots cool and conserves moisture. It just took a lot of work to acquire and then spread around, particularly considering the half-acre size of this food forest project.

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Right now the food forest is at what I call the “bad haircut” phase, where it’s in between being perfect little trees surrounded by an ocean of mulch… and a full-on, cool forest with a close-to-closed canopy.

If you’ve ever decided to grow your hair long from a short haircut, you know what I mean. Nothing quite looks how you want it to until it reaches the right length.

By next spring, this system is going to really look amazing. Check out the fruit that’s coming in now:

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Peaches, nectarines and mulberries in abundance.

When I plan out a food forest for a client, I always like to include some fast-producing trees as encouragement. Mulberries, figs, nectarines, peaches… these will start paying their rent quickly. At the same time, I try not to overlook producers that take their time, like pears (6 years) and pecans (8-10 years). When new fruit come in every year, it builds enthusiasm. I really can’t wait to see where the progress will take a food forest next.

This Orlando food forest is one of seven food forest projects I’ve provided assistance or plants for, not counting the many others I’ve helped indirectly through my books and this site.

There’s a reason I named my business “Florida Food Forests!”

I hope to expand my food forest consultation into some new climates, too. I think it would be amazing to create one in the arid Southwest… or one in Quebec! The possibilities for species… my goodness…

More Pictures from the Orlando Food Forest Project

I wish more yards looked like this:

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Mulberries, bananas, native weeds…

And here – check out this malanga growing along with Bidens alba and Caesarweed:

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Here’s a patch of beautiful variegated ginger:Orlando_Food_Forest_10

That ginger makes a very nice herbal tea – great flavor – though the roots aren’t big enough to use for anything.

Here’s another “bad haircut” shot:

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I like this lush patch of green with gingers and blooms:

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Having lots of species growing together helps fight pests. You can bet there are good insects, amphibians and reptiles all over the place in these un-mown places, just waiting to come in and gobble up evil aphids and caterpillars!

Here’s another shot of some producing bananas:

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Check out this kale and ginger growing in the shade – it almost looks like a watercolor with the splashes of light dancing through the canopy:Orlando_Food_Forest_16

Here’s another good mix of plants next to the greenhouse:

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In the photo above I see guava, nopale cactus, rootbeer plant, Surinam cherry, papaya and mango. Looks like a pleasant little microclimate to me.

Here’s another shot of the thriving root beer plant colony:

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And more crazy growth:Orlando_Food_Forest_19

Now check out this sugarcane, with a cassava in the foreground:Orlando_Food_Forest_20

And a beautiful loquat, encircled by wild blackberries:Orlando Food Forest

With some jealously, I note that their moringa trees are setting pods:Orlando_Food_Forest_22 Orlando_Food_Forest_23

Truly beautiful. This area was just hot, empty pasture a few years ago and now it’s rapidly being transformed into a cool, moist forest of beautiful and useful species.

I can’t wait to see what happens next!

If you live in Florida and want to plant your own food forest, I have helpful species lists and encouragement in my short book Create Your Own Florida Food Forest – you’ll enjoy it.

This level of crazy gardening may not appeal to everyone, but I salute those of you who are creating food forests across the state. Florida wants to be forest – grow with nature, instead of against it, and you will have more food than you know what to deal with. That’s a great place to be.

(All photos by the homeowner)

Growing Fruit Trees from Seed is Worth It: Proof!

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I went out with my friend Allen The Beekeeper on an emergency bee call last week. I filmed it and once the bits and pieces are edited together in a coherent manner, I will post our adventure… but that’s a topic for another day.

Once we checked on the bees, the homeowner also led us on a tour of his gardens and small citrus orchard.

“I grew this lemon tree from seed,” he said, and my ears perked up.

From… seed? My kind of guy!

Beautiful Citrus Trees From Seed

I looked at his seedling tree, impressed by the abundant growth and goodly amount of fruit. The lemons were round, with interesting bumps on them – not like any lemon I’d seen before.

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…and that’s one of the cool things about seed-grown fruit trees. They aren’t like any tree you’ve ever seen before! They’re unique genetic creations.

As it turns out, the homeowner was also growing tangerines, grapefruit, oranges and other citrus from seed and took me on a nice tour of his collection, which I filmed and posted on YouTube a few days ago:

Notice how the seedling trees are outperforming the grafted trees?

There is a lot of vitality in a seed-grown fruit tree!

Seedling Peaches – All Good!

 

lovelypeaches1My seedling peach trees grew like weeds and produced their first few peaches in a year and a half.

For those of you up north, it’s unlikely that fruit production will happen that quickly due to your shorter growing season, but it is reasonable to expect you’ll get peaches within three years.

My seedling peaches grew and out-produced the grafted and named varieties of peaches I planted a year before I planted pits.

I also gave some of the seedling peach trees I started to my friend Larry. As I was visiting him a week ago, I took a few minutes to film a short video on their progress:

What fun it is to see the variation!

Here’s the crazy thing: every peach tree I grew from seed that has produced fruit thus far has produced excellent, delicious fruit. They have some variation in size, shape and color – but they’re all great peaches!

How Long Does It Take for A Fruit Tree To Produce Fruit From Seed?

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A citrus seedling

Some citrus will take quite a while to produce fruit from seed – as long as 8-10 years; however, I’ve seen some varieties produce fruit from seed in as little as three years, such as my beloved calamondins.

Apples and pears can also take quite a while to produce fruit (unless you graft onto them).

Peaches and other stone fruit are usually very quick producers. I don’t think I’d buy another grafted tree at this point – not when I can grow a pit and have it hit 6′ the first year and be fruiting the next!

Loquats take around six years.

Pomegranates can fruit in three (I have one that fruited in two but it was a dwarf variety).

Chestnuts can fruit from a seed in three years.

A walnut or pecan can take a decade or more. (That means plant them now!)

Coconuts take a few years. The one I planted as a kid didn’t fruit for about a decade; however, it wasn’t grown under ideal conditions.

Soap nut trees can fruit in three years according to my friend Alex Ojeda. Coffee trees can fruit from seed in three years.

The Key To Growing Fruit Trees from Seed

 

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A peach from one of my seedling peach trees

The key to growing fruit trees from seed successfully is to… just do it. Always do it. Plant tree seeds all the time. Plant peach pits in pots. Plant walnuts in the woods. Plant apple seeds in coffee cans. Plant plum pits in your garden beds and transplant the seedlings later.

Don’t think about how long it will take for them to produce.

Don’t tell yourself you’ll start next year.

Don’t worry about it.

Just do it!

As a wise man once said:

“Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.”

(badump-ching!)

The point is this: time moves faster than you think. If you plant some seeds every year, after a few years you’ll have new fruit trees maturing and bearing every year. It’s exciting and fun – and no one else in the world will own the exact same fruit trees as the ones growing in your yard.

If you’d like to learn more about the practical side of growing fruit trees from seed, my friend William at Permaculture Apprentice recently wrote a nice in-depth post on the topic.

More Seed-Grown Fruit Tree Success Stories

I posted a few years ago on Allen’s dad growing beautiful citrus trees from seed:

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I also shared the story of Eddy and his beautiful seed-grown avocado tree:

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And I posted on my amazing tropical almond tree, grown from a seed and producing fruit at two years old:

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Here’s my video on that tropical almond tree:

I grew this fruiting pomegranate from a seed:

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And these papayas:

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If I can grow fruit trees from seed in my spare time, you can too.

Go for it!

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