Guerilla fruit trees

Yaaaarr! Pirate fruit trees.

Over the past year, I’ve been planting fruit trees in the back lot of a neighboring apartment complex across the street from our house. The ownership of this group of apartments and commercial buildings has changed hands a few times over the years, moving from one non-profit to another. Custodianship of the property has been virtually non-existent and the landscaping is currently maintained be a property management company whose sole orientation is “mow and go.” Therefore I’ve taken it upon myself to liberate the land and plant some fruit-bearing trees for the family and the neighbors.

About three years ago a long-time neighborhood resident and friend helped me plant the first tree in a barren island between the parking lot and sidewalk in the rear parking lot. It wasn't a fruit tree but this effort did lead to my current project. I had expressed to my friend how naked and uncared-for this area was. I told her that I wanted to plant some trees in this area to create a visual break between the residents and the commercial buildings and to provide some shade and greenery for the neighborhood. My friend took the lead here and said she had a tree we could plant. It was a Zelkova Serrata, a tree that is often used as a replacement to the American Elm. The Asian Zelkova is related and, though smaller, shares the elm's characteristic of having a gracious and large canopy.

The first tree took a lot of work because the soil was mostly rocky gravel. We spent an afternoon clipping up tree branches by hand that had been left over from a neighborhood clean-up. The clippings worked as a soil cover/mulch. We dug in further compost material and later planted a tree. It took some effort to protect the tree from the landscapers since they had a proven track record of bumping lawn mowers into the trunks on the trees, effectively scalping the bark off the base of the trunk and killing the trees.

After some reckless haphazard watering on my part, the tree seems to have established itself and we are beginning to see inklings of a gracious shapely tree.

The property was redeveloped about ten years ago. With the exception of a great old barber shop and a wholesale record distributor, pretty much everything else in the entire block was boarded up. In the redevelopment, ginkgo trees and other small shrubs were planted along the property’s parameter. Within a year pretty much everything was dead. Those trees that didn’t die from lack of water (I did make an effort to help here but was too late) eventually died from having the bark scalped at the base of the trunk by careless lawn mowers scraping them. It looked awful. Over the years. I did my share of pulling out the dead trees to remove the eye sores.

My friend was my tree planting teacher with this project. She led me through putting up a wire fence around the base of the tree to help protect it from urban deprivations: lawn mowers, cats, kids and bicycles.

Here's a photo of the fence we built to protect the tree:

I want local accessible fruit for eating and preserving. We’ve done a fair bit of canning over the years. I’ve pressed apples and pears for juice, cider and peary (aka pear-based hard cider). Recently I’ve experimented with food drying. The apartment complex across the street has a long length of planting strip that runs along the entire block-long section of the south lot. It's about three feet wide. The ginkgo trees planted here ten years ago have long since died so this is where I’ve been working on sneaking in fruit trees.

So far I’ve planted four fruit trees. Last year I planted a French plum. (Some sort of free-stone plum that I don’t know much about.) This winter I added an Italian plum, a russet-type apple and a Rainier cherry. The last three trees all came from Earth’s Rising Nursery. I ordered them on faith from a catalog that I found at our local coop grocery. The catalog had no email or website listed. I sent a check in on faith and the trees arrived without incident. The trees were bare root, packed in saw dust. This is not something I’m used to. I’m only familiar with planting trees with a soil root ball. Apparently this is not too uncommon and the trees, so far, seem healthy enough. They are even budding a little.

Digging and planting for the last two trees, Greta and I noticed some interesting things. We dug up old (broken) soaker hoses that had been grown over by grass and weeds. The hoses were intended for watering the failed trees and other landscaping that went into the area when the property was redeveloped. Also we were able to take advantage of some of the pre-amended soil from when the ginkgoes were planted. The last two trees that we planted ended up being in more or less the same areas as the ginkgoes so we had some good top soil instead of gravelly soil to work with.

Since it is the first day of spring, there really isn’t too much to show for the planted trees. The photos didn’t turn out that well because there isn’t much to look at. In a few years, with luck, I’ll have some better photos!

Going down the row, starting from the tree in the foreground on the right, there is a russet apple, Italian plum, French plum and a Rainer cherry.

Here's a photo of my own kid/lawn mower defense:

I used rotting log ends that didn't make it into the sauna in time. The posts are steel pipe that I picked up in another neighborhood that were left on the street for scrap. (I was good and left the good copper and aluminum for someone who probably needed the scrap metal money more that I did.)