Fruit breeders making it easy to pick from the tree

Biting into a shapely petite red Norland apple, newly picked from my tree and still warm from the sunshine, would not have been possible a century ago.

Tree fruits then were too tender for the western Canadian climate, but thanks to the Morden Manitoba Research Centre, the horticulture department at the University of Saskatchewan and individual breeders, there are now hardy cultivars.

Reputable local nurseries might still have quality fruit trees in containers that could be successfully transplanted into your yard. In September, it is probably better to choose a sunny location, preferably with wind protection, carefully plan your mini-orchard and amend your soil in preparation for planting next spring.

If you are considering the seven layers of an edible landscape, use apple, pear or plum as the canopy layer, Evans cherry, chokecherry or saskatoon as the small tree layer, currants, raspberry or honeyberry as the shrub layer, rhubarb as part of the herbaceous layer, strawberry or lingonberry as the groundcover, various edibles for the root zone and grapes as the vine.

My hardy Norland apple is in good company with Norkent, Parkland, Goodland, September Ruby and many more.

Recommended crabapple varieties include Dolgo, Kerr, Trail and Rescue. If you desire a pear tree and have the space for two large trees, try the hardy Ure, Golden Spice or Earligold.

The reliable Evans cherry has been joined in the last decade by the Romance series of dwarf sour cherries from the University of Saskatchewan program. They are amazingly sweet and include Romeo, Juliet and Valentine.

Plums are delicious fresh or in baking. Hybrid plums include Patterson Pride and Prairie. Asian plums include Brookgold and Ptitsin No. 3 and 5. Cherry plums (or chums) are crosses, with Opata and Dura proving popular.

Apricots such as Brookcot and Westcot produce well.

Sea-buckthorn grows tall and tends to sucker. Only the female tree produces berries, which are tricky to harvest with all the thorns.

Saskatoons such as Smoky, Northline, Honeywood or Thiessen are a traditional prairie treat.

Raspberries are reliable whether you choose summer-bearers like Boyne or fall-bearing varieties like Double Delight. The golden raspberry Honeyqueen is a real treat.

Red currants make excellent jelly from Red Lake or Honeywood Red varieties. White currants include White Imperial and Large White.

Black currants have a unique, mysterious flavour. Try Willoughby or any of the Scottish Ben series. The Missouri currants can be black, red or golden.

For gooseberries, try Captivator for resistance to powdery mildew, Hinnonmaki Yellow for sweetness or Pixwell for less thorns. Jostaberry is a gooseberry/black currant cross for the best of both worlds.

Haskap or honeyberry is an edible honeysuckle with fruit ready in June. There are many varieties so it will not be difficult to choose a compatible cultivar to provide pollination. Aurora and Borealis are good choices.

Goji berries are hardy and grow well on the prairies, seemingly unaware of the controversies surrounding their health benefits.

Blueberries are available in several varieties, including North Country and North Sky, but will require soil amendments of peat moss or aluminum sulphate to lower the pH and increase the acidity of the soil. Lingonberry (low bush cranberry or mossberry) also needs acidic soil.

Rhubarb is a large, perennial herb. Canada Red, MacDonald and the daintier Valentine are popular choices.

Strawberries may be June-bearing (Kent), ever-bearing (Fort Laramie or Ogallala) or day neutral (Tristar or Seascape). Mulch is particularly beneficial.

Grapes provide the final vine layer. Valiant and Beta are hardy, while Swenson Red and various Frontenac cultivars show promise.

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