Katie Liz and Merv in the nursery

Why you need a heritage fruit tree in your garden

Hi everyone, we just wanted to touch base and let you know what’s happening in Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery this year. The fruit trees are available to order now, and will be ready to pick up from the farm at our Open Days in early July.

We’ve seen a few big changes in the nursery this year. For a start, we had a change of personnel when Sas left due to lack of time and a poorly back. That was a sad blow, but then it turned into an opportunity, as it opened the door for my sister Liz to join the business.

Liz recently retired from her career as a mental health advocate. She’s been looking forward to retirement to get stuck into growing food on her small farm in Harcourt that she shares with her partner David, as well as spending more time with her grandbabies. When the chance came up to spend a day a week in the nursery with me (Katie) and Dad learning how to grow fruit trees, it felt like the perfect fit for her. Liz and I worked together way back in the ’80s, and it’s been so much fun to do it again.

Harcourt-grown citrus trees at last

Our second piece of news is that this year we finally have Harcourt-grown citrus trees for sale! This is a big project that Sas, Merv, and I started a few years ago, and it’s finally come to fruition. Citrus can be very slow to get started in this environment, so you might wonder why we bothered!

Most citrus trees that you can buy at nurseries are grown in hothouses in a much different climate. We’ve noticed that they often experience a shock that can take them a couple of years to get over when transplanted into our climate, so we’ve been experimenting with growing them from seed here, to see if we can produce trees that suit this climate better. We’ll be really keen to hear back from people that buy our citrus trees as to how they grow when they’re planted out.

One of our baby citrus trees growing in the nursery
One of our baby citrus trees growing in the nursery

The third big change this year is that we’ve expanded the range of trees that we grow – again (and we plan to keep on doing it!). This year we have more than 170 different varieties available. Some of them have already sold out, but we still have a pretty good range available.

You might not have heard of some of our new varieties, but we’d really encourage you to have a look at them anyway, and maybe try something completely new in your garden.

Why try heritage varieties?

There’s a couple of reasons we’re focusing on the older varieties. The first is that most modern varieties coming onto the market are patented, which means they’re not available to micro-nurseries like ours until they come into the public domain, which can take 20 years or more.

But the other reason we have a lot of fruit trees you’ve never heard of is that we’re focusing on heritage varieties. These are old varieties that have gone out of fashion, or in some cases almost completely disappeared. They’ve been superseded by newer varieties.

Modern varieties are bred to suit modern food systems. They might have a “better” flavour, have a more uniform colour all over the fruit, colour before they’re ripe, have tougher skin so they don’t bruise as easily when they’re picked, or withstand storage or transport more easily. All things which give them mass appeal to a wider audience, and make them easier to pick and transport to markets and consumers that are a long way from where they were grown, including overseas.

Just because heritage varieties don’t fit these criteria doesn’t mean they’re not great fruit! It’s just that they suit local food systems much better than the sort of mass-produced, large-scale fruit production that fills supermarket shelves.

Fragar peaches are a great example. They’re stunning, huge, white-fleshed peaches. They have a delicious flavour that’s much more complex than a typical modern peach (which tends to be just sweet, or worse – have no flavour). Fragar have much more depth of flavour on your palate.

Unlike modern varieties which tend to be more uniform in colour these beauties have a gorgeous pale pink blush over a creamy yellow background – divine to look at, but they show every bruise. They’re also quite thin-skinned with soft, juicy flesh. but they do bruise quite easily, particularly when they’ve been tree-ripened, which is definitely the best way to eat them. They’re the perfect peach for a backyard, food swap, or even local farmers market – but not to put on a truck and send hundreds of kilometers!

Fragar heritage peaches - perfect for the garden
Fragar heritage peaches – perfect for the garden

Even if a heritage variety isn’t the absolute best in terms of flavour, or texture, it still has tremendous value. As our food systems get bigger and more industrialised, they also get simpler. The number of different types and varieties of fruit, vegetables, and even meat that we eat in our modern diets has dramatically declined in the last few years.

There are literally thousands of varieties of apples, but how many could you name? Maybe 10 or 12? And how many do you usually see on the supermarket shelves?

According to Dr. Christine Jones, modern fruit and veg have also become much less nutritious due to soil depletion, which is backed up by this research. Dr. Jones’ theory is that these two factors – simplification of our diets, and reduced nutritional status of our food – is leading to a whole raft of health consequences for people.

So, what’s the solution?

To grow your own organic heritage fruit, obviously! So this year, let us tempt you to include one of the following varieties (or any of our other heritage varieties) in your garden:

  • Bess Pool apple (1824)
  • Calville Blanc d’Hiver apple (France, 1600s)
  • Gravenstein apple (1900s)
  • Menagerie apple (France, 1700s)
  • Spring Grove Codlin apple (England, 1810)
  • Sturmer Pippin apple (England, 1830s)
  • Early Rivers nectarine
  • Briggs Red May peach
  • Fragar peach
  • Wiggins peach
  • Coe’s Golden Drop plum
  • Damson plum
  • Robe de Sergeant prune plum

Head to our shopfront on the Open Food Network to see the types of trees available this year (standard, dwarf, fruit-salad, etc.). Then click on “shop” to see the list of trees. Click on any entry and a pop-up box will tell you the history of the tree, characteristics of the fruit, and which varieties will pollinise them.

Trees can be pre-ordered up until June 30, and then casual sales of left-over trees will also be available at the nursery’s open days (see the dates below), but many varieties will sell-out quickly via pre-orders.

Nursery pick-up/open day sales: Saturday 3 July, Sunday 4 July, Saturday 10 July, and Sunday 11 July (all from 10 am to 4 pm).

If you have any questions please send us an email at carrsorganicfruittrees@gmail.com.

Cheers from Katie, Liz, and Merv