You've probably seen Dave Wilson Nursery fruit and nut trees at local nurseries inside California, outside California, and in mail order catalogs. If you've heard about growing "fruit shrubs" or practicing "backyard orchard culture", these are the folks promoting it and educating us about this revolutionary, gardener-friendly method of growing fruit.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of attending a talk by Ed Laivo, DWN's Retail Nursery Specialist and Field Rep., and it sold me on the technique. He's right... we gardeners are not farmers! We do not have mechanized harvesting machines designed for picking fruit waaaaay up in the air. It totally makes sense to keep what you grow closer to the ground. Selecting trees on dwarfing rootstocks helps, as does summer pruning.
I was psyched about backyard orchard culture, but it wasn't until I saw mature examples of "fruit shrubs" at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center that I knew I had to grow my own. So far, I have three plums planted 18 inches apart and a cherry nearby. I have citrus as well, but that's a Four Winds story.
My plum trees were selected from a catalog without the benefit of any pre-selection tasting. The cherry, a 'Stella', I already knew I loved. If you have a chance to attend any public tastings before buying trees, you'll be sure your investment in trees and time will yield nothing but deliciousness.
If you missed this years tasting like I did (grumble, grumble), you can still benefit from the published tasting results gathered by DWN since 1993. Fruit tasting data is extremely useful because it gives growers and their customers a chance to compare old varieties with new varieties and to narrow the list of what's bought and sold down to only the best-tasting fruit. If only grocery stores did the same...
According to DWN's Mike Tomlinson,"preliminary results (of this year's tasting) show at least a four way tie between Tomcot apricot and three blueberries; Misty, Reveille and Southmoon." Last year's results can be downloaded here.
'Reveille' Blueberry, one of the taller varieties
Mike added that, "Dave Wilson Nursery has been doing fruit tastings for 14 years now, the first few years only here in Hickman. Since about 1995, all the tastings have been on the road, at various locations in California, such as Cal Poly Pomona and San Luis Obispo. A couple of tastings have been at Copia in Napa... This open house was a homecoming of sorts."
On how tests were conducted, Mike explained, "We invited our customers, garden writers and CRFG members. We started at 10 am with the first of 35ish varieties. Testers sampled each variety and rated them on various attributes, such as ripeness, texture and flavor, in the blind. After they are finished, we give them another and then tell them what the previous fruit was. This is to prevent a former impression they may have of the variety from influencing their evaluation process."
Paul Guy, a statistics teacher from Chico (on left)
and Sacramento's own Farmer Fred Hoffman (on right)
After the tasting, participants were treated to lunch. No fruit. After lunch, they toured the nursery and saw high-density demonstration plantings.
Ed Laivo discussing high-density plantings
Also wanting lunch were these DWN peach tree residents Mike Tomlinson happened upon while picking fruit.
15 days later
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For additional coverage of the event, see Modesto Bee Reporter John Holland's piece on this year's tasting.
(photos courtesy of Mike Tomlinson, Dave Wilson Nursery)