The first house my family purchased had a mature apricot tree growing in the backyard. It was loaded with fruit, and harvest was terrific.
The fruit was an old, heritage variety, both delicious and aromatic. We ate them fresh for a week or two and canned numerous quarts for later. (Helpful home canning hint: mushy canned apricots did not go well for our family.) It was six years later that we used our last quart of canned 'cots. I know they can be dried, as they do in Turkey along miles of paved roads.
We have since moved from that first home to the Wenatchee area, but I did not plant an apricot in my present backyard ... for a reason. We found that you just can’t give them away.
Sure, you can ask, and people will be enthusiastic, but what they want is a dozen or maybe a small boxful. They don’t want as much as you need to give away. I finally resorted to leaving full boxes on a porch, ringing the doorbell and running away.
Who needs all those apricots ready all at once? What sounded like a good idea in March when you purchased that fruit tree may not be practical in August. You like apricots, but do you like more than 300 pounds of them? That’s what a mature backyard tree will produce each year.
In order to grow fruit in the back yard, you need to love the process, not just the produce. The harvest is the end of a yearlong effort, and it’s a lot of work. Everything needs to be done on time, every time, or you risk serious tree damage and poor fruit quality.
What a good grower will do: Let’s start with winter, when each tree needs thoughtful pruning and training. Figure on about two hours of effort plus $35 in equipment cost.
Then come the spring sprays — very important. Including the time you take finding out what to spray and when to spray it, and the cost of the sprayer and spray material, it adds up to five hours and another $50 in expense. Then there's about three hours of work to thin the flower and small, green fruit.
Depending on the type of fruit, there are at least two and as many as four summer pest-control applications. Let’s be optimistic and say six total hours and $20 for sprays. Then comes harvest and the orchard ladder you need to make picking safer, plus the picking bucket. Those add up to two hours of harvesting plus $150 for the ladder and picking bag purchases. Then, finally, there's a fall spray required on most stone fruit, which takes about two hours and $20 in spray material cost.
If you spread the value of the ladder, pruning, picking and sprayer equipment over 10 years, and pay yourself $15 per hour for your hard work, that totals 20 hours labor or $300, and $24 per year for equipment plus $90 in spray materials, organic or conventional. This totals about $414 per year to produce your apricots, or roughly $1.38/pound for your “free” fruit.
Now, wouldn’t you rather loaf out at the lake or hike in the woods than produce fruit? Most people would. The commercial growers keep the roadside stands and farmers markets full all summer and fall, and you can pick up the seasonal fruit on the way home from your summer fun.
On the other hand, maybe you are a person who enjoys taking on a challenge. If you have personal reasons for producing your own fruit, go for it. We have information at the Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardeners that can help you with that problem. You can visit our website at wwrld.us/cdmg or call us at 667-6540.
A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in The Wenatchee World. Tim Smith is one of four columnists featured.