As I sat at my desk job daydreaming of our new homestead, I often had thoughts of an orchard filled with ripening fruit. Nut trees and raspberry bushes. Lush herb gardens, rose hips, canning shelves stocked with homegrown goodness, and freezers bursting with pastured meat.
The excitement grew as we packed up our belongings and headed to our new property in the Missouri Ozarks. Freedom! Fresh air! Clean water!
As we stood and looked over the land, trying to plan what would go where...it was clear that our first order of business was to prioritize our dreams and come up with an action plan.
We determined that the most important item to accomplish within our very first year was to plant the trees, bushes, and other food producing plants that would take the longest to bear fruit.
Young fruit trees will take several years to bare fruit. Planting them as soon as possible on the homestead will give you the biggest head start possible. Fruit trees are best planted in the spring or in the fall. Make sure to research which varieties will grow best in your area and which are resistant to local pests and diseases. Also, keep in mind that some fruit tree varieties need more than one tree in order to pollinate and bare fruit, but they don't necessarily need to be the same variety of tree.
On our homestead, we decided within the first month where we would like to plant our orchard. We consulted with the Missouri University Extension website to find fruit tree varieties that would work well in the Missouri Ozarks. We planted apple, crab apple, peach, pear, plum, and cherry trees in October and they have all come to life this spring and are doing great.
It's very common to have some kind of nut tree already on your property, but sometimes (like in our case) they are not very desirable. We were so excited to learn that we would have black walnut and hickory trees on our new homestead. But then, we realized what a pain it is to harvest black walnuts...and the squirrels got most of the hickory nuts.
We are behind the ball when it comes to planting nut trees as soon as possible on the homestead, but come fall we will be planting pecan trees and almond trees.
Nut trees take a loooong time to become mature enough to produce nuts. Getting them planted within the first year on the homestead will get you that much closer to cracking nuts at Christmas.
Berry Bushes and Berry Plants
Living in the Missouri Ozarks, we can grow all types of berries. Woohoo! To get a jump start on berry production, plant them in the first season you are able to.
Berries that grow on canes, like blackberry, raspberry, and boysenberry, all grow on second-year canes. This means that during year one, the plant grows a cane. On year two, the plant grows the berries on last year's cane. Also during year two, the plant grows more new canes...which will, in turn, produce your berries for the next year. Get it? So, plant your cane berries this year so you can already have berries by next near. Your first year of berry harvest (during year two) will be minimal because the plants themselves will be small and they will be using most of their energy for establishing their root system. But each year it will get better and better.
Blueberries will take a couple of years to produce a nice harvest. Strawberries will take at least a year to produce a good crop. Elderberries will take a while too. Take these things into consideration when planning your first planting year.
If you have been looking forward to fresh, home-grown asparagus like we have, you will almost lose sleep over getting those asparagus crowns in the ground! Asparagus takes several years to get established. If you plant them from seed, they will take even longer.
Most experts suggest leaving asparagus alone and not harvesting them for at least 2 years after planting crowns, and at least 3 years after planting seeds. I am having a hard time waiting! Also, in my opinion, plant way more than you think you need. I planted 4 crowns...and now I am kicking myself. I should've planted 40 crowns. I don't know, maybe that's too many....but I should've planted more than four. (Guess who's planting more next spring?)
Rhubarb is similar to asparagus in that experts suggest you should wait a couple of years before harvesting it. Remember how I said that I almost lost sleep over getting the asparagus in? Well, for my husband it was rhubarb. He grew up on rhubarb and he loves, loves, loves it. So, first available opportunity I had, I planted 4 nice rhubarb plants. Yay!
Really what I should say here is, any other perennial plant that produces food...should be planted as soon as possible. For me, perennial herbs are very important. I cook a lot. I love to use herbs. I love to make dried herb combinations. I love to save herbs for tea. I am also learning about the medicinal properties of some herbs to keep our family and animals healthy. Because of these things, I am planting as many perennial herbs and medicinal plants as I can. While some of the perennials will be large enough to harvest by the end of this first growing season, next year they will be amazing! I look forward to an abundance of herbs next year!
The biggest reason that we decided to begin homesteading was to grow, produce, and raise as much food as we can for our family...as quickly as possible. Putting plants and trees in the ground during the first year on the homestead minimizes the time to wait for the coveted first harvest.
Do you have other suggestions of plants that should be started immediately on the homestead? I would love to hear them. I'm sure I have forgotten something! Help me out.