My brother grows tropical fruit trees in Hawaii. Some years back he drove down our driveway in Elmore, VT and stopped his car. He rolled down his window and said, ” I am never going to be cold again.” Outside his window the hill is covered with pineapples growing all the way down to the sea. In his orchard are tangerine trees, mangoes, loquats, surinam cherries, malabar chestnuts and much more.
We cannot grow pineapples in Vermont, at least outdoors. But we can grow plums, peaches, persimmons and paw paws. Plums are the easiest to grow. We supplied a local brewery with 2400 pounds of plums last fall from our orchard. We did not have to feed them or spray them or baby them at all. The important thing is to have the right varieties for our northern Vermont climate. If you plant four to six of them or more in one area and mix up the varieties, you can have great success with plums. The American Japanese kinds are the ones we have had the most success with. They have names like “Kahinta, Waneta, La Crescent, Alderman, Toka and Superior.” They are the closest things to mangos we can grow in Vermont. Most of my shirts are ruined by the super juiciness that flows from each bite when they are fully ripened on the tree. One light touch and they fall into your open hand when they are ready to be eaten.
Peaches are beginning to be able to be grown in more areas of Vermont than ever before. This is one of the only advantages of global warming. For many years we have tasted them off trees in Manchester and Burlington, Vermont. In the last few years, some are getting good crops of peaches in Barre and Montpelier and even Calais, Vermont. The “reliance” peach was developed in New Hampshire by professor Elwyn Meader about forty years ago, and it is the most dependable for the warmer areas of Vermont. Some have had success with “contender,” and we had fruit on our “monkton” peach last summer, even in Elmore. Life is so peachy when the trees are full and warm with fruit.
Persimmons are small and delectable and native on the east coast. They can be found wild in old Appalachian forest edges and even in Massachusetts they do very well. We have had some nice crops in our high tunnel greenhouse, and I know they grow and ripen well in Burlington, and I am sure some other areas in Vermont. The persimmons grow on pretty large spreading trees and the fruit gets soft and sweet in October, later than most other fruits. I would not try them in colder areas until you have found success with plums and pears, because I would not want you to give up fruit growing until you have tasted some sure harvests first.
Paw paws are this magical fruit that likes to grow in a wild thicket of trees. The leaves are long and exotic like the soursop tropical tree, and they are related to them. In western New York and Ohio and Michigan they are growing all over the place. Some towns have paw paw festivals and make paw paw ice cream and beer. The locals are quite proud of their paw paws. We have been growing them for about twenty years, and they survive all the winters. Only now are we seeing fruit buds on them. Years ago, we saw fruit ripening in Bristol, Vermont and were inspired to try them in Elmore. We later found out that paw paw trees are native to southern Vermont. This is exciting. Sweet flavorful paw paws have been ripening lately in Barre, Vermont.
I love to be a pioneer trying new fruits to grow on our cold hillside. Since we have attempted to grow a lot of things for over forty years here, we can now share with other enthusiasts our successes and failures. I am not recommending growing pineapples in Vermont. But plums, peaches, persimmons and paw paws are fun to grow. Someday you may get some fruit and a story to share about it.
David Fried lives among trees and talks to them and hugs them sometimes. He is a tree whisperer. He also grows and cares for trees at Elmore Roots Nursery and fruit groves.