Turns out the average adult should be consuming 456 pounds (201 kg) of vegetables, and 365 pounds (166 kg) of fruit per year to eat a "healthy" diet by the USDA's lights. Leaving aside the complicating issue of fruit juices and dried fruits, let's just look at those numbers. That's exactly one pound of fruit, and over a pound of vegetables per person every single day. I gotta tell you, I don't eat that much fruit and veg. I know this because I know roughly what we produce ourselves in the backyard, and that we don't buy a whole lot of extra vegetables or fruit. We don't drink juice other than our own apple cider or grape juice. I do buy dried fruits - raisins, cherries, apricots, dates, etc. But these don't make up a major part of our diet. Other than things like ginger and onions year-round, and some local greens in winter, the odd bag of organic carrots, we just aren't buying that many vegetables either. Last year, we produced just over 600 pounds of food from our backyard. Divide that among two adults, and we've got 300 pounds per person last year. Evidently, we're way below our recommended consumption, even figuring another 100 pounds per person from purchased sources. Less than half the recommended 821 pounds, total, for each of us.
But Mini Farming then went on to describe how to produce that much yourself, and what sorts of yields could be expected from various perennial plantings. And this is where the projections began to astound me. A standard apple tree at maturity can give 300 pounds of apples per year. Check. That's roughly what we got this year from our mature apple tree. A sweet cherry can also deliver 300 pounds per year, and a sour cherry, 150 pounds. We have one sweet and one sour cherry back there which have only just begun to bear. Four hundred and fifty pounds of fruit from them in the coming years? Zoiks! And then there are the pear trees. We have one dwarf and possibly one standard. Since the dwarfs will apparently give 120 pounds of fruit per year at maturity, we're looking at 240 pounds if they're both dwarfs, and 320 pounds if the second one is a standard. Oh, and we're putting in another apple tree next year.
So just counting on our three varieties of fruit from six trees, we should expect - conservatively speaking - 1230 pounds (558 kg) of fruit per year, eventually. That doesn't even touch the blueberries, raspberries, black currants, elderberries, potted figs, or our citrus trees, let alone any nuts we might get from our hazels. Oh, and next year we'll begin a long term project to replace our wooden fence with a hedgerow stocked with edibles. More than half a ton of fruit from the backyard. Yes, the numbers are beginning to freak me out a little bit. Am I going to be able to handle this much food without letting it go to waste? I'm thinking three things. One, we can always turn fruit juice into hooch. (Alcohol is good.) Two, we need to get a good system of bins together for the root cellar before such harvests start coming in. And three, we may well
We've got all these trees and plants on 2/3 of an acre, plus raised beds for asparagus, with 2800 square feet of garden space for annuals besides. That's with at least half the property being essentially useless due to driveway, house, huge detached garage, and massive shade trees around the house. So really, we're talking all that production on about 1/3 of an acre, more than half of which is off-limits because of the annual garden area. So maybe really only 1/6 acre available for perrenials. Turns out, the stocking density we've got is nothing to write home about.
In perusing the website of a local orchard we occasionally buy from, I noted that their most recently planted orchard has a stocking density of more than 300 dwarf apple trees per acre. A little poking around turned up the claim by Gennaro Fazio, director of an apple rootstock breeding project in Geneva, NY, that an acre of good land can support as many as 485 dwarf apple trees. That's a mind boggling number of fruit trees. What does that scale down to? A tenth-acre backyard with as many as 48 dwarf apple trees. Say that with a one-third acre working space, like us you're only willing or able to devote half of that to fruit trees. You could, according to this theory, squeeze 80 dwarf trees into that parcel. Back garden of only 20 square meters? That still gives you ample room for two trees. Fazio also claims that yield and fruit size are the same with standard and dwarf apples, so you're not sacrificing production by choosing a smaller tree. I find this hard to believe, but even if dwarfs yield half the crop of standard trees, that 20 square meter back garden could give you almost all the fruit one adult needs per year. That's nothing to sneeze at.
This is good. It gives me hope for the future. Not just for myself, but for my immediate environs. I live in a low density development area, and all the mcmansions sit on what was formerly prime farmland. The good earth is still there, though now in the custody of folks most often doing nothing better than dousing their grass monocultures with pesticides that kill honey bees, and herbicides that run off into our waterways. Most of them have a lot more than my 1/6 acre to work with, should they ever wish to do so.
Bottom line is this: any little bit of yard ("garden" for you Brits) you've got can produce more food than you probably suspect. We need more fruit and nut trees planted on residential lots. Even on a tenth of an acre, and under far from ideal conditions, you could probably put in two dwarf fruit trees, at a minimum, and still have room for a decent patch of annual vegetables.
As Rob so eloquently said, we can do this.