Apricots that are eaten directly from a tree your have grown are considerably tastier than any available in the supermarket. Perhaps the achievement of successfully raising the crop of fruit subconsciously adds to the pleasure, but growing apricots in a permaculture plot ensures they have the most natural and unadulterated flavor possible. Many permaculture gardeners may initially think that an apricot tree will only thrive in tropical conditions, but while they are susceptible to frosts and cold conditions, with a little care and attention and the use of suitable microclimates, apricots can be grown in most conditions. They are also useful trees in that they are self-pollinating, so even permaculturists with small plot can grow a crop of apricots, as you only need a single tree for fruit to set year after year.
Check with local gardeners, nurseries and horticultural societies which native species are suited to your area. This will depend upon the soil and climatic conditions in your location. Some of the common cultivars used in garden crop production include the Alfred, which benefits from a more sheltered site and produces sweet, medium-sized fruit, the Flavorcot, a Canadian variety that is ready for harvest in late summer, and the Tomcot, which will do well even in cooler climates.
While reasonably hardy, you want to avoid planting your apricots in locations where frosts settle. The apricot flowers comparatively early in spring, and so any late frosts can damage the fruit-bearing parts of the plant. A semi-open spot that receives at least a few hours of full sun and a little air circulation is ideal. If your permaculture plot slopes, avoid planting at the base of the slope as cold air will naturally sink here and a frost is more likely to form. If your plot is in a cool climate, you may still be able to grow apricots, but you may need to cover the trees in protective fleece or plastic during the winter nights to protect them from the elements. Make sure the covering does not touch the blossoms, and remove during daylight hours to allow the tree to receive sunlight.
Apricot trees do not fare so well in acidic soils. They prefer neutral or slightly alkaline soil that is well drained. Preparing your site with lots of organic matter such as well rotted compost and composted chicken manure should help to keep the pH level around neutral but if acidity is still a problem, consider adding some organic agricultural lime to raise the pH level. Apricot trees send down deep roots, so a humus rich, deep soil is ideal.
Source organically grown trees of around one year old. They are established enough that will be able to survive the first winter in the garden. You can expect your first full harvest in year four. If planting more than one specimen, space at least 25 feet apart to allow for mature canopy and root growth. If using dwarf varieties, 10 feet spacing between specimens is sufficient.
As a fruit tree, an apricot makes a good central species for a planting guild. Its deep roots will help to bring up nutrients and moisture from lower down in the soil profile for other plants in the guild to use, and it can provide shade to species who do best out of full sun. There are certain plant species that are suited to guild planting with apricots because of the benefits they bring to the tree. Basil, for instance is a good companion as it repels insects that would naturally feed on the apricot’s fruit. Clover is a good ground cover near an apricot tree as it suppresses grasses which would compete with the tree for soil nutrients, as well as adding nitrogen to the soil, which will help the apricot set a good crop. Plants to avoid placing in close proximity to apricot trees include tomatoes and potatoes, which can often transfer fungus to the tree that will impede growth.
Each spring, fertilize with composted chicken manure which helps to keep the soil slightly alkaline and gives a nutrient boost for the growing season. Water well when composting and mulch with straw or wood chips to help retain moisture, but ensure that the mulch is kept clear of the tree trunk. Apricots are particularly susceptible to developing cankers on pruning wounds, so prune your trees, if necessary, early spring when wounds will heal more quickly and to promote new growth for fruit forming. If your tree produces heavy crops, you want to thin the fruit out when the fruit is around the size of a hazelnut. Thin so that fruit sets approximately three or four inches apart; being too laden with fruit may not have sufficient energy to sustain the crop and may either drop the fruit early to conserve energy, or set smaller, undeveloped fruit. Birds will eat the fruit, so consider netting if they take too many (allowing the birds to take some fruit is all part of being a permaculture gardener), and plant flowering herbs to attract ladybug who will predate the aphids an scale that can be problematic for apricot trees.
Apricots are typically ready to harvest in mid to late summer. During this time, check on the fruit regularly to determine whether it is ripe for harvest. The fruit should feel full, soft to the touch, and detach from the stem with a gentle tug. The fruit bruises easily, so handle with care. While apricots will continue to ripen after picking in terms of the flesh becoming softer and the color changing, they will not develop any additional flavor or sweetness once picked. If you do not eat them immediately, you can store them for a day or tow in a paper bag away from sunlight, but be aware that they can quickly spoil. If you have a large crop consider trading them with neighboring gardeners for different crops, using them in preserves or freezing them. If freezing, slice in half and remove the stone (as this will make the flesh bitter) beforehand.