If you are already growing food in your polytunnel, you may be considering branching out and expanding the diversity of crops that you grow. When it comes to choosing unusual fruits to grow in your polytunnel, there are a number of different routes that you could go:
- You could consider growing exotic fruits that you could not usually grow in your area.
- You could think about growing less well known fruits that work well in the UK climate.
- Or you could consider simply choosing more unusual varieties or cultivars of well known fruits.
In this article, we will take a look at all three of these categories, to help you to find some unusual fruits to grow in your polytunnel.
Why Grow Unusual Fruits in Your Polytunnel?
Growing unusual fruits in your polytunnel is an interesting thing to do. Not only will it allow you to stretch yourself and learn more as a gardener, it can also allow you to increase the biodiversity of your garden.
The more you diversify your home-growing repertoire, the more resilient you will be in the face of our changing climate, and the better able your garden will be able to withstand whatever may come. By growing a wide variety of fruits, you avoid putting all your eggs in one basket. Even if not everything goes according to plan, you will still have plenty of other options to fall back on when feeding your family.
Another thing to consider is that by choosing more unusual plants, or cultivars, you can help to keep rarer species alive. Choosing unusual plants or heritage varieties can help gardeners do their part of the diversity not just in their own garden but also in UK food stocks overall. By choosing heritage varieties and propagating these in your polytunnel, you can help maintain diversity in our fruit trees and bushes here in the UK.
Diversity will also mean that the plants you include in your polytunnel will be better able to withstand pests and disease. Planting all the same plant or variety can cause problems in this regard, so diverse polycultures are the way to go.
Unusual Fruits From Exotic Climes
Today we often see a wide range of fruits in supermarkets that our ancestors (even rather recent ones) may never have seen. But many of these tropical or exotic fruits are usually difficult (if not impossible) for UK growers to produce at home. However, if you would like to try something a little different, adding heating (and perhaps grow lights) in your polytunnel over the winter months could allow you to grow more exotic fruits that you would not otherwise be able to grow.
For example, polytunnel growers in the UK have successfully managed to grow:
- peaches & apricots.
- a range of citrus fruits.
- Japanese plums.
- Chilean guava.
- Pineapple guava.
- Chinese loquats.
- Siberian blue honeysuckle.
- Goji berries.
- Passion fruit.
While these fruits typically take a lot more work and require more energy and resources to grow, those looking to try something new may like to try providing the conditions to grow these in their polytunnel.
The key to success is making sure that you understand the needs and requirements of the fruiting plants that you wish to grow, and doing your very best to meet those needs and requirements in your growing areas.
Unusual Fruits You Might Not Have Heard Of
In addition to considering exotic fruits that you can provide the necessary conditions for in your polytunnel, you can also consider growing more hardy fruits that you might not have heard of. Unusual fruits that can be grown in an unheated polytunnel (or sheltered garden) in the UK include:
- autumn olive.
- gaultheria shallon.
- sea buckthorn.
- mahonia (aka Oregon grape).
You could also consider growing some native fruits of the British Isles, such as rose hips, haws, rowan berries, sloes, elderberries etc. as well as some of the better known cultivated varieties of fruit such as apples, plums, pears and cherries etc..
Unusual Varieties or Cultivars of Well-Known Fruits
Another way to ring the changes in your polytunnel is to grow more unusual cultivars of well known fruits. For example:
Rather than going for Granny Smiths, Braeburn or Bramleys, consider going for some more unusual options to keep unusual varieties alive. There are hundreds of amazing options out there, since the apple is a uniquely diverse plant family. Left to its own devices, every seed would grow into its own unique fruit. You could eat a different heritage apple every day for years and still not have sampled all the options out there. Choose a heritage apple from a nursery or garden centre rather than better known options. You could even consider taking a gamble and seeing what you could grow from seed.
Rather than opting for the common Concorde or Conference varieties, consider opting for an older and more interesting heritage variety – for example, some UK heritage varieties are:
- Bishop’s Thumb
- Black Worcester
- Capability Pear
- Laxton’s Foremost
Though there are also plenty of other European pears that could do well in southern regions of the UK (or perhaps under cover in a polytunnel.
Plums also have a wide range of varieties to try. Heritage plum tree options include:
- Apple acre plum
- Denniston’s Superb
- Early Laxton
- Kirke’s Blue
- Marjorie’s Seedling
In addition to growing a more unusual heritage plum variety, you could also consider growing more unusual related species of damson and gage.
Again, unusual heritage cherries can also be found. Some examples that you might like to consider sourcing for your polytunnel or elsewhere in your garden include:
- Black Oliver
Raspberries & Other Berries
It is not only top fruits that come in more unusual varieties. Raspberries are a common garden crop, yet most of us are only familiar with the typical red varieties. If you want to try something new, you could not only consider related crops such as Boysenberries or Tayberries, but also more unusual yellow raspberries, or black raspberries in your polytunnel or elsewhere in your garden.
Another option that you could consider is the jostaberry. This is a cross between the gooseberry and the blackcurrant.
Choosing Unusual Fruit Varieties For Your Garden
Before you select unusual fruit varieties for your garden, it is important to consider:
- Whether the variety is suitable to grow in your area (or you can provide suitable conditions in your polytunnel).
- What kind of soil the trees or plants you are considering will require, and whether you have that type of soil in your polytunnel (or the containers in which you will grow your fruit).
- Whether the trees, bushes or canes will be susceptible to the pests and diseases that may arise in your area. (Remember, heritage varieties may be more likely to suffer from problems than more modern hybrids.)
- The characteristics and taste of the fruits you are considering.
- When the tree/bush is in bloom (and how it is pollinated).
- Whether the fruit tree is self-fertile, or needs a companion.
- Which companion plants will aid the growth of your fruit trees or fruiting shrubs.
- When fruits are harvested, and how to tell when they need to be harvested.
Doing your research before selecting unusual fruit for your polytunnel will make all the difference. The more informed you are about the fruiting plants you are considering, the more likely you are to achieve success.
If you are a somewhat experienced gardener, growing unusual fruits could be a great way to increase your knowledge base and make the most of your polytunnel in more striking and interesting ways. Do you grow unusual fruits where you live? Let us know in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.