Selecting varieties can be fun, but it is a serious business decision!

Your market should drive your choices--- not your personal tastes.

Variety selection is often based chiefly on personal preference, which is unfortunate.  Variety selection should be driven by your marketing plans.  Research the market you are planning to sell into, and the data you collect should help you make logical choices.  For example, high class farmer's markets often like more unique varieties than more modest markets.  Roadside stands have to cater to the clientele that drives past--- they ask for certain varieties, often old standards, and sometimes only get interested in the newest ones with taste tests and sampling.

No one can recommend certain varieties as a general rule for everyone to plant.  For new fruit growers, learning about new and different varieties is one of the most exciting things about the whole project.  While it is great to plant some of the really interesting varieties you read about in the catalogs, remember that you want to be able to easily sell your produce to your customer, rather than having to drag him kicking and screaming to a different variety than they think they want, but which you feel is the best thing since sliced bread.  A good compromise is required, between your desires and your customer's desires.

To get a quick and dirty idea about the fresh fruit industry, just take a walk down your local supermarket's produce aisle.  It will be enlightening and educational, as well as a little disheartening.  You usually will see very pretty fruit, but a rather narrow selection of varieties.  For example:

  • Apples: The main varieties you are likely to be Red Delicious, Golden or Yellow Delicious, Gala, Granny Smith, Braeburn and Fuji. The six famous horsemen of the apple industry that seem to carry the apple section in most grocery stores. There are many strains or cultivars of these basic varieties, so you often will see great variation in coloration and looks. There are lots of other unique and interesting varieties coming into the picture, though. Some of the new ones that are starting to show up are Honeycrisp™, Cameo™ and Jonagold. Often regional favorites show up, like McIntosh, Jonathan, Rome, Stayman, etc. Apples are unique in that they are sold by variety, while many other fruits are sold more generically. Learn what your market wants to buy in general, and then a good nurseryman, like me!, can help you pick out the proper cultivars and varieties to plant for your area.
  • Peaches, Nectarines, Plums, and Apricots: You rarely see these sold by variety, unless they are very unique and different. For the most part they are sold generically, sometimes identified by country or state of origin, but mostly by color.
  • Sweet Cherries: There only seem to be two kinds--- dark "Bing-type" cherries and light colored, blush "Ranier" type cherries in the store. Your variety selection will have to be determined by color and whether the variety can grow successfully in your area. Dark outsells white by far.
  • Pears: Pears are often sold by variety, like apples, but sometimes are sold by color ("red" pears) or by season ("winter" pears). Your variety selection will often be limited by what is most suitable for your climate and by various disease factors. Asian pears are almost in a class by themselves, because many people don't think of them as normal pears.

After you have familiarized yourself with the basic fruit varieties that your market is looking for, consult with your nurseryman who can often recommend the particular cultivars and specific varieties that will likely do best for you, based on your planting systems, climate, soils, etc.  Don't just use a shotgun approach or just personal preference, unless you like to eat a lot of fruit!