The delicious rewards of an Urban Orchard

Tom Hudson grows several different kinds of apples on a dwarf tree he developed through grafting in the garden behind his house in the City of Port Washington. Photo by Sam Arendt

Tom Hudson tends to trees growing more than 25 types of fruit on he and his wife’ nearly one-acre lot in the City of Port Washington.

He has a reason.

“I like eating,” he said with a smile.

Cherry and pumpkin pies, pear and apple butter and applesauce are just some of the foods he and his wife Elizabeth O’Connell make with their annual harvest.

Growing their own food carries plenty of benefits.

“You know that when you grow it yourself there aren’t a lot of pesticides. You’re in control,” Hudson said.

O’Connell points out another advantage.

“There’s a big difference between eating a nectarine so juicy you have to eat it over the sink instead of a having hard one from the store,” she said.

One way the couple perfects their fruit is through proper pruning. It’s a skill taught in workshops that can make or break trees, O’Connell said.

Managing the number of apples on a tree allows for bigger fruit, Hudson said. The couple employs a unique technique to grow large, healthy apples and pears. They bag them while on the tree.

Putting a resealable sandwich bag around a when they start to grow prevents insects from getting at them while still allowing in sunlight.

“It looks pretty weird in summer. I’ll take a little weird,” Hudson said.

That’s because the results are huge, juicy fruit. The apples weigh as much as 14 ounces.

“They are monstrous and perfect,” Hudson said.

But they would not win a beauty contest. In addition to the bags adding visual oddity, some of the apples Hudson grows are not found in grocery stores’ produce departments, such as Hoople’s antique gold Spurmac and Spitzenburg — Thomas Jefferson’s favorite.

“They’re not pretty. There’s no shine. They don’t travel well,” Hudson said.

“But there’s nothing that tastes like them at the store.”

Apples make up the couple’s largest variety of fruit. They grow more than a dozen different kinds but they don’t need separate trees.

Grafting allows different apples to grow on the same tree.

Hudson takes one branch about a quarter-inch in diameter that grows one kind of apple and slices off one end at an angle. He does the same with another that grows a different kind, and he presses the two together. A wide rubber band and tape keep the two stuck together and allows for different apples to grow.

“This is a really cool tree,” he said.

Hudson learned the technique at a workshop presented by the Midwest Fruit Explorers in Markham, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. He has been grafting since 2010.

While the couple’s property on Grand Avenue used to be an orchard, they use another element to make the garden manageable. They have natural dwarf trees that only grow to as high as 12 feet. Most of the branches grow horizontally and not straight up.

“They’re really great for a small garden. You don’t have to clime a ladder,” Hudson said.

Besides bagging, the couple has other ways to fend off insects. One round, red ball that looks like a Christmas ornament hangs on each tree. Hudson paints it with a non-smelling sticky substance called Tangle Trap — not a pesticide — and insects, which think the ball is fruit, lay their eggs there and get stuck.

Battling other critters involve different techniques. Hudson is working on putting a cover over his blueberries.

“They’re a little tricky, we have to fight the chipmunks for those,” he said.

Two years ago, Hudson grew two gallons of berries. Last year, he got a total of two berries.

O’Connell said they were warned about Japanese beetles coming after Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon resodded its athletic field. The bugs eventually made their way to Port. Indicators are roses and grapes, she said.

The best way to get rid of the beetles is to pick them off by hand and put them in soapy water.

“You can’t be a good gardener without being ruthless,” O’Connell said.

The couple’s pair of huskies help rid the garden of rabbits, mice and voles, which serve as snacks — O’Connell joked the dogs can’t each just one — but the pets are not always helpful. They like grapes and pears.

“They are a fruit hazard,” O’Connell said.

The couple has a home weather station that includes a website displaying the temperature, humidity and other meteorological measurements. Those show the couple what conditions are right for certain insects and prevents unnecessary spraying.

Just living in Port is an advantage. The proximity to Lake Michigan prevents late freezes, which O’Connell said has only happened once in 26 years.

“When the trees bloom, they’re safe,” she said.

Port means more to the couple than favorable growing conditions.

Hudson grew up with a small garden with strawberries and tomatoes in Springfield, Mo. He met O’Connell, who is from New York state, at the University of Missouri.

The two came to Port in 1991 to watch the Great Circus Parade in Milwaukee. They ended up getting engaged next door to where they live now, which was a bed and breakfast at the time.

In addition to falling in love with each other, they fell in love with the city. A couple of years later, they moved.

Hudson works as a software engineer out of his home, and he is able to adjust his schedule to make time for his hobby.

“It’s great therapy,” he said. “I want to keep it a fun activity and not a lot of work.”

Spring is the busiest time of the year, with pruning and bagging, but Hudson said that shouldn’t deter people. Fresh, cherries, pears, plums, figs, kiwis, grapes, blueberries and more make the minor labor pale in comparison.

“It’s a little work in the spring. The payoff is worth it,” he said.

For those interested in growing their own fruit, O’Connell suggests sending a soil sample to the UW-Extension to learn what plants and trees would work best.

She has one more tip.

“You should start with whatever you want to eat,” she said. “There’s more motivation to take care of it.”

For more information on growing fruit in the backyard, visit the Midwest Fruit Explorers website at



Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login