My Tiny Orchard
Planting and caring for my own fruit orchard has been a dream of mine for quite some time. I think I can trace my excitement to one day about eight years ago when I went to the orchard tea rooms at Granchester, just outside Cambridge in England. It was a beautiful, sunny day and we sat underneath old apple trees, in frayed deck chairs, drinking tea from clinky china cups. The day was a complete haze for me as I gazed at the trees and dreamt of creating my own orchard, of growing fruit for myself and my boys.
I wanted to start straight away but I hardly had enough space for one fruit tree let alone a whole orchard. So I planted a lone, self-fertile, apple tree and trained it up the only wall I had. It wasn’t quite an orchard, but I savored eating each home-grown apple. In the coming years I would have to be content with reading books and planning. Then came the day, after two house moves, when I was in a position to really plant my long dreamed of orchard.
Orchards are romantic. There is something that is enduring, perfect and calm about them. Just think, you plant a tree and it provides food and beauty for years to come with surprisingly little effort on your part. I spend so much time tending my vegetable garden it seems impossible that you can plant a fruit tree once, maintain a little and reap massive rewards for a whole lifetime.
The beautiful thing about trees is that they are really at their best a long time after you have planted them. Fruit trees, especially, come into their own about 20 years after they go into the ground. If you care for them and prune them they will yield their full bounty and produce intoxicating fruit year after year. There’s nothing like making a Peach Cobbler because you have ‘sooo many Peaches!’
Orchards are ingenious and the perfect way to grow fruit too. The close proximity of the trees means that they rely on each other for protection from wind, storms and all kinds of rough weather. I’m hoping that they will provide comfort too with their stillness and hold many family memories as we tend them and enjoy them together. Every year when they flower I will remember all the Springtimes when the blossom rained down like snow and each Autumn will bring back family memories of harvesting our fruit together. I have high-hopes for my new orchard.
But for now I’m content to give my trees a great start in life. Fruit trees need to be strong enough to fend for themselves someday so they’ll need all the help I can give them now.
So, plant an orchard; for you, your family and quite possibly the neighbors too.
Planning an Orchard
These steps are specifically written for planning an apple orchard but can easily be adapted for other fruit bearing trees with a bit of research. Fruit trees need at least 6-8 hours of sun daily to grow well. Choose an open, sunny location with easy access and good drainage.
- Make a list of some of the varieties you like to eat and pick varieties you like and are sure to grow well in your area. If you don’t know what varieties you like go to an apple tasting day or your local farmer’s market. They usually have many varieties of apple but also pears, asian pears and other fruits.
- Plan how many trees you can fit on the piece of land designated for the orchard. If you choose dwarfing or semi-dwarfing trees then you can normally plant one tree every 8-9 feet or 16-24 ft for more vigorous trees.
- Order your trees and plant them immediately when they arrive. They will need regular watering for the first two years of their life. The best way to do it is to drill a small hole in the side of a five gallon bucket and place by the tree. Fill the bucket with water every Monday. The water will drip through and water the tree.
- The trees will take at least three years to start fruiting in earnest. Be patient. The fruit will come.
- Enjoy your orchard, even in its early stages. Install a bench and sit among your trees. Maybe even drink some tea.
A few considerations and list of resources:
- Unless they are self-fertile most apple trees need to be cross-pollinated with each other to produce fruit. Consider this:
- Research which trees from your favored varieties flower at the same time. Some Apples flower early and some late. Apple’s are split into pollination groups. A group is made up of those trees that flower at the same time and therefore can transfer pollen to each other, so it’s imperative that you choose two varieties from the same group. You can avoid worrying about this by choosing a self-fertile variety.
- Triploid trees are a variety that produce pollen but are unable to pollinate other trees. If you choose a Triploid variety (like Blenheim Orange, Bramley’s Seedling, or Jonagold), you effectively have to ensure that you plant three trees in all. The Triploid, its pollinator and another tree to pollinate the pollinator.
- A fruit tree is either a tip-bearer (bears its fruit on the tips of branches) or a spur-bearer (bears its fruit along the side of each branch). The first is fine for an orchard but if you want ornamental trees you need to choose spur-bearers.
- One more consideration is whether the tree bears fruit yearly or biennially. If you choose two trees that are biennial then you could be in trouble if they each flower in different years. Add to that the choice of whether you will be growing eating apples or cooking apples and you have one complex decision to make.
The Apple Grower, by Michael Philips
The Holistic Orchard by Michael Philips
The Home Orchard Society http://www.homeorchardsociety.org/
Friends of Trees www.friendsoftrees.org