There’s no place on the farm quite like the orchard. For dew-fresh fruit, but also for picnics in blossom time, watching the bees gather nectar for your honey, and simply enjoying life. Making a detour on your way to feed the chickens in the morning and stopping by the orchard for a night-chilled Transparent apple is a country experience hard to pass up.
The only problem is, unless your land comes with an established orchard, it’s going to take a couple of years’ wait. That’s why starting an orchard should be one of the first things you set out.
To speed up your first yield even further, try a few dwarf trees. You probably won’t bother much with these once your big ones start bearing, but they will give you an initial crop to tide you over the second or third year of waiting.
Where to Plant an Orchard
The orchard is going to be around for some time. That’s your first consideration in deciding where to locate it.
As a permanent addition to your homestead, the orchard should have not only good soil, but good air and water drainage as well. Thus, a slope is the best location if you have one. Avoid low-lying sites, since this harbor the cold. The ideal spot is on the small hills surrounding a valley or depression. No trees should be exposed to the windy hilltops and none to the frost-retentive bottom land. Rows of trees planted on hills should, of course, follow the contour system.
The soil in your orchard should be as good as you can make it. If you want to plant fruit trees right away and your soil is hard clay or sand, you’ll have to build it up for each individual tree. It will pay you to fill the excavations in which the trees are to be set with improved soil, compost, rotted manure, ground rock phosphate, and rock potash to a depth of — hold onto the book — about five feet.
Planting Fruit Trees
Even if your soil is ideal, prepare to spend a bit of time with a pickax and shovel. The minimum size for a tree hole is three times the size of the root ball. In the case of fruit trees, the bigger the better. Usually one no smaller than three or four feet in diameter and two to three feet deep is dug. Pile the topsoil separately, since this is what should go back into the bottom of the hole along with well-aged nitrogen-rich compost and ground rock phosphate and rock potash. Don’t use fresh manure. Spread most of the extra subsurface soil elsewhere and grow a cover crop over it.
If what you’re removing is almost solid clay soil, and you’re replacing it with the ideal light, humus-filled one, the improved area around the tree will act as a sponge. Water retention will be too much. In this case, put a tile drain at the bottom of the hole. This is simply a single row, or a cross, of sections of drainage pipe, usually four inches in diameter, spaced out on top of a layer of gravel across the floor of the hole. It leads the water away from the root area, culvert-fashion, to the surrounding subsoil.
The mechanics of planting fruit trees are important. All injured and broken roots must be pruned back. The roots are then spread out evenly on top of a layer of enriched soil replaced in the hole to raise the tree to its proper level. Make sure you keep the roots moist while you work. It’s a good idea to mix up a bucket of mud slurry from your compost to pour over the roots when they are spread out. The slurry will coat the finer roots, keeping them moist, minimizing air pockets, and helping to settle them in. Fill the rest of the hole, tamp down the soil and give it a heavy dousing of water or light mud slurry. The tree should sit in the center of a slight depression about a foot in diameter. At the same distance out put up a two-foot-high wire mesh “collar” to keep out field mice, rabbits, etc. Outside of this mini-fence cover the ground with an inch of rotted manure extended all the way to eight feet from the tree. Cover the circle in turn with about a foot of hay mulch.
A regular fruit tree should be planted at least twenty feet from its nearest neighbor. Dwarf fruit trees can be spaced as close as ten feet apart. Set the tree straight to ever so slightly leaning in the direction of any prevailing winds. The largest branch, like a weather vane, should point into the prevailing wind. Prune back the branches of a newly planted tree a little more, proportionately, than the root loss. This will give it a chance to build a good strong root system. Give the trunk a pole support to prevent wind whipping from loosening the roots.
One final thought on planting. Science is discovering more and more about the roles bacteria and fungi play in crop growth. There is no doubt some of both interacting with the orchard. An old farmer I know would never plant a new fruit or nut tree without going around to an orchard he particularly admired and, picking the best tree of the kind he was planting, “borrowing” a shovelful of dirt as a “starter” for his own tree. Now I’m not saying this is necessary … the only reason I mention it is because his new trees never failed, and they were always covered in season with the most incredibly delicious fruit.
related Content: Sustainable Fruit Production through Organic Farming
Points to consider when choosing an orchard enterprise
- Costs and returns on investment
- Complexity of management
- Labor requirements
- Water security
The key areas of risk to production include: pollination, pests and diseases, and climatic factors such as, drought, frost, hail, wind and heat. Orchard yield and quality is determined by the integrated management of the soil, irrigation, tree canopy and nutrition. These inputs are dependent on each other as water and nutrients cannot be separated from the soil that supports the root system that in turn dictates the performance of the canopy and therefore the yield.
Key factors for success
- Growing the right varieties (meeting market demand)
- Business and orchard management and mechanization
- Economic return on investment
- Efficient use of water
- Shortest lead time to first commercial harvest
- Consistency of production including yield and quality
- Choosing the right region, soil type, available water and land aspect
Tree density may range from one hundred to several thousand trees per hectare. The relationship between tree spacing and yield illustrates that the more trees planted on a hectare of land, the higher the initial yield. However, at higher densities, unless trees are trained carefully they will eventually compete for sunlight resulting in a reduction in yield per hectare and quality of fruit and nuts produced. Higher density plantings will have greater establishment costs but there will be earlier economic return on investment.
For more information, visit our offices today. Book your seedlings today and establish an orchard of your choice.