I decided this year to plant for myself an orchard. In my typical fashion I dove headfirst into several books about orchards Michael Phillips has a fantastic book called The Holistic Orchard which in itself is a very detailed guide on how to plan an orchard, when to plant, what to plant and other associated dynamics around in orchards in general. I gave my usual reference material a look-see including The Encyclopedia of Country Living that I seem to refer to quite a bit. Always helpful with orchards is the Dave Wilson’s Nursery site on YouTube.
I spent a lot of time fretting about which trees, what variety, numbers of trees, whether they needed to be male or female, varieties, potted, planted, bare root, etc.… Having all of this information left me to state of analysis to paralysis. I didn’t really know which ones to choose, I didn’t know how many, I didn’t know exactly where to plant them and I didn’t know exactly how to plant them. There were so many opinions and I couldn’t really determine which paths were the right ones to take.
So, I decided to consult my very good friend, Rich Everett who owns an orchard in the hills just down from me. He has several hundred trees and has quite a little business for himself. I called Rich and asked him, If he would be willing to come up and take a look at the area that I had set aside for the orchard and give me his opinions. I’m grateful that he accepted and within a day or two, he arrived willing to offer any advise he could.
We walked down into my field to survey the area where I had set aside for my orchard. I told him, I was looking at planting approximately 30 fruit trees but that I wanted a variety of fruit trees. Ones that started bearing fruit early in the season, some the bore fruit in the middle of the season and some the bore fruit late in their season so, that I would have as much fruit as I could have through the year and the widest variety of possibilities.
The area that I chose for my orchard is about 50 or 55 foot-wide about 150 foot long and has a reasonable amount of south-facing ground. The area drains pretty well but has a lot of clay laden soil. Rich suggested that I plant each tree about 15 foot (on center) and that I space each row 15 foot apart (on center). Each row was staggered and I ended up with three rows. (I hammered a stake at each end and ran a string to make sure my holes were straight) This will make it much easier for your irrigation also….Also, a straight, open row will be helpful if you have a tractor for mowing, etc.…
For choosing the verities, Rich suggested that I contact Trees of Antiquity (www.treesofantiquity.com) . They are a fantastic producer of non-GMO, Heritage bare root trees just a few hours south of me in Paso Robles, California. Neil, one of the owners, was amazing! I told him what I wanted to accomplish and he was kind enough to draft for me a selection of trees he felt would suit my need. Within a week, I had a large box delivered to my door with all of my bare root trees.
This is the list of trees and layout that I ended up with. As you can see, I also added a few grapes and berry vines as well for good measure! I left a few empty spaces so that as I want to add additional trees, the spaces are available and irrigation already in 🙂
A few little pearls of wisdom that I gathered along the way of planting this orchard are these:
- Once you receive your bare root trees in the mail soak them overnight in a bucket of clean water.
- When you decide to plant them, Plant them one at a time. I planted mine in gopher wire because we have a problem with gophers here. But don’t dig the hole too much deeper or too much wider than you need for the roots that you have. The ecosystem below the ground is as important as the ecosystem about it. The less you disturb it, the better
- When planting your trees make sure that the graft (the portion of tree with the knot at the bottom) is facing north. The potential exists that in the south facing sun it may burn and damage the tree.
- When you’re planting each little tree clip the ends of the roots just ever so slightly to encourage new root growth but, only do this just before you plant
- Also when you’re planting them spread the roots out so that they all are growing out and down so they naturally have a path to grow strong.
For irrigation, I went with something pretty simple. As always, I buy irrigation items from my local commercial irrigation supplier so, I’m not paying full retail. It’s a simple timer/valve combination from a 1” PVC line into a 200 mesh filter, to a pressure reducer, to ¾” irrigation line. At each tree is a ¾ gallon per hour fitting. It’s simple, cheap and very effective. I put about a 3’ wide ring of mulch around each tree about 2-3” deep. This helps retain moisture, give a few nutrients and reduces the water competition from weeds.
One of the funny things that I heard while I was trying to figure out when to plant these was a friend of mine Scott Leis who asked me rhetorically, “Do you know the best time to plant and orchard?” I answered, no when? He told me, “today.”
What a fantastic opportunity to give your family the experience of planting your own orchard and being able to reap the benefits of it. As much as my kids complained while they were digging the holes, there now very excited about being able to pick the fruit right off the tree. Another step toward being more self-sufficient, I encourage you to take a step today to be more self-sufficient. There are very few feelings better than self-sufficiency and the freedom it gives you.