Small House Homesteads Fruit Tree Update

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may recall from a previous post that our small fruit orchard died in the high ground water flooding of 2009-2012 and we replanted 6 trees this past spring. Fruit trees need good drainage and do not like to be in standing water!

USE FIRST PEACH and comfrey

Red Haven peach trees. The Red Haven was propagated 20 miles from us.

This lesson serves to remind me that when it comes to homesteading, Mother Nature is in charge, not we humans!

new growth on peach tree USE

The light green is this summers new leaf growth.

In my research for planting new fruit trees on a small-scale, I stumbled across an U-Tube program by a biologist and orchardists, by the name of Michael Phillips. I was so impressed and inspired by his knowledge and planting enthusiasm I ordered his book titled, The Holistic Orchard: Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way, ISBN 978-1-933392-13-4 its book chucked full of biology and while deep and sometimes overwhelming to take in, the basic message of how to build the soil is totally sound.

The Holistic Orchard book front

We followed Phillips overall plan even right down to his most unusual one – planting fruit trees in a large triangle 8 feet apart. We planted our three grafted semi dwarf and ungrafted fruit trees bought from a local nursery this spring. These included two peaches, one pears and three apple trees. This translated to two large triangles with three trees each.

Tree triangle bed USE

I planted one tree at each of the triangles three corners.

Following the directions, of the book and the grafter, I added lots of organic matter to the soil and under-planted the trees with deep-rooted comfrey and lupines for their nitrogen-fixing qualities. This fall I plan to add his recommended yarrow and chives from other location on our homestead about the time the fall rains begin and I can again be successful in transplanting perennials.

Comfrey and lupines USE

Large leaf, Russian comfrey under-planted below our fruit trees.

My overall goal is to create a healthy place for fungus and micronutrients that the soil needs to grow fruit. Phillips says that the goal of the holistic orchard is to create a fungal presence ten times higher than that of bacteria. And that we will know that the growing conditions are just right when the fungus sending up fruiting bodies that we recognize principally as mushrooms.

Hose watering tree USE

A hose trickle keeps the newly planted tree roots moist.

We have mushrooms growing now, so I obviously did something right!

FROM THE BOOKS PROMOTIONAL MATERIAL: Many people want to grow fruit on a small-scale but lack the insight to be successful orchardists. Growing tree fruits and berries is something virtually anyone with space and passionate desire can do – given wise guidance and a personal commitment to observe the teachings of the trees. A holistic grower knows that producing fruit is not about manipulating nature but more importantly, fostering nature. Orcharding then becomes a fascinating adventure sure to provide your family with all sorts of mouth-watering fruit.

The Holistic Orchard demystifies the basic skills everybody should know about the inner-workings of the orchard ecosystem, as well as orchard design, soil biology, and organic health management. Detailed insights on grafting, planting, pruning, and choosing the right varieties for your climate are also included, along with a step-by-step instructional calendar to guide growers through the entire orchard year. The extensive profiles of pome fruits (apples, pears, asian pears, quinces), stone fruits (cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums), and berries (raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, gooseberries, currants, and elderberries) will quickly have you savoring the prospects.

Phillips completely changed the conversation about healthy orcharding with his first bestselling book, The Apple Grower, and now he takes that dialogue even further, drawing connections between home orcharding and permaculture; the importance of native pollinators; the world of understory plantings with shade-tolerant berry bushes and other insectary plants; detailed information on cover crops and biodiversity; and the newest research on safe, homegrown solutions to pest and disease challenges.

All along the way, Phillips’ expertise and enthusiasm for healthy growing shines through, as does his ability to put the usual horticultural facts into an integrated ecology perspective. This book will inspire beginners as well as provide deeper answers for experienced fruit growers looking for scientific organic approaches. Exciting times lie ahead for those who now have every reason in the world to confidently plant that very first fruit tree!

We are quite lucky here on our homestead to have a backyard located along a transition zone from field to forest. Our field is actually made up of my homemade meadow but its pretty close in ecology. Fruit trees often choose this type of ecological niche to claim as theirs when given the chance.

Fruit tree bed from a distance USE

Here is the size of the triangle-shaped tree fruit bed. This is definitely thinking outside the box.

I’ve been babying my fruit trees all spring and summer; watering them with a trickle hose to keep the roots nice and wet. And they seem to be thriving in spite of our unusually droughty summer this year.

The only issue I have had is a big windstorm that took off all the new fruit buds but I accepted this as I planned on pinching the tiny buds off anyway for the first few years so all the growth would go directly into the root system and the leaves.

I do a walk by twice a day picking off any moths or Japanese Beatles as well and feed them to our chickens.

We plan to put chicken wire around these trees this fall to protect them from browsing rabbits and deer over the long winter months here in the Midwest.

If you want to grow your orchard in a holistic way, do pick up Phillips book, it’s a fine resource.

Small House homesteader, Donna

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