Update on the Small House Fruit Tree Inoculation

If you have been reading this blog for very long you probably know that our fruit orchard was all but wiped out by the 2009-2012 high ground water flooding we experienced. After getting over the stress and shock of those terrible four springs when we thought we were going to lose our home to either flooding or mold. And we did lose much of our painstakingly built up soil and then like many farmers who have experienced such loss, we set about shaking off the crisis and replanting.

USE FIRST PEACH and comfrey

Our peach tree with its comfrey guild below.

We replanted in the spring of 2015 using a mix of three nursery bought pears and peaches trees and three grafted heirloom apples from South meadow Fruit Gardens located in Benton Harbor about an hour’s drive from us.

Email smfruit@aol.com

I had never used grafted stock before and I wanted to hedge my success by planting three years old Jonkers Garden Center bought trees as well and the one-year-old specialty grafted tree stock from Southmeadow Fruit Gardens.

Tree triangle dirt only

The large triangle bed in the very early spring after we dug up the sod.

Following the advice of Michael Phillips, author of The Holistic Orchard: Tree Fruit and Berries the Biological Way. At his recommendation we dug up a large section of grass in a large triangle shape and planted the trees 8 ft. apart.

I worked hard to improve my lean oak savannah forest soil by adding well composted horse manure mixed in with hay and covered in bark chips. his is the secret recipe to growing anything here.

Comfrey and lupines USE

Sterile Russian comfrey, native lupines and ramial bark chips as mulch.

The plan was to plant comfrey under each tree at the root line which we did. I ordered 58 slips of Russian comfrey at $1.00 each and they have grown beautifully and flowered quite well their first summer. The delicate blue comfrey flowers call out to the bumble bees who come and take home their yellow pollen.

The Holistic Orchard book front

Using permaculture terms, we planted a “fruit guild” with our White Oak trees for the top layer, the fruit trees for the middle layer and nitrogen-fixing plants like comfrey, native lupines, daffodils and chives below. And then I added the best material of all; ramial wood chips as the main course for feeding mycorrhizal and saprophytic fungi in an orchard food web that in turn supports our fruit trees.

Fruit tree bed from a distance USE

This is a terrific book and one I highly recommend for anyone who wishes to grow fruit organically. You can locate this book by using this ISBN number; ISBN 978-1-933392-13-4.

I watered our fruit trees and comfrey faithfully all summer and they have gotten off to a good start. We plan to stake and fence in the triangle beds this fall to protect the tender fruit trees from deer, rabbit and any other browsers who might come along and decide they are a good-looking treat! We also feel that fencing and staking them will give us a good visual to work around this first year so we can avoid them in winter playtime, dog ball kicking and snow blowing paths to and from the pole barn.

A few weeks ago, at Phillips recommendation we drove into the state-owned Todd Farm Preserve located about 10 miles from the Small House homestead. We located the sight of several wild apple trees we have visited, and picked from in previous years. We dug up a couple of buckets of soil from under these trees and brought that soil home and “inoculated” our own fruit trees with that soil.

According to Phillips the purpose of inoculation is to both create an orchard soil that ideally contains a fungal presence ten time higher than that of bacteria and because the key to tree vitality is this nutrient exchange between the roots via these fungal helpers and the soil.

In a few weeks I will do a chop and drop of the comfrey leaves so they too can work their magic on the soil around the beds.

We are trying to be as biological as possible with our fruit trees and not spray or use chemicals in any way.

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Heirloom Fruit Trees Planted on the Homestead

We replanted the fruit trees today in our home orchard.We planted three apples, two pears and a peach tree.

These trees replace those that died of old age and those that we lost in the high ground water flooding during the time period of 2009-2012. This extended time of flooding was  very rough time for us on our homestead. Living through the flooding and the stress that comes from the uncertainty of losing one’s home and has given me a much greater sense of how farmers and growers who live off the land must feel during bud killing frosts, drought, flooding, wildfires and so on.

Gene from front tree going in hole

Gene removing a fruit trees from its container.

We want to grow organic fruit without a lot of chemical sprays so we started this journey by reading The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips. Published by Chelsea green, The Holistic Orchard is a seminal work that is being compared with Sir Albert Howard and J.L. Rodale’s classic books on soil and organic gardening.

HORS triangle of dirt and trees waiting

 One of two large growing beds filled with manure, straw and our homemade compost.

After deciding that I wanted to grow heirloom trees  I found a source of heritage fruit trees at Southmeadow Fruit Gardens, Baroda, MI.,  which is located about an hour from our home. I found I was over whelmed by the numerous choices and I just didn’t know which one would do best in our area. After several e-mail conversations with the owner of the business  I placed an order for “Pete’s Picks.”

Pete choose the following trees species for us as the best choice for our soil, light and wind conditions;

1) Tohuky (fugi)
2) Court Pen Do Plat
3) Perry Russet

 

Cart horizontal

Our garden cart was used to hold our mix of manure, compost and waste straw.

I also bought two Barlette pears and one Red Haven Peach from Jonker’s Garden Center, Holland, MI, a very respected nursery. I figure that I am hedging my bets by buying and planting three heritage species and two others known to do well in this geographic area.

Jobes Fruit Tree Spikes

We added Jobes fruit tree fertilizer; two spikes per tree.

OUR TREE CRITERIA:

  1. Semi-dwarfs (10-15 ft. in height)
  2. Self-pollinating trees
  3. Heritage tree varities
  4. Varities that require the least amount of chemicals possible

OUR SITE:

We have flat land, lean and sandy soil and frequent droughts here on our SW Michigan homestead. We are working with a site that is sunny with some shade created by our home and several nearby large White Oak trees. We are located 17 miles inland from Lake Michigan and the heavy winds off the big lake can sometime blow down the roadway in front of our home so our site can be very windy at times.

The planting bed location was chosen both for the amount of sun the site provided but also to create a bit more of a buffer from the class AA roadway that runs in front of our home.

Following the principles outlined in the Holistic Garden we planted our trees in a large triangle combining a Permaculture fruit guild theory with underplantings of comfrey as a deep-rooted nitrogen fixer.  Later on we will add native lupines, chives, daffodils and yarrow.

We are both very tired today….but it is the satisfied kind of tired from a job well done. I know only Gene is photographed in these pictures, but I work side by side with him all the way. We are a team.

The next step will be to pick up a truck load of bark chips to use as a mulch on both beds.

In about three years we will picking our own fruit right from our own trees. ALL organic!

Small House Homesteader and gardener, Donna