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

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

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