Monday, February 15, 2010


Several readers asked for more information about how I organized the orchard out front. In response, I've put together a few ideas that I'm testing out and resources where I found information. As I mentioned in my last tree-oriented post, this orchard is an experiment, one that will have some successes and failures from which I hope I can learn to be able to organically grow a large variety of fruit in the space I have available.

(First, please excuse the mess. My entire yard has been and will continue to be in overhaul mode for the next couple years as we turn this place into our own version of paradise. Right now, there are shrubs that still need to be pulled out, flags on each sprinkler, sprays of orange marker on the lawn, piles of dug out turf, and general disorder: the dirty laundry of gardening.)

Here are a few pictures of the very front part of yard, where I've planted my apricots, peaches, nectarines, and cherries.

As you can see, with the exception of one planting, there are two trees planted together about 20-24" apart. I've cut the trees down to just above knee height to encourage low branching, and if there were any branches on the side of the tree facing the other tree, I removed them. I'll continue to prune the branches on the insides away so that, looking down on the trees, each will become a semi-circular tree. Eventually, as they grow, they should look like one large bush, rather than two separate plants. I plan to keep the trees at around 8' tall, which will require both winter and summer pruning. Right now the "beds" for each pairing are small, but I'll build them up as the trees grow in order to match the trees' expanding root systems. Each bed is approximately 10' away from the next.

Some things I kept in mind when planting:

  • I built a chicken wire bucket for each planting to protect the central root balls from the scourge of gophers.
  • When possible, I paired trees that were grafted on to the same kind of rootstock.
  • However, cross-pollination trumped rootstock, so if the trees were likely to bloom at the same time and pollinate each other, I paired them.
  • I planted trees on an east-west axis so that no tree would be stuck on the north side and overly shaded.
  • I did not amend the soil in the holes as trees have a better long-term success rate if planted in native soil; the tree won't reach a wall as it grows beyond rich amended soil in the planting hole and shockingly meets the "real world." Instead, I mulched the area with well-rotted manure, protecting and fertilizing the whole area from above.

Last year, in another part of the front yard, I planted apples individually. These trees are approximately 8' apart. I'm carefully training these trees to be small and horizontally branched so that the fruit will be reachable. This is a view from above of the Golden Russet.

As you can see, the tree is small, but has branches radiating in all directions. When there have been too many small branches in one direction, I've pruned them off. Following this guideline, I'll probably need to prune off one of the branches that is growing toward the top of this picture this summer. I've also (as you may see in the picture) weighed branches down with rocks to help train the branches to be more horizontal than vertical. This should help produce more even fruit-set, and, according to some literature, help apple trees grow more healthily in this warm climate.

And finally, a tree in Plumville, a third area of my front yard. (It's a really big front yard, folks. There's a rose garden too!)

This is a Bavay's Green Gage, and it is the center tree in a line of three trees, each approximately 10' apart. These trees have a little more space, so I didn't make their initial cut quite as low when I planted them. The crotch (hee hee, I just wrote crotch) of the tree is about 2 1/2' high. As I mentioned in the previous post, two of the three trees are Asian plums and can pollinate each other, but one is a European plum and will have better fruit set if I can provide another variety for cross-pollination. Below, you can see a close-up of one of the branches on which I've tried a cleft graft of an Italian prune.

I cut one branch and split it, pared the scionwood down to a wedge shape, and stuck the wedge in the split, trying to line up the cambium layers as well as I could. I then tightly, tightly wound the whole thing with parafilm, including the entire piece of scionwood, and used a rubber band to wind around and hold everything in place. I tried this on three different branches. I hope at least one takes.

I hope this answers the questions that people have asked. Please feel free to fire more questions away.


A few annotated resources on pruning, grafting, and home orchards:

CRFG shares Dave Wilson's approach: Here is a write-up of the approach the fruit tree company Dave Wilson recommends for home orchards. It also includes another link to diagrams of high density orchard layouts. Although Dave Wilson is clearly trying to sell as many trees as possible, and I hesitate to take the company's suggestions as completely practical, I know enough people who have succeeded with this approach using organic methods to try a version of it myself. Because I have space available, I'm giving my trees more space than the company recommends for high density planting.
Grafting Dormant Deciduous Fruit Scions, Idell Weydemeyer, Golden Gate CRFG: This is a practical handout explaining what trees are able to be grafted to each other. While the actual process of grafting receives scanty explanation here, the other information is very helpful.
How to Prune Fruit Trees, by R. Sanford Martin: I love this little book, first published in 1944. It explains how to prune everything, and it's easy to use and personable.
Fruitwise apple grafting videos: Many thanks to Patrick from Bifurcated Carrots for leading me to this excellent collection of podcasts on heirloom apple culture, including how-tos on many types of grafting.


Sarah said...

Wow. Gardeners are so inspiring to me in their industry and patience. Me, I get impatient waiting for my weekly Farm Hands delivery!

Gina said...

Thanks! It is helpful to see photos. And your yard does not look like a mess at all in my eyes. Those trees are going to be so beautiful in a year or two when they all blossom in the spring. Our peach tree is covered in flowers right now and I love to just go out and stare at it.

Linda Dove said...

I wish you could come minister to my ailing orchard at the ranch in Arizona. I had grand visions. Once. Sigh.

Christina said...

Sarah: Is it industry and patience or obsession? Hmmm, tough call.

Gina: I'm glad that helps. I can imagine that your tree is beautiful, and I can't wait until my trees are in that stage.

L-to-the-D: Sigh. I'm sorry. Maybe sometime I can head over and help you prune them into shape? I'm a pretty fearless pruner.

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Ah, orchards! I'm trying to educate myself about this subject, for my tiny garden in Oakland.

michelle said...

You have such a lovely space for growing fruit trees, you orchard is going to be fabulous! I know of one gardener in San Jose who uses the Dave Wilson intensive method, 4 trees together, and it has worked very well for her. I was reluctant to try it in my garden since it's so difficult to keep plants adequately watered and fed with my soil. I do plan on keeping the trees compact with summer pruning. CRFG is a great resource, the website is loaded with great information.

the good soup said...

I keep getting sidetracked by your links! Now I'm in your orchard and it's so exciting seeing it's beginnings. I'm a gardener too, but am yet to blog about it. And I'm in a subtropical part of the world (Brisbane, Australia) so I can only yearn for the pommes and stonefruit you can experiment with. I stick mostly to citrus, and there's not a bit of my 700sq m block left to plant one in. I've been thinking of heading into an industrial site somewhere close by, cheap rent (or buy? in my dreams?) and regenerating it for the citrus orchard of my dreams...

the good soup said...

Wow, tracking back through your links in your latest post, I just found my first comment on your blog! Funny to see myself then.