This last week I reached an important milestone in my life-long dream of establishing an orchard… I bought a SCHWACK of plants! So far, I have ordered 150 Raspberries, 200 Strawberries, 26 Cherry trees/bushes, 6 Pear trees, 6 Apricot trees, 19 Plum trees, 10 Siberian Pea Tree (that’s a fancier name for caraganas!), 5 Seabuckthorn, 10 Hazelberts, 4 Grapevines, 4 Kiwi vines, 6 Gooseberries, 2 Jostaberries, 8 Blueberries, 6 Lingonberries, and 3 Hazelnuts. I also plan to order 96 Haskaps and 20 Saskatoons before the end of the year. If I did my math right, that’s a total of 581 plants!
Now of course, those plants won’t arrive until sometime this spring, but arrive they will!… ready or not! So there is one part of me that is almost giddy with excitement – and another part that is wondering “What in the world have I done!? How will I plant and care for 581 plants this spring!?” To be honest, there is some concern that I may have bitten off more than I can chew.
However, I do have a plan! I am the personality type that will research extensively and then make a comprehensive and detailed plan before ever taking a step – so for me to make the conclusive decision of purchasing all these plants, I do feel confident that I know what I’m getting into! (Although I’m not sure my wife is convinced yet…)
So what my plan? I’m glad you asked!
Beside our house, I have measured out an orchard area of 230′ x 400′ – which works out to be about 2 acres. This is where I plan to plant all these trees and bushes… and perhaps a few more! Last fall I bought nearly 3000′ of 4ft welded utility fence which will enclose the area with an 8′ fence, so hopefully, the deer won’t be be able to turn my orchard into their personal all-you-can-eat buffet!
I’ve always been inclined towards the odd and unusual when it comes to growing things and I’m always eager to try new plants or new methods of growing. So my plan may seem a little bit different from what you might see in a regular orchard – but let me show you my plan and then I’ll explain WHY I’m doing WHAT I’m doing.
Here is my plan!
Yes, that is a schwack of plants! And you might ask – why so many!? Well, if you read my last post, I mentioned that my initial goal for our orchard is to grow enough food for 5 families. This probably isn’t quite enough for that yet, but it’s a good start! There’s an old proverb that says “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago – the second best time is today!” So even though this will be a lot to take care of in the next couple years, I really want to get things started today!
Plus, I want to see what varieties grow exceptionally well in my particular location – so I’ve planted several different varieties of each type of fruit. For example, I’m planning for 8 different kind of plums, 12 varieties of haskap, 4 kinds of cherries, 3 types of pears, and so on… But I’d never know what grows best until I try growing it! So far, everything I’ve ordered is hardy to zone 3 or colder, but as my orchard expands, I’ll likely try some zone 4 things too.
You’ve probably noticed that I have some rows that are all one type of fruit (rows of raspberries, strawberries, haskaps, and saskatoons) and then there are a few mixed rows with all kinds of different fruit growing together. This is done for a reason.
Ideally, I would grow everything in mixed rows for the sake of soil health, pollination, moisture conservation, disease control, weed control (and I’ll talk about this in more detail in another post), but for some fruits, it just makes sense to keep them all together. For example, haskaps require netting to protect the berries from being devoured by the birds – so it makes sense not to interplant them with large trees! But whenever it makes sense, I plan to interplant different types of fruit trees, bushes, and a variety of other plants.
The other thing you might have noticed is that I plan to grow caragana (or Siberian Pea Trees!) in with all my fruit trees! For most prairie farmers, this seems like a crazy thing to do – caragana’s are almost weeds around here! They don’t provide fruit – so why would I grow them?
The reason why is because I want to limit (or even eliminate) the need to use chemical fertilizer, and so I intended to grow both caragana’s and seabuckthorn in my fruit rows because both of those are nitrogen-fixing trees. As nitrogen-fixers, they can take nitrogen out of the air and put it in the soil where my fruit trees can make use of it! To this end, I will be planting one caragana or seabuckthorn for every two fruit trees. This does take up some extra space and resources in the orchard, but I believe their benefits will outweigh their costs. Time will tell!
But that, in a nutshell, is my plan for my orchard. Of course, plans always change and we’ll see by next May how much we’ll have to adapt! But one thing is for sure – 581 plants are on their way and they’re going to need a home!
Anyone want to help plant a tree or two?