Our orchard is only a handful of trees, one of many ways that it is different from larger commercial ones. We are homesteaders, not farmers, and our goals are less about production than simply being able to grow some healthy trees that will eventually bear fruit. Since we are operating on a very small scale, we have the freedom to experiment with some permaculture ideas. Click here for an earlier post on this.
|A fruit tree and companion plants|
A swale is one of many ideas of permaculture, and last year I dug one, click here for the post. The fill has settled in; branches, rotting logs, leaves, and raked-up forest litter, and the swale now serves as a pathway. Beneath the surface, decaying organic matter absorbs water from heavy rains and winter snowfall. The moisture then leaches gradually into the soil to benefit the fruit trees.
Last year I planted some aromatics and bee-attracting plants; lemon balm, lemon catnip, feverfew, anise hyssop, bee balm, and some comfrey and daffodils. In the berm (raised edge) of the swale I planted yarrow.
This year, I’ve added two shrubs; a highbush cranberry, and a red twig dogwood. These, along with the aromatics are intended to encourage birds, butterflies, and beneficial insects. Biodiversity is a concept of permaculture that is largely unknown in commercial orchards.
|A new Red Twig Dogwood shrub|
The shrubs create a new canopy layer. Canopy layers are a permaculture idea about mimicking the different heights of plants in the forest. The flowers, the shrubs, and the fruit trees create three distinct layers of vegetation due to the differing heights of the plants. The sixty foot tall oak tree in the center of the orchard is a fourth canopy layer.
The orchard was fitted into an area in the woods, and there are signs that the soil is trying to revert back to forest. Ferns are doing their best to take over, and much of the ground is becoming unworkable after all of my hard work with a grub hoe. It’s a struggle to get the forest to back off. The forest and cultivation appear to be two wildly different habitats.
|The comfrey is flowering|
To help condition the soil I tossed out sorghum and Canadian field pea seeds, which I had done last year also. This year I also seeded some Dutch white clover, and some going-to-seed dandelions. And planted some clumps of day lilies. I added a few food plants: chives, perennial onions, some asparagus, and some turnip seeds. Which of these will thrive is a guess.
Lime is essential for converting the acidic forest floor into an environment that is sweeter and more friendly to cultivated plants, and has been liberally applied, as well as wheel barrow loads of organic cow manure.
There’s lots going on there. Who would have thought that forest to farm is such a tough proposition? More on this as things progress... -jmm