Historic Lamon Orchard in Yosemite National Park
When my husband and I began our homestead, the very first thing we wanted to get started on right away was our orchard. Trees take longer to mature and produce than gardens do, so it is tops on the priority list when adding them to your property. We only have 2 acres to work with so prior planning, in order to utilize every square foot to its utmost, is advantageous for us in our homesteading adventure. We wanted a wonderful orchard where we could take a short, lazy afternoon stroll or sit on a bench in and enjoy the cool summer shade, and sip some iced tea while taking in our beautiful view of the valley below us.
After careful consideration, we chose to use a quarter of an acre in the farthest rear corner of our property where sun and space for the entire orchard is optimal. Location is important, as fruit and nut trees can be messy when not fully harvested during maturity, attracts birds, and provides windblock and shade. The worst place to plant any fruit or nut tree is near your driveway or where you park your car, unless you like washing your car frequently.
Simple soil test kits can be purchased through garden specialty stores online. It's important to know your soil and its acidity or alkaline level. Lime or other products might need to be incorporated into the soil for optimal growing conditions when necessary. This is an important step that should be done prior to any planting. Be sure to check what the optimal acidity or alkaline level need is for each of your trees.
How many trees?:
Some fruit and nut trees are self-pollenating, whereas others are not. This has to be taken into consideration when deciding how small or large you want your orchard to be since some trees will require planting 2 of each instead of one in order to cross-pollenate. How much land you have available to use and tree spacing will also be factors. We went with 35 fruit and 2 nut trees for the quarter acre we designated for our orchard. Some trees might not survive long enough to become established so planting a few extra never hurts.
Know Your Zone:
Determine what kind of fruit and nut trees will grow well for your planting zone. This can easily be done by checking with your local nursery or home improvement garden store. Most local stores only sell what will grow well in its zone, but when ordering online or through mail order it's up to you to know which zone you are in and if the trees you choose will work in your particular zone.
We chose Bing cherries, Windsor cherries, plums, standard size peaches, dwarf peaches, Bartlett pears, Red Delicious apples, McIntosh apples, nectarines, and Black Walnut trees. The main thing is to plant what you like and will eat, because once the trees begin to produce, you will have a lot of it!
Unless you don't mind or want to regularly water your orchard manually, consider investing in and self-installing an underground irrigation system like we did. For us to water our entire orchard requires the simple turning of one valve situated on our home's exterior water spigot. Irrigation systems require preplanning and installation prior to planting.
A cheaper way to keep your trees watered without as much effort as manual watering is to use large drip buckets. Drip buckets can be made by drilling a low, small hole into the side of each bucket and placing the water-filled bucket next to the tree. The hole should only be big enough to allow for a steady, constant water drip. Any type of bucket that will hold water can be used. Large white utility buckets work great for this.
Once you know what kind of trees you want, how many, and the general location of where you want your orchard:
(Prior to any digging, contact your local gas, electric, and water company to have them come out and survey where you plan to dig to ensure there are no underground lines in your planned digging location. Failure to do so can result in fines.)
Stake off the area and mark the ground where each tree will be planted. If you plan on installing an underground irrigation system, planting them in rows works best.
Installing the irrigation system is the next step if that is the route in which you wish to go. For this you need a trencher to dig the lines where the pipe will be laid. Utilize the trencher for also digging the planting holes, it'll save time and effort. Your irrigation system should extend to each tree to ensure proper watering.
After your holes are dug deep enough, plant each tree making sure to cover all roots when filling back in with soil. Insert a stake deep into the ground next to each tree and tie the trees to them using twine. Give each tree base a thorough initial watering.
Continue watering regularly according to each tree's needs, taking into consideration weather. Skip watering when it rains.
Caring For Your Trees:
Insects and worms can reek havoc on some fruit and nut trees. Birds will take advantage of the 'free' groceries too if allowed. There are many various ways you can prevent these things from happening and how you go about it, organically or inorganically, is according to personal preference. Research online common pest problems in fruit trees in your geographical area.
Scarecrows and tree netting can help keep birds at bay. Tree netting can be purchased through garden specialty stores locally, online, or mail order catalog. When creating and making a scarecrow, the more humanlike it appears and 'moves' in the breeze, the more effective it will be although there is no guarantee it will work at all. Some birds are immune to scarecrows and ignore them. There are other tools out there on the market as well. Take advantage of whatever works for you.
Bug sprays come in various types. Research what will work best for you. Organic or not, use them regularly according to manufacturers directions to keep your trees healthy and as bug and disease free as possible.
Regularly check the health of your young seedlings. If you come across one that is unhealthy or infested and it won't respond to any treatment you provide, remove and dispose of it right away to prevent your other trees from being affected by it. Replace it with a fresh, healthy seedling. Some nurseries offer a free replacement guarantee, take advantage of it when necessary.
It will take a few years before your trees reach maturity. Some might produce fruit sooner than others. Our dwarf peaches and Bartlett pears produced small fruit after the first year. Nut trees take the longest, anywhere between 5 to 15 years. Patience is key. Enjoy tending to and watching your beautiful orchard grow, knowing that in just a few short years you will reap its benefits for a long time to come!
Until next time...Happy Homesteading!
Historic Lamon Orchard in Yosemite National Park