A well cared-for, productive orchard can be a thing of great beauty as well as a source of food and possible income. As fruit trees are generally long-lived, it makes sense to plan and plant your orchard properly so that you can enjoy its benefits for many years.
There are certain considerations common to all types of orchard, regardless of whether you’re planning on setting up traditional rows of trees or a stacked, permaculture guild. These include choosing the correct site, selecting trees to suit your local conditions and irrigation.
Choosing the site for your orchard
In the five-zone system used in permaculture, orchards are usually sited in Zone Two*. Chooks and other poultry are considered Zone Two critters and do very well in orchards, keeping pests under control and eating windfall and diseased fruit.
In a perfect world, your site will slope gently and face north or west. Don’t plant in gullies or other low-lying areas that are prone to heavy frosts. Your site will be sheltered from wind and close enough to the house to be easily accessible by foot.
If you’re setting up a commercial orchard, it should have easy vehicle access. The soil will be a well-drained loam with no subsoil hardpans and you’ll have ready access to a water source for irrigation.
If you don’t have enough land to devote to a separate orchard, you can incorporate fruit trees into shelter or landscape plantings – we have plums interplanted with manuka on the western border of our vege garden.
Large-scale shelter plantings for commercial orchards should ideally be 20 metres away from the first row of fruit trees.
Although it’s fun to experiment with different varieties, trees can be expensive so it pays to maximise their chances of surviving and thriving in your local conditions. Have a look at what does well on neighbouring properties to get some idea.
Approach your local tree nursery for advice on pollinators and, while you’re at it, join the local branch of the New Zealand Tree Crops Association.
Members have a vast amount of knowledge and experience and there are often opportunities to source rare, heritage varieties that people have propagated themselves. It’s well worth the membership fee.
Planting and care
Winter is the time to plant deciduous fruit trees. Citrus should be planted in autumn or spring.
Grass is the biggest enemy of young trees. Grass roots exude a toxin that inhibits tree growth, so it’s important to keep grass under control.
Some people do this with herbicides but if you’d rather go spray-free and don’t mind some elbow grease, you can sow heavy plantings of spring-flowering bulbs at the base of the tree. The foliage dies down by summer so there’s a grass-free area under trees in fruit.
Some people sow clover and/or herbal ley mixes in their orchards to attract bees and predator insects.
Even if you live somewhere that traditionally gets regular rainfall over summer, it’s wise to make provisions for irrigating your orchard. It only takes one drought to kill your trees and set you back to square one.
RX Plastics produces a standard K-Line™ system adapted specifically for orchards. A pop-up sprinkler with a low-angle trajectory avoids foliage irrigation, helping to prevent fungal and disease infestations.
With three sizes of pipe and four sprinkler nozzle sizes, you can customise your system to meet your orchard’s specific needs. And, being fully portable, you can remove the system when it’s harvest time and use it somewhere else on your block.
The patented K-Line Karousel™ was designed specifically for row crops, so is ideal for commercial orchards.
*Zones are determined by the amount of energy required to maintain them, so labour-intensive vege gardens are considered Zone One and are generally sited by the house, while woodlots, once established, are low maintenance and can be situated further away in Zone Four.
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