Backyard Orchard Culture: Designing Fruit Tree Quartets

The whole idea behind the Backyard Orchard Culture method is to prune trees so that they produce an extended harvest of manageable quantities of fresh fruit rather than one really big harvest all at once. This is achieved by planting trees with different ripening times and keeping them small through aggressive but thoughtful pruning that includes annual summer pruning.
The Backyard Orchard Culture method was developed by Dave Wilson Nursery of Central California. It encompasses and encourages all manner of high-density fruit growing: hedgerow, multi-planting, combo trees, Belgium fence, espalier training and more.
Dave Wilson puts out a ton of useful info on this technique, including numerous videos showing how to plant, prune, etc. Their latest videos are of a new Backyard Orchard Culture style demonstration project. If you are interested in this style of orcharding, it is worth watching their videos. I am particularly partial to the “Part 2″ Video, which discusses the initial pruning of fruit trees after planting.
Backyard Orchard Culture Demo Part 1

Backyard Orchard Culture Demo Part 2

As I talked about a few days ago, in our own backyard we have focused on the multi-planting technique and have 5 “quartets” of trees planted about 18″ apart in 5′x5′ raised beds.
By reader request, here are the quartets I devised for my mini-orchard north of Seattle, based on staggered ripening, compatible rootstocks and other desirable characteristics like disease resistance and flavor. All but two trees were ordered from Raintree Nursery. The month following the tree variety is the expected ripening time based on the info in the Raintree catalogue.
European Plum Quartet (all trees on Mariana 2624 rootstock):
I had to make some last minute substitutions to my plum trees after Raintree sold out of the very late October ripener – Coe’s Golden Drop – I wanted, but I still managed to get a nice variety with a ripening spread of 4-6 weeks.
Imperial Epineuse – late-August. Purple prune-type.
Seneca – early-September. Large fresh-eating type.
Schoolhouse – mid-September. Yellow prune-type.
Golden Transparent – late-September. Gage type.
Sweet Cherry Quartet (all trees on Gisela 5 rootstock):
Ripening time for cherries as listed in the Raintree catalogue is vague. Early, main and late season was the best I could do. I expect these varieties represent a 6-8 week ripening spread from late June through August.
Lapin – late season
Black Gold – main season
Hudson – main season
Early Burlat – early season

Apple Quartet #1 (all trees on M26 rootstock):
Disease resistance was a huge factor in apple selection. Our existing apples, including Akane, were already filling the early to -mid-September slot for fresh eating. After we filled the rest of the “main season”fresh eating slots, we picked several other late varieties for their long-keeping qualities.
Williams Pride – early August
Sansa – late August
Honeycrisp – September – mid-October
Brown Russet – October, keeps through spring
Apple Quartet #2 (all trees on M26 rootstock and picked for disease resistance):
The apples were divided between the two quartets based on scion (fruit wood) vigor. Different varieties on identical rootstocks will show more or less growth based on the inherent vigor of the scion. We assigned the eight apple trees to their group based on the rootstock and tree spacing chart in the Raintree catalog, which shows the final size the trees will attempt to achieve on various rootstocks.
Rebella – late September – early October
Belmac – late September, keeps through winter
Liberty - early October
Karmijin de Sonnnaville – mid-October, keeps through winter

Pear Quartet (OHxF x 333 and OHxF 97):
We were not able to get these varieties on identical rootstocks, and one – Rescue as I recall – is on OHxF 97).
Ubileen – early August
Orcas – early September
Rescue – September, keeps through December
Conference – October, keeps though January
I’m very excited to see how this method of orcharding does. As always, I’ll keep you posted.

Comments

  1. I really wish I had known about this 2 years ago before we planted our orchard. Unfortunately we don't have any more room to try it out.

    Instead I am putting new trees in the same holes as existing similar trees. I guess it's a similar effect, but you don't keep them pruned a specific way.

  2. excellent info! we just planted our first apple tree (a four way graphing) — fruit trees are new to us and it was difficult at first to wrap my head around shelling out $50 for what looked like a stick! we're following all the organic rules and it;s gonna kill me to prune off the bits that can lead to apples this first year and encourage vertical growth only … next, i want a fig tree!

    Your blog is very helpful. we're still doing the cast iron pork chops whenever we can get them from our friendly, local salchierro (sp?).

  3. For us less knowledgeable folks, explain the rootstock thing, pretty please. It is greek to me.

  4. Wow, looks fantastic! We are also practicing the backyard orcharding method – but in our front yard! we have nectarines chosen with successive harvest, and then citrus with two of the trees being tangerines that ripen at different times of the year. We also have figs, but there was no info on when each variety ripens, so I'm just going to have to see when – so far only one of my figs is bearing, so I'm assuming that's the early variety!

    As usual, great post!

    @Chris- You want to pick a rootstock that does well in your soil area/type, and for this method its best to have all four trees on the same rootstock, though I believe you don't have to have them all on the same rootstock.

  5. Thanks, Erica! I'm probably going to be ordering your apple #1 and plum quartets … it might be a little late for this year… I'll call Raintree and see what they say …thanks ever so much for doing the research and sharing!

  6. New to your blog, I never heard of such a thing as planting trees that close together. Thanks for this post and the videos…look forward to learning more here!

  7. Love it. Now I'm wishing I had grouped more than just the pluots…
    (and thanks for the link!)

  8. Thanks for this – we're contemplating fruit trees – maybe next year. This system seems so great!

  9. We are also trying out this "backyard" (front for us) intensive techinque, down here in Portland. I didn't see the bit about pruning down at planting, though, so thanks for pointing that out. We planted two groups of three instead of four — because the areas are not in 100% sun, some of the trees would have blocked each other as a quartet. Varieties are (all from One Green World):

    Apples: Wynooche (early), Liberty (Sept), Calville Blanc D'Hiver (Oct)

    Cherries: Lapins, Rainier, Coe's Transparent

    I also thought about doing this with hazelnuts, but it turns out they are grown on native rootstock and not grafted. Plus they supposedly grow as a medium-sized suckering bush anyway, so I went with two varieties (Eta and Jefferson) planted about 3-4' apart but not in the same hole.

  10. Also, if folks are planting a bunch of fruit trees, I encourage you to check out Burnt Ridge Nursery, also in Washington. They're more of a wholesaler so the plants tend to be a bit younger and the catalog is no-frills, but the prices are excellent. If you're buying a lot, $15 per tree vs. $25 at Raintree makes a big difference.

    http://www.burntridgenursery.com/

  11. What is your spacing between the raised bed? Great pictures! I'm learning all I can about this method, as we plan to put our orchard in for 2012.

  12. I am dying to know how your quartets are doing now. Could you do a post with pictures??

  13. Interesting, thanks for sharing your list,

    Doesnt Gisela5 rootstock a bit weak to plant several in the same hole ? It is a dward/semi-dwarf rootstock not very vigorous by itself

  14. Any update to your orchard?

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