Backyard Orchard Culture: A Mini-Orchard In The Making

About a month ago, I talked about our plans to attempt the high-density fruit growing method called Backyard Orchard Culture
Well, plans have become reality and the mini-orchard is planted!
A few weeks ago our bare-root trees came from Raintree Nursery. A box arrived that was about the size of me. I was very excited to see the delivery at the front door, but my first thought was: how in the world did they fit 20 trees in that box?

Masterful packing, that’s how:

All the trees were bundled together and packed tight with shredded catalog pages. The roots were well packed with moist shredded paper and wrapped in plastic.

Every tree was labeled and my order was accurate.

I designed the orchard by thinking about my trees in groups of four. I ordered 1 group of plums, 1 group of European pears, 1 group of sweet cherries and 2 groups of apples. Each quartet was designed to have staggered ripening time and compatible (ideally the same) root stock. In the case of the apples, scion vigor was also considered. The more vigorous varieties are grouped together and the less vigorous are grouped together.

After the trees arrived, I collected the four trees that made up each grouping and heeled them in until I could get them in the ground.

When I was ready to plant, I hammered a central tree stake into each of our prepared 5′x5′ tree beds and planted a quartet in a square around each stake. I left 18″ or so between the trees. Before the trees leaf out too much I’ll tie them all in to the stake. My theory is that the trees will pull against the stake in all directions relatively evenly, so one stake should support the whole group.

I labeled each tree with its variety on a permanent tree label (ask me how I know that you really, really need to do this right away after planting) and cut each of the trees off about 18″ off the ground. It is a curious feeling to pay a lot of money for what are, essentially, fancy sticks and then, once you have stuck those sticks in the ground, to cut them off at the knee. We had friends for dinner over the weekend and I think they found our “orchard” of sticks less than terribly impressive.

Final result: mini-orchard!

One of my readers, Lily Girl, put up a post on her blog about her Backyard Orchard (although in her case I think it was more Frontyard Orchard). She shows some great photos of how they conceptualized and laid out their orchard.
Right now my newly planted stuff is just breaking bud, but our established fruit trees are blossoming beautifully. The Asian pears are particularly gorgeous right now, but one of the columnar apples just started to pop its baby pink blossoms and will be stunning in a week. What about you? How’s your orchard growing? Are you seeing lots of blossoms and lots of bees?

Comments

  1. We had rain so late this year I fear some our trees will have pathetic harvests. That said, it's nice to see them as trees now rather than the sticks they were 2 years ago when we planted them.

  2. I had (and still have) the hardest time pruning anything in our garden….yes I know it needs to be done, yes I know it's best for getting good fruit, but darn it! It's SOOOO hard to cut something that is alive!
    Good luck with your backyard orchard…and don't forget to post pics when they are leafed out!

  3. Our apple trees from Raintree are due today!!! As we are renters they are going into very large pots. They are joining the cherry tree, hazelnut bushes and blueberries in our front yard garden/orchard.
    Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. We've seen buds on our trees (leaves) and a few bumble bees, but no honey bees. I doubt I'll see any honey bees this year. Last year I saw only a handfull all year.

    I for one can imagine the trees growing together. That's going to take far more pruning ability than I have. I let my trees do just about whatever they want. I've researched it and found myself less than proficient.

  5. Sweet! Love the mini orchard, but what do you do when the trees get bigger? I know nothing about mini orchards, but it looks way cool. We have 4 apple trees and one is popping blossoms out. Our only other fruit tree is a fig tree, but I want to add pear, plum and cherry trees too. Our ornamental cherry trees are gorgeous right now with blooms. I've seen a few bees buzzing about lately.

  6. We are in Atlanta, so we have a long growing season. Our fruit trees are getting mixed reviews this spring. Loads of bees, including honey bees, which we have not seen in a while. (Don't cut your clover folks!) Our pear tree is always loaded and has tons of blossoms. Our 1 year old Granny Smith has a lot of blossoms. The other new fruit trees are not blossoming as well. Not sure why. I wish I had known about the mini orchard concept last year. It would have changed the way we planted. Good luck!

  7. Could you tell us what trees made up the quartets? I look at the Raintree site and get totally overwhelmed…but I'm in Shelton, WA …so if it works for you it will probable work here… big request, I know… hoping you're OK with it…

  8. Deb – working on a post to answer your question right now. Thank you for the suggestion.

  9. Good luck with your mini-orchard. One of these days you'll have some pretty amazing fruit! I put mine in over about a 5 year period. I've been harvesting apples and figs for several years. The apricots and plums came online last year. The apriums will produce some this year and in the future I'll have pomegranates, pineapple guava and persimmons. Combined with my grapes, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and potted lemon and orange, I've pretty much got year-round fruit from the backyard. I hope you are as successful!

    http://www.urbanagroecology.org

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