Poison-Free Secrets to 10X Your Orchard Harvest
10X Your Orchard
You want to grow an orchard. You want LOTS of fruit and you want it fast. If you take the right steps in the right order, you can harvest a literal TON of fruit out of your own backyard and you don’t need to start with 100s of trees.
Diversity is the key
First thing is that you want to have a diverse backyard planting. Don’t plant all of one type of fruit and don’t start with 100 of them.
Take peaches for example. Peach orchards are one of the highest poison spraying orchards around. I mean, if you planted a hundred peach trees, I would want to hang out in your backyard, and every pest in your neighborhood will as well.
But, in an orchard where peaches are scattered around, like our backyard, we can handle all the pest and disease issues very simply.
So, pick a few different fruits that you’d like to try and create a few sets of three. Two sets of three different types of trees is even better and a great place to start. If trees overwhelm you start with a few shrubs, but make it three different types of shrubs.
Here are a few ideas to start with for cold climates:
Pear, Peach, Sour Cherry
Apple, Plum, Mulberry
Blueberry, Cornelian Cherry, Honeyberry
Pick a few companion plants to grow with the main plants.
- Comfrey is a great companion plant that grows quickly and helps smother weeds.
- Siberian peashrub is a slow growing, nitrogen fixing plant that will help feed your trees and shrubs naturally while giving you winter food that chickens really enjoy.
- Sea Berries are fabulous for eating, jelly and nitrogen fixing for your other plants.
- Juneberries and honeyberries do very nicely around other trees and shrubs and do better than most small shrubs with encroaching grasses.
Try adding a companion plant or two and see how they do. Learn how to grow the small group of trees. Get comfortable with what grows well in your area. This will take you from book knowledge to hands-on wisdom.
There are a few things you can do that will help ensure long term success in your orchard. Contrary to popular belief, birds in the orchard are a very good thing. Many of them eat pests both in your trees and on the ground.
Install a bird feeder or two and try different types of feed for your area. Grow sunflowers. The blue jays will flock to them as both perches and for food. Jays are excellent insect consumers.
Create bird houses and perches of different heights. Installing landing pads for owls and other large predators will help keep down the rodents (including squirrels) and rabbits. Adding in evergreen shrubbery and brush piles provides natural hiding spots for smaller birds.
Ensure the wildlife has a good supply of water. One of the reasons that animals like squirrels go after high water fruits is that they are lacking in available clean water.
Make sure that beneficial insects have places to hide. Scatter half bales of hay around your orchard and add in a few logs as these give insects places to live. Pollinators like bumble bees love the hay bales and mason bees appreciate logs as well. Beneficial wasps also benefit from these items.
Makes some reptile homes as toads, frogs and snakes are a boon to any orchard and garden. They eat insects and small rodents as their mainstay. You may not find them pretty, but they are beautiful for your backyard.
If you can, add in small animals like chickens. We love bantam breeds as they not only go for small insects like ticks, they are very good at catching plum curculio and stopping the spread of brown knot.
Ducks are an excellent choice if you have a pond or the time to make sure they have water as they will eat every snail and slug that exists in your garden. They’ll eat mosquito larvae. And they’re pretty darn cool to hang out with too. There’s a saying that you don’t have a snail/slug problem, you have a lack of duck problem.
Geese are excellent mowers and will leave your trees alone. No worrying about the weed wacker hitting your trees as the mowing will be done for you.
Once your trees are out of reach for them, you can add in larger animals like sheep and cows. Avoid goats as they will strip the bark from any tree they can. Pigs are good with any tree but peaches. We found this out the hard way. They love peach trees and will girdle young ones.
Poisons are not the answer
Many people see an insect or spot a disease and their first thought is to spray something poisonous. Please don’t.
The reason there is an insect or disease is that there is an imbalance somewhere. By spraying a poison you may solve the immediate issue, but you are not solving the underlying issue.
Observe the issue. Research the cause. Look to resolve the problem before attacking it.
For example, Japanese beetles are an issue for growers of fruits, especially raspberries and grapes. Our original raspberry plantings were over run with these nasties the first couple years. BUT…we didn’t panic and we didn’t spray.
An old farmer up the road told us some very important information, see there is a parasitic wasp that lays it’s eggs on the backs of Japanese beetles. These larvae then consume the beetle and hatch many more wasps. If they are allowed to grow without poisoning the beetle, they will handle all the Japanese beetle control you need.
Maybe you don’t want to lose your raspberries and grapes while this happens. Ok, that’s understandable. You can do a couple things. Try planting some rosa rugosa. See, they like roses better than raspberries or grapes. This make it easy to keep them in one spot.
The Japanese beetles with the parasitic wasps in them have white dots on their backs. This is good to know and easy to see. Take a bucket of water with a touch of soap in it and once a day go collect the beetles that have no white dots. This will be most of them.
Within a couple of years you will have very few beetles and they will be controlled by the wasps.
For most everything in your backyard orchard, there is a natural solution. By observing and avoiding poison, you will be able to grow your orchard faster and harvest more fruit in less time.
some important notes...
When starting your orchard, choosing the most disease resistant, cold-hardy trees and plants will give you a leg up on the average backyard orchard.
Comfrey is a huge part of our initial install of any fruit trees and you can read more about why we do this at Comfrey in the Permaculture Orchard.
One of the tools that we use with much success in our orchard and our annual garden is Garlic Barrier Not only is it a natural fungicide and a predator deterrent, we have found that leaves are greener and general plant health is improved with its use.
If you have a specific issue or question, please reach out to us. We enjoy assisting backyard growers with choosing the right varieties for their situations and troubleshooting any issues you might run into.
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