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A Personal Orchard

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There are few pleasures in life quite as sweet as picking a soft peach from your tree, biting into it still warmed from the sun, and feeling a taste explosion of sweetness and juice! Having your own mini orchard can provide you with shade trees and of course with great harvestable fruit every year. The great part about the fruit that your trees will yield is that it can be enjoyed fresh and can be preserved to provide you with orchard-fresh goodies throughout the year.

Who can’t appreciate the sweetest peach jams on warm scones on a chilly winter morning? Not only is it easy to process the bounty from your personal orchard, but you also may just be surprised at how much fruit your trees produce for you with only minimal care and supervision.

Before you hit the organic nurseries for several trees, there are some things that you need to give though to first. Get in touch with your local extension office in order to find out what fruits do particularly well in your zone. Your neighbor might have a dozen apple trees that are producing bushels of fruit every harvesting season, but it is important to know what variety they have. All too many gardeners have found out the hard way that the apple tree they have been trying to nurture just isn’t suited for their soil conditions and their overall climate.

When To Plant

The time of year that you plant your fruit trees is important, as with all plantings you do. All fruit trees require at least six months to establish a brand new root system before they can produce quality fruit. Ideally it would be best to allow your new tree a full year to establish a healthy root system. Depending on where you live, you will either want to plant in the early spring or fall.

Summer is considered to be a bad time of the year to plant new trees in general. This is because the extreme heat of summer can be incredibly stressful on a young transplanted tree. If you get the tree in the ground just after the ground has thawed, but before the temperatures rise to extremes, then you should give it plenty of time for its roots to settle before the temperatures rise.

Another option is to plant trees before the ground freezes in the winter, but a good time after the long warm days of summer. If the temperatures are too warm then your tree might get new growth before winter, which won’t allow it the time that it needs to establish new roots before winter sets in.

Where To Plant

The majority of fruit trees require full days of sun for the better part of the day. Another consideration is just how big the tree will get once it has fully matured. A standard-sized fruit tree may spread out as much as twenty feet, whereas a dwarf tree might only require up to ten feet of space for its limbs to expand. Measure out the minimum space requirement for your selected trees, and considering adding in an extra few feet so that the tree is not at all hindered in limb expansion a few years on down the line.

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Loose sandy loam that is rich in organic matter is the best choice for your new trees. If your soil leans towards compacted clay then you will need to loosen it up and remedy it with organic materials prior to planting the tree. Rocky soil is a poor choice for your trees.

Planting The Trees

It may seem as simple as digging a hole and sinking the tree into the hole, but there are actually a few things that you should be aware of.

  • The hole that you dig should be at least twice as wide as the spread of the tree’s roots, and one and a half times as deep as the length of the tree’s roots.
  • With quality pruning shears, you should prune your tree to remove any broken or dead roots from the tree’s root ball. You should also remove any broken or dead limbs from the tree.
  • Soak the tree’s roots in water for up to an hour.
  • Mix some compost inside of the hole and ensure that the tree’s roots are spread out as much as possible when you carefully lower the tree into the hole.
  • Replace the soil, carefully patting it down to avoid any air pockets.
  • Keep the tree moist but avoid over-watering, otherwise you could run the risk of root rot problems.

Whether you stake the tree using tree ties is entirely up to you. Very young saplings can definitely benefit from being staked, but a lot of tree experts say that staking the trees does not allow them to establish the deep roots that they need to sustain themselves.

Stakes will typically help to keep a young tree upright during windy weather, and help to ensure a nice straight trunk, but they can also take away from the tree’s ability to grow those extra strong roots that would otherwise be needed to hunker down in storms and windy weather.

During the first year you should allow the trees time to just establish a nice and strong root system, which may mean that you need to pinch off blossoms or small fruit when they start to appear on the tree. In the second year you should pick off half of the developed fruits so that the tree can focus on just a few fruit at a time. By the third and fourth years, your trees will be ready to produce incredible yields for you!

What Trees Are Right For You?

Naturally, you should only plant fruit trees that you happen to enjoy eating the bounty from. It makes little sense to plant a dozen peach trees just because they provide great shade if you don’t enjoy the taste of a warm, juicy, freshly picked peach!

There are some fruit trees that simply won’t grow in regions that have higher levels of humidity, just like there are some fruit trees that simply won’t tolerate cooler winters. Here are some of the best fruit trees for you to consider.

  • Apples. There are dozens of varieties of apples to choose from. Ensure that your pair yours up with the varieties that they will be able to best cross-pollinate with. Harvest when the color of the apples has deepened to the richest reds, greens, yellows, and so on. Some varieties are enjoyed fresh, while others are best used to make apple butters, pies, and dried apple rings. A lot of intrepid bakers have good luck creating large batches of pie filling and freezing them in perfect portions until they have the urge to throw together an orchard-fresh apple pie.
  • Pears. Pears also require a cross-pollinator, so be sure to do your homework before buying your trees. It can be tricky to tell when pears are ready for harvest, as some varieties are meant to remain firm when they are ripe. Harvested pears are a great choice for canning with a nice syrup. An interesting fact about pears is that ripening will slow down in the fridge, but if you place them in a bowl with bananas their ripening will speed up!
  • Peaches. Peaches can be enjoyed fresh, and some of the firmer varieties are much better for using to make peach pies, jams, and preserves. The same steps used to create pie filling can be used for peaches, ensuring that you have ample amounts of orchard-sweet peach pie filling even in the coldest and darkest of winter days. When peaches are just tender to the touch, they are typically ready to pick. Nectarines and plums typically have the same growing requirements as peaches, and their resulting fruit is often also treated in the same manner.
  • Oranges. Oranges can sometimes be a challenge to keep around fresh as they spoil very fast. Once your oranges are tender to the touch and a taste-test has deemed them perfectly ripe and juicy, you could find yourself with a glut of oranges and no idea what to do with them. While they may not freeze well whole, if they are juiced you’ll find that the juice freezes nicely in ice trays. The iced orange cubes can then be stored in the freezer for cooking or to add to your smoothies.

Some trees require chilling periods at night (when the temperatures dip) so that they can set fruit. This makes them unsuitable for tropical climates where it isn’t uncommon to have year-round temperatures in the 70s and 80s. On the flip side of this is the citrus family of fruit trees. These types of fruit trees cannot tolerate much in the way of cold weather, so it is important to either plant your lemon tree in a container where it can be moved indoors for shelter during the winter months, or to outright avoid planting citrus fruit in colder zones.

An Orchard In A Pot

Dwarf varieties can actually do really well in containers and can make caring for them a lot easier in some respects. Ensure that the container you select is at least ten inches larger in diameter than the original container that the plant came home from the nursery in. Dwarf fruit trees, like their larger cousins, prefer well-drained sandy loam.

Your dwarf tree will also require full sunlight and warm temperatures, which means that a sunroom or screened in patio might be the best choice for helping your dwarf tree through the winter months.

A lot of organic gardeners who live in cooler climates love growing Meyer lemons. These hardy dwarf lemons will thrive throughout the summer months, and they do really well when brought indoors during the winter months. Some gardeners have even reported that their lemons have bloomed during winter, filling their homes with the incredible fragrance unique to citrus fruit.

Your very own orchard is sure to provide you with years of incredible fruit. Start with a few hardy varieties and expand your orchard as your familiarity and comfort with fruit trees starts to grow.

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