We just received the first of the new trees for our orchard: a peach, nectarine, and fig. Some apples are on the way via U.S. Mail. The trees are “bare root,” which means that they look a whole lot like sticks with roots. Their small size makes them good mail-order travelers, a handy option for all of us without a well-stocked local nursery.
While we have planned for months to plant new trees, holiday madness distracted us and we found ourselves scrambling on our orchard project. The tree holes are not ready. The orchard is in general disarray. The chickens, who are housed inside the orchard, have been the only caretakers of the orchard for months. I have a good dose of exercise, fresh air, and sunshine in front of me before these new trees will be planted.
If you find yourself in a similar jam, order your trees now and hold them while you work on your orchard. Even now, late in the bare root season, you will be able to find trees online and you can hold them just like the nurseries do.
If your orchard is not ready when the trees arrive, place them in well-drained moist soil and keep the root clump well-covered. Do not cover the trees above the graft area near the bottom of the trunk.
In the meantime, work on your tree holes when your soil is not frozen. I usually dig holes at least three feet deep and up to about five feet deep. I fill the holes with layers of leaves, manure, and soil until the hole is about two feet deep. Here in cattle country, cow pies work well for that manure layer, but a bag of composted steer manure from a local nursery is usually more convenient. The deep hole and layers are optional but provide the tree with additional nutrients for many years. Before the project is complete, we will make a chicken-wire basket to place in the hole and then place the tree in that basket. We fill in with soil around the wire basket and tree. The wire keeps pests from eating the delicate roots before the tree becomes established.
If you wonder how you will choose among all of the trees, look at some of the trees with multiple varieties on one root stock. For instance, we own a five-variety cherry which produces about six weeks of cherries for us and our bird friends.
There is nothing better than walking into your own yard, smelling ripened fruit—like you never will smell even at the best farmers market—and eating fruit right off the tree. Once your orchard is established, the satisfaction of fresh tree-ripened fruit takes very little effort and makes for good trade among friends.
Shop: California-based Trees of Antiquity has a large selection of heirloom trees and a large mail-order business that serves us well. Bay Laurel Nursery in Atascadero is our “local” choice when we are visiting the Central Coast of California but has a big online business as well.