An orchard has been a long time dream of mine. I can recall, maybe a decade ago, wanting to sell my suburban home and buy an old farmhouse about a hour outside town. I would go for long drives looking for homes that excited me. They always included an orchard. But as life would have it, I was not able to move at that point in my life. The timing just wasn’t right.
Little did I know that this particular dream would take shape not an hour outside of my home town, but a few states away. I later met and married a self-described hillbilly from the Appalachians. He’s no ordinary hillbilly, mind you. He’s lived all over the United States, including way bigger cities than I ever have. When he moved in with my kids and I, it was always only supposed to be “until the kids are on their own”. Then we planned to move back to his hometown, in Tazewell, Virginia.
In early 2020, the kids were both moved out and doing well on their own, and so we put my house on the market. It technically went sale pending before it was listed. And after 5 months of living with family in Virginia, we finally found a property we wanted to bid on. It did NOT have a house, which initially we had been looking for. It became apparent that in this crazy real estate economy, getting most of what we wanted was next to impossible. Anything worthy was quickly overbid and out of our budget entirely.
So we started looking for just land, and devised a plan that could fit within our budget. It took 5 months, but we finally bought the perfect property for us. But let me back up just a little.
After the third time the property closing was rescheduled, it finally felt like it was going to happen. In my excitement, I decided to tempt fate and order trees for our orchard. They would be delivered the next week. Ahhhh, the joy of making a dream come true!
My sister, who already lives on a farm back in Ohio said to me, “That’s putting the cart before the horse!” She felt I should be focusing on building a house first, which does seem somewhat logical, but I’m an Aquarius and I do things a little differently. It’s tree planting season right now, after all. And one thing I am hearing about living a more sustainable life is that you learn to live by the seasons. After all, the seasons don’t learn to operate around my schedule. That would be silly. The late timing of the property closing landed us right in the middle of tree planting season, and so that’s what we did first.
The banner above (view full image here) is our orchard. It’s showing 6 of 7 trees currently planted, though they’re hard to make out. Images are misleading. For one thing, they don’t depict how steep the terrain really is, nor the sheer size of the area. This cleared space is about 100′ x 50′. We cleared it ourselves with a weed eater, chainsaw and wood scythe. To achieve our goals within budget, we will stay low tech and do almost all the work ourselves.
We decided on 2 rows of 5 trees, then room for more when we want to grow the orchard. We still have room to plant 3 more trees in these two rows.
We now have:
- 3 apple trees (fuji, golden delicious, and crabapple to which we will graft a family heirloom winesap one day)
- 1 peach
- 1 pear
- 2 cherry (a black heart cherry, and a smaller sweet cherry for pies)
Next year we plan to add:
- 2 varieties of pecans
- 2-3 sugar maples (outside the orchard, different location due to eventual size)
- another pear and peach
- maybe a plum
In order to embark on this project, I bought a book to basically give me a quick crash course in orcharding.
Organic Orcharding: A Grove of Trees to Live In
by Gene Logsdon
The most important things I learned were:
- To make sure your orchard is in a good location, with a breeze to keep them dry to ward off disease.
- Don’t fertilize when planting in the fall – it could cause the trees to gain new growth which would cause the tree to “winter kill”, aka: die during winter.
- I can get by with self-pollinating varieties, but yield is better with another variety of the same type. And if I want a non-self pollinating variety, a self-pollinating type is required for pollination of the non-self-pollinator tree. To cross-pollinate, they must also be in bloom at the same time.
- Some trees don’t grow well in some zones, always check the zone compatibility of each variety.
- There’s a great tree nursery that sells online and ships to you at your zone’s planting time, Stark Bros. They’ve been in business since 1816, specialize in trees, have how-to guides, give all the details you might otherwise need to research for hours – on each tree’s page, and have a 125% survival guarantee. We bought all our trees from them and have nothing but praise for their service.
There were so many other little details I learned by reading that book, but that sums up the items that came quickly to mind.
It feels so good to have already “made our mark” on the land. Where the orchard is, will be our view out the kitchen window. So in the spring, we can be doing dishes and see our orchard in full bloom. We may fence it to keep out deer and keep in our dog, who has yet to join us from Ohio – due to our temporary living situation. He is staying with my son for now.
We have so many projects we want to do, but back to what my sister said to me… we really need a house. So that is the next #1 priority… that is… after the road and along with the septic and well. What a journey these early years will be!
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