Growing up in Oklahoma, there were no orchards. My father’s rural home had fruit and nut trees planted by his father after the great depression and dust bowl. I remember cherries, pears, and apples as a kid; picking ripe fruit in the hot summer. In time, the fruit trees grew diseased and were cut down one by one. There is still an old apple tree and one pecan left, but they are sadly neglected, and don’t produce much.
In Vermont and New York, there were lots of apple orchards. Going picking in the fall was a seasonal treat. I went to college on a converted farm, with an ancient apple orchard right through the middle of inner campus. Every fall we would press cider and gather for weekend revelry around the fruit harvest. These fond memories brought to light the cultural richness of orchard harvest, as well as how wonderful the delicious fruit is in the larder.
The land at Leafhopper Farm has an established grove of 5 apple trees; two are early producers, while the other three ripen in late fall. Since these trees are older, and were neglected for over 10 years, it’s taken a while to coax more fruit from these tired branches, but still the apples come, and with a little extra tending, the blossoms are coming back. In fact, after taking out a cedar tree two years ago, the southern clump of apple trees has been enjoying a revival, with plenty of new sun to encourage more production.
Building up a new orchard at Leafhopper Farm has been slow and steady. We’ve just reached a landmark with fruit and nut trees, having planted 8 hazel nuts, 3 pecan, 2 hickory nut, 4 apple, 3 plum, 2 cherry, and 3 peach trees. These are all baby trees, taking 3-5 years of growth before producing a noticeable crop for the farm.
The attempt to espalier peaches will be the first really disciplined act of fruit tree management I’ll be trying in 2017. If it works, these little saplings you see in the mulch rings on the left will become a nice fence divider between the lower Hen House raised bends and the upper greenhouse area in the front yard. Over by the arching rail in the background, there is a fully leafed out plum tree. Stone fruit seems to like western Washington, as long as it is well ventilated and warm. These trees are in the open, as well as receiving passive solar warmth from the bright metal roof of The Hen House.
Most fruit trees need buddies to pollinate. The lone plum island is between the two other plums on the property. Watching the pollinators moving around the landscape, I got an idea of how close trees really need to be for cross pollination. A 100 foot maximum separation between cross pollinators is recommended. Since I have 3 plum in less than 300 feet, I think I’ll be good. The same rule applies to all pollinator species. Self-pollinating species are a solution when you have isolated trees. One of my peaches is like this, and sits alone at the Red Barn Kitchen patio without concern.
I threw blueberries in here as a fun bonus. This crop was also already established on the land when it became Leafhopper Farm. These bushes are older, so I’ve planted a few younger shrubs near these to continue production. You have to keep refreshing your fruit stock or it will age out. Berries are plentiful in The Pacific Northwest. Blackberries are prolific on the farm, and we use goats to combat their aggressive growth.
Why you gotta put all those cuttings on that rootstock? Well, the simple answer, because diversity is good! I did not select these trees because of the combos, but did get them at a discount for waiting till it was later in the season, when fruit trees go on sale to clear them out to make space for new seasonal stock. Washington is known for it’s cherries, and I look forward to harvesting without a cherry picker.
The apple trees are also a Washington State favorite. Leafhopper Farm continues to cultivate a diverse apple orchard. With proper pruning and continued fenced protection from deer, these trees will become great producers like the mature grove already established on the farm.
The young cherry below has 4 different species on its branches, along with a vigorous companion plant, comfrey, which adds nutrients to the soil for the apple, and helps mulch the area in our chop and drop maintenance of the surrounding fruit tree enclosure.
The east fence line orchard grows steadily. Each tree was planted in a well seasoned outhouse hole. The fruit trees will help continue to establish our orchard, and keep the fence line managed. Eventually, these trees will boarder a much greater cultivation space where earth berm swales have been dug and planned for a food forest.
In future, many challenges will arise in caring for this orchard at Leafhopper Farm. Blights, bacteria, hungry deer, and months will plague the fruit trees through the seasons. Orchard cultivation is very hands on, but the rewards are great. With timely pruning and balanced harvest, these trees will feed the stewards of this land through many generations. Some people suggest leaving your fruit to tend for its self, and some do. However, in western Washington, where there is SO much rain, trees that are going to be healthy and long time producers should be pruned at least once a year.