52 Homesteading Skills in One Year: Project #26 and #27: Planting fruit trees and using chickens as orchard fertilizers, mowers and pest controllers
I come up with the most creative ways to fail. Take this peach tree, for example. I accidentally planted it in an ant’s nest. Who fails to notice ants crawling everywhere in the hole they’re digging? I’m pretty sure the answer is – only me!
It takes years to become successful at planting fruit trees and therefore I am not qualified to give you advice. But I can definitely tell you a few things NOT to do based on my own tree planting failures.
Planting fruit trees – What NOT to do
Don’t plant your fruit tree in an ant’s nest.
Be wary of the 1/2 price off trees at the end of the season.
I know, they look like great deals. They probably already have small fruit on them. But be careful. They will need extra care in order to get their roots established before winter. It can be done, but personally, I had more luck with bare root trees that I planted in the spring than the half price off potted trees I planted in the middle of summer.
Voles can kill
I didn’t even know what a vole was until they ate the roots of my fruit trees and I found the chewed victims lying on the ground.
To deter voles ensure your trees are wrapped with guards and keep a large area of cleared space around your trees as voles tend to avoid open spaces. And then pray for predators.
Dig a proper hole
You may have a tree that doesn’t seem to thrive or dies for what seems like no apparent reason. You may scratch your head and hum and haw and then finally decide to pull it out of the ground only to discover it was root bound. Its roots didn’t find their way into the surrounding area.
Help your trees spread their roots by creating grooves in the sides of your hole.
Get yourself some all-star plants
I’m talking about companion plants. I will be planting these next year but I have already heard from local experts that they work. Here are few examples of these “nurse” plants:
Yarrow produces nectar sought by predatory insects that feed on fruit tree pests.
Hyssop confuses pests with its aromatic scent.
Bocking 4 Comfrey suppresses weeds and draws minerals and nutrients from deep within the soil. Chop and drop its leaves throughout the growing season for a nutritious mulch for your trees.
Feed your tree
Cardboard, compost, mulch…Repeat after me…cardboard, compost, mulch. Young trees have a hard time competing with grass for nutrients so put corrugated cardboard at the base of your tree and top with compost and mulch OR…
Put your chickens to work
We don’t mow – ever. This was fine when we lived in a forest, but now we live amongst grass and hayfields. And yet we still don’t mow because the lawn becomes a meadow for bees and fodder for animals. This is great – except when you are planting fruit trees that can’t compete with grass.
So my husband came up with a movable chicken coop that can surround a tree. Not only do the chickens scratch away anything that dares grow under the tree, but they also fertilize it. Although we haven’t tried it yet, if you did this in the early spring, the chickens would also take care of any overwintering pest insects.
So far we have planted pears, Asian pears, plums, cherries, apples, one peach tree, several varieties of nut trees and a few nitrogen fixing trees to add fertility to the soil. How many of them will actually survive long enough to produce fruit has yet to be determined. But I’m really hoping there is a U-pick blog in my future – as long as I can stay away from those ant nests.