Tag Archives: home orchard

Welcome Back!

Low Chill Cherry Tree in the DesertHi Friends!

Well, I’m finally back to writing once again after a long, and what seemed like forever, 5-month break. And boy, did I really missed all of you.

Now, as most of you know, I’ve been dealing with a few health challenges for about 4-years now that conventional medicine has failed to provide any real answers or resolutions for. Those of you who have been following my blog for some time now also know that I’ve been growing and eating my own home-grown delicious high brix nutrient dense fruits and vegetables from own backyard. And doing so has done wonders in helping me to feel so much better and take back my life from this mysterious illness. Despite this, my health suddenly took a turn for the worse.

The reason why I’m telling you all of this is not to seek sympathy ~ though prayers are always welcome ~ I feel I owe you an explanation for my absence and to pass along encouragement for those of you who are facing their own health challenges.

For a few months now, I’ve felt like I hit a wall with my progress. No matter how much home-grown fresh greens, fruits and veggies I incorporated into my diet and despite the fact that I pretty much eliminated everything else (i.e., dairy, wheat/gluten, chocolate, fried foods, etc.) for the past 4 years… I felt stuck. In fact, my progress started to feel like it was unraveling. I was eating clean and better than I have in years… so how could this happen? Well, a recent hospital stay and several procedures later, I now have the answer. My major health issue is mechanical and not illness related at all.

While in the hospital, the doctors discovered (finally!) that I have a fairly severe hernia in my abdomen. OMG! It only took conventional medicine 4 years to figure it out. Years ago, it took them a year of head scratching (and lots of pain on my part) to figure out I had a rather common ailment… gallbladder disease. To add insult to injury to this new discovery, I also found out that I have a rather severe electrolyte deficiency (the issue that brought me into the hospital in the first place) as well as a thyroid issue. Holy smokes!

Needless to say, my situation has been quite debilitating at times and has obviously impacted my ability to write on my blog. It’s also slowed me down quite a bit in the garden, too! Aaaaargh. Two things near and dear to my heart 😦

After picking myself back up from this jolting news and a few trips back to my integrative doctor, I’m working through my new challenges and well on my way to healing. Thank goodness for all my home-grown fresh greens, fruits and veggies! I was able to sail through all the invasive tests and procedures and be around a lot of sick people with no issues. A huge difference from just 4-5 years ago, when I would catch anything and everything that blew my direction and have to deal with post-illness infections.

Though this has definitely been a blow to me and my health progress, garden and blog, I’m determined to push through it and continue to move forward. This also includes expanding my natural health arsenal of holistic/homeopathic medicines to include herbs and essential oils as well. I’ve only dipped my toes into this world and am impressed enough that I’ve actually altered our overall garden plan to include a medicinal and aromatherapy garden as well. Definitely more to come on this new adventure!

Bottom-line… I’m glad to be back, appreciate your prayers and have so much to share with you. For those of you currently facing health challenges, I encourage you to grow your own fresh fruits and veggies. Start small and easy like growing fresh greens and herbs. They are jammed packed full of nutrition and health promoting qualities and practically grow themselves!

Be sure to keep an eye out for the next post in my fruit tree series called Fruit Trees: Planting In the Desert Part I and Part II. I should have Part I up on my blog by this Friday. Also, be sure to check out my Facebook and Instagram pages. I regularly post new photos and helpful garden tips and information there.

As a side note… last year, I attempted to start making garden and orchard related videos for you to watch, but that project stalled out a bit with recent events. When things get sorted out here, my videos will be back on track! So keep your eyes peeled.

Before I sign off, did you check out the photo I posted at the top of this page? This is my 3-year-old low-chill Royal Lee cherry tree! Yes, you can grow cherries in the desert. Only a few short months and I’ll be eating deliciously sweet and nutritious cherries direct from my own backyard. Can’t get any more local than that!!!!

It’s been so great chatting with you again. Hope the rest of your day is beyond awesome!

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Fruit Trees: How To Prepare Soil For Planting

How To Prepare Soil for Planting Fruit TreesHi dear friends!

Thank you for being so patient awaiting the next post in my Fruit Tree series. In my last post I covered the all-important topic of how to dig a hole in the desert for your beloved baby fruit tree(s). Now, we’ll take a closer look at how to prepare your soil for the big planting day. This process can be used for both bare root fruit trees as well as containerized fruit trees.

An important note before we begin… For those of you who live in a similar climate to Las Vegas, Nevada (a.k.a. hot, arid and windy), your bare root fruit tree planting opportunity has come and gone for this year. No need to fret though. After following along with my Fruit Tree series this year, you will be well-equipped with the knowledge you need to be successful and fully prepared for next season’s planting in February.

Still want to plant a fruit tree this year? You can certainly plant containerized fruit trees this season, but I highly advise against planting them now or during the heat of summer. I’m also not a huge fan of containerized fruit trees, but that’s just me being super protective of my orchard. Be sure to check out my three-part post on bare root fruit trees vs. containerized fruit trees to see the pros and cons of both. Planting now allows very little time for your new trees to recover from the stress of planting and to settle into its new home before getting blasted by our heat and wind. The best time to plant containerized fruit trees is in the fall when our weather begins settles down.

For those of you who wish to review my Fruit Tree series at a later date, it’s easy! I’ve setup a blog navigation page dedicated to this series and placed a convenient link in the top navigation bar under Home Orcharding. As I fine-tune my current processes or discover and test out new techniques that support growing delicious and uber-healthy high brix/nutrient dense fruit, I’ll be sure to share that info with you by updating the appropriate page in my Fruit Tree series.

Tools and Supplies

Before you begin, be sure to gather together all of the supplies you’ll need to complete this step and set up everything near your planting site. The items I listed out below will help to make the soil preparation process go along smoothly.

  • Compost ~ Forest Waste / Green Waste Compost ~ buy the best quality compost you can afford (approximately 1/2 to 1 yard per fruit tree) ~ avoid compost that has additives or chemical fertilizers added (such as Ammonium Sulfate)… these do quick work of killing off precious microbiology for your soil and sets up a huge roadblock in growing nutrient dense fruit.
  • Wheel Barrel (or two)
  • Something to sift dirt through ~ a few years back, hubby put together a large sifter using 2×4’s and 1″ welded wire screen. It’s held up wonderfully and has taken lots of abuse over the years. It really does the trick sifting out rocks.

Soil Sifter for Fruit Trees

  • Three or Four 5-Gallon Buckets ~ 1 bucket to cart off rocks, 1 bucket to hold and measure out native soil, and 1 bucket to hold and measure out compost. Having that extra bucket helps save your back ~ will share more about that below.
  • Shovel
  • Steel Bow Rake
  • Standard Garden Hose with a Spray Nozzle Attachment
  • Local / native soil ~ you should have a nice big pile after digging your planting hole.
  • Heavy Duty Gloves
  • Mask ~ helps to keep the dust out of your nose and lungs.
  • Protective Eye Wear
  • Plenty of water ~ stay hydrated.
  • High Brix/Nutrient Dense Amendments (see below)

A special note about compost

When it comes to buying compost, be sure to select the highest quality compost your budget can afford ~ your soil and fruit trees will love you for it. Need to buy a budget-friendly manure compost? Organic is always best with this type of compost and it should be free of GMO’s including GMO-corn/grain fed cattle or poultry waste. It may still contain antibiotics and other veterinarian-type pharmaceuticals along with organic pesticides, etc. Even some forest waste/green waste compost can contain contaminants you may not appreciate in your compost. Just make sure you do your research first before buying. When buying bulk, always ask to see soil testing results of the compost you wish to purchase and pay careful attention to the section where they list the acceptable levels of contaminants such as biosolids, harmful bacterias and pathogens, etc. Also ask for sodium levels. High levels of sodium/salts can lead to soil issues later on.

When estimating how much compost to purchase and how much native soil you’ll need to use, keep in mind a couple of things: 1) how many bare root fruit trees you’ll be planting, and 2) how deeply you dug your hole(s).

Our time-tested soil preparation process uses a soil mixture of 50% non-amended native soil and 50% compost. You may also need extra compost if you plan to ‘heel-in’ your newly purchased bare root fruit trees shortly after their arrival.

How to Prepare Your Soil For Planting

What I’m about to share with you is our “go-to” process, but you can certainly accomplish this task using whatever approach works best for you. We tend to be on the, well, picky side. For those of you who prefer a more flexible and “loose” approach, by all means, do it your way as long as the end result is the same.

Let’s get started…

Step 1 ~ Get Those Gloves On

You’re gonna need em’.

I’m gonna be upfront with you. This process is work. I wouldn’t say grueling hard work, but work all the same. And for us, well worth it. Soil prep makes a huge difference and our orchard speaks volumes to this fact. Our trees are very happy, healthy and fruitful in part to this preparation step.

Step 2 ~ Load Up The Compost

After setting up all of the tools and supplies needed to begin, we usually start off by loading up one wheel barrel with compost and placing it near the planting site. Chances are your pile of compost is elsewhere on your property, so plan on making a few trips to grab more. With this in mind, its helpful to keep a clear path for your travels back-and-forth.

Soil Preparation for Fruit Trees

Next, we place a second wheel barrel near the first one and set the homemade sifter on top. By looking at the photo below, you can see our setup… wheel barrel with compost on the right ~ wheel barrel for sifting on the left. Makes the process go along smoothly. Easy peasy. Planting Fruit TreesAs I mentioned earlier, hubby put together a sturdy sifter when we first started planting fruit trees on our property and it’s held up admirably through many fruit tree planting sessions.  The 1″ squares on the welded wire screen works beautifully to sift out unwanted rocks and debris. Keep in mind that you do not need to remove all of the rocks, just the larger ones. I also remove any obvious caliche chunks, which are creamy or whitish in color.

Step 3 ~ Start Sifting and Mixing

This step is a no-brainer. To do a 50/50 mix of native soil and compost, we simply grab a 5-gallon bucket full of native soil and a 5-gallon bucket full of compost and mix/sift them together through the sifter. Just do equal amounts of each as you go along. The result… a 50/50 mix 😀

Tip: Lifting several buckets full of native soil can quickly become exhausting. To help with this, hubby usually fills two buckets 1/2 way up with the native soil vs. full buckets to offset the weight.

To help blend things up better, we alternate the compost and the native soil when we load up the sifter. When the mixture gets close to the top of the wheel barrel, we remove the sifter and do a quick final mix with either a shovel or by hand. This is something that we do, but you could certainly skip this extra step. As the mixture is poured into the planting hole, some natural “mixing” of the native soil and compost will automatically occur and is probably sufficient.

Soil Preparation for Fruit TreesSoil Preparation for Fruit TreesSoil Preparation for Fruit Trees

Step 4 ~ Start Filling The Planting Hole

With the first batch of 50/50 soil mixture ready-to-go, we simply roll the wheel barrel up to the edge of the hole and pour the mixture in.

Now, using a bow rake, we roughly level out the 50/50 soil mixture then water it in with a hose. Make sure your hose has a sprayer nozzle attachment. The goal here is to help the soil settle by wetting it down versus flooding it.Soil Preparation for Fruit Trees

Soil Preparation for Fruit TreesWe continue the process of sifting, dumping, smoothing, and wetting until the 50/50 soil mixture is a few inches above the soil surface to allow for settling. At this point, be careful not to step on the soil of your freshly filled hole. If you plan to plant your fruit tree immediately after filling your hole (which I do not recommend ~ see below), avoid saturating the top 12 to 18-inches or so with water to make it easier for digging and planting.

Be sure to mix up one to two 5-gallon buckets full of the 50/50 mix to set aside for building up a water well around the base of your fruit tree.

Step 5 ~ Kick Start Those Soil Microbes!

Note ~ This Is The Foundation For Growing High Brix/Nutrient Dense Fruit

An important part of growing high brix/nutrient dense fruit is to build up the soil microbiology within the soil your fruit trees grow in. Why? Bottom-line is this…

“If you want to maximize yield, plant health, and nutrient density (quality) then you must maximize the nutrition/energy given to the plant.”

~ Jon Frank, International Ag Labs

To accomplish this, one must build soil health which also means building the soil microbe population. These miraculous microscopic soil super heroes breakdown important nutrients in the soil and pony-express this nutrition directly to your beloved fruit trees. Though more complex than we have time to discuss here, this symbiotic relationship brings so much more to your fruit trees than any type of hand-delivered “fertilizer” ever could.

In this super hero group I also include earthworms. These small organic matter munchers are a powerhouse in and of themselves, bringing a multitude of benefits to the health of your soil and boosting your microbe population with their beneficial nutrients.

So, here’s how we kick-start our soil for planting…

One of the best ways we have found to do this is by using the John & Bob’s suite of products. For our orchard and garden, we purchase the Lifeless Soil kit. The 4,000 square foot quantity will last us about two years. A little goes a long way and is only required 2x per year. The application of this product alone has resulted in a very high microbe population in our soil ~ confirmed by recent soil testing through International Ag Labs + our own Brix testing. Just follow their instructions to apply.

Another way to boost the microbes in the soil is to use a high quality microbial tea. Just spray it on or water it in lightly onto the surface of the soil and let these soil super heroes do their work. We have just recently started incorporating home-brewed tea into our regimen and our trees and garden are responding quite favorably so far. This topic is certainly worthy of a dedicated post, so stay tuned. Interested in learning more about this topic? Leave me a comment below.

For those of you who decide to purchase a pre-mixed microbial tea blend make certain that the manufacturer is able to provide proven results. Steer clear of folks who “talk-a-good-talk”, but fail to deliver actual data on the number and types of microbes from tested brew. Again, more on this important topic to come.

Now might also be the perfect time to introduce some worms into the soil if you feel so inclined. We’ve tried to incorporate worms after the planting process with little success in the past. Probably a result of the wrong type of worms, heat of summer, etc. For future soil prep, we would like to try Alabama Jumpers. Hopefully they will do much better then their predecessor. What types of worms are you using successfully in desert conditions? I’d love to hear from you. Just leave a comment below.

Plan to do one or all of these high brix/nutrient dense kick-start recommendations a couple of weeks before planting so you can super-charge your soil with microbes and be well on your way to growing high brix/nutrient dense fruit!

Ready to Plant Now?

Personally, I like to wait a few weeks to let the microbe population build-up and for the soil to settle before planting. Certainly, the tree can go in the ground just after filling. Just kick-start your soil at the time of planting or shortly afterwards.

Soil Preparation for Fruit Trees

Next up in the Fruit Tree series I will be discussing what to do once your tree(s) arrive. Until we talk again, be sure to visit your garden and orchard often 😀

Be sure to check out the next post in my fruit trees series ~ My Trees Arrived, Now What?

God Bless,

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Fruit Trees: How To Dig A Hole in the Desert

Dig A Fruit Tree HoleHi dear friends!

As promised, here’s the first post in my Fruit Tree How To series that is dedicated to helping all of you budding (and experienced) home orchardists out there who want to grow high brix/nutrient dense fruit. Especially those of you who live in a hot and arid climate like Las Vegas, Nevada and thought you would never be able to grow a fruit tree let alone quality fruit.

Just like my Orchard Calendar series, as I release each post, I will place a link to it in the top navigation bar under a new category called Home Orcharding.  This way, you can easily revisit each topic as the need arises.

I’m always experimenting and testing out new organic and holistic techniques and refining my processes in my orchard to both bump up my brix numbers even further and to enhance the health of my fruit trees. If something works well, I’ll be sure to share it with you by updating the related topic page.

Tools and Supplies

  • Demolition Jack Hammer ~ you can certainly rent one from a local home store or rental facility or purchase a Heavy Duty 1240W Electric Demolition Jack Hammer on Amazon or Ebay for a reasonable price with free shipping

Demolition Jack Hammer

  • Shovel attachment for the Demolition Jack Hammer
  • Rebar ~ 1/4-inch or 1/2-inch diameter about 3-feet to 4-feet long ~ use to mark the center of each planting site
  • Hammer ~ to hammer the rebar into the ground
  • Twine or String ~ a 2-foot long piece that can be easily tied onto the rebar or metal stake
  • A long Nail or Stake ~ to attach the twine/string to for use as a compass to draw a circle on the ground
  • 1 to 2 five-gallon Buckets ~ to cart off rocks
  • Shovel

Shovel

  • 3-foot long piece of wood or stick ~ to measure the depth and width of the hole
  • Heavy Duty Gloves
  • Protective Eye Wear
  • Ear Plugs
  • Plenty of water ~ stay hydrated!

Step 1 ~ Understand the Unique Growing Challenges in Your Area

When it comes to sifting through the myriad of fruit tree planting information available to us via the web, books, magazines, local nurseries and such, keep one very important thing in mind…

One size does not fit all

It’s a fact. Fruit tree planting methods that work for one area of the U.S. may not necessarily be ideal for the area you live in. This is especially true for Southwest gardeners and home orchardists. It’s a rare thing indeed to be able to find quality fruit tree growing information that is specific to gardeners who grow fruit in hot and arid climates. Following planting instructions initially intended for another area could lead you down a path of frustration and disappointment. Sure, your fruit tree may grow and even give you fruit, but it is unlikely that your fruit tree will thrive in its new home and produce high yields or quality nutrient dense fruit.

Home Fruit Orchard in the DesertNow, don’t get me wrong. The instructions I’m about to share with you will not produce nutrient dense fruit solely based on this step alone nor will it do so immediately. Fruit trees are an investment in time and care and as you build and nurture the soil beneath your trees, the higher the chance your fruit trees will produce nutritious and delicious fruit. Orcharding is a test in patience and understanding. In my opinion, the effort is well worth it.

A fruit tree can sometimes take a while to exhibit any negative symptoms as a result of an improper planting method or poor planting site. Or, in the case of improper drainage, its demise can be quite immediate. Fruit trees that survive the initial planting stage and continue to grow and leaf out, will definitely have at least a 3 year wait before you can begin to test the quality of your fruit and determine its potential yield. Think about it… that’s a long-term commitment. And if during that 3+ year period the fruit tree begins to show signs of poor health or appears to be struggling, one of the causes for this could be directly related to the hole you dug.

To me, it just makes sense to jump into this investment with your eyes wide open and armed with tested and proven fruit tree planting information specific to your area. Who wants to replace the same fruit tree year-after-year because one day they decided to plant a fruit tree armed with nothing more than a shovel and information from a book written by someone who lives in an area that receives tons of rain each year and summer temps that hover around 80°F.

F? Anyone? So, for those of you who are truly interested in producing high quality fruit and growing healthy fruit trees rather than just growing another tree in your backyard, please, continue reading.

This step, in combination with the other steps I will share with you throughout this series, will help guide you and improve your chances of success in growing high brix/nutrient dense fruit for you and your family’s health.

Nutrient Dense Fruit TreesSo, what are some of the challenges we face in hot and arid climates? Now mind you, all hot and arid climates are not created equally either and can be faced with its own set of unique challenges. But for the most part, they are similar enough that the planting and care techniques I will be sharing with you can be applied successfully in your area. But before you begin, it’s always a good idea to check in with your local Cooperative Extension to see if there are other unique challenges you may encounter in your area.

Regarding the use of local nurseries as a source of information. It’s been my experience that unless the nursery is committed to hiring quality well-trained individuals whose knowledge goes well beyond the basics and are well versed and has hands-on experience planting, growing and caring for productive fruit trees in your area… it’s best to seek advice elsewhere. Yes, there are nurseries out there who pride themselves in being a step above the rest ~ usually the mom & pop or smaller niche nurseries. If you’re one of the fortunate few who happen to live near one of these rare gems, by all means, check-in with them. But most nurseries are not as dedicated and typically regurgitate mainstream fruit tree growing information.

So what are some of the unique challenges Southwest gardeners may be faced with when planting fruit trees?

  • Caliche ~ this is a type of soil concretion and is very hard, impenetrable and cement-like
    • Restricts root penetration
    • Inhibits drainage causing slow draining “bowls” and restricts aeration of the roots
    • Restricted drainage also encourages salt accumulation on the soil surface
    • It’s common for desert soils to be highly alkaline (pH 8.0+). Combine that with the calcium carbonate in caliche = “lock-up” of iron making it unavailable to our plants and trees = iron chlorosis
    • Caliche deposits can be found throughout the southwest to include the California desert areas, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and parts of Texas
  • High salt soils and water ~ can cause lower yields and quality of fruit (restricts nutrient uptake), salt damage, and stress on your trees leaving them vulnerable to pests and disease. Poor drainage only exacerbates this issue.

All of this can spell “bad-news” for our fruit trees. Fortunately, there is a way to successfully work around these challenges and create an inviting home for your home orchard.

With that said, let’s get started!

Step 2 ~ Gather Supplies

Gather together all of the supplies you’ll need. Be sure to set up a convenient out-of-the-way yet accessible staging area. A place where you won’t be tripping over everything as you dig and move around.

How To Dig a Hole For Fruit Trees

Step 3 ~ Mark Your Planting Site(s)

This is where a metal stake or piece of rebar along with some twine or string and a long nail will come in handy.

Planting A Fruit Tree

Mark the center of where you plan to plant your fruit tree by hammering in a piece of rebar or metal stake into the soil. Tie one end of the string to your rebar or stake then tie the other end of the string to a long nail or a short metal garden stake. Make certain that the string is 1-1/2 feet in length after being tied. Your goal is to draw out a 3-foot diameter circle. The nail or metal garden stake will become your drawing instrument to draw out the circular outline into the soil. When you are done drawing, you should end up with a circle that is about 3 feet in diameter that will act as a guide when you start digging.

Keep the center marker (rebar) in place until you are actually ready to start digging the hole.

Step 4 ~ Before You Start Diggin’

Before you get started with your work out :D, let’s talk about a couple of things first. First… always contact your utility company before you set shovel to soil just to make absolutely certain there’s nothing that you’ll dig through. Something dangerous like a buried electrical line or a sewer line ~ yuck. Most times, these things are buried quite deep and should not be an issue, but an ounce of prevention is worth its weight in gold.

Here’s a link to the 811 website where you can find contact information specific to your state.

811 State Specific InformationSource: 811

Step 5 ~ Pre-Test Your Drainage

Before you go all out with your digging, I highly recommend that you perform a drainage test to make absolutely certain your selected planting site will work well for you and your fruit tree(s). To do this, do the following…

  1. Within your planting site itself, dig a hole l-foot deep and fill it with water
  2. Time how long it takes the water to drain completely

If it took about 1 hour or less to completely drain ~
you my friend have awesome drainage and are ready to start digging

~*~

If it took about 2 hours to completely drain~
it’s not the best draining hole around, but you’re probably still okay with planting there
you may need to adjust your approach on how much and how often you water your fruit tree

~*~

If it takes longer than 2 hours to drain ~
you have a drainage problem and
may want to reconsider your planting site or plan to dig deeper
(see below)

Step 6 ~ Ready, Set, Go!

With shovel in hand, start digging. From experience, it’s helpful to start the process by digging out the top 2 to 3-inches of soil within your marked circle to clearly designate the perimeter of your fruit tree hole. When done, the center marker you placed earlier can be removed and set aside so the real digging can commence. You can certainly skip this step, but since I’m a bit of a perfectionist, I find it helpful. Especially since lines drawn on the soil surface have a tendency to disappear once the digging process begins.

How To  Dig A Hole For Fruit Trees

Outline Fruit Tree HoleAlso, be sure to remove and discard any large rocks or bits of caliche.

Caliche and RocksWhen you’re done digging out the initial outline for your fruit tree holes, or not, the “question of the day” comes to mind…

How Deep Do I Need To Dig?

A lot of books, videos and such out there recommend digging down about 18″ deep or just a few inches beyond the height of the root ball or container size. That may be a fine approach if you have deeply amended loose soil and awesome drainage, but with our hardpan (a.k.a. caliche), it’s not highly recommended.

What is the recommended depth?  Here at the ole’ Asher homestead, we dig our holes 3-feet wide x 3-feet deep. This helps ensure we have proper drainage and aeration for our fruit tree roots, encourages the roots to go deep, and later, when we re-fill the hole with amended soil for planting, it ensures the soil surrounding the growing root system will not return to its previous cement-like status.

As we dig our fruit tree planting holes, we also make certain that the inside walls of the hole are kept rough rather than smooth. As the roots grow, the rough sides make it easier for the roots to penetrate into the outer soil. Slick sides can act as a barrier making it difficult for root penetration.

Planting A Fruit Tree

How To Dig A Fruit Tree HoleWe’ve been using this method successfully for planting bare root fruit trees directly into native soil for about 5 years now and our trees are doing fantastic! All 24 of them. Our fruit trees have had phenomenal growth over the years, are healthy with high yields and produce awesome tasting high brix fruit. We’ve never experienced an issue with the roots not penetrating out into the native soil due to the amended soil in the planting hole itself. The opposite seems to be true. Our carefully amended soil seems to ignite root growth.

Over the years, we’ve seen several different approaches to planting fruit trees around town. Some have had good success, but a lot of folks… they just seem to struggle year after year and go through an endless cycle of head scratching and planting and replacing the same fruit trees year-after-year.

The folks we’ve seen who plant their fruit trees in shallow planting holes in our desert virgin native soil, well, their fruit trees just seem to suffer for it. The fruit trees are small and never seem to grow and are less productive.

Now, I’m not saying that the planting hole in and of itself is the “magic” to our formula for planting fruit trees, but I firmly believe that it plays a key role in the process.

A special note on caliche/hardpan and/or poor drainage ~  For those of you unfortunate folks who have encountered caliche or poor drainage on your property you have two options…

  1. Select another site on your property that will work better for you and your trees, or…
  2. Dig deeper

Through my research, I’ve encountered recommendations from trustworthy expert sources that recommend digging down to 6-feet deep or until the hardpan is penetrated to allow for drainage. Personally, I’ve never had to do this and if I had to, I’d find another place to dig. If you find yourself in this situation, I highly recommend that you contact your local Cooperative Extension for planting advice in this situation.

Step 7 ~ What To Do With All That Dirt?

Digging a 3-foot wide x 3-foot deep hole will result is a large pile of dirt. As you dig, be sure to pile up the dirt a foot or two away, but not right next to the hole you’re digging. You will need easy access to this pile of dirt as you prepare the hole for planting. So for now, pile it up and keep your digging area safe by blocking off the area. It’s a pretty deep hole, so use your best judgement when it comes to safety and protecting family members and pets.

How To Dig A Fruit Tree Hole

Step 8 ~ Final Drainage Check

Once your hole(s) are dug, we recommend one final drainage check. This also allows the planting hole and surrounding native soil (deep within the hole) to be thoroughly wetted prior to planting.

Fill the hole to the tippy top with water and let it drain out completely. Again, as long as it completely drains out within 1-2 hours, your fruit trees will do just fine.

Fruit Tree DrainageFruit Tree DrainageFruit Tree DrainageHope you found this post informative and helpful. Next up in my Fruit Tree series is How To Prepare A Hole For Planting.

Fruit Tree Health

God Bless,

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November Orchard Tasks

 

Black Mission Fig

My Black Mission Fig is such a hardy over achiever in the front orchard.

Hi Friends!

Well, October is now officially behind us and with it came cooler weather into the Las Vegas, Nevada area. A welcome relief from the heat of summer. Sad though, too. The cooling weather is a sure sign that any summer veggie crops still growing in the garden will soon be coming to an end 😦

In the orchard, everything is definitely starting to wind down. The leaves are beginning to get a bit crunchy and drop off the fruit trees. And the soil microbes, though still hard at work, are wrapping up their work helping the fruit trees store critical nutrition for next year’s growth and harvest. Everything is definitely quieting down in the orchard this time of year with the exception of a few trees that still need to be harvested, such as our pomegranates and Pink Lady apples.

Pink Lady Apple

Before you decide to pull up a chair, sit back and relax, there are still a few important tasks to be completed during the month of November. For those of you who were wondering what happened to the October list of tasks, well, there’s no sugar-coating this one… things got away from me and I failed to post. No worries, though. October’s list translates well into November. When I have a bit more time, I’ll add a separate list for October under the Orchard Calendar link at the top of my blog page. So, without further pause, let’s get started.

Dorsett Golden Apple and Black Mission Fig

November Orchard Tasks

  • Irrigation ~ in early to mid-November, reduce watering to 1x every 7 days
  • Daylight Savings (Sunday, November 2nd). Be sure to adjust your irrigation timer and clocks back (1) one hour.
  • Bees ~ for those of you who have bee hives to tend to, it’s time to help your precious little busy bees get ready for winter. Be sure to have plenty of water available for them along with lots of their fav blooming plants in and around your orchard as they prepare honey for the winter months. I like to keep several basil plants growing in my garden as long as I can. They absolutely love it!
  • Gather together and organize your orchard harvest records and journal notes from this past season. You’ll need it for a task in early December.
  • Continue to pick up any fallen fruit ~ that is, if you’re still harvesting fruit.
  • Fruit you could be harvesting this month:
    • Fig
    • Pomegranate
    • Pecan
    • Persimmon
    • Apple
  • It’s time to plan for winter protection now! Buy winter protection for frost/freeze sensitive fruit trees ~ frost sensitive trees include most citrus and avocados. It’s also important to keep an eye on your trees throughout winter to ensure that your chosen protection tools continue to work for you and your trees.

Plum leaves in fall

  • In the Las Vegas area, we’re pretty fortunate to have relatively warm and mild winters compared to most other areas within the U.S., but it’s still fairly common to have several frost days throughout the winter months along with an occasional freeze. Here are a few things you can do to help protect your orchard this winter…
    • Be informed… know the first average frost date for your area. Here in North Las Vegas, NV it’s around November 15th.
    • String up UL-approved Christmas lights in the canopy of your frost-sensitive trees. Be sure to use the old style bulbs and not LEDs ~ the lights need to be able to generate heat to be effective at warming your trees during a frost or in freezing temps.
    • Purchase frost/freeze blankets that you can easily drape over your trees. It’s ideal for the blanket to be long enough to bunch up on the ground and secure down with a couple of heavy objects (i.e., bucket with soil or rocks, large rocks, etc.)
    • Spread around a thicker layer of wood mulch underneath your fruit trees to help protect the roots from the colder weather. Just be sure to keep the mulch about 6-inches away from the trunk for fruit trees that are less than 5 years old.
    • Keep in mind that it’s easier for winter injury to occur with dry roots than it is with roots that are moist. So, if a freeze is expected, run your irrigation for a few minutes to moisten the soil for added protection.
    • Renew whitewash in areas showing wear, especially on the trunk and main scaffold areas. Doing so helps to insulate your trees from really cold evenings and thawing in daytime ~ i.e., sun scald.
      • Sun scald is a common injury for trees during the cold winter months, especially on clear sunny days. The sun warms (thaws) the trees during the day and then, at night, when the temperatures drop and re-chills the tree, the trunk is at risk of cracking and/or splitting.
  • Protect sprinkler/bubbler heads, water-lines, hoses, and spigots from freeze damage.

Fruit Trees Dropping Fall Leaves

  • Spray a microbial innoculant on fallen leaves ~ when 50% of the leaves have fallen off your fruit trees, spray the ground underneath each fruit tree as well as the bottom portion of each trunk with either a fresh brewed microbial tea or by using a mother culture. Be sure to target fallen leaves on the ground to help populate the area with microbes and facilitate leaf decomposition (making a wonderful rich humus for your trees, to boot!).
  • Add a 1-inch layer of vegetative compost on top of any fallen leaves that are located directly under the canopy of the tree to boost soil microbial action. Be sure to avoid using high-nitrogen animal manure compost. Not only will the compost and leaves act as an insulator for the fruit tree’s roots it also gets the soil microbes jumping into action.
    To avoid holding moisture up against the trunk and putting up an “All You Can Eat” buffet sign for critters who love to munch on the bark of your trees under protective cover (i.e., mice, etc.), be sure to rake the leaves and compost back about 6-inches.
  • Make a “leaf storage bin” using wire mesh to form a barrel-shape then anchor it to the ground. Any leaves you collect this fall/winter will come in handy for use in homemade compost and/or for making rich humus in early spring.

Leaf catch

  • Inspect tree trunks for pest damage and address any issues promptly.
  • Permanently remove limb spreaders ~ only remove them if the secured limbs stay in place once the spreaders are removed. Otherwise, leave them in for another season.
  • Complete routine maintenance on all orchard equipment before storing for winter.
    • Deep clean pruners ~ sanitize, sharpen and oil
    • Clean rakes and shovels ~ remove any dirt and rust then apply a protectant
    • Make any necessary repairs
  • Do general clean up in and around the orchard.
    • Pick up piles of debris, fallen limbs and branches to help prevent over-wintering pests and diseases.
    • Empty out and sanitize buckets and containers you regularly use ~ use a mild bleach and water solution to sanitize.
    • Rake out any wood mulch that has “bunched” up or has been displaced throughout the season.
      For example, my border collie, Pinny, regularly does burn-outs around the orchard while chasing birds and squirrels exposing bare ground in some areas and creating piles of wood mulch in other areas. Yeah, I’m a little OCD that way, but I do like a tidy orchard going into winter. It just helps to mentally “wrap up” the season. Plus, it looks nice 🙂
  • Order/buy compost now for bareroot fruit tree planting in early February ~ Waiting until the last-minute is never a good thing. Also, be aware of the fact that a lot of bulk compost delivery companies will have a better selection / quality of product this time of year versus in January. Generally, spring is when new compost stock starts to come in for preparation of the growing season ahead. Keep in mind, that you’ll need a good-sized pile of compost if you plan to “heel-in” your new bareroot fruit trees before planting. Compost will also be required for the fruit tree planting process, as well. Just be sure to keep the compost moist by hosing it down at least once each week and covering it with a tarp. Using a few heavy objects to anchor down the corners of the tarp is a great idea, too since it’s inevitable that we’ll get a few blasts of wind this winter.

Vegetative Compost Forest Waste

  • Dig holes now for bare root fruit trees that will be planted in February ~ this step for November is optional, but something that I highly recommend. This is especially true for those of you planning to plant more than 1-2 fruit trees in early spring (i.e., early February here in Las Vegas). Doing this step now not only helps to expedite the planting process in spring, but it’s also much easier to do this laborious task while the weather is still decent versus in the finger numbing cold of January or February.Burrrr. Been there done that!
    • Safety Hazard Warning: For those of you who plan to dig the holes now and leave them empty/open until planting in spring, be aware of the potential safety issue/hazard of doing this and take precautions to secure and/or block the area (i.e., place cones and reflective tape, etc.), otherwise, follow the next step…

Fruit tree planting Check for drainage

  • Once your holes are dug and drainage checked, do the following:
    • Mix together 50% native soil and 50% compost; be sure to remove any rocks that are golf ball size and larger.
    • Mix rock dusts into the 50/50 soil mixture (I use about 16 ounces each of Azomite, Glacial Rock Dust, and Soft Rock Phosphate).
    • Refill the hole about three-quarters of the way up with the rock dust infused 50/50 soil mixture. Leave the remainder of the soil mixture either piled up next to the hole or in buckets. You’ll need this soil during the planting process in February.
    • Mix in a quality microbial inoculant (or the John & Bob’s suite of products) along with a couple of large handfuls of bone meal into the top 4-inches to 6-inches of the 50/50 soil in the hole, then water in well.
    • Now, let this sit and work its magic until you’re ready to plant.
    • Note: You’ll probably still want to block off the area, but it’s far less of a safety issue with the hole(s) partially filled.

Well, that just about does it for tasks in the month of November. Oh, one last task… make yourself your fav fall beverage, preferably something nice and toasty hot, then step outside with it, take a sip and enjoy the cooling weather 😀

God bless,

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Fruit and Nut Tree Planting Strategy

Weeping Santa Rosa PlumHi friends! Lately, I’ve had a few of you ask about my orchard planting strategy. More specifically, why I laid out and planted my orchard the way I did.  So with that in mind, I’d like to talk with you today about how I came up with my fruit tree planting plan. Basically, my approach to the pressing home orchard question ~ what will go where and why?

When planning out our front and backyard fruit orchards, we had several important decisions to make before putting pen to paper. Especially since we had already decided to take full advantage of the fact that our community was HOA-free. To do this, we decided to set up two separate and distinct orchard areas… the back yard and the front yard. It was so nice to be able to use our front yard this way without hesitation or without someone else’s permission. To celebrate our bureaucratic freedom, I did a little happy dance in our front yard, of course being careful not to trip over the bazillion-and-one large rocks and boulders we inherited from the previous owners o_O

Front yard orchard and rocksIn making the decision to use both the front and backyards for our orchard, we knew it would bring with it a number of planning challenges and questions that needed to be answered. Much of which involved lots of note taking, brainstorming, preliminary sketches, as well as hours of research. We wanted it to be as close to “right” as we possibly could get it.

From the very beginning, our hearts were set on growing a wide variety of fruits and nuts like peaches, apples, pomegranates, figs, apricots, almonds, pistachios and so much more. A good mix of stone fruits, seeded fruits and nut trees. We also wanted to leave room in the orchard for a few fruit trees that may appeal to us down the road.

Backyard OrchardWith this desire for variety, we really had to hunker down and do our homework to properly address the question ~ what will go where and why?

Answering this question for ourselves was far from straightforward and involved a good amount of research, brainstorming and sketching things out on paper. So to just pass along a snippet of info or to simply hint at our solution would be doing a disservice to those who would like more direction with this topic. For this reason, I’ve listed out our complete strategy below.

What Will Go Where?

We started to address this question by putting together our wish list of fruit and nut trees. With our list in hand, we could easily begin researching each tree’s requirements and attributes. Also, keep in mind that at this point we had already decided to maintain both orchards as ladderless by keeping our fruit trees at around 8’ high and 10’ wide. So the need to know each tree’s maturity size was rather pointless.

Backyard Orchard

Backyard OrchardAs I began my research, I thought it would be helpful to gather the following information…

  • Approximate harvest dates
  • Category of fruit (stone fruit, seeded fruit or nut tree)
  • Identify as Self-fruitful or Pollinator Required (+ a list of potential pollinator trees)
  • Root stocks (we used the UNCE Orchard’s recommendations)
  • Maintenance requirements (i.e., pruning, water, etc.)
  • Photos of each fruit tree in bloom as well as with and without leaves

Next, I decided to seek the advice of a master gardener here in Las Vegas, Nevada who had extensive experience working with fruit and nut trees at the local UNCE/Master Gardener Orchard here on the north end of town. Her advice was to keep the seeded fruit trees in one area and the stone fruit trees in the other. This advice appealed to my analytical side and seemed quite orderly to me at the time.

With the advice still fresh on my mind, I decided to dig deeper into my research. I wanted my decisions to be based on well-thought out and factual information versus something that just calmed my need for organization.

As I continued collecting data, I decided to enter it into an Excel spreadsheet to make life a little easier for myself. I also found it helpful to make a separate list of things I wanted to address with the orchard. Things like…

  • Shade
  • Privacy
  • and Visual Appeal (both inside and outside my home)

Important Considerations

Based on my research, I identified the following important considerations for fruit tree placement within a home orchard…

Pollination

As I reviewed my list of fruit trees and information, I realized that several of the fruit trees I chose required pollinators. My research had revealed that for the best pollination possible, the closer the fruit trees were planted to their pollinator the better. This fact alone dictated placement for several of the trees on my list.

For Example: my Pluots (Flavor King, Flavor Queen, Flavor Supreme and Flavor Grenade) all require a pollinator such as a Burgundy Plum or a Santa Rosa Plum.  Some of the Pluots can even be pollinated by another Pluot. I chose to go with the beautiful Weeping Santa Rosa Plum.

Flavor Grenade and Flavor Supreme PluotsOther trees on my list that required pollinators were the Asian pears.  My low-chill cherries also require a pollinator, but we planted these later in a couple of the “reserved” spots within our orchard.

While researching, I came across several knowledgeable resources that mentioned cross-pollination with the same fruit-type can produce better yields. I’m uncertain if this is truly occurring in my orchard or not.  Currently, I have just one Aprium (apricot/plum), one nectarine and one peach tree that are self-fruitful and I had a bumper crop with all of these trees this year.  So, unless my bees are tracking in pollen from other fruit trees in the area (which may very well be the case), my trees are super-stars at returning the love they’re given 😀

Maintenance

Here’s an important consideration that a lot of folks forget to think through. Maintenance. Which trees are going to require the most attention and care?  Will some of the trees require lots of summer pruning or have the potential for mushy fruit on the ground? Doing both a backyard and a front yard orchard? Where do you think you’ll spend most of your time?

For me, I knew that the bulk of my time would be spent in the backyard orchard since this is where my veggie garden is located and the bulk of our fruit trees would be. That’s why I wanted my front yard orchard to be lower maintenance than the back and chose seeded fruit like apples and asian pears.  Both have a tendency to grow much slower than some of the stone fruit though my Hosui Asian Pear’s new growth reaches for the sun and requires minor summer pruning.

In my opinion, stone fruit trees are much higher maintenance than seeded fruit trees. Stone fruit trees require heavier pruning in spring and one or more summer pruning each year. And from my experience, these trees, especially my peach, can make a yucky mushy mess with its more frequent fruit drop. Keep in mind that any fruit tree can make a gooey sticky mess under its canopy if the orchardist fails to pick up the dropped fruit in a timely manner. Just saying.

My ginormous white nectarine that I've already summer pruned extensively 3x this year

My ginormous white nectarine that I’ve already summer pruned extensively 3x this year

Now to be only fair, I must mention that my aprium, pluots and plum are fairly “mess-free”.  They are a preferred target for the birds and can drop bird pecked fruit on a fairly regular basis. To me, these trees would also be great candidates for a front yard orchard, except for the fact that they do require bird protection ~ which can look quite unsightly.

Keeping trees with similar maintenance requirements in the same general area can help make quick work of the “clean-up” process. After planting, I did find this to be true and I’m so glad we incorporated this into our plan.

I also found it extremely helpful, especially in the beginning, to have fruit trees with similar pruning requirements close by each other . It just makes pruning tasks go that much faster. Less “stop and think” action.

Saturn PeachFruit trees with similar pruning requirements:

  • Peaches and Nectarines
  • Apricots, Plums and Pluots
  • Apples, Pears and Quince
  • Figs, Pomegranates and Persimmons
  • Almonds and Pistachios

Citrus and cherries have their own set of pruning requirements.

Pest Control

Some fruit and nut trees require just a little bit different approach to pest control. Especially from the furry and feathery kind.

Early on, we knew that we would need to do some sort of bird netting setup on our fruit trees but had no clue as to what that really looked like at that time or how to account for it in our overall orchard design.

Our current bird netting frame system worked out quite well for us, in our backyard orchard, based on some of the other decisions we made in our orchard plan (see Harvest below). Because our bird netting frame is quite large and obvious, we have been extremely reluctant to use it in our front yard orchard. Our Black Mission Fig tree in the front can definitely use some help, though ~ and soon! It’s become a favorite dining spot for Mocking Birds of all ages to sink their beaks in and feast on our delicious sweet figs. When we’re lucky enough to be able to eat one, we can delight in how great they taste this year.

Black Mission FigHarvest

I think the key to our bird netting frame success and ease of use revolves around the fact that we took the time to consider harvest times in our fruit tree placement. It has worked out nicely being able to, for the most part, harvest our way consecutively down a row. There’s just something very satisfying about this process. Check. Done. Move to the left 🙂

Goldkist ApriumIrrigation

Another important consideration is water. Based on my research, I confirmed that most of our fruit trees have similar watering requirements, except for a small handful of trees that require either less water or a different watering approach (i.e., pomegranates, citrus, avocado).

Forgetting to plan this out properly could become problematic. Planting a water-thirsty tree, like a fig, smack dab in the middle of an orchard full of drought tolerant, low water usage fruit trees would not be ideal. It could work if an additional water source was available or if the water-thirsty tree was on its own water-line (an irrigation planning nightmare in the making?). Both would require more effort on the orchardist’s part.

We knew we needed to do something different for our pomegranates, citrus and future avocado, so we segmented a section off from the main backyard orchard just for these trees. A separate water-line was dedicated to this area so we could adjust the water specific to their needs.

Front Yard Orchard

Still using a temporary watering system in our Front Orchard and we give our water-thirsty fig an extra sip of water each week from a nearby hose.

Fruit Pilfering

Let me first start this section by saying that I tried to come up with a gentle term for this, but I guess I have to call it for what it is.

Fruit pilfering is wise to consider, especially if growing fruit trees in an unprotected area for all to see, like a front yard orchard.  It’s a very important consideration for those who are really bothered by the thought of others helping themselves to fruit.

With our decision to set up a front yard orchard, we felt fairly safe doing so since we planned to initially encircle our orchard with the bazillion hard to maneuver rocks and boulders in the front yard. Later, we plan to enclose our front yard with fencing or a wall of some sort and a gate. Also, our neighborhood does not have sidewalks, so onlookers have to admire our trees from afar.

It also helps to share fruit with neighbors. They can enjoy the harvest with you and will be more likely to keep another set of watchful eyes on the orchard 😀

Aesthetics and Privacy

Most people either overlook this consideration or focus most of their attention on it. Both actions can easily come back to bite you in the ole’ rumpola and it may be next to impossible to try to work this into the plan after all the fruit trees have been planted 😥

Myself personally, aesthetics and privacy are important to me. I love looking out the windows of my home to see my orchard trees. The orchard is quite beautiful throughout the different seasons, but especially in the spring when all of the flowers are blooming. I also love the privacy that some of my well placed fruit trees provide us.

One of my requirements was to plant a fruit tree with exceptional beauty qualities just outside my kitchen window. Something extra beautiful that I could gaze upon from my kitchen while chopping up fresh veggies or washing my freshly harvested fruit. Hence the placement of my newly planted Spice Zee Nectaplum. It has gorgeous dark red leaves in early spring and turns a nice shade of green in summer. It’s especially nice that the new growth in summer comes out red then changes as it matures.

Spice Zee Nectaplum

There’s a part of me that wishes I would have planted the Weeping Santa Rosa plum just outside the kitchen window with its lovely weeping structure, but I do have it planted fairly close by and can see it from the kitchen as well.

In addition to a few focal point trees in the orchard, we also wanted to shade the west wall of our home to help keep the house cooler during the summer months. Hence the pomegranates being planted up against that wall. We knew they could take the heat well and would grow quickly to provide the shade we wanted.

Pomegranates

Other Needs To Account For

Finally, we gave careful consideration to any “special requirements” that some of the fruit trees on our list have.

  • Wind protection (Pluots)
  • Winter protection (Citrus and Avocados)
  • Afternoon shade (Cherries)

A Special Note About Nut Trees

Before I conclude, I’ve listed a few points for those of you who are planning to grow nut trees.

  • Avoid planting nut trees right up against a wall if squirrels or other rodents are a problem; it gives them super easy “private” access into the tree
  • Beware of black walnut toxicity ~ it can hinder the growth of certain trees and plants around it (by several feet)
    http://www.wvu.edu/~agexten/hortcult/fruits/blkwalnt.htm
  • Nut trees can be planted just about anywhere or with any other fruit or nut tree, as long as it has plenty of sunlight, the right amount of water and room to grow.
  • Some nut trees, like pistachios, need a male tree that can pollinate several female trees

Conclusion

For the home orchardist, I feel it makes very little difference whether you group your fruit tree plantings by stone fruit, seeded fruit or nut trees –or- intermix your fruit and nut tree varieties… as long as you’ve properly planned and considered all of your likes and dislikes, options, tree requirements, etc. when making your final planting decisions. Planning is key!Orchard Planting Plan

 

God Bless,

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August Orchard Tasks

6 Month Old Pluots and Pinny

Hi everyone! It’s been so awesome in the garden these last few weeks. After the rain we had last weekend, my garden literally exploded with growth! A lot of my veggie plants are stretching way beyond the size I had anticipated for them that I find myself constantly clipping things back ~ especially my squash plants and tomatillo. I really need to start composting.

Well, the month of August is well under way and I’ve compiled a comprehensive list of orchard tasks for you below. Since most of August’s tasks are the same as July, rather than list every item in duplicate below, I’d rather encourage you to thoroughly review July’s Orchard Tasks list before proceeding with the content below.  Before leaving this page, please note that I’ve listed below two updates along with a handful of new important tasks for the month of August.

Let’s get started…

Updates

  • Irrigation ~ during the month of August, the weather can be a bit more erratic here in the desert due to our summer monsoon season. Here’s a great example… just a little over a week ago, our daytime temps were hitting 108°F. Then a storm rolled in with lots of rain and the temps dropped to a muggy 81°F.
    Keep to the normal schedule of watering 3x per week and watch the weather closely. And remember… save water and save your trees from drowning by turning off your irrigation system if rain is imminent.
  • Finalize Your Fruit Tree Wish List in the next week or two if you’re planning to pre-order bare root fruit trees for planting next spring. Most nurseries and orchards start taking pre-orders for bare root fruit trees at the end of this month or early next month. Bay Laurel Nursery is my favorite online source for purchasing bare root fruit trees. They have a wonderful selection, awesome customer service and replacement guarantee (which they have honored [with a smile] on more than one occasion for me), reasonable prices and shipping costs, great packaging and they are a distributor of Dave Wilson Nursery fruit trees, which in my opinion (and the opinion of many other experienced orchardists) are the absolute best fruit tree stock available. Still need help deciding whether to buy bare root or containerized fruit trees? Check out my past posts Step 3: Purchasing the Fruit Trees (Part 1)  (Part 2)  and (Part 3) where I talk in great detail about bare root vs. containerized fruit trees.

New for August

  •  Check tree stake ties on first year fruit trees ~ loosen ties or remove and replace with a new tie to prevent girdling of the trunk. Some folks like to remove the stakes and ties shortly after new growth appears on a newly planted fruit tree, but I usually leave them in place until late fall.

Fruit Tree Water Basin

  • Deep soak water basins of trees at least 1x this month ~ in hot and arid climates, soil moisture can quickly evaporate allowing high concentrations of salts in the soil to accumulate. Ultimately, this increase in salts can be detrimental to your fruit trees and will kill off vital biology within the soil. Yes, the very life most of us are trying to cultivate in our soils.
    For this reason, it’s always good practice to regularly flush out excess salts away from the root zone by applying a deep soak of water just underneath the canopy of each fruit tree. This is especially true for folks who use drip irrigation in their fruit orchard. Even with running a flood bubbler setup like ours for irrigating our fruit trees, I still find it beneficial to schedule in a few deep soaks each season.
    To deep soak our trees, we do the following:

    • Replace one or our normal watering days with a deep soak.
    • Build a water basin under each fruit tree’s canopy by building up a 4-inch to 5-inch high ring of soil. This basin helps to catch rain water, too 🙂
      Note ~ when digging holes for our fruit trees, we made sure each planting hole had really great drainage.  Good drainage ensures that the water will quickly seep down into the soil and away from the trunk.
    • Next, place a water hose in the water basin then turn the water on to a nice flow that minimally disturbs the soil and slowly fills the water basin full of water. I run the water for approximately 30-40 minutes being careful to not let the water overflow the bank of the water basin.
    • To help keep track of time, I typically use a timer to remind me when to move the hose.
  • Check for and address any fungal disease issues ~ hot and humid weather is the perfect environment for fungal disease.

Mid-monthChojuro Asian PearIn late summer and early fall, fruit trees are preparing for next year’s growth by actively growing roots and storing truckloads of nutrients for next spring. Now is the time to kick soil biology into gear. Avoid using chemical N-P-K fertilizers ~ it kills soil life!

  • Kick soil biology into gear…

    • Spray effective microbes/mother culture or aerated microbial tea directly on the ground underneath each fruit tree every 7-10 days. When making your tea, be sure to avoid using animal manures ~ too high in nitrogen.
      and/or
    • Broadcast microbes and minerals underneath the fruit tree’s canopy ~ I like to use John & Bob’s suite of products.
  • Purchase and prepare a “fungal” dominated compost for spreading underneath the canopy of each fruit tree ~ fungal dominated compost is naturally high in lignin (wood) and low in nitrogen. Avoid using any type of bacterial based (heat processed) compost such as manure compost which tends to be high in nitrogen and salts. The goal here is to invigorate the soil biology to provide a store-house of bio-available nutrients that the fruit trees can readily take up and store for next year’s growth and use for this fall’s flush of root growth. A high nitrogen compost, like manure, will cause the tree to have a burst of vegetative growth (leaves) which is not ideal going into fall and its ensuing dormant season.
  • To prepare the fungal dominated compost:
    • Fungal dominated compost = use approximately ¼” depth of high quality fungal dominated compost per tree.
      For example: Each of my fruit trees have a 3 to 5 foot diameter water basin so I use approximately 2-3 gallons of compost for each tree.
    • Mix in a small amount of rock dust into the compost:
      • 8 ounces of Soft Rock Phosphate per tree
      • 8 ounces of Azomite per tree
    • Inoculate the compost/rock dust mixture by spraying with and gently mixing in one of the following:
      • Effective Microbes/Mother Culture
      • Aerated microbial tea (again, avoid manure)
    • Keep the compost moist until it is ready to spread under the fruit trees in early September.
      Though a fungal dominated compost is best, a beneficial alternative would be worm castings. Worm castings typically contain a lot of nutrition that’s been broken down by the worms into a simple form that’s readily available to the trees. It also provides a host of beneficial microbes. Just be sure the worms have been fed a vegetative diet that excluded manures and only use a small amount of it per tree because of its higher nitrogen levels. I would recommend starting out with a thin layer (maybe just enough to lightly coat the surface of the soil) and monitor the tree’s canopy growth. If there’s a flush of new leaf growth, use less the following year.

To prepare the worm castings (this can be prepared at the end of this month):

    • First, mix the rock dusts (same amount as above) with the worm castings.
    • Broadcast the rock dust and worm castings mixture underneath the tree canopy.
    • Next, inoculate the broadcasted mixture by spraying it with one of the following:
      • Effective Microbes/Mother Culture
      • Aerated microbial tea (again, avoid manure)
    • Water everything in.

Backyard Orchard Design

  • Finalize fruit orchard design/layout ~ especially if starting a new orchard. Having an orchard design layout in hand can be extremely helpful when making fruit tree purchasing decisions. Need a little help? Click here.
  • Now’s the time to submit a soil test to determine exactly what amendments are needed ~ you’ll be glad you did this! Be sure to check out my post on My High Brix/Nutrient Dense Growing Style ~ I  included lots of great info on soil testing.
  • Add amendments to fruit tree soil ~ add amendments based on the results of the soil test. Avoid digging amendments into the soil as it may damage the feeder roots.  Lightly scratch the amendments in or simply broadcast the amendments under the fruit tree’s canopy and water in.

End of the Month

Bare Root Fruit Trees

  • Pre-order bare root fruit trees ~ pre-ordering gives you the widest variety of fruit trees to choose from, or you can take your chances and purchase bare root fruit trees next spring from a local nursery or orchard. Typically, the selection is very limited and you may not be able to purchase the exact fruit tree(s) you really want.
    When I pre-order my bare root fruit trees from Bay Laurel Nursery, my account is usually debited a couple of days before my chosen ship date (which is in February). No money is required upfront. 🙂

Hope you found this task list helpful. Until next time we chat ~ eat homegrown!

God Bless,

AG_Signature_Color_Transparent

 
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July Orchard Tasks

Egg_070114Hi friends… hope you’re finding ways to stay cool this summer.  You know its July when the outside temps here turn from hot to sizzling hot.  Recently, our daytime temps have been around 105°F and this week we’re expecting the temps to be even hotter.  110°F to be exact.  It’s supposed to cool down a bit the first part of next week, to a cool 102°F.  It’s definitely gonna be a hot 4th of July.  Wondering about the egg photo? Since it’s so hot, I thought it would be a silly fun photograph for my post, so I cracked an egg on the concrete out back (exact time:  2:15PM).  Will it really cook in this heat?  Doubt it.  Check out this interesting link.

At 3:58PM, I used my temp gun to measure the concrete’s surface temperature… it’s registered at 141°F.  Check out the results at the end of this post.

Any plans for 4th of July?  We usually stay home and help “soothe” our doggie’s nerves when the fireworks start going off.  Pinny has never been a fan of fireworks and really struggles with the flashes and startling explosive sounds. As most of you might agree, 4th of July usually starts in most neighborhoods about a week or so in advance with random fireworks going off here and there.  Then continues off and on well past the official holiday date until neighbor firework supplies have been depleted.

Our youngest kitty, Jaspurr, takes his que from Pinny.  When she freaks out, he freaks out and typically hides and is nowhere to be found for several hours.  Buddies to the core.  It just breaks my heart that they are so frightened by the fireworks.  Ginger, our oldest kitty, is such a skittish little kitty with everything except fireworks.  She sleeps right through the noise and hoopla with no issue.  Go figure.

Aside from the expected temporary disruption to our little family, we always try to make the best of it by grilling something on the BBQ then watching a movie or two with the volume set several times louder than we’d usually have it to help drown out the sounds.

Moving on… here’s this month’s orchard task list.  A lot of the items are the same as June’s Orchard Task list but there are a few differences so be sure to check it out.070114_Pluot

  • Irrigation ~ now that temps are consistently hitting 105°F, it’s time to change-up the watering schedule. This time of year, I water all of my fruit trees 3x a week… typically Monday, Wednesday and Friday for 20 minutes each session. Baby trees can still be watered for about 15 minutes each session, but since all of my trees are on the same watering system, they all get watered for 20 minutes with this one change… I turn down the bubbler heads on my young trees so they get a little less water. My goal for them is about 15 gallons of water each session.
    • If Temps drop back down to 100°F if the day-time temperature drops back down to 100°F consistently for a few days, I’ll back off on my watering to 2x per week, but this is pretty rare here in our desert summer heat.
    • Monsoon Rains:  I keep a close watch out for rain in the forecast and turn off the water to my trees when rain is expected. After it rains, I wait a couple of days before resuming my normal watering schedule, depending on how much rain there was and how saturated the soil still is. Sometimes I’ll use my moisture meter to help determine this, but mostly I just look at the surface of the soil… with our native soil, it’s very easy to tell if the soil is still really wet.
  • Continue to pick up fallen fruit ~ As long as there is fruit to harvest, this will be a recurring task and for some trees, a daily task. For instance, as soon as the temps start to rise, my Saturn Peach tree starts dropping fruit, especially if I missed removing any bird-pecked fruit while harvesting. This half-eaten fruit inevitably starts to decay and rot on the tree then falls to the ground in a mushy mess which quickly turns into a soupy smelly mess.
    Tip: I like to store a small rake, with an empty plastic grocery bag tied to the handle, somewhere nearby the trees I’m harvesting to make quick work of collecting and disposing of fallen fruit.
  • Harvest fruit this month ~ Yum! Depending on where you’re located and the variety of fruit you have growing, you could be harvesting the following fruit this month:
    • Apples
    • Apricots
    • Asian Pears
    • Blueberries
    • Figs
    • NectaPlums
    • Nectarines
    • Peaches
    • Pears
    • Plums
    • Pluots

I’m currently harvesting

    • Dorsett Golden Apple
    • Saturn Peaches
    • Black Mission Figs
    • Weeping Santa Rosa Plums

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  • Keep harvested fruit out of direct sunlight ~ Besides the tips mentioned in June’s Orchard Tasks, bringing out an ice chest (with a handle and wheels) filled ½ way with ice is always helpful this time of year. Be sure to keep the fruit elevated out of any water by using a tray of some sort.
  • Summer Prune ~ continue to summer prune, if needed
  • Keep weeds under control ~ One helpful tip I failed to mention last month on this subject is that it’s super helpful to spread around a 3-inch to 4-inch layer of wood mulch on the ground, especially if you have areas with bare dirt. It works great to suppress the weeds.  Just remember, if your trees are less than 5 years old, keep the wood mulch away from the trunk at least 6-inches.
  • Continue to protect your fruit from bird damage.  Be sure to check out my post on bird netting.
  • Keep checking for and addressing pests in your backyard orchard.
    • Borers are out this month here in Las Vegas, Nevada. Be sure to check your fruit trees for any sap coming from the trunk, main scaffolds, branch crotch areas and branches.  Check out the UC IPM site for more info on Peachtree Borers and Peach Twig Borers.
    • Fire Ants and other ants are out in full force this month.

Right now we’re experiencing an ant problem. A Southern Fire Ant problem to be exact. We’ve seen no signs of aphids on our trees, but the ants love to trail up onto the tree branches and feast on any fruit with open wounds (like from bird pecking). The thought of ants climbing around in my fruit trees barely registers on my “bug-on-me-freak-out-reaction-meter” like unexpectedly grabbing onto a spider or stink bug when harvesting fruit. It’s the painful fiery reminder that these ants give you when you inadvertently stir up a marching army of them. Fire ants are common place on our property and boy do those suckers hurt.

We’ve been spreading diatomaceous earth on them when we find large masses of them. Time permitting, we may still spread a DE slurry onto the trunks of our fruit trees, but it probably would have been better to do this a few weeks back.

This weekend we will kick up our search and destroy efforts by scouting around more thoroughly on our property to find entry points into their homes. Especially around my raised beds.  They seem to love my summer squash blossoms. So much so, there’s usually too many to count deep inside the flower itself.  Even the bees are a bit reluctant to go inside to collect pollen and pollinate.  Every time I try to manually pollinate the squash flowers, the ants go completely berserk and usually get on my hand and bite. Ouch!  I can’t tell you how many welts I’ve had on my right hand this week alone.  It’s time to pull out the citrus peel extract (d-Limonene) product and go medieval on their mounds.  I can also make up some special treats for them. Bite on this you fiery suckers!

Yeah, I know… it’s not a pretty sight.  Every year I get bit by these guys then rant about it and even dedicate an entire blog post to it.  Yes, a teeny tiny red and black insect has brought me to this point.  Sad but true.

  • Protect your fruit trees from squirrels, rabbits and other rodents ~ our “catch and release” program this year has been quite successful so far. I’ll be putting out a post on it soon.

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  • Protect yourself from the heat!
    • Work in the cool of the morning and evening ~ this time of year I recommend doing time and labor-intensive tasks, like pruning and harvesting, during the morning hours between 5:30 AM ~ 10:00 AM – and/or – in the evening hours between 6:00 PM ~ 7:30PM; I know this can be challenging with a full-time job, but just remember… this is the fun stuff 🙂
    • Wear protective clothing and accessories such as a long sleeve shirt made of a lightweight sun-blocking fabric, a nice wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses or protective eye wear, and gloves.
    • Stay hydrated ~ bring out a container of cool water with you to drink
    • Take frequent breaks ~ sit in the shade for a few minutes and drink your water
  • Make time to preserve and savor your bounty ~
    • can jams and pie fillings, fruit halves, puree’s, fruit salsas and pickled fruit for use now and later
    • dehydrate fruit for use in future recipes, for granola or — make a homemade trail mix for hiking or camping trips or make yummy fruit roll-ups with different spices and nuts for snacking
    • bake cookies, sweet breads and other delectable sweet treats
    • or freeze your bounty for later use in smoothies and juices ~ just think, fresh peach smoothies all summer long and in the middle of November… yum!
  • Continue feeding your fruit trees by using either a quality organic foliar spray or a soil-microbe friendly fertilizer. You can also add soil and microbe enriching amendments now, too.
    This time of year hubby and I continue to spray a holistic homemade foliar spray on all of our fruit trees except on our Asian pears.  They are more sensitive to the neem oil in our mix so we opt to spray the soil only around those trees.
  • Start Writing Your Fruit Tree Wish List at the end of this month. Planning to start a fruit orchard or add to an existing home fruit orchard? Now is the time to research your bare root fruit tree options.  Bay Laurel Nursery is my favorite online source for purchasing bare root fruit trees. They have a wonderful selection, awesome customer service and replacement guarantee, reasonable prices and shipping costs, great packaging and is a distributor of Dave Wilson Nursery fruit trees, which in my opinion (and the opinion of many other experienced orchardists) are the absolute best fruit tree stock available.

Unsure whether to buy bare root or containerized fruit trees and would like to learn more about the differences between the two? Be sure to check out my posts Step 3: Purchasing the Fruit Trees (Part 1)  (Part 2)  and (Part 3) where I talk about bare root vs. containerized fruit trees in detail.

Now for the results of my concrete cooked egg…

070114_eggNow that’s highly unappealing.  Yuck! Sorry folks, it’s pretty disgusting, but this is what an egg looks like at the end of a 110°F day… if you ever wondered.  Mmmmm.  Who wants breakfast 😛  Back to more pleasant things…

Until next time, happy harvesting.

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Bird Netting

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Hi everyone!  It’s another lovely warm day in Las Vegas, Nevada and with a shade hat in tow, it’s been a wonderful time to get out into the garden and orchard to harvest the fruits of my labor. Speaking of fruit, I want to talk to you today about protecting your fruit harvest from birds.  To be even more specific… to discuss bird netting pros and cons and to show you how hubby and I use it in our orchard with a high level of success.  Before digging into our topic, I’ll give you a quick update on our recent fruit harvest.

In addition to our spring desert heat, hubby and I have been swimming in Flavor Delight Aprium fruit. Here’s our harvest scoop.

Flavor Delight Aprium

Flavor Delight Aprium ~ 2014 Harvest Details

Harvest (start):   May 12th

Harvest (end):   May 24th

Quality:  The fruit was awesome this year!  Our Brix testing came in consistently at 16.  Whoo hoo!

Total # of Fruit:   794

Total Weight:   64 lbs 12.25 ounces

Fruit Loss:   232  (mostly birds and a few squirrels)

What did we do with all that fruit?  Well, we’ve eaten a lot, gave some as gifts, sold some, dehydrated several pounds, canned 7 Quarts of aprium halves and still have about 3 lbs left in the refrigerator that we’re eating from daily.

052714_ApriumA few weeks ago, Hubby and I decided it was time to start protecting our fruit from our winged friends so we set up our bird netting frame on our Aprium (about a week before we started harvesting).  When is the right time to set up?  Well, this is a huge clue…

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Believe me, before you even start thinking about your fruit, the birds will be checking in on them for you.  Peck here.  A peck there.  Next thing you know, 10 of your best and largest pieces of fruit are dumpster bait.  Sure, my fruit tree’s produce more than enough fruit for my family and I really enjoy sharing my fruit with others, but birds can be like glutenous food hoarders who set up camp in front of an all-you-can-eat buffet plowing through each food trough like there’s no tomorrow.  Trust me when I say, “Birds just do not know when to say, when!”.  They also show no restraint when honing in on your finest produce. So what’s the remedy?  Bird netting.

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I’ve tried the bird scare tape, halo bird scare tape (looks pretty and glittery), a fake hawk and twirling things.  Even my pup-pup, Pinny, goes out and chases them on a daily basis ~ nothing keeps the birds from feasting.

052714_BirdNet8Now there’s a few pros and cons to bird netting, but no one can argue it’s effectiveness at keeping “most” of the birds out.  I’ll get back to that thought in a minute.  What are some of the pros and cons to bird netting.  Let’s see, first the pros…

Pros

1) Saves your fruit! This, of course, is the all important BIG ONE!  Bird netting can help to protect all your hard work and, if you sell your fruit, protect your profits.  This year we had a 29% fruit loss on our aprium.  99% of that loss was directly due to bird damage.  Though the loss number is still too high for my liking, trust me when I say the number would have been significantly higher without the added protection of bird netting.  If you’re wondering why we had any bird damage at all, remember I mentioned that it keeps out “most” of the birds (see cons).

2) Economical protection.  Bird netting is relatively inexpensive to purchase and lasts for several harvest seasons.  It’s even less expensive if you buy it in bulk rolls. This is my second season using it and it’s still in good condition.

3) Easy to install.  With the metal bird netting frame hubby and I constructed, it’s a cinch.

4) Easy removal and storage.  Using bird netting the traditional way (draping over a tree) is not easy to remove in my opinion.  It always gets tangled up in the tree ripping out branches and such.  Our process makes it super easy.  At the end of the season, just pull it off, roll it up and tuck it away in the garage until next harvest season.

Cons

1)  Adds more work to your already busy orchard task list.  Our setup is relatively easy to put together, but it does take a few minutes out of our day to complete the task.

2) Can cause injury.  I’m sad to say, we recently had our first fatality.  A young mockingbird somehow got caught in the netting near the base of our setup and died 😥 Not sure how the bird did that, but we had to dispose of it all the same.

Bird netting can be dangerous for playful and energetic dogs, too ~ especially if the netting goes to the ground like our setup does.  Last year, Pinny bolted out the back door to chase a bird and ran right into the netting.  She hit it with such force (a.k.a. border collie speed) that she ripped through the netting.  The result… a small cut on her little nosie and a couple on her front leg.  We felt soooo bad and no longer let her bolt out the door when the netting is up, plus she has an excellent memory and is very cautious around the netting now.

3) Doesn’t keep everyone out.  The bird netting holes are about 3/4″ in size, plenty small enough to keep out medium-sized and larger birds like mockingbirds, cowbirds, purple finch and goldfinches.  But, where it falls short is with the teeny tiny birds.

Lately, we’ve been having frequent visits from a flock of very small light grey birds (about 4″ in size) ~ they’re actually very sweet looking. These birds make a distinctive repetitive high-pitch chirp sound as they move about. They’re pretty figgity little things and tend to move around a lot within the trees (except when they’re dining on my fruit!). These little guys make a mockery of the bird netting even when they’re panicked by Pinny’s incessant barking and pacing back and forth on the other side of the netting ~ it just takes them a couple extra minutes to escape in all the confusion.

To potentially eliminate this problem, we may need to purchase 1/2″ bird netting.  It’s harder to find than the standard 3/4″ bird netting.  I’ll keep you posted if we decide to try this.

Alright, here’s what we do…

Bird Netting Frame

Supplies Needed:  (makes one 8′ high x 10′ wide bird netting frame)

  • 12 pieces of 1″ x 10′ EMT pipe
    • cut four pieces of EMT down to 8′ ~ these will be the sides
    • leave the other eight pieces 10′ ~ four will make up the top of your frame and the other four will help to support the frame as you assemble it ~ this is super handy when the frame is being assembled by one person ~ it makes the assembling process easier, quicker and a lot less wobbly and unstable
  • 8 metal corner fittings
    • four fittings will connect the top of the bird netting frame, the other four fittings will connect the base support
  • 4 metal foot pads
  • 4 ~ 6″ to 12″ long metal stakes
  • 20 ~ 1-3/4″ Nylon Spring Clamps ~ Harbor Freight has a great deal on these
  • 50 feet of 1/8″ paracord
  • Metal pipe cutter or hacksaw
  • Old cotton t-shirts cut into eight 4″x6″ squares
  • Sturdy ladder
  • 14′ x 100′ ~ 3/4″ Bird netting (this can be cut in half and used to make two bird netting frames or the excess can be used to protect your berries, veggie garden, etc.)

These instructions work well for us and can be easily assembled by one person

Step One

Begin by assembling a 10′ x 10′ square (on the ground) using four pieces of 1″x10′ EMT pipe and four metal corner fittings.  When complete, you will have a 10′ square that will help to support the actual bird netting frame as you assemble it.

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Step Two

Attach a metal corner fitting to one end of an 8 foot long piece of EMT pipe.  Once the corner is attached, slip the bare end of the pipe into one of the metal corner fittings on the 10′ square on the ground and tighten.  Repeat this step with the remaining three 8′ long EMT pipe.  These pipes make up your sides and you’re now ready to assemble the top frame.  At this point, the frame will look like it’s upside down (see above photo).

Step Three

Now, slip each end of a 10′ long EMT pipe into a top metal corner fitting and tighten.  You now have one side assembled.  Repeat this step for the remaining three pieces of 10′ long EMT pipe until you have the top square completed.

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Step Four

Remove the 10′ square frame on the ground working one corner at a time by first detaching the corner fitting then replacing it with a base piece.  Repeat this step for the remaining three corners.  Your frame is now complete.

Note:  if you have the space, you can leave the 10′ square ground frame in place.  When you need to move it to another tree, simply remove one of the 10′ sections then drag/slide the frame away from the tree and into position over another tree.

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Step Five

This step is optional, but we find it very helpful to keep the bird netting from sagging too much on top ~ especially when the mockingbirds decide to walk on top of the bird netting.  Simply cut two 11 foot long pieces of nylon rope and tie the ends to the top of the frame from one end across to the other.

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Step Six

Assemble the bird netting over the frame using clamps to fasten it to the EMT pipe as you go.  Now, this part can be a bit tricky and an extra pair of hands comes in handy at this point. It can be done in one of two ways…

1) Assemble the bird netting using five separate pieces ~ one for the top and one for each of the four sides,

  • sides = 14′ wide x 10′ high
  • top = 14′ x 14′

or…

2) Assemble the bird netting using three separate pieces ~ one long piece that will fit over the front, top and back side and one piece each for the remaining two sides

  • sides = 14′ wide x 10′ high
  • front/top/back = 14′ wide x 38′ long

Hubby and I currently use option 2 and use eight clamps (two on either side of each top corner) to firmly hold the netting to the frame.  The remaining clamps are used to hold the sides in place.

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Step Seven

Now, gather two side sections of netting and secure it to an EMT corner/side using three clamps… one at the top, one at the middle and one at the base.  The middle and base clamps are where we use the old t-shirt squares.  The clamps have a tendency to get a little tangled in the netting.  Using a piece of old t-shirt between the netting and the clamp really helps to make entry and exit from the frame during harvesting much easier and hassle-free.

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Step Eight

To help secure the frame in place, especially if you live in an area with high winds, simply drive a stake into each metal foot pad (which have pre-drilled holes for convenience).  To date, our bird netting frame has stayed in place even through 50+ mph winds.

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Step Nine

Now roll up the excess netting on the each side of the bird netting frame and secure with rocks, a board, etc. to keep the wind from blowing the netting up.

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When you’re ready to harvest, simply kick the rocks aside, remove the bottom and middle clamps, roll up the netting and secure overhead with the clamps and you’re in business!

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Hope this all makes sense to you.  Questions?  Just leave me a comment and I’ll be sure to get back with you.

Thanks for letting me “visually” bombard you with photos!  Until we chat again…

Sharing at An Oregon Cottage

God Bless,

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May Orchard Tasks

041714_CosmosHello dear friends.

I have a confession… would you believe that I’ve been sitting on the May Orchard task list for a couple of weeks now.  Yeah. I thought I was being all clever and everything writing up a draft post “before” May 1st, but yunno, life has a way of interfering with even our best made plans.  Nothing horrible, mind you… just “daily busy” amped up to the umpth degree and non-stop wind that’s been making my life more challenging in the garden, making a mess of my sinuses and adding more tasks to our never-ending list for both the garden and orchard and our home (my roof has seen better days).

With all the strong winds lately, my fruit orchard has held up quite well with only a small handful of fruit on the ground after especially strong wind gusts (40+ mph).  Guess my deep watering for deep roots, fruit thinning and summer pruning has really helped 😀 Well, if you live in the desert wind is a reality so its best to plan ahead, be as prepared as you possibly can, keep on top of weather reports and move through it the best you can.

Before we get started, I want to let you know that I added a convenient link at the top of my blog so you can easily access my monthly Home Orchard Tasks lists whenever you get the hankerin’ to get list busy.  In the near future, I plan on creating some downloadable freebies for you as well that you can print off and place in your garden/orchard journal 🙂

OrchardTasks OrchardTasks2

Okay, now for the month of May.  Hold on to your hats folks cuz May is the start of a garden and orchard whirl wind (it’s all good though).  The task list is reasonable in length but the work is a bit more involved, especially if you have early fruiting trees like Cherries and Apricots.

There’s so much going on in my orchard and garden right now that I want to share with you, but we’ll stay focused on the task at hand and I’ll have to hold my britches for now.

Here’s this month’s Orchard Task List…

  • Thin out fruit missed in the first round of fruit thinning last month.  First round? There’s two specific reasons why I say this…
    1) now, you may have the magic fruit thinning touch, but for me, I find it nearly impossible to thin out the fruitlets the first time around. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack, though in this situation, it’s like trying to find all the small green fruitlets in a lush sea of green leaves. Everything starts “blending” and I have to resort to letting my hands do all the work by feeling around under leaves and along branches.
    2) this one is especially true for newbie home fruit orchardists… it can be downright hard to part with your hard-earned fruitlets “slash” future yummy fruit. In the case of fruit trees, more fruit on the tree is not better. It can hinder the fruit tree’s health and vigor.  This is a discussion we’ll save for later, but for now, if you’re guilty of this just trust me when I say, “when you feel you’ve taken off enough fruitlets, take off at least another 20”.

Note: Unless you have fruit trees that are ready to harvest this month, thinning fruit now is okay, though tree fruit this month will be more sizeable than last month.  There’s no harm done if a few fruit clusters here and there still need to be thinned out. Check out April’s tasks for a few quick tips on fruit thinning.

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  • Irrigation
    1 year or older fruit trees ~ start to water 2x a week this month. Here in the desert, the weather typically starts to warm up in early May (day temps in the mid 80’s+). Heat + our spring winds = dry conditions.  Folks in more temperate climates may be able to delay the added watering day another month.How do you water and for how long? Boy, this is one of those highly debatable topics with so many conflicting opinions and is definitely worth further exploration in the future.  What I can tell you is what works for me right now that is based on input from a local horticulturalist who’s been working hands-on with the UNCE test orchard for 10+ years, personal trial and error, and three years worth of study and testing in my own orchard.  This my friends is a watering plan that has evolved with much care and concern for both our fruit orchard and local drought concerns. I personally water my fruit trees this time of year 2x a week for about 20 minutes each cycle with an approximate 1 gallon per minute water flow from flood bubblers.  Each bubbler waters into a water basin under each tree just under the canopy (no run off) and then seeps down into the soil quickly. This allows for a nice-deep-soak encouraging the tree’s main roots to go deep. The feeder roots will stay near the soil surface at about 12-18-inches below the soil’s surface. I also check the soil of my trees with a water meter from time to time to make sure that I’m not over or under watering.  For me… fruit trees that have infrequent deep watering = stronger and healthier trees = long-term success.
  • Irrigation for newly planted trees ~ continue watering new fruit trees 2x a week. Irrigate for about 10 minutes if using a garden hose or flood bubblers to irrigate; the ideal water flow is about 1 gallon per minute.

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  • Continue to install branch spreaders ~ especially on new young growth.  See April and March Orchard Tasks for more installation details.
  • Keep up with your pest controls… See April Orchard Tasks for more tips.
    • Take daily strolls through your orchard and “observe”
    • Capture and identify pests found (here’s one good resource)
    • Continue to monitor any traps set out for pests in your area
    • Watch for early signs of Peach Twig Borer damage
    • Watch for aphids on new growth
    • Set out “humane and safe” traps for squirrels
    • Address ants ~ apply a diatomaceous earth slurry (basically DE mixed with water together to form a paste-consistency) onto trunks to help with ants, beetles and other creepy crawlies climbing into the fruit trees
    • Watch for Leaf Footed Bugs and Stink Bugs
  • Set up bird netting, scare tape and other bird scare contraptions now ~ this is especially true for early fruiting varieties like cherries, apricots, and apriums and also berries, such as blueberries.  One note I want to make… I am currently monitoring Leaf Footed Bug and Stink Bug activity in my orchard with yellow sticky traps (I read in a few places that they are attracted to the color – we’ll see).  Last year, Leaf Footed Bugs started showing up in my orchard toward the end of May.  These guys are large and no fun.  Last year, they’d get spooked when I was harvesting and made a mad dash out of the tree and into my hair or face… yuck!  This year, I’ve found one Stink Bug in my nectarine tree (where there’s one there may be more).One concern I have with bird netting is that it does a great job keeping out larger birds like mockingbirds, and purple and yellow finches.  The tinier finches make a mockery of the netting as they slip in and out of the small netting holes with ease.  Unfortunately, these tiny finches do a very poor job eating larger insects in my trees.  The hard-working bug eaters (a.k.a mockingbirds) are kept out.  I will continue to study this closely to see if it’s more beneficial to sacrifice some fruit for natural pest control.  As of today, I’m two thumbs up for bird netting, but who knows what tomorrow will bring.

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  • Continue summer pruning to ensure light penetration into your fruit trees and on your developing fruit. Focus on new growth that is going either straight up, back into the tree or straight down. Also, for fruit trees planted in rows (like mine), make sure to “prune a path” between fruit trees to make room for walking through and harvesting.  And be sure to especially prune at eye level.  It’s either that or wearing protective glasses to prevent eye pokes!

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  • Remove broken or badly damaged branches and limbs from any recent storms.  Like wind… blah!
  • Protect apple fruit from sunburn. What are some options? Try spraying Kaolin clay (Surround) directly onto the fruit (a little bit on the leaves won’t hurt) or place Kaolin clay coated nylon booties on each piece of fruit (these can be made easily by soaking the booties in a wet solution of Kaolin clay then let dry). This second option takes a little bit of time to place the booties on the fruit, but it works ~ helps keep bugs off, too.
  • Pick up fallen fruitlets.  There’s nothing like ringing the dinner bell for every creepy crawlie in town when fruit is left to rot on the ground.
  • Remove any damaged, partly eaten (birds/bugs), shriveled and/or wrinkled, badly scarred, misshapen, stunted or yellowing fruitlets from the trees. That was a mouthful.

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  • Foliar feed fruit trees every 10-14 days.
  • Replenish wood mulch and/or compost underneath each fruit tree canopy ~ the heat is coming!  Remember, if your trees are less than 5 years old, keep the mulch about 6″ away from the trunk.
  • Prepare for harvesting fruit and preserving the abundance. My supplies include
    • couple of large flat/sturdy boxes from my local warehouse store to lay out easily bruised fruit in a single layer when harvesting
    • wire and/or wicker harvest basket and cotton towel to lay on the bottom in case there are any sharp/rough edges
    • Hand Clippers
    • 5 gallon bucket, trash bag or other receptacle to toss in the inevitable damaged or rotting piece of fruit or two
    • Plastic baggies (in case you run across an unwelcome guest that you need capture and identify later)
    • Small flat boxes for fruit that you plan to gift to others (rather than just tossing your prized fruit into a flimsy plastic grocery bag ~ so unworthy of all your hard work and your beautiful fruit)
    • Hat
    • Long sleeve shirt (very important ~ it never fails, when I wear short sleeved shirts when I harvest I always get an itchy~scratchy rash and branch scrapes and cuts to boot)
    • Gloves
    • Water bath canner
    • Canning jars, lids and rings of various sizes
    • Other canning supplies (ladles, hot pads, etc.)
    • And pull out canning recipe books and other relevant cookbooks, a notepad and pen and start making a list of ingredients needed for all the wonderful yumminess bursting through your back door (or front door)
  • Clean refrigerator to make room for all the wonderful fruit!
  • Have a notebook (or something) to record harvest numbers and observations.
  • Continue to update your Orchard Journal.
  • Begin harvesting early bearing fruit trees and berries 😀

And most importantly…

  • Gather loved ones together in the orchard, hold hands and pray for blessings and abundance for this year’s harvest season

Here’s to an awesome harvest season everyone… May your garden always be full of goodness, health and filled with God’s blessings.

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Helpful Fruit Orchard Series & Tour

041514_FrontyardHi everyone. For those of you who are blessed to have yummy fruit trees growing in your home back yard (or front yard!), I hope you’re getting through your orchard to-do list without issue or stress.

For those of you only growing veggies, flowers, or nothing at all… start planning now! I challenge you to plant at least one fruit tree. Whether it’s planted in the ground or in a large container on a patio, there’s a fruit tree out there that will meet your needs. So I hope to hear the words, “Challenge… accepted!” You’ll be so glad you did.

041514_Backyard

Re: photos above.  You may notice quite a difference between my front and back orchards (i.e., lush vs. sparse).  If you’re thinking the wood chip mulch made the difference, that assumption would be false (at least in this case).  Though our back orchard is lovin’ the wood chips, which will ultimately benefit the trees and soil enormously, we just recently put the mulch down.  Also note, that both orchards were planted at the same time with the same amendments and soil.  Both orchards are healthy and producing wonderfully delicious fruit.

I believe part of the difference is the type of fruit we’re growing.  With the exception of our pomegranates and citrus, the fruit trees in the back are all stone fruit.  The fruit trees in the front are small seeded fruit such as apples, fig, and asian pears. Though the fig is a fast growing tree, the apples seem to take a little longer to fill out this time of year.  Plus the Pink Lady Apples and the Hosui and Chojuro Asian Pear trees have a tendency to grow straight up to the sun giving them a very linear appearance.  We’ll be amping up our efforts in the next few weeks with the limb spreaders on these guys 🙂

And the little scrawny tree you see in the front orchard is an almond that failed to take off.  We’ll be replacing this tree next year and will plant it in a new location.  This is the third almond tree we’ve planted in this spot and all have failed 😦  Time to do something different.

Just wanted to mention that small bit of info in case you were curious.

Helpful Planning Tools

A while back I started a “how-to series” on starting a home fruit orchard. Here’s what I’ve posted so far…

Step 1: Plan

Step 2: Design

Step 3: Purchase

FYI… Each post has a link at the bottom of the page that will take you directly to the next post in the series. How convenient is that!?!

My illness stopped me in my tracks while writing this series, but now that I’m on the road to recovery, I am going to finish the series in the near future. So keep a look out for more informational posts. I’ll also plan to revisit my original posts to see if any updates are needed. If I do make an update, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Come, Take A Stroll With Me In My Orchard

This morning, as I was walking through my orchard, I stopped at every tree and took photos of all the wonderful fruit developing and thought you might like see how everything is progressing.  I snapped the photos as I strolled by, so you will get to experience them as I did.  So without further adieu, I present… the fruit of 2014 (sounds so formal :P).

041514_Apple1 In the front orchard, our first stop is my Golden Dorsett Apple.  I’m really anxious to see how the apples turn out this year.  See, last year, we lost most of our crop to what we think was a calcium deficiency.  We’ve done things a little differently this year and hope to keep every last piece of fruit on this tree. So far, the fruit looks fine.

041514_PinkLadyAs we continue strolling to our right, with the morning sun now behind us, we come up to our two Pink Lady Apples.  Out of all our fruit trees, these two trees, and our pomegranates, are still blooming and continue to be a source of pollen and nectar for our honey bees. This is a late season apple, that will be harvested in the fall, and is the last tree in our orchard to drop its leaves each year.  In fact, they hang onto most of their leaves well into January.

In addition to installing limb spreaders this weekend, I’ll be thinning the fruit to one apple per cluster. Then, in a week or so, I’ll be protecting the little fruitlets from sunburn either with kaolin clay or little booties that I used successfully last year.

With a sharp right towards the house, we’re greeted by my Chojuro Asian Pear…

041514_Chojuroand Hosui Asian Pear.

041514_HosuiBoth trees are loaded with fruit.  I just finished thinning all the fruit in the back orchard and will be thinning the front orchard this coming weekend.  Like the Pink Lady Apples, I plan to thin the Asian pears to one fruit per cluster.

Last but not least, my Black Mission Fig.

041514_FigAround these parts, our fig tree is VERY popular with the local mockingbirds and desert squirrels.  The tree has lots of fruit and I plan on keeping a close eye on them every day until “I” harvest them.  Last year I was only able to harvest a small handful of fruit from this first crop of the year (also known as the berba crop).  The rest of the fruit was either pecked to the point of obliteration or chewed off and carted off, in a hurry I’m sure, by the ground dwelling furry critter.  Sure, there’s more than enough to go around, but these visitors are ungracious guests. They’re like those people who like to either take a nibble out of each piece of chocolate in an assortment box or push their finger into the top looking for a firm nut & chew piece.  Does this one have nuts?  Squish… yuck, cream.  Ooh, this one’s maple. They basically ruin the entire box for anyone else who come’s along wanting a piece. Dagnabit.

Rather than talk your ear off about my winged and furry foes, let’s head in, through the house, to visit the back orchard.  Watch your step, please as you enter.

First up, our Weeping Santa Rosa Plum.

041514_Plum

Oh.. my.. gosh..  This tree has so much fruit.  And this is even after I filled up one-half of a 5-gallon bucket with the fruit I thinned off the tree. Also, this is another popular tree… with both the mockingbirds and wild finches.

Just a few steps away is my beautiful Flavor Delight Aprium.

041514_ApriumSince this tree is an early harvest fruit tree, it rarely has issues with pests (except for the birds ~ the one constant in my orchard).  I’m dreaming of its sweet and juicy fruit as we speak.  Soon.  Very soon.

As we continue walking west through the crunchy wood mulched ground, we come up to my Artic Star Nectarine.

041514_Nectarine2With the odd weather challenges this year, we failed to address any thrip issues early on and as a result, we have thrip damage.  Most of the fruit looks beautiful, but some are just downright, well, ugly-looking.  We’ll keep an eye on them until harvest.

Next up… our Saturn Peach.

041514_PeachEvery year I look forward to our peaches… okay, you caught me, I look forward to all my delectable fruit, but the peach holds a special place in my heart and my sense of smell.  When its close to harvest time, the peach scent in the orchard is just heavenly.  Even as I thinned the small fruitlets from the tree this past weekend, I could smell a faint hint of peach in the air. The scent that makes me swoon is probably the same scent that attracts every creepy crawlie to the tree.

Last year, we had a real issue with black beetles.  They’d tuck themselves away into the tight area where the peach connected with the branch and nibbled their way into the fruit.  In most cases, the fruit would fall off the tree and make an absolute mushy mess.  The fruit would rot so quickly ~ it was just gross picking up peach slop from under the tree ~ which I’m sure exacerbated the beetle issue.  It also didn’t help that I was unable to thin the fruit like I wanted to.

This year, we thinned the fruit really well and have a plan of action (avoiding of course all chemicals and pesticides), so I’ll keep you posted.  Hold onto your seats, folks.  Peaches are coming.

Now, my cherries.  I have four cherry trees, two Minnie Royal (one dwarf, one semi-dwarf) and two Royal Lees (one dwarf, one semi-dwarf).  Two are new trees, but with our two-year old cherry trees, only our Minnie Royal bloomed (the Royal Lee is the pollinator) and to our surprise, the Minnie Royal produced one single cherry fruit (a mystery). All the other unpollinated fruit, tiny in comparison to “the one”, turned brown and withered away.

041514_CherryHonestly, I have very low expectations of this singular little piece of fruit, but if it ripens up and turns red, I’m compelled to taste it all the same.

As we continue through the orchard, back toward the house, we stroll past our new May Pride Peach and Gold Kist Apricot as well as our pomegranates, citrus and future test site for an avocado tree.

Check out the flowers on my Eversweet Pomegranate…

041514_Pom1…such a vivid orange-red.  There are more than double the flowers this year than last.  I would have taken a photo of our Wonderful Pomegranate, but the bees were very active just outside their hive and I wanted to leave them bee (corny, I know ~ that’s to be expected when you’re following me around my orchard).

As we continue past the pomegranates, we come up to my Flavor Queen and Flavor King Pluots.  Now, when it comes to this fruit, let me just say… Wow! So sweet with an awesome flavor.

041514_KingPluot 041514_QueenPluotOut of the two trees, I have to say that the Flavor King Pluot outperforms the Queen by way of fruit volume (at least for now) and taste.  Now, don’t get me wrong… the Flavor Queen Pluot is still tasty and enjoyable, but the Flavor King Pluot wins hands-down.  Last year, the Flavor King Pluot produced buckets full of fruit.

In addition to these pluots, we have two new baby pluot trees… a Flavor Supreme and a Flavor Grenade.  I’ve been told that the fruit from these trees are way beyond that of the Flavor King Pluot.  Well, we’ll just have to wait and see 🙂

And finally, we have our new Spice Zee Nectaplum. The tree has beautiful dark burgundy leaves right now and the fruit is supposed to be wonderful.  Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait a couple of years before we’ll be able to taste its fruit.  I could stop by the local test orchard and purchase some when they’re being harvested, but why spoil the fun 🙂

Well, that concludes my fruit/orchard tour and it was so nice to have the pleasure of your company. Until my next post, be sure to enjoy life to its fullest ~ do something you love to do.

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God Bless,

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