The polyculture orchard, part 1 5


In the early spring of 2015 my initial 350 rootstocks arrived, these are the primary trees that are forming my 5 acre polyculture orchard in cork, ireland. The primary tree crop in this orchard is apples but there are also pears, plums and cherries, these are the backbone of the system but there are many berry crops and a whole bunch of more unusual crops to come.

 

The orchard is laid out in straight rows running downhill with no more than two of the same trees next to each other in the row, this is a pest control strategy. The rows run downhill to assist with drainage and frost protection.

 

350 rootstocks, apple, pear, cherry and plum.

350 rootstocks, apple, pear, cherry and plum.

 

I chose this more traditional layout for a long list of reasons and while the permaculture forest garden concept is very nice i have yet to even hear of a commercially viable example in the irish climate.Sunlight is a limiting factor here and the understory is inevitable unproductive and merely serves as something to hinder the harvesting of the overstory.

Straight rows are easier to pick given the variety of ripening times. This orchard will primarily be a pick your own system and in order for that to work customers need to be able to find the ripe fruit and picking needs to be easy and enjoyable.

 

The alleys are being cut for silage initially in exchang for the manure and woodchips i am using as mulch

The alleys are being cut for silage initially in exchange for the manure and woodchips i am using as mulch.

Stephan Sebkowiak’s work has been crucial for me in designing this system and his grocery store row system has solved the efficiency problem that would otherwise have occurred.

 

I have selected many of the crop types that will make up this orchard already but several are dependant on trials i am doing such as hardy kiwi, dessert grapes and primocane blackberries, Iam adding a few more unusual fruits but this orchard is not designed for permaculture people but rather for consumers who don’t know what a medlar is and wouldn’t want one if they did.

 

Buying planting stock for an orchard of this scale is cost prohibitive and rather than buy everything up front i am propagating almost 100% of the plant material myself, this is a new experience for me and a very exciting one, i am looking for the tastiest and highest yielding varieties with ease of harvest and pest and disease resistance so i would love to hear suggestions for plants to trial.

 

Nutrient management and weed control have been interesting thought exercises and the plan has several stages. Initially i am using mulch made from wood chips and well rotted cow manure, this is formed into raised beds in the rows and it will be added to for 2-3 years to give a good fertile base and help with drainage, it also reduces weed pressure, after that period i will use nitrogen fixing clovers and other legumes in the alleyways which will be mowed during the season and raked mechanically into the row. This serves as a nutrient source and a mulch to suppress weeds, i am not putting nitrogen fixing trees in the rows as this is premium space and not enough evidence exists to prove that these trees release sufficient nitrogen to support the cash crops, the chop and drop method for individual trees is too time consuming and overall the solution i have arrived at seems to make more sense.

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Small trees with big potential!

 

My rows of trees are spaced at 18 feet apart, this space holds a world of possibilities, a very large market garden could be established between the rows, a large garlic seed stock operation could be run, asparagus can be grown at scale…… the possibilities are huge and the labour available is limited. All aspects of this orchard are being considered with labour in mind, i am already running a market garden and that alone is enough to keep me very busy, mechanization of the orchard will therefore be essential and various other strategies are going to be employed such as tree training instead of pruning, keeping trees at a height so they can be picked from the ground and spreading compost and amendments by tractor.

I hope to show that polyculture orchards can be viable in ireland and suggestions from all of you fine folks out there will be key. What would you like to find in a pick your own orchard? What varieties are your favorite in the irish climate, what other plant products would you buy?

 

Thanks for reading and leave a comment below.

Part 2 is coming soon!


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5 thoughts on “The polyculture orchard, part 1

  • Dermot McNally

    Hi there and good luck on your journey. I’m thinking of something very similar myself but don’t have nearly enough experience at this point. Would the department of agriculture not grant aid planting?

    • Stephen Post author

      Dermot, if you are looking to do something like this in a few years the best advice i could give you is to start propogating your plants now, you can produce a huge amount of plant material in a very small area, i don’t really want to have any involvment with the department of agriculture and i am propogating my own material so their aid isn’t as much use as it would be to someone buying all their stock up front.

  • Cathy

    Hi, very interesting idea! When you come to soft fruit, Worchester berries are divine! And very hardy was bushes to look after

  • David Howell

    Interesting project, I am surprised at the 18 feet between the trees, as I have seen several orchards with M9 rootstock (grows between 8 and 10 feet tall for easier for picking) and the trees are 6 feet apart, also the latest commercial technique is to use Minarette trees (upright cordons) spaced 2-3 feet apart and pruned like cordons. I am part of a group that are restoring an old walled garden and we are grafting and planting Irish heritage apples as they are suited to the Irish climate and have great taste but a lot do not store well.

    • Stephen Post author

      The fruiting wall type system is impressively productive but it is only possible with a serious spray regime, it will not work well in an organic system, i avoid placing trees of the same type next to each other to help deal with pest outbreaks.
      The wide spaced rows allow row crops to be grows in between the trees like an agroforestry system and i want plenty of space for customers to pick fruit with their familys.