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Orchards for Tiny House Plots

 
gardener
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A few months ago a permaculture friend of mine was thinking about buying a property in town as a rental and doing some edible plantings. The goal would have been to educate people in town and provide food for tenants.

This got me thinking. If I had more money, I would consider purchasing land closer to town and building tiny houses on it, and having a plot of land associated with each house. This is similar to how yet another friend of mine has set his land up. In my layout, each plot would include a smallish space for gardening and a set number of fruit and nut trees. I tried to select fruit trees to provide a nearly year round supply of fruit. There would invariably be some gaps and people might not be able to solely get their fruit from it, but it could make a major contribution to their diet and wellbeing.

In addition there would ideally be an area set aside on the north side of the property for a communal orchard/woodlot, and maybe additional gardening plots on the south side of the property for those who want more space for annuals.

Now, obviously there are some questions that would be raised here.

Would everyone engage with the annual gardening, or with harvesting and preserving food from their trees? Probably not. But they could let other people use these resources, or, if they so chose, waste them. Looking for tenants interested in this kind of thing and trying to provide information and resources for those that are would be things to consider.

Would people actually eat the food from these trees, since certain fruits (persimmon, medlar, etc) is probably new to them? In my experience, some probably would. I know that a lot of people are very set in their ways in the US, but I’ve been surprised by how open and curious most people really are.

How would you protect trees from getting cut down, and the wood (of certain nut trees, for example) getting stolen? This can be an issue some places. I honestly don’t have an answer yet to this either. This and other concerns would have to be addressed.

How would you divide up food produced in the communal woodlot? This would bear thinking on as well.

Below is the list of trees that each plot could have. It’s a loose list and could be easily modified however needed. The trees are selected for what would generally do well in the Pacific Northwest, with the right kind of cultivar.

Finalized list:
3 hazelnuts--For fat and protein. Fall harvest.
Persimmon--Fall harvest, can be preserved into winter
Medlar--Supposed to be a good winter fruit. I like them.
Plum, Summer--this would be a cultivar selected to ripen in July or August
Apple, Storage--this would be an apple selected for excellent keeping quality. Some can last in cold storage through the following spring.
Pear, Storage--same as with the storage apple. This could be an asian pear like Shinko or some of the old European storage pear cultivars.
Peach--Summer harvest
Pear--Fall harvest
Apple--Fall harvest
Wild card tree. This would be different plot to plot. It could be something unusual that the community doesn’t need a whole lot of like quince. The idea would be that people could trade the excess with each other if they wanted. “Reach” trees (trees that are a little difficult to ripen but possible in the right microclimate) would be here too. They could be grown on the south side of the tiny house. Options for this tree include apricot (Puget Gold), pomegranate, fig, and yuzu citrus.

This would be a total of twelve trees. If they were spaced in a 12 by 12 spacing this would take up 1,728 square feet of space. If spaced at 15 by 15 a shrub could be planted in between each, like a currant, gooseberry, or even a nitrogen fixer pruned to size, and this arrangement would take up 2,700 square feet. Additional annual gardening space would be provided as mentioned above.

Some ideas for inclusion in the communal woodlot:
Chestnuts--as a staple food.
Walnuts--as a staple food.
Locust--for firewood coppicing, nitrogen fixation, and for feeding bees in the spring.
Possibly more hazelnuts
Possibly almonds (still on trial in the Northwest with some promising results)
Fuzzy kiwi (apparently they’re an excellent storage fruit, it turns out)
Grapes
Various berries (aronia, serviceberry, gooseberry, currant, goumi, autumn olive)
Apricots--They ripen all at once and are a bit of reach in the Pacific Northwest. Because they ripen all at once having them next to each house might not make sense as they might overwhelm most people
Sorrel tree--for feeding bees in the fall (important in our bioregion)
Linden tree--for feeding bees in the summer. Leaves and blossoms are edible.
Mulberries--berries and leaves are good to eat, are wind pollinated and late blooming, good for feeding birds if unharvested/unnetted
Empress tree--beautiful tree, useful wood (so I hear), good for feeding bees, fast growing
Golden chain--feeds bees, is an understory tree, fixes nitrogen (I hear)
Vine maple--understory tree, good for bees
Pawpaw--understory tree, prefers some shade in our summers
Timber bamboo, for future construction, shoots for eating, etc

 
steward
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James Landreth wrote:How would you protect trees from getting cut down, and the wood (of certain nut trees, for example) getting stolen?


If you're worried about simple vandalism I'm not sure what to do.  For nut trees being stolen for the wood I don't think you'd need to worry about that for quite a while.  You could put a sign up that says "many large nails are embedded in this tree".  You could also prune/train it to not be a nice lumber tree.  I'm not sure what people will be after but prune it to be the opposite.  Bendy, branching near the ground, etc.

I'd vote for the 15' spacing and more shrubs.  I'm guessing you could fit 6-9 shrubs per tree with that extra 3' of space.  For instance, if each tree consumes a 12' square, and you spread them to 15', you gain a 3' by 15' space between each tree.  Much more than one shrub can fit into 3' by 15'.
 
James Landreth
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Mike Jay wrote:

I'd vote for the 15' spacing and more shrubs.  I'm guessing you could fit 6-9 shrubs per tree with that extra 3' of space.  For instance, if each tree consumes a 12' square, and you spread them to 15', you gain a 3' by 15' space between each tree.  Much more than one shrub can fit into 3' by 15'.



I wonder if fitting more shrubs would increase or decrease the drought tolerance of the planting. Some have told me that the increased competition for water would be a problem, but others, like the author of Gaia's garden, say that more plants will increase shade and leaf drop and therefore water retention. What do you think?
 
Mike Jay Haasl
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Hmm, I'd tend towards more plants but I'd be primarily talking out of my butt having little experience in your climate.
 
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Interesting idea.
One point of worry. Generally people who rent do not have the time for maintenance on fruiting trees. This could be a problem as fruit trees can be very picky not to mention if they arent harvested the rotting fruit brings in pests. The trees will be prone to pests anyways.
Also, before such an endeavor were to take place, make sure you understand the building codes of the area. Tiny homes may not be allowed.
My suggestion would be to build an apartment building. Maybe a quadplex. Use the majority of the land for what you are planning for the gardens. But remember, you might be the only one maintaining the plants. So maybe look into plants that need little to no maintenance.
Its a nice idea, but not everyone is into the work it takes to produce their own food when McDonalds takes five minutes.
 
James Landreth
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Personally, I don't find that established fruit trees take that much maintenance. Maybe a deep watering once a month in drought, and some occasional pruning. I can see how that would be time and labor, but it wouldn't be beyond my capabilities to do this.

I just put together this post because I think it's an interesting idea, and it's one that people are starting to talk about. I think it's also neat because it's a small scale example of how to have fruit year round, or nearly so. A lot of places are relaxing their codes on tiny houses, though it still pays to be careful.

This is all hypothetical, but around here it would be easy to find people who are into renting this kind of situation. I have one friend who runs a somewhat similar operation. Granted, in a lot of the US people wouldn't maintain or use these resources, but given the opportunity and support, a lot would.

The pests-eating-fallen-fruit-thing is something I haven't encountered. The rotting apples around here in the fall get eaten by birds and flies (the birds are there to eat the flies as well) and maybe also raccoons. I haven't seen any of these to harm the trees, though deer could be an issue if they showed up
 
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