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Prepping woody beds for tree planting

 
Ian Richards
Posts: 6
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So, I want to get an orchard going to have some long-term free fruit - but I'm up in the high desert, at 6000 feet elevation and with about 11 inches/year of precipitation. So preparation and planning are essential. I have two apple trees that seem to be doing fairly well (aside from being exuberantly pruned by some elk last spring) and are going into their second full year, so I'm pretty sure this plan isn't totally hopeless.

The next batch of trees will be arriving in a couple weeks, and I've been getting things ready for them. In addition to a really thick layer of mulch, I'm prepping an individual woody bed for each tree. First I dug a hole roughly 3x3x3 feet for each tree (using a backhoe). Then each hole was filled with a big pile of wood. Mostly juniper - because that's what is available here - but also some scrap pine from pallets (no plywood, though). I tried to include as much partially rotted stuff as I could get, although there isn't much rotting going on in this climate.




Once the wood was in place, I backfilled each hole with the dirt that had come out, plus some composted straw and horse manure from a neighbor. The soil in most of my holes was pretty decent (more sand than clay, and well drained) but hugely lacking in organic matter - so in addition to the wood each tree has about a half a backhoe bucket of manure mixed into the backfill.




I brought the holes back up to the point that they are about a foot below ground level, and ready for the bare-root saplings. Once the trees arrive, they'll go in and I can finish filling the holes as necessary.



For irrigation, I am putting together a 1/2" water line with T junctions running to each tree, and I'm putting it on a sprinkler timer type of system (haven't gotten the parts for that yet, though). The idea is to plug it in and have it automatically irrigate the whole orchard on a predetermined schedule. I can only spend weekends at the property right now, so this will ensure that the trees don't get neglected. I'm planning on once-weekly deep watering for now, with hopes of weaning them off supplemental water within a couple years.

Each tree will have at least 6 inches of straw or wood chip mulch (this appeared to work wonderfully last year), and will also have individual small swales to collect water. Given that our heaviest average month (not single rainfall event, but whole month) of rainfall is about 1.5 inches, I don't think I need (or would really benefit from) the larger 3' tall sort that seem to be standard in wetter climates.

Anyway, I figured I'd post the plans and photos so folks can see what I'm trying, whether it turns out to be something to copy or an example of what not to do. Hopefully in a couple years I'll be posting photos of cherries, pears, cider apples, peaches, and apricots!
 
Ben Plummer
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Posts: 345
Location: Midcoast Maine, Zone 5b
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Looking good Ian! Funny bumping into you here, Joel blogged about helping build hugelkultur beds a while ago.
 
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