We have a fledgling orchard of 16 fruittrees, transplanted this year. Within a year or two the orchard will comprise approximately 30 trees- apple, pear, nectarine, cherry, plum, and peach. The area is fenced off from large livestock (at present cattle and horses), and we hope the deer will stay off too (4' tall woven wire, a strand of barbed wire above it at apprx. 5 ft. Eventually a hot wire will be about 5" out at waist-high to keep the livestock off for good). Each tree has a 30" tall ~4ft. diameter wire around it, which has 1"x1" holes for the bottom 15" and 2"x1" holes for the top 15"; this will hopefully protect against rabbits.
This is/will be a semi-dwarf orchard. Above, within the woven-wire fenced-in area, is a 70'x200' split-level garden site with water plumbed in (pvc ) and approximately 25'x200' of open ground between the garden (uphill) and the orchard (downhill sloping north; the idea is to delay blooms in springtime). This 25'x200' may be grape vines, cherry bushes, chicken pasture, more fruit trees, or some other idea that comes up in the next year or two before development.
My knowledge of pasture management is limited. At best I can say that we have orchard grass, fescue, white and red clover, wild amaranth (pigweed), burdoc, dandelions, and some other plants I have not identified. We are in zone 6b (6/7) in south-central KY. How would you manage the grasses growing amidst the trees in an orchard such as this?
I am considering the following:
[li]Geese and chickens grazing the orchard (are the 30" tall wires around the fledgling trees adequate protection?)[/li] [li]Infrequent, regular mowing to use as mulch around trees[/li]
At approximately year ten I would consider:
[li]Sheep[/li] [li]Goats[/li] [li]Poultry[/li] [li]Mowing for mulch[/li]
At year twenty I would be tempted to let supervised cattle graze, in addition to the options mentioned above.
The landowner, my father, would like to try to introduce sheep as early as next year by throwing up some kind of netting around each individual tree.
I wonder what you would consider is a wise course of action (animal use, food forest with understory plantings, mowing only, other options).
In addition, I have a mowing-specific question:
What are some of the different scenarios for optimal mowing? With this question I am thinking about how to maximize natural re-seeding for the orchard grass and clovers. When would be the best time to cut? I am open to alternative management suggestions.
Goats and orchards don't mix, even with large trees, They will eat the bark of species they like and thus girdle the tree. All the fruit trees you mentioned are rosaceae family and loved by goats. However, there is at least one place growing pawpaws in combination with a goat pasture as the trees are unappealing for goats to browse. http://www.integrationacres.com/
my goats don't seem to be hurting my plum trees but they are raising heck with the cedars and hazel nuts (didn't know that I had hazelnuts till I caugt the squirrles eating them or I would have protected them better) if you can get burlaps cheap tying a burlap around the trunks works pretty well
Have you considered a grazing species of hog for understory management? They happily eat grass and dropped fruit, which helps thwart many pests and diseases to which fruit trees are prone. Modern production breeds won't do for this, but if you look for rare/heirloom/heritage breeds that are advertised as grass eaters you will probably find them near you.
We have a pair of American Guinea Hogs and they are just fantastic at both keeping the grass down and the wormy apples picked up. They are also friendly animals that are easy to deal with, and they're not likely to munch on a tree. They don't need any feed at all as long as the grass is growing. In the winter we feed them hay and milk.
Hogs make great seasonal laborers. They work hard all through the hot months when everything is growing. When the weather cools off and plant growth slows down, just fire them. Instead of severance pay, invite them over for supper.
Their job in eating wormy, rotting fruits will make them fat and healthy, and greatly help reduce the spread of pests/diseases in the orchard. It also saves you a lot of labor collecting the spoiled fruit. Certainly cheaper and healthier than spraying!