We started a new orchard on higher ground with a nice slope facing mostly E to ESE on our homestead in the Southern Tier of New York. The old house and previous little orchard is down in the "hollow", the lowest part of the land next to the creek with a steep slope to the East and is the worst frost pocket, so we lose a lot of harvests due to early warming followed by hard freezes, as well as excessive rain and poor air circulation. This is just going to worsen with climate change. The soil is much deeper in the new site, (Lounsden type) with a good loam from 6' to a foot deep with a heavy clay beneath. The clay forms a somewhat impermeable layer so that, when we dug the holes for the new apple trees this Spring, there was standing water in the holes where the roots would naturally lie. Our solution for these first four apple trees was to remove the clay subsoil and rock to a depth of two to three feet, roughen the sides of the large hole, and use topsoil from nearby to backfill and raise the base of the young trees to about 8" above the surrounding soil. A nearby nursery with the same land/soil type uses this "raised mound" technique with success but does it a bit differently. He digs a trench on the downhill side of the row, creating a long planting mound much higher. The trench actually holds the water rather than draining it. Our situation is different in that there is a small culvert to the South of where we are planting now which brings water from the neighbor's hayfield across the road which creates a big slough that has filled in with water loving shrubs, mostly Grey Dogwood (Cornus racemosa). That might be adding to the problem and I plan to have a plunge pool dug at its outlet and 6" drainage pipe laid at a 5% slope underground to carry that water off (down to the creek and beaver ponds) so that we can continue the planting across the entire field. This is the best place for our Food Forest of all fruits and nut trees that will do well here.
Now that you know the situation, here is the question. What suggestions do you have for planting fruit and nut trees here? I have considered Hugelcultur but my previous experience of the planting area settling as the wood rots creates too much uncertainty about what the ultimate height above the water line the trees would be. Also, at 69 years old with advanced arthritis in my hands (and elsewhere), my ability to move the amount of woody debris to build it is really too much for me. I do have a good tractor with a manure bucket, and could use that to create bigger mounds for the trees. I think a ridge would create mowing problems ( I use a brush hog). We get a LOT of rain here and growth of grass, forbs, and shrubs (many invasive like honeysuckle and Cardinal Autumn Olive) as well as trees, grow like Topsy all summer, high enough to choke young fruit trees!
Any suggestions, solutions, similar experiences to share, would be welcome. I'll try to add pics to this post when I get up there on the tractor for a good shooting angle (I'm only 5' tall and much of the surrounding vegetation is taller than me!). Thanks!