The Beginnings Of An Orchard Obsession

The Beginnings Of An Orchard Obsession

I dream about growing and canning my own home grown food. In my grown-up years, I’ve never owned or tended a fruit tree, yet here I am, obsessed with planting a small orchard. Oh, but the plums, apricots, peaches and apples I could put up!

Costco fruit trees

A few weeks ago, I planted some plum seeds and thought that would satisfy my orchard obsession. I guess not, because as I walked into Costco, and right there, right in front, was a whole display of five foot starter trees of all fruit varieties. I had read (or maybe I just told myself) that plum trees need to cross pollinate with other varieties in order to produce fruit. Sounded like a good reason to buy a tree to me. I chose a Satsuma plum with the same ruby red flesh as the plum tree seeds I had just planted.

Digging the hole.

Son Giver Man stopped by just as I was getting ready to plant my tree so I elicited his help. He used a post hole auger to dig the hole and only got a hairs breath below a foot before he hit the water table. The hole filled with water. It had been raining off and on for the past 10 days and most everything was waterlogged.  I wasn’t too surprised, although I was a little worried about drainage issues.

If I was digging a well, this might have been great.

We placed some fruit and vegetable soil in the hole, then the tree root ball, spreading the roots out, then topped with more soil. I pruned each of the branches back to within three inches of the main stem as per instructions, and we were done.

“Setting” the tree in the hole.
Now just wait for Spring.

Spring doesn’t begin this year till March 20th, so don’t anticipate any budding until then.
Now, If I can just stay away from Costco for awhile.




  1. …and so it begins! Just give in now and buy more land – you are going to need it (hehe).
    Would like to make a couple suggestions from a “been there, done that” aspect.
    Don’t buy fruit trees from big box stores…bringing dormant plants into warmth and light will cause them to wake up and start growing before outside conditions are right. When they start growing while sitting in the warm store, without any soil around their roots – it causes the tree to use up the reserve nutrients stored in the roots…and without necessary water. A better choice would be to order trees through your local Soil Conservation District’s Annual Tree Sales – they all have them. And in some cases, are willing to special order varieties for you. The varieties chosen will be suited to your particular climate, rather than the entire US – this is very important. And they will arrive fresh from storage at the proper planting time in your area. Here we can get those nice 5-7″ bareroot trees for $15 each or if you buy 5, they are only $14 each. And the money raised goes to local soil conservation projects.
    And for planting…the holes dug with just a post hole digger, or even worse – a powered auger – tends to tightly pack the soil around the edges of the hole making it nearly impossible for the growing roots to penetrate. When you get your tree, spread the roots around the stem like a halo around the stem…then dig a hole about a foot wider than the reach of those spread-out roots. When I dig a hole, I will use a pointed hoe or cultivator to loosen up the edges of the hole so the roots can easily penetrate the surrounding soil as they begin to grow.
    And the best advice is to get Michael Phillip’s book “The Holistic Orchard”…it is absolutely invaluable! I read literally hundreds of books on orcharding when I got this obsession (about the same time I got the old amish cider press at an auction) and it is the absolute best book for the home orchardist. Haven’t lost a new tree since reading this treasure.
    And you really should buy some more land…fruit trees are more addictive than crack. We currently have somewhere between 40-50 various apples, sweet and tart cherries, pears, plums and peaches…not counting the hundreds of baby plum trees that pop up each year. And have 5 more on order for this year…

    1. You are most welcome!
      Yes, I mentioned getting more land twice, because if you really want to grow a lot of food for fresh eating and “putting by”, you need a lot of land! Especially if you have caught the “orchard obsession”! Most all fruit trees need a pollinator of a different variety, so you need at least two trees – and even the ones who say they are self-fruitful (capable of self-pollination) will bear more fruit if another suitable variety is planted nearby. There you get into a real tricky part of orcharding – not just any other tree of the same type will work as a pollinator. You will need one that blooms at the same time…there are early, midseason and late varieties. So if you end up picking an early bloomer and a late bloomer – you won’t get any fruit after waiting 3-10 ten years for them to start bearing. And while most fruit trees have two sets of genes, some have 3 and are pollen sterile, and they will not pollinate others. So if you “need” one of those varieties, you will need a minimum of three trees of that type!
      Definitely worth the learning curve…just with our older trees and what we can scavenge in the neighborhood, we have made up to 100 gallons of cider in one season, plus a few dozen quarts of applesauce. Even with that much, cider has never lasted us past January and I usually am rationing my applesauce to last until next season! Can hardly wait until all the new trees start bearing! Cause once you start making your own, the stuff available to buy is so inferior you can’t force yourself to eat or drink it!
      I do have one more real important suggestion…dig a few more holes and find a place where the water isn’t so high, and when you find one, move your new tree there. I know, what a drag…but truly necessary! If there is water there now, there will be water there again (unless you have the means to install a very pricy drainage system). Fruit trees (and most other plants) will not tolerate their roots in water for any length of time. Roots need to be able to breathe and if they can’t, they will rot. I deal with that problem here all the time, as technically we live in a swamp…have a 50’x80′ pond in the front yard and a couple streams though the property. Had to build up berms along the “new orchard” rows to get and keep the roots up above the groundwater level, as I didn’t have a “better” place to put the new orchard. If you don’t berm up the planting sites enough so the roots can stay out of the groundwater during their entire lives, they will either rot and die or grow very shallow rooted and be in danger of tipping out in every windstorm. If you can’t find a site without water in the hole, mound at least a foot of good soil over the level of present soil (two feet would be much better) and replant in that.
      We grow and preserve a lot of food here, and more every year. Started growing for us, and to make sure we had enough always had to plant extra. Then started selling at one farmers market to dispose of the “extra” that we, the extended family, neighbors and our dairy goats and chickens couldn’t use. Then last year had enough “extra” that I also started selling at a second farmers market! So a lot of food being grown here!
      And I should warn you, when you are waiting for those orchard trees to start bearing, you want fruit now…so you will start planting berry plants for some quicker results. That gets out of hand, too! 7 years ago I bought one each of a red summer raspberry, a red fall raspberry, a yellow fall raspberry, a black raspberry and a blackberry. Last year we used the plants those produced to plant a 100′ row of yellow raspberries and a 100′ row of fall red and black raspberries and are set to add three more 100′ rows of berries…with just the berry plants those few original ones had made! And I will still have literally hundreds more plants to give away or sell. Berries are just as addictive as fruit trees…another reason you need more land (hehe)!
      Once you start growing a lot of your own food, you quickly notice how vastly superior it is than anything you can buy in any store at any price…so you want to grow more…and more…and more…and then you discover the food you can get in restaurants is so awful that you can’t bear to eat out any longer…and you really hate getting dinner invitations because no matter how good the cook, the canned/prepared/frozen/flown-in foods used just don’t come near the quality of fresh food from your garden!
      GOOD LUCK!

      1. My favorite harvesting time is now! I put on my snowmobile suit, stupid (but warm) hat and pac boots to go outside and harvest some salad! Have had a winter salad garden for 14 years now in a northern tier zone 5 garden. Nothing fancy or expensive – just lengths of 1″ black water line from home depot stuck on either side of a bed to form a hoop over the bed about 2′ tall in center. Put one of those hoops about every foot or 18″ down your bed. Cover with inexpensive 6 mil plastic sheeting from home depot and weigh down the edges of the plastic on the ground with bricks or something. Works like a charm! To harvest, you just move a couple bricks and stick your arm under to pick – you don’t want to remove all the plastic. I usually have many lettuces, spinach, endive, mache, green onions and beets for salad greens in them. All different ages of plants so they will last all winter through, and provide young seedlings for your first couple outdoor plantings. Winter lettuces and greens are SO much better than even spring or fall salad – they love the cool temps.
        For much better information on the subject, you must read Eliot Coleman’s book “The Winter Harvest Handbook”.

  2. We’ve been farming/homesteading for over 25 years and STILL don’t have the orchard thing down. Hubbie reading several books this winter as we need to can fruit this summer. This life learning stuff…it takes a life time doesn’t it?

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