Converting an established orchard into a food forest

Discussion in 'Put Your Questions to the Experts!' started by JACQ, Apr 6, 2016.

  1. JACQ

    JACQ New Member

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    Hello there,
    We purchased our property 12 months before taking my permaculture course online with Geoff Lawton which needless to say blew my mind! However apart of our property consists on 7 orchards with approximately 1800 tree trees (1x Apple dominate orchard, 2x Apple and plum with a few pears, 1x plum orchard, 1x cherry orchard, 2x olive orchards) as excited as I was to have them, I am now overwhelmed as they are all planted in nice straight rows, irrigation lines and bore water use (though a lot of the irrigation piping has been damaged by years of slashing the grass with a tractor through the aisles). Doing over I would probably of chosen different and done the whole thing from scratch on Swale and with greater diversity but it is what it is and I now must work with what I have. For the most part is was maintained without harmful chemicals and the trees vary from 5-12years old. There is a big imbalance in the orchard and they desperately need some help to get them performing their best and overcome predator attacks. My question is... How can I get them to be self maintaining? I want to stop using the bore and harvest rain water more passively. I'm fine with removing some of the trees to make way for more diversity, trying to get cover crops, green manures and other beneficials in there. We have poultry running through the orchards and geese being added over next 12 months. As well as building the layers, nitrogen fixers, shrubs, legumes ect... My main concern though is how do I capture the water passivisely??? Do I integrate Swales? My main issue here is the already established root systems... Another option running through my mind is raised hulger beds above and below each tree line? Or on contour?... The biggest issue here will be that it will limit the access between trees as above ground will mean they will be raised significantly but I guess food forests are not in perfect aisles so I will get use to the change if it is the best option... please any help, suggestions or anyone how has done something similar already... Any advice will be greatly appreciated...
    Thanks JACQ
     
  2. 9anda1f

    9anda1f Administrator Staff Member

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  3. JACQ

    JACQ New Member

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    Thankyou for your reply and apologies for the delayed response... we live in a black cloud of coverage and it comes and goes... working on this issue... anyhow... yes i have seen stefens work but my understanding is that he runs drio lines? I know as the orchards are already established (5-12years) planting on contour is out of the question though i am seriously considering above ground Hugelkultur beds on counter... main question is how many/ how far apart? I was thinking of putting 5 in each orchard to start with to get things rolling then go back and add more (small and steady wins the race they day lol) planting these mounds with cover crops, beneficials and perhaps rambling berries ect. This would certaintly hold valuable water, improve soils and quickly improve diversity. I desperately need to increase biodiversity in these orchards, big job though due to the shear size of them but you gotta start... hence the reason of liniting the inital swale/Hugelkultur mounds on contour to ensure i get some in every orchard as soon as possible... i will happily provide more info of site details... please bare with me as i figure out how to do this lol... again many thanks for replying and will send through the extra info asap...
    Kind regards
    J
     
  4. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    swales are not the same as hugelkulture mounds. please do not confuse the two... :)
     
  5. JACQ

    JACQ New Member

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    Thankyou and yes i am aware, but wouldnt thr hugelkulture mounds spaced correctly on contour trap and hold water long enough to soak into the mounds and ultimately benefiting the surrounding plants/trees? I was thinking the mounds at the very least would act similar to a speed bump and slow things down somewhat? Unfortunately i can not dig swales directly into the orchards... I have learnt alot about building food forrests frim scartch but a little different trying convert a more traditional orchard into a food forrest
    Thanks J
     
  6. JACQ

    JACQ New Member

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    Just read a very informative article defining the difference between swales n hugelkulture beds and the purposes of both... firstly that what i am refering to is not infact a true hughlekulture bed and its purpose is somewhat ok much different to a water catchment... i understand the difference much better thankyou though i have now come full circle to the starting block... how do i passively trap and hold water to grow and support an existing orchard of trees? I will post more info n photos of site... basically 7 orchards roughly 4-7 acres in size (each varying)... is it more a matter of thick living mulches and careful stacking of plants and trees to hold n retain moisture? Hmm... any ideas?
    J
     
  7. 9anda1f

    9anda1f Administrator Staff Member

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    While converting our small apricot/apple/cherry/almond orchard into a FF hasn't required swales or hugel, we've found that mulching heavily/repeatedly has vastly improved our soil's water retention and created a sheltered environment for healthy micro-organisms. Mulch and compost are definitely key to emulating the natural forest floor here and our interplantings of support species (black locust, siberian peashrub, vetch, etc.) are providing the framework to ongoing introduction of other productive plants in the FF layers. As one important indication,we now have various mushrooms popping up in spring and autumn ... this in an orchard that was solely grass and bare dirt when we started!
     
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  8. JACQ

    JACQ New Member

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    Thabkyou for your response... my brain wouldnt rest last night so i got to reading bill mollisons work on trees and how they are the guradians of the earth... what amazing work he has truly done... anyhow it got me rethinking... if i can really get those 7 layers in... get diversity and density right... the trees will provide the moisture and needed water... if i get thick layers on the ground then whatever mousture will be retained... i guess its not the shear volume at any one instent but the intrinsic interconnections and relations that count... you speak of heavy mulching repeatedly... while this is great... how do you do this when the orchards spread to nearly 30 acres in total! Could i establish think living mulches? And what do you think would be best for me to get that living mulch going if there is already grasses throughout the orchards... i was thinking winter is predominantly clover and great so might be easier to establish cool season living mulches but the summer grass... kinda like a wild oat type grass (sorry i forget the name) can reach my hight and intoxicates the orchards... would seed balls work? Is it all about timing or do i start hand planting seedling to give them a chance... i hand broadcasted last year but little emerged... i think my timing was off... i was also playing with the idea at one stage of laying hessen bags throughout orchard one orchard at a time then putting a layer of manure and mulch over and then seeding with living mulches and green manures ect... is this crazy? Alotof work but we have the hessen bags... i might do a few whilst chicken tractor others to get them all done? Is it a case of slow and steady? Sorry for all the questions lol but i truly appreciate your input and time... thankyou again J
     
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  9. JACQ

    JACQ New Member

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    Also i am planting out peas and broad beans at the base of each tree this winter, using the trees as trellis whilst sleeping and providing nitrogen and organic matter for the trees come spring... i was also thinking of establishing seedlings between the hessen now and spring... do u think this is crazy?
    J
     
  10. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    you could do small swales to help hold any runoff, but i would not change contours in existing
    orchards more than one or two inches per year. if you think of it in the longer term that will
    certainly help you retain more water from any heavy rains. since i don't recall you mentioning a
    climate or location i would assume arid/semi-arid. any gains there from minor contouring would
    always be a plus.

    also, you may be able to do more along the edges to retain or divert water flows.

    i also agree with Gandalf that increasing your mulches and plant diversties will help.
    i think most of that is not imported materials, but those grown in place and then
    chopped and dropped.

    beans are a good cover crop, soybeans (or better yet edamame) are very
    leafy and provide plenty of green stuff when chopped. buckwheat is faster
    growing, along with radish, turnips, beets, etc. all of these can be had from
    a local grain elevator/feed store for a few $ per lb along with the clovers.
     
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  11. 9anda1f

    9anda1f Administrator Staff Member

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    Hi Jacq,
    From your sig line I get that your climate is temperate (some frost in winter, warm summer) with annual precipitation at about 600mm more or less evenly distributed throughout the year? Maybe in the area surrounding Canberra? If so, I'm envious!

    While our climates are significantly different and my "orchard" is but a fraction the size of yours, I thought I'd post some pics of where we are this year and how we got here in the hope of stimulating some ideas for your approach to transitioning to a food forest commercial orchard.

    Three years ago the edge of the orchard looked like this:
    [​IMG]

    That same area now looks thusly:
    [​IMG]

    The original "soil" was basically dirt with virtually no life/organic matter. Our climate is semi-arid (220-300mm annual precip) and we realized that annual evaporation exceeds annual precipitation! Coming from the Seattle area, this was an important revelation and we began work to minimize the drying effects of wind and sun by protecting our soil. In many ways we have been lucky in obtaining tons of old straw (from the local wheat farms) and also by striking a bargain with the landscapers (read lawnmowers) in the closest town about ten miles away. Every two weeks or so we bring back a trailer load of organic material that we can compost, mulch with, or provide habitat to the ground birds. This has been a huge factor in greening this desert.

    The truck/trailer loaded with brush. Most trailer loads are 80% lawn clippings (nitrogen!) You can see some of the local "neighborhood" in the background):
    [​IMG]

    Some brush piles for the local rabbits, quail, pheasant, and chukar:
    [​IMG]

    We've found that mulching too heavily prevents the rainfall we do get from reaching the soil beneath, so about 50mm seems to work well to allow the rain through while providing protection to the soil beneath. Lately, our spring mulching consists of scything (chop-n-drop) of the grasses, which are copious now!

    Grasses ready for the scythe:
    [​IMG]

    With this much organic matter in-place, we have been extending our range outwards to increase the area of our "wet spot". By wet spot, I mean the area under mulch. In the beginning I mulched around each tree (cause that was all the mulch I had). The surrounding soil dried out and began to draw water from the edges of the mulched area (by capillary action). As we obtained more organic materials, we increased the contiguous area under mulch, in this case minimizing the edge, and were able to keep moisture in the soil for far longer into the hot dry summers.

    Extending our mulched area outwards:
    [​IMG]

    In these zone 5 areas we plant pioneer support species such as siberian peashrub, black locust, choke cherry, vetches, lupine, alfalfa, etc that can survive on just the moisture retained in the soil and begin the process of breaking up the compacted soil, fixing nitrogen, and providing cover. Black locust is an excellent pioneer due to it's drought tolerance, nitrogen fixing, and premier firewood/rot resistance, plus it is coppices well. I also highly recommend alfalfa as it grows well unattended/unwatered, fixes nitrogen, and provides great chop-n-crop ground cover.

    Black Locust (pseudo acacia):
    [​IMG]

    Our little grove consists of apricot, cherry, apple, and a hybrid almond. The soil life has increased exponentially and the amount of drip irrigation needed is minimal (compared to when I got the place). We are interplanting within the orchard with small guilds of berries, vines, nitrogen fixing peashrub and locust, plus annual vegetables and flowers. As these guilds expand, we hope to create a sort of jungle out here in the drylands.

    While not directly applicable to your situation, hopefully there's some food for thought here in approaches you can take to transitioning your orchard. Feel free to ask any questions that come to mind.
     
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  12. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    excellent pictures to see what you are up against there and how it has changed. :)
     
  13. JACQ

    JACQ New Member

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    Thankyou so much for your post and photos... wow your doing great stuff and with a more challenging climate... good on you and thanks for the encouragement... pushes me to press on... I am going to try and upload some stats and photos... it is a complicated and complex site but i will do my best...

    Yes We are Located near Gunning NSW north inland of Canberra ACT and south inland from Goulburn NSW, AUSTRALIA
    Longitude: 34 37 56 South Latitude: 149 09 55 East
    Distance from ocean: 159km Land size: 135 acres
    Climate Range: Warm Temperate our winters can reach -10 max but average -5 and summers can hit the high 30s and early 40s majority of our rainfal is during autumn and winter though weather patterns are becoming less predictable...
    Soil: Loam/ clay
    I will have to split this post into 2 as i can only upload 10 photos at a time and as i said, my site is a little complicated... their are 7 orchards in total spanning approx 25-30 acres total, there is a creek that running through the middle of our property that seperates the hillside from the orchards, with 2 orchards across the road with the creeck also runs through passing under a bridge from one side to the other. the property is infact in a valley with the shed and orchards on the lower point with mountains and hills on three sides (this buffers a great deal of the wind). We hope to commence earthworks on the mountain side in 2 years as finances permit as it is a HUGE job though necessary as the mountain is bare of many trees due to reckless previous owners and some major erosion persists... We get large amounts of runoff in heavy rain periods with large soil runoff and some flooding...

    Anyhow...

    First Orchard was all apples (note the google earth are prior to us owning it)
    upload_2016-5-6_8-54-32.png

    More current photo of orchard one... There is a dam at the uphill end and behind that you can see part of the barn and converted temp dwelling (hubby going to geoff lawtons natural building course next month at zaytuna farm so im sure he will come back inspired and ready to build the mud house)
    upload_2016-5-6_8-53-24.png

    Orchard Two: Olive orchard with a dam downhill from the orchard
    upload_2016-5-6_8-55-42.png

    More current photo of orchard 2 with orchard 3 just in view in front
    upload_2016-5-6_8-56-47.png
    [​IMG]

    Dam on south slope of orchard 2
    upload_2016-5-6_8-51-27.png

    Orchard 3: Apple/ Plum orchard with a few pears
    upload_2016-5-6_8-58-36.png

    Current photo
    upload_2016-5-6_9-0-30.png upload_2016-5-6_9-1-51.png
     

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  14. JACQ

    JACQ New Member

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    Orchard 4: Cherry Orchard (front) Orchard 5: Plum orchard
    upload_2016-5-6_11-20-42.png

    Current Photo of Orchard 4: Cherry
    upload_2016-5-6_11-21-28.png
    Cherry orchard lined with olives on either side (oldest orchard at 12years old)
    upload_2016-5-6_11-35-38.png

    Current Photo of Orchard 5: Plum with olives lining boundary (you can see the olive orchard (6) across the road in the background
    upload_2016-5-6_11-37-4.png
    upload_2016-5-6_11-40-27.png

    Orchard 6: Olive Orchard across the road
    upload_2016-5-6_11-23-46.png

    Current photo of Orchard 6
    upload_2016-5-6_11-25-54.png

    Orchard 7: Apple and plum orchard across the road
    upload_2016-5-6_11-27-30.png

    Current photo of orchard 7: You can just see the bridge and creek at the front of the photo
    upload_2016-5-6_11-28-37.png

    Water runoff down driveway can be significant, the driveway runs past three major orchards from the dam near shed and from neighboring property on southside (right)...
    upload_2016-5-6_11-30-56.png
    Overview of farm
     
  15. JACQ

    JACQ New Member

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    Overview of orchards from google earth: at the bottom, basically where it changes from greenish is the neighbors property you can see the errosion and water course the runs into our property and contributes to filling 2 of our dams up (the one in front of the apple orchard1 near barn and the olive orchard 2)

    upload_2016-5-6_11-48-12.png

    Other info i forgot:
    We also have array of poultry as we breed rare poultry, sml number of dorpa sheep, jersey cows and work horses, guinea pigs, 8 maremma guard dogs, boys have ferrets for rabbit control and we did have dairy goats but soon realized we were not ready for them, or rather the system was not ready for them. we have just got a small number of geese which we hope to expand and use through orchards as my gardeners as every other lawnmower failed and caused tree damage regardless of what we thought was a good setup... We have set up a hothouse, shade house and a hardening nursery. Just ordered market garden Soil blockers so we can transplant seedlings directly and easily into the orchards and gardens... we have began mulching and turning every spare space into gardens and trees, starting on the orchard side of creek and planting out tree seeds ready for the mountain side project in about 2 years time. We readily collect spent hay, straw and manure from the animals plus have just expanded our worm farm to 20 bathtubs. We also have chickens working compost piles similar to zaytuna farm... We have secured a wholesale agreement with an organic company for our tube stock supply which is great and i will plant like cray this winter in the orchards as many trees as humanly possible... so i guess your suggesting to get good cover crops in asap, would i be ok sowing now as frosts are on our doorstep... could I also use peas and beans also as covercrops and nitrogen fixers? My biggest concern is establishing covercrops for summer as we have kangaroo grass (themeda triandra) a deep tooted perennial native grass that grows taller then me and an absolute nightmare to keep under control and completely unsuitable for the orchards... is it a matter of timing or seeding in the soil blockers in the hot house earlier and transplanting as seedlings that are stronger and more able to take on the kangaroo grass? we also have a little thistle in some of the orchards... I know i need diversity as the trees are being attacked and we have swarms of locust in summer... its just figuring out how to get the diversity of plants the trees badly need out there on that scale and get them to live (in the case of seedlings) or germinate (in the case of seeds- im thinking my timing might of been alittle off this year and the kangaroo grass dominated with little to none of me seeds making it)... is it a matter of species choice? somethng quicker growing that could take on the kangaroo grass? do you think wood mounds would help trap moisture in the initial stages whilst things develop and i could grow on these mounds beneficials as the mounds would be disturbed and without competition?... i have wood at my disposal and plenty of prunings lol... wouldnt it at the least contrubute to soil building? I am sorry for bombarding with questions and info... I truly appreciate all your time and help... My hubby is the builder, go-to guy and also works, I am the husbandary and gardener primarly with my kids... we could get some help in if i need it... just gotta have a solid plan to takle so we are in a better possition this summer... with over 800 apple trees... few were any good to sell on as either attacked or taken by birds before they were ready... the joys... lol...
    Regards J
    Cherry orchard spring
    upload_2016-5-6_12-41-9.png

    Cherry orchard again summer
    upload_2016-5-6_12-42-23.png

    PLums... can you see all the grass in the background... this is before is all turns almost to dirt in the midst of the summer heat...
    upload_2016-5-6_12-47-20.png

    And the apples...
    upload_2016-5-6_12-48-46.png

    upload_2016-5-6_12-56-36.png
    Thanks again and have a nice day...
     

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  16. JACQ

    JACQ New Member

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    It is really amazing how different your orchard looks in 3 years! I guess What I am getting from you is small but important steps... are you saying these are better then my wooden mounds or at least dont focus totally on them and get the plants in ever which way? Get those fast growing nitrogen fixers in, ground covers, lots of mulch by way of chop n drop and anything at my disposal... there are a few farms around here that i noticed they slash for fire safety but then put to the side and over the years that accumulates significantly... i might start putting a shout out and see if i can aquire... people are so old fashioned and stuck in there ways around here, their loss my gain i guess... hopefully... the cover crops you speak off... would they be ok as winter crop or warm season crop?... again i am sooooooooo sorry for all the questions... I have reduced work loads with poultry and livestock this year to get this under control before that hectic summer comes around again lol...
    anyhow thanks again for sharing, the pics were very helpful...
    have a great day...
    warm regards
    J
     
  17. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    i think in any area where it is arid and wildfire is a concern it makes a lot of sense to bury
    organic materials to keep the hazard down.

    dryland farming techniques can also help somewhat.

    as for locusts, i saw chickens, seems they would love those to eat?
     
  18. JACQ

    JACQ New Member

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    Thankyou for your advise... i was thinking of still burying some wood here and there... im starting to think though iver this winter as i am pruning the orchards to have my kids braking up the prunnings and leaving them right there on the ground in the orchard... fast, free and plentiful mulch and ground cover... also with my new soil blocker*, i want to seed and plant out as much as i can right through winter and spring... if the kids and i put aside a few hours a few days a week, surely we would make an impact... also getting the hubby out there with a hole digger and prepare holes in all the orchards so we can plant as many trees as possible over the winter... as apose to physically mulching the entire orchards, if i heavily mulch all the seedlings and trees and plus all the broken up sticks from the prunings and hopefully some seeds getminate from seed balls the kids want to make... then surely it will all make a difference... then some hugelkulture type mounds... and repeat and repeat and over the following years hopefully ground covers will be nice and thick and tree canopies improving, predator/prey numbers balance out and then maybe we will be getting somewhere... lol

    Regarding the locust... yes the chooks love them... the guinea fowl even more but currently their numbers are phenomenal and they could eat all day and not make a dent lol... i think as the ecosystem improves their numbers will drop to a more managable size... we are building geese numbers for the orchards to reduce my work load aswell and i am looking at a guinea fowl explosion as they are amazing hunters and excellent with garden beds... thanks alot for all ur advice, i have taken it all on board and benefited greatly...
    Regards J

    *Attachted are photos of what soil blockers are... you prob already know but i only just discovered them and think they are fantastic... sharing is caring lol... (photos from milkwood)
     

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  19. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    i am very low tech here, keeping it simple, plus much smaller area. i rarely sprout
    anything separate and do mostly direct sow in place.

    yes, any wild fowl will help with those and other bugs. you may want to read up on
    what is needed to give them cover (some of that clippings could be used to make
    brush piles, houses, perches, etc.) to encourage them to stay around more. but i
    think there you have trouble with snakes that we don't have here so... be careful. :)

    as for the mulch, certainly keep as much of it above ground as you can use, but
    my caution was to make sure you were not creating a wildfire hazard as i do know
    that can be an issue in parts of Australia.

    good luck with all that planting!
     
  20. 9anda1f

    9anda1f Administrator Staff Member

    Joined:
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    Location:
    E Washington, USA
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    Semi-Arid Shrub Steppe (BsK)
    I tried a hugel bed here using softwoods (elm, poplar) in a trench over a meter deep and soaked in 4000 gallons of water, then buried with some compost and covered with soil. Planted heavily with ground covers and a variety of trees. Unfortunately it all dried out over the first summer and I had to supplement with drip to keep the trees alive. The second year I planted alfalfa (lucerne) and it's taken quite well. I'll do a soil core later this summer to see how the soil moisture is at depth. I've really taken to alfalfa as a tall ground cover as it does so well with no supplemental irrigation.

    Thanks for posting all your pics! The really give a flavor of what you're working with. We started planting small guilds amongst the orchard with purchased plants but have since discovered the joys of propagation and now root cuttings or start seeds from the original plantings to expand the interplantings. It's does not provide instant gratification but it does allow us to see what's working (and what's not working!) as we progress, and by taking smaller steps we keep the need for frantic activity to a minimum. This time of year (spring) is busy enough!
     

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