three red apples on wooden surface

The backyard orchard starts with trying something

This year, I tried adding two apple trees to start a backyard orchard. I really hope they survive the winter. There are already hazelnuts and blackberries growing, but planting trees took a backseat since they are rather large and hard to move once in place.

net bag with ripe apples on sofa
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I am in Zone 5, which narrowed down the initial selection. Gala apples are one of my favorites and are self-fertile as well as relatively early ripening, so that ended up being tree number one.

The second tree took some thought. I wanted a jack of all trades variety that would also be a good pollinator combination with the Gala.

Ultimately, I went with a variety that was new to me, the Pristine early-ripening variety. It ripens as early as July which sounded appealing given our limited growing season.

Lazy permaculture to build the backyard orchard

Fruit trees take several years to produce, so I’m not counting on apples right away. But I have visions of snacks and pies and canned preserves. Maybe even cider.

Hopefully, both trees survive! I was able to get both into the ground the day after they arrived. They are in a semi-sheltered location that does not tend to saturate (in spite of clay soil) and I think they get adequate sun.

ripe red apples on grassy ground
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Protecting the apple trees

I sprayed once with neem oil after noticing aphids, but I think between rain and wasps they may balance out mostly on their own. I might introduce ladybug larvae in the spring as well.

There is fencing in place to ward off deer. Aside from that, I have not wrapped the trunks or sprayed dormant oil, mainly due to limited time and energy for this project.

Having read somewhere that alliums play well at the base of apple trees, I did introduce some Egyptian onions (aka walking onions). Those have been flourishing in a container planter for a couple of years now. They are well acclimated. They are a fairly indestructible perennial to begin with.

Anyway, several bunches of walking onions had sprouted in the mulch around the Gala especially. Now that the weather is turning in earnest, I hope those come back in the spring too.

Early beginnings orchard

The other big investment I considered was pears, but I wanted to be really sure if the desired site. Also, I couldn’t decide on a variety.

I did get a second small lemon tree, but of course those have to come inside over the winter.

I also came across a FIG variety that is marketed as being hardy down to zone 5.

Needless to say, a couple of those are dormant in the garage, but no matter how hardy they are, I think they have a better chance of survival being planted next spring.

two person standing between green leaf trees
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Mimicking natural forests

In nature, forests have numerous layers including a canopy and understory layer, smaller shrubs and ground cover.

So how did we incorporate these ideas in our garden this year? We added the apple trees. We continued to cultivate blackberries—which are amazingly hardy and productive.

I added the perennial alliums, walking onions, under the apple trees. For ground cover, I sowed white clover through the yard and garden.

Planting fruit trees is a slow starting way to grow some of your own food, but once established, the trees require less ongoing input than an annual vegetable garden. I think that if you have even a bit of outdoor space and select the tree variety carefully this is a great addition to the small homestead.

Hoping for the best! This was the last big project outdoors going into the winter. From here it’s up to the plants.

christmas table decorated with wreaths and candles
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