Planting an Orchard
One of the first projects we undertook on our new property was to hire a neighbor with a skid steer to dig swales in the sunny east-facing hillside below our septic field along our driveway. In the berms below the swales, we planted a variety of fruit-bearing plants that another neighbor gave us. This neighbor and his partner have been tending an extensive garden and orchard on a similar east-facing slope not far away for decades, and have identified some varieties that do well here. They were happy to set us up with some starts from their abundance.
Since we are in a zone with many days below freezing each winter, appropriate crops include apples, raspberries, tart cherries, currants, and rhubarb -- fortunately, some of our favorites! Our neighbor even found a pecan tree variety that grows here.
On the berms between the larger plants, we planted bulb onions. We were pleased by the quality and quantity we produced our first year. The soil is well-drained and surprisingly fertile for a mountain hillside. We have had to water the plants quite a bit as they establish roots, but are planning water management ditches and swales to direct runoff along the driveway to the orchard so that it will require less direct watering in the future.
An orchard is definitely a long-term project. I've started orchards several times in the past, and then had life circumstances take me away before I got to enjoy the fruits of my labor. But we have also benefited from the trees left behind by previous owners of properties where we've lived. We hope to live here the rest of our lives, but planting an orchard is paying forward in any case.
Planting an orchard has several climate benefits. By eating seasonal organically-grown fruit and nuts from our own property, we will reduce the carbon footprint of our diet. Enriching the orchard with compost helps sequester carbon in the soil. And the trees pull carbon out of the air as they grow, even before we are able to harvest fruit.