Category Archives: Back Yard Orchard Culture

Summertime and the livin’s easy?

It was a long hot summer here in Vegas. Back in June I took an excursion to Reno to meet my Granddaughter

Avery

Avery

and come back to find a fried Pluot Tree and my favorite Golden Cockoo Marans rooster keeled over. Friday morning everything was dandy, when I got back Sunday POOF! It got to 117 degrees that Saturday and just knocked the bejeezus straight outta that tree and roo.

Bubble Bubble Toil and Trouble?

Bubble Bubble Toil and Trouble?

The ferment buckets really got going strong by August. 24 hours and there would be a good strong ferment going on, by September the amount of hooch being produced was remarkable. Ferment2

It got to where every Saturday I would empty all of the hooch out of one of the two ferment buckets and they both still stayed nice and sour. All of that Lacto-Baccilus inoculated highly acidic fluid went straight into my greywater collection tank to be distributed throughout the orchard. One bucketful did go into the latest compost pile and boy did it heat up fast!  Glop

 

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This lovely looking Glop had collected in the bottom of the buckets, it is very viscous sorta like a sourdough sponge, Mother? I win sure. The chickens gobbled it up though.

 

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That’s just my bucket of Comfrey Tea

When asked by my granddaughter, Lexi, “what died in here!” what do you think my answer was? Last month I made FPE (fermented plant extract) with some of my comfrey, my post Comfrey Fermentation outlined the procedure. The result was a greenish liquids that smelled a bit like canned green beans with a slight alcoholic edge. This month I decided to try making just straight comfrey tea. Not the kind you drink but basically broken down (rotted) comfrey leaves.

Comfrey Plant ready to be harvested

Comfrey Plant ready to be harvested

This past Monday I went around to all of my comfrey plants and cut out all of the flower stalks then pulled off about half of the leaves from each plant.ComfreyI ended up with a good 5 gallon bucket of comfrey which I then firmly compressed by liberal application of my foot, I stood one-legged in the bucket.Comfrey3After filling with water to the level of the compressed leaves I added a second bucket with holes drilled in the bottom. Comfrey5 Comfrey4This bucket was then weighted down with a large brick. Not much happened the first day, I had read that due to its low fiber content comfrey breaks down amazingly fast, so I was wondering when something was gonna happen. When I checked on it yesterday (day 2) there was a couple of inches of oily looking brownish muck in the upper bucket but no smell that I noticed. Everything I had read also talked about the stink and I was thinking “yeah right” then I kicked the bucket a bit. Oh Lordy!!!! what a vile disgusting reek emanated from the tiny drops that landed on my hand! I ain’t talking anaerobic compost pile stink, Lexi hit the nail on the head. This stuff smells like DEATH! Now I’m kinda scared to load it up in the backpack sprayer and dose my orchard with it, the cops might come over looking for dead bodies. I’m thinking this stuff is gonna be a soil drench application possibly followed by a lacto spray to try to neutralize the stench before the neighbors call the authorities.

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She thinks my Tractor’s Sexy

Well it’s not really my tractor but my sweety Karen is sure smitten with it, and Lil’ Cutie Alexa aint far behind! My buddy Paul “found” this tractor outside the auction and dropped it off at the Clayton Annex thinking we could use it to clean up a bit. We now have a banked oval track in the side yard from Karen & Lexi driving around and around and around! The youngest two of my three boys also seem to be irresistibly drawn to the musical sound of that Yanmar 2 cylinder diesel.

Brian forgot how to use a clutch

Brian forgot how to use a clutch

 

Tommy Boy had to get in on the fun.

Tommy Boy had to get in on the fun.

At least today Karen and Lexi tried to be productive. There was a big ole stump that needed to be put in the dumpster, so it was time to fire up the tractor again today.

 

Karen showing that she can do anything

Karen showing that she can do anything

 

Lexi wasn't gonna be left out

Lexi wasn’t gonna be left out

 

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Karen & Lexi are on the loose

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Karen said this is almost as much fun as goin to the dump

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Lexi said “this is way more fun than goin to the dump and it don’t smell like poop”

 

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Lexi offered to teach me to drive the tractor

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She found a pile of dirt that needed moving

While all of the “work” with the tractor was continuing over at the Annex I did some chores over at the orchard. Three roosters went to the feed store in return for 50# of Lay Pellets. That leaves the flock with two full size roosters, one Black Copper Marans and one Golden Cuckoo Marans. All of the large fowl chickens are back in the common run with the 5 silkies in juvenile pen. The area that had been the bachelor pen got tilled and seeded with barley, buckwheat, and red wheat. I’m hoping that our moderate weather will allow this area to sprout and develop into a pasture area the flock can be turned into occasionally.

The first Peach tree to leaf out

The first Peach tree to leaf out

 

A Royal Rosa Apricot. The first tree in the Orchard to bloom!

A Royal Rosa Apricot. The first tree in the Orchard to bloom!

Things are poppin in the orchard, buds are swelling and I have my first blossoms ever opening on a Royal Rosa Apricot. Next week I plan on spraying the orchard with a pulsing agent mix of Liquid Fish and Neem oil. The idea is to feed the little critters in the soil so that a pulse of good bacteria and fungus can out compete any bad guys that may blow in. My sister Lorri has a knack for finding gifts that I would never get for myself but after I get wonder how I ever got along without it. The book The Holistic Orchard is just such a gift, I have read it several times and constantly refer back to it. The author, Michael Phillips, has some fantastic ideas and this latest book of his lays things out in a manner that isn’t overwhelming or judgmental.

 

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Orchard Layout

 

 

 

 

This first layout is an as built just after I had finished planting all of my trees.

2012 Orchard Plan

 

This is after this years plantings. It really isn’t totally accurate or scaled very well seeing as how the chicken run now takes up the whole length of the south end of the area and the Grenada & Kasmir Pomegranates are inside that run. It is accurate as to varieties and locations. The pink dotted Splash, Flavor Supreme, and Flavor Grenade are Pluots an interspecific cross of plum and apricot. Purple dotted Emerald Beauty, Santa Rosa, Burgundy, and Beauty are plums; Orange dotted Early Treat, Florida Prince, O’Henry, and Babcock are peaches along with my lone Arctic Star nectarine. Gold Kist,Royal Rosa, Katy, and Tomkot are apricots with Cot-n-Candy & Flavor Delight being Apriums another interspecific cross of apricot and plum the leans more towards the apricot. 2013 Orchard-Plan

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Do I dare trust my GUTS?

While I do suspect I may be trying to get the Flu, fear not! there is not a single BM pic in this whole post.

Some of the GREAT people at the orchard!

Some of the GREAT people at the orchard!

The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension runs an amazing demonstration orchard here in Las Vegas, the Master Gardeners are absolutely amazing! Over a close to 20 year span they have tested almost every fruit and growing method you can think of and are truly the authorities on growing fruit trees in our harsh conditions. Every year they bring in fruit trees from Dave Wilson Nurseries for sale to interested gardeners. They focus on making available the varieties that produce good fruit here, which aren’t always easy thing to find.

Due to a slope in my orchard that I ignored last year I lost nine trees due to wet feet. The remediation plan was laid out previously in my What to Do? post. Basically I built 2’x2′ raised beds for the new trees to minimize the slope and give the new trees and area above the mucky soil below.

The raised beds started as 6' cedar dog eared fence planks

The raised beds started as 6′ cedar dog eared fence planks

 

My nephew Steven was a huge help. He is always a pleasure to be around!

My nephew Steven was a huge help. He is always a pleasure to be around!

Steven and I cut up all the material then assembled all of the boxes. Originally I had planned on using steel T-posts but my cheap side kicked in and we ended up using 1″x2″x24″ wooden grade stakes 25 for $7! During the planning of this modification of the garden/orchard area I came to realize that for me function is more important than form/style. Over engineering had been bogging me down until it clicked that last years “Grand Plan” was all being changed and for me “pretty” comes from healthy trees, healthy chickens, and tasty veggies. I am truly jealous of those that are able to create a masterpiece/showcase in their garden but I finally came to the understand that my mind doesn’t work that way. Basically I am CHEAP and hate spending money on something that I can’t wrap my head around it’s contribution to productivity.

Yeah there's only 3 stakes holdin that box up, I told you I was CHEAP!

Yeah there’s only 3 stakes holdin that box up, I told you I was CHEAP!

 

A good overview of the Orchard

A good overview of the Orchard

A secondary goal was reconfiguring my narrow raised beds that I installed last year. The idea was they were situated to the downhill side of my irrigation lines and would therefore require minimal supplemental irrigation. Come midsummer in an effort to minimize the soggy ground at the base of my orchard area I actually ended up diverting my Grey Water irrigation supply to a separate cobbled together system that didn’t really do anything well.

The Upper end of the "raised" bed

The Upper end of the “raised” bed

The plan for the area between the rows has morphed into a traditional raised bed 4′ wide and 10′ long. As can be seen in the above picture the upper end of the bed is actually only slightly above grade.

Truly "raised"

Truly “raised”

The bed is level both side to side and end to end, consequently the lower end of the bed is slightly above grade. Hopefully by the time my trees shade this area out in several years the level of the surrounding soil will have leveled out via the copious additions of mulch.

The sun is going down and the days work is done.

The sun is going down and the days work is done.

The raised bed was filled with the last of the compost and the accumulated muck from the floor of the hen-house. Last year about this time I put about 6″ of mulch in my 10’x10′ coop. Two bales of straw, a couple bags of shredded paper, and a bale of alfalfa had made it’s way in there during the intervening months. It had dried out quite a bit (I wet it down weekly during the summer) and I realize it is probably very “hot” due to all of the chicken poop, so I watered it down well to kick start the composting action.

The two little boxes are Comfrey plants that fell outside of the new bed.

The two little boxes are Comfrey plants that fell outside of the new bed.

Today we went back up and staked the new trees, did a general cleanup, mulched the first row, and then planted the new bed. To try to mellow out that “hot” soil I sowed several handful’s of red wheat and oats, then I planted bush beans, swiss chard, and beets Square-Foot Gardening style through the pasture seeds. Why? I’m not really sure, it just felt right and that’s the theme I’m trying to stick with. Educate yourself as much as possible then go with your gut!

 

 

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Wipe the slate clean!

OK not quite but sorta. Last week 2 things conspired to try to wipe the slate clean at my orchard/garden/chicken ranch.

  1. Mother Nature decided to toss a whompin thunderstorm at the East side of the valley
  2. Somebodies palm frond decided to plug up the brand spankin new storm drain just uphill from me

The Chickens are bouncing back nicely, I never did find my two Barnevelder babies but all of the others are present and accounted for.

A couple Black Copper Marans Roosters trying to figure who is the boss of the Juvenile Pen

The adolescent Golden Cuckoo Marans Rooster staking out his claim in the coop

Little Chickadee Alexa posing like a dork, oops I mean stork

The dominant Black Copper Marans Rooster tending to his girls

Karen had some of the perimeter fencing repaired which has freed up some chain-link gates that I am now planning how to use to divide my chicken run into three separate “paddocks”.The chicken run is approximately 15’x 55′, bouncing around in my noggin currently is a central 15’x15′ enclosure encompassing the coop with a 15’x20′ yard to either side. A Mulberry tree planted in the center of each of the three enclosures would provide shade & food in the summer along with leaves for the compost pile in the fall. We’ll see how those ideas develop, there is a lot of time for modifications as it is still to hot and humid to start on any major projects.

The Orchard came through fine, the flood waters beat up the trees a bit but didn’t rip any out and they don’t seem to be suffering from being waterlogged. Of the 7 comfrey plants I set out along the chicken-run fence only two have sprouted, there was a third before the flood but I can’t find any trace of it now. This whole area was mulched 6″ deep, it is back to bare soil now, just to the right of that bunch of what I think is Milo in the center of the picture was a good sized clump of comfrey that pulled a disappearing act like the one by the chicken-run. As soon as I harvest a couple watermelons and pumpkins that are hiding back under those leaves this area is going to cleared. If you look closely you can see a rebar stake on either side of the picture about the center up & down, they are 10′ apart and define the tree rows of my orchard. You can sorta see to the left lower center area of the picture how the soil looks kinda damp, this is a week after the flood and that section hasn’t dried out. Coincidentally I lost all of the trees on this end of the orchard to what I believe was wet feet. I’m not ambitious enough to haul in enough soil to raise the entire end but I am going to build 3’x3′ raised beds for each of the trees that will be planted this winter and a 2’x 16′ raised bed running down the center of that 10′ wide lane between the trees. I plan on hanging the “boxes” from 3′ T fencing posts driven in at each corner and then filling the raised beds with compost, sand, and native yucky clay soil. There will still be some fall from the North to the South end of the orchard but not as much which should  allow for better drainage. Rather than filling in the area between the “hanging” beds with soil I’m going to fill it in with mulch to create a large sheet composting system which over time will create a great area for the roots of my fruit trees to expand into.I’ve found over the years that if you just sit down and chill out for a bit you can usually turn most anything around. This flood that seemed so horrible last week is the spark that got my fire going for the fall season to come! A couple more weeks of yucky heat to research and refine my plans and I’ll hit the ground running and come next summer have an even better Orchard/Garden/Chicken Ranch. Who knows I might even find time to figure out a way to divert next monsoon seasons storm water!

 

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You make me spin right round baby

During an early morning web-crawl I stumbled upon an interesting post over at Permies.com about SPIN farming that intrigued me. I began researching and became even more interested and as usual my head is now “spinning” with ideas for my Orchard/Garden/Chicken Corral. On first read the concept seemed to be a strange marriage of Square Foot gardening and Multi-level marketing.

I first became enamored with square foot gardening back in the 90’s when we would spend as much of the summer as we could in our R/V next to the beach in Oceanside CA. San Diego’s public television station had Mel’s show on everyday during the week and it just made so much sense. I couldn’t wait to get the book and have since given several friends copies of the square foot gardening book whenever the discussion came up about growing vegetables. It was familiarity with square foot gardening’s simple common sense approach to backyard gardening that made Dave Wilson’s Back Yard Orchard Culture ideas so attractive when I discovered them last summer.

Am I planning on becoming a locally sourced produce entrepreneur? I don’t think so. It isn’t the marketing/business model of SPIN that I am interested in. From what I have read so far Small Plot INtensive gardening is the exact same concept as Square Foot gardening but with an added marketing component, my garden/chicken farm is relaxation/therapy for me. Growing stuff and tending my chooks helps refocus me and keep me going in a positive direction, it most certainly is work but it isn’t a job!

The part that grabbed my attention though is the suggested bed configuration of relatively long narrow beds that you can easily step across and straddle. Currently I have my sunken beds and my Half-Assed Hugelkulture beds between the rows of trees in my orchard. The orchard is laid out with with four rows 9′ apart with the trees spaced 4′ apart within those four rows. My sunken beds are 6′ long and positioned in between the trees in the first three rows. Basically: Emerald Beauty/bed/Gold Kist/bed/Splash ; Santa Rosa/bed/Royal Rosa/bed/Dapple Dandy ; Flavor Grenade/bed/Blenheim/bed/Mid Pride ; Flavor King/bed/Flavor Delight/bed/Arctic Star. My three Half-Assed Hugelkulture beds are in between the last two rows of trees. The Half-Assed Hugelkulture beds are going to stay where they are and in fact as soon as the weather breaks I am going to add a fourth bed in between those last two rows of trees. All of them are 4’x4′ straight out of Square Foot Gardening, I am comfortable with that configuration and think that I will have plenty of room around them for the tree branches. The Sunken Beds are another matter, their E-W orientation in line with the trees is a bit confining and I am finding it a bit difficult to work in them. Truthfully it has become an overgrown mess. I’m thinking that if the existing Sunken Beds were replaced with a single 2′ wide by 12′ long bed run N-S between each of the first three rows of trees I would have much better access while at the same time reducing competition for nutrients. Additionally I lost several trees this year due to wet feet, this new configuration would increase the distance between the beds and trees reducing the possibility of over-irrigation.

Last night I was thinking about how I had things all mapped out in my head in regards to garden projects for the fall, now one little blurb I read on the internet has turned my head upside down. All of those well thought out plans have rolled away across the tile floor leaving a big vacancy for new ideas!

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My eye Your eye

We had a Professional Photographer show up at our door a couple of months ago who offered her services in return for room & board.

She set out to document a day at the Fruity Chicken Orchard. This was in mid February and we were putting our last couple of trees in the ground.

I have always appreciated good tools but never viewed them as part of an interesting composition, although I’m sure the Kool Krew were convinced they were the main focus.

Who would have guessed that something as routine as staking and painting tree trunks could look so interesting.

Usually it’s just me working on my little project, a camera shows up and my nephew suddenly becomes helpful.

  

My Sister Lorri has a definite gift for finding the beauty in everything and capturing it on film.

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Sunken Beds?






 As can be seen in these 2 pictures there is currently a lot of open space in my Orchard. This space both receives full sun and is irrigated. 
That got me thinking about how I could put that area to use. At first I tried pulling the mulch back from the area above the  dripperlines. That didn’t work out to well because the mulch was so deep that it would migrate back into and cover the cleared area within a day. That was when I thought of raised beds, but in reverse.

I built some 70″x14″ frames from cedar fence planks nailed together then reinforced in the corners with L-brackets. 
I installed these in between the trees and on the upslope side of the drip lines. I chose to put them there so that the majority of the water would still move through the mulch bed while water pulled uphill through capillary action would irrigate the crops in the boxes.

 Above is the first bed set into the mulch, in the foreground my Emerald Beauty Plan can be seen leafing out nicely. Below are the first 4 boxes installed between 2 rows of Plums, Pluots, Apricots, and Apriums.

Sweet Corn, Cow Peas, Pinto Beans, and Buckwheat have been sown in these first beds. The Sweet Corn is for us and the rest is for chicken feed and to help break up and improve the soil texture. I am now thinking that the middle row will be setup similarly to the first row but will be sunflowers mixed in with legumes and cover crop while the final row, where there is room for six boxes, I may fill the boxes and use them as true raised beds. The draw back on that is that I will need to irrigate them, the upside is fresh Tomatoes! 

Common Sense Gray Water Irrigation

Today I completed the basic installation of my Gray Water Irrigation system for my High Density Orchard. The system brings water from my surge tank (a rubbermaid garbage can) through a 400 micron filter (that only removes the really big stuff) and to the orchard via 3/4″ poly tubing.

In the above pictures the Surge tank and Filter is underneath the stairway in the first pic, the 3/4″ main line can be seen on the right hand side of all of the pics and it also runs along the fence line with the grapevines.

Once the Gray Water reaches the Orchard via the 3/4 poly line it is distributed throughout the planting area via 1/2″ dripper line. This dripper line has emitters spaced every 12″ along it’s length and I have spaced the lines every 4′ running generally with the contours of the area. What the heck does that mean? It means that the rows themselves are basically level but each row is lower down the slope of the land than the previous. Originally I thought my Orchard sloped from the NE corner down to the SW corner which would have forced me to orient the rows on the bias running NW-SE, but when I dug out the laser it showed that I had only a very slight E-W slope with the main slope being N-S. Consequently I ran my lines E-W, located 1′ N of each row of trees.
 
The first picture shows the layout of the emitter lines in relation to the trees, the following pics show the dispersal of the Gray Water from the emitters.

In a traditional drip irrigation system for a planting such as an orchard you would irrigate each individual tree with three or four emitters located in a circular pattern roughly at the drip-line of the tree. What’s the drip-line of the tree you say? It is the circle defined by where the rain would drip off of the leaves of the tree. This system is designed to water each individual tree, additionally common knowledge (which everyone knows ain’t necessarily correct) has it that this type of irrigation should be done slowly and infrequently to encourage deep root growth. This deep root growth is supposed to allow the tree to tap into buried sources of nutrients and provide a secure foundation.

 

Here we see the drip lines running down the rows of trees, which along this axis are spaced 9′ apart,  the expanding area of moisture can also be seen developing in the second pic.

The traditional system works great when you are providing water solely for the purpose of irrigation, in my Orchard my water source is primarily a waste product from laundering clothes. This Gray Water is not storable due to the fact that it contains nutrients that will start to get funky in 24 hours or less. Also for a Gray Water system to work in the long run it must be as unobtrusive as possible, if the system requires thought and effort every time a load of clothes is going to be washed it ain’t gonna work! 

Capillary action is the main theory my Orchards irrigation system is based on. Basically I am watering the entire 600 square foot area of my Orchard instead of the 24 seperate 4′ diameter circles around each tree. When I first started researching this concept it made absolutely no sense but the more I read the more the pieces came together from separate sources to reinforce what Paul James over at graywatergardening.com is preaching. What I am trying to achieve is an inviting biodynamic area for my trees to send roots out into. The moist areas seen expanding out from the lines in the pictures above is the result of approximately 80 gallons of Gray Water flowing through the system, by next weekend I’m hoping that normal laundry use and capillary action will result in uniformly moist soil over the entire area. 

Then comes the mulch! Everything I am trying to emulate in my Orchard says that mulch is the key! Dave Wilson over at www.davewilson.com says it’s key to successful Back Yard Orchard Culture, Bob Morris at xtremehorticulture says it’s key to growing fruit in Las Vegas, and finally Paul James at graywatergardening.com says it’s key to having a safe and efficient Gray Water system. So next week I plan on hauling in mulch (ground up tree trimmings) and covering all of the area watered by the drip lines to a depth of at least 6″. Over time this will provide a fertile and ever improving soil for my trees to spread their roots into as the mulch slowly breaks down and is incorporated down into the soil by the natural action of earthworms, God’s little roto-tillers.
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