Category Archives: orchard

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.

Gray Water #2 The Backbone

I received the material for my gravity fed drip irrigation system this past week. The system I am using is from www.irrigray.com . Their site is a wealth of information. Before deciding on irrigrays drip approach I did a lot of research, http://oasisdesign.net/ , is a good starting point with a wealth of knowledge that isn’t built on fad theories. 
My system is basically a gravity fed laundry to landscape system, the starting point of which is a surge tank. Don’t confuse this with a storage tank, gray water contains to many proteins and other nutrients and if held for more than a few hours will get funky. As you can see I am using a durable garbage can. 

The kit came with a fitting to easily tap into the surge tank. I drilled a 3/4″ hole approximately 3″ above the bottom of the tank, inserted a tight fitting rubber grommet, and then inserted a fitting that was a force fit in the grommet thus creating a watertight seal. The other end is a standard barbed fitting for 3/4″ poly irrigation tubing. The valve you see is only for system service and maintenance, when the system is in operation this valve will always be open.

As you can see that 3/4″ poly line goes past my irrigation valves, along a ditch, then comes back up and is run above ground in my orchard area.
I still need to install a 400 micron filter somewhere in the line before it gets to the orchard area, then install the 1/2″ dripperline that has 2 gph droppers installed every 12″ along its length. I plan on doing all of that next week which should be right on schedule for the start of the irrigation season here in Vegas. I did see one of my trees beginning to put out the tiniest little leaves today.

Gray Water #1 The BS

As I mentioned in my first post I am planning on irrigating my Backyard Orchard with Gray Water from my laundry. During my research I discovered that in the state of Nevada it is not currently legal to use Gray Water for irrigation, apparently the Southern Nevada Water Authority has successfully opposed every piece of legislation introduced that would have enabled the use of Gray Water by anyone other than themselves.

The news articles I have found talk about the SNWA believing that a purchaser of water only has the right to use it once then return it for industrial scale treatment and return to the Colorado River. The purpose of returning the water to the Colorado is so that the SNWA can get return credits that allow them to draw more water out of the Colorado and sell it to the same customer that just gave it back.

I’m curious just how many people the water in the Colorado River has literally passed through before it makes it to our taps here in Las Vegas? and is it true that our intake is downstream of the outflow from the water treatment plants? if so how many times does the SNWA sell the same water before allowing it to go downstream?

All that aside I am still going to go forward with my gray water irrigation system, or rather my gravity fed drip irrigation system that will have multiple sources of makeup water. I plan on locating my surge tank where I can eventually install gutters and divert what little rain we get into it, second I am going to run a line from a spare valve on my irrigation system so I can fill it up during dry spells, and third I am going to install a 3 way valve on the outlet from my washing machine and route one side to my septic system and the other into the surge tank.

Additionally I have already started contacting my State Legislators and my Representatives on SNWA’s board. Initially I have just asked for their opinion on the subject, so far only my County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani has responded. Chris supports the practice but was unsuccessful getting legislation pushed through. My next step will be to educate my representatives about the merits of Gray Water recycling, so if anyone knows of good source material please let me know! 

Overview

Lorri, my sister, made me this really nice plot plan of my Orchard/Chicken Yard
Currently my chickens and ducks have the run of the whole area. The only interest the chickens have shown in my trees so far is scratching in the mulch and turned over dirt, the ducks love mucking around in the basins around each tree when I’m watering. The plan is to let them free range in amongst the trees, their appetite for insects is voracious and I figure that as long as they don’t damage the trees that can only be a good thing. 

I’m not quite sure where this guy came from. He likes to think he’s all that but gets his butt kicked regularly by the other roo’s. If he was gonna stick around longer I’d probably name him Mark,

 This group of 4 chooks are barnyard mutts and the product of my first attempt at incubating eggs from my own flock!

A cooperative effort

Whatcha puttin in there? 

My Ducken, He was a surprise, I thought I had an
incubator full of chicken eggs. He still hangs with
his nest mates and doesn’t want anything to do with
the Kool Krew

The Kool Krew just hang in out!

Eggs & Pomegranates

What a beautiful day to be working in the orchard. My nephew Steven spent the night and came up to the little house with Brian and I this morning to do a little work. Brian dug the hole for my Pink Lady apple and our little flock of ducks, aka the “Kool Krew”, helped get all of the air pockets out after I backfilled.
The “Kool Krew” 

Steven attacked the hated oleanders on either side of the gate with loppers and a sawzall. I truly hate oleanders and just can’t understand why people insist on planting them, they look fake, are poisonous to livestock, trigger migraines, and are just plain invasive. But maybe those are endearing qualities to some people. We planted 2 pomegranates to either side of the gate along the fence row spaced 4′ apart, to the right there is a Sweet and an Eversweet, while to the left we planted Kasmir and Granada.

 Steven also found where my Easter Egger Pullets were laying, and I remembered my little incubator. So in 21 days I hope to have some pics of pippin and zippin!

Putting things in the right order

Obviously there is a lot going on in my “orchard” right now due to it being planting season for bare root fruit trees, I need to point out that there needs to be planning and thought put into a backyard orchard project. While you might succeed if you drop by the local nursery and buy a couple trees on a whim doing it right takes work. I started thinking about this project last spring and was amazed at the information I found on the Web and in my hometown. Dave Wilson Nursery has great information and from what I understand were the originators of the Backyard Orchard Culture concept, Robert Morris over at xtremehorticulture founded the UNCE demonstration orchard in North Las Vegas back in the 90’s and has written the book so to speak on growing fruit in the Eastern Mojave Desert. These two sources have provided me with lots of information and the inspiration to start my orchard. Dave Wilson BYOC basics on youtube is a great primer if you want to see what BYOC is all about. So to sum it all up if your thinking you might want to get involved in the locally sourced (what could be more local than your own backyard?) food movement check out the information Dave Wilson Nursery has to offer, then look around your community a bit and I’ll bet you find an activist/expert like Robert Morris and the other great people Las Vegas is lucky enough to have over at the UNCE orchard!

Bonus !!

I went to the Orchard this morning hoping to pick up a leftover barefoot tree or three from the big order last week. I scored big!! John hooked me up with: 1 apple, Fuji Red; 1 Nectarine, Arctic Star; 5 Peaches, Fairtime, Florida Prince, Babcock, O’henry, & Early Treat; and 3 Pluots, Splash, Dapple Dandy, & Flavor Grenade. Now I got to figure out where to put them in the layout of my Orchard!

                                NORTH
——————————————————————————————————————-I B
Plum          9′             Apricot      9′         Pluot        9′            Apple       12′      I L
  o Emerald Beauty     o Gold Kist          o Splash                 o Fuji                  I O  E
  o Santa Rosa           o Royal Rosa       o Dapple Dandy       o Cripps Pink      I C  A
  o Flavor King           o Blenhem            oArctic Star            o Red Fuji           I K  S
                                 Aprium                  Peach————–Nectartine               I      T
  oFlavor Grenade       o Flavor Delight     o Mid Pride            o Einshemer       I W
                                                             o Fairtime              o Arctic Star       I A
                                                             o  Early Treat         o Florida Prince  I L
                                                             O’Henry              Babcock          I L

This is what I’m thinking right now, but that could change by morning. One of the factors I’m thinking about is that block wall on the East end, it is 7′ tall and has 2 30′ pine trees behind the apples and the nectarines. Is that going to cut back the morning sun to much? and the shade from the other trees to the west going to cut down the afternoon sun to much? or is the combination of the two factors going moderate the brutal summer conditions here in Las Vegas just right? Lastly I wonder how that Einshemer bareroot apple over at Lowes would work out? hmmmmmmm.

Orchard Plan

My orchard is going in to an area that is approximately 60′ E-W and 25′ N-S. I am going to plant in a Hedgerow style with N-S rows spaced 9′ apart with the trees in each row spaced 4′ apart. I messed around with trying to build the soil up over the summer with “green manure”. Robert over at xtremehorticulture told me I was probably wasting my time and he was right! Rule #1 : listen to the expert, especially if he’s an experienced expert. I tried everything from buckwheat to leftover seed from my wires exotic birds, it all came up fairly well but my chickens devastated everything green in the whole area. So what’s that all about? just pointing out that I still ain’t learned my lesson. Robert kept trying to nudge me away from hedgerows so what did I do? As laid out above I’m planting my trees in hedgerows! That’s the wonderful, or maybe terrible thing about the web, it ain’t very hard at all to find some intelligent sounding guy that’s posted an article (or blog) that you can use to justify whatever preconceived notion you may have. Rule #2 : if your looking for authoritative advice about growing fruit trees in Las Vegas listen to Robert over at knows more than Max.com.

My Orchard area looking East
My Orchard area looking generally West

What the Heck

A little background: I am a lifelong resident of Las Vegas in general and the East side of the Valley in particular. Growing up here we had horses and were involved in 4H which I think sparked the flame of a wanna be farmer in me. My wife and I acquired a half acre property about 4 years ago and I started getting chickens. My son and his fiancé rent the house from us so every time I went by the feed store I would pick up a couple of chicks, raise them till they were big enough to run around on their own, and them turn them loose while my son was at work. After a while my wife, who worked in an exotic bird store brought me home an incubator that somebody brought in. Big Mistake! I started by hatching out a bunch of my backyard mutts, I was bit by the Chicken bug bad now! Next thing you know the wife wants to know why I’m getting eggs in the mail, “why it’s the only way to get Black Copper Marans” duh. Notice the “duh” wasn’t in quotes? I been married to Karen for 25 years and learned not to say some things out loud long ago. And why do we need BCMS? she asks, “How else are we gonna get chocolate colored eggs?” duh! Below is a picture of the area where my coop (the red barn/shed) is being moved to.
That was a brief explanation of the chicken part of “fruity chickens” the fruity part comes from us wanting to do something to all of the dirt areas on our little piece of Vegas. It’s to much area for grass, rocks are OK I guess, but we wanted something productive. After a lot of research and thought we came up with the idea of an urban orchard. Below is the area we are going to plant about 20 fruit trees in. We are also researching using gray water for a portion of the irrigation needs of the trees. So far everything I have found says it is an ideal use for gray water and is legal in most of CA and AZ but still a bit of a grey area here in NV.
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