Orchard Plan in the Works

Ah, February at Draco Hill. The mind wanders to great things come Spring. It’s a dangerous time for us. Last year, it was livestock – highland cattle, guinea hogs, goats – we imagined them all. Then April came and we got over it.

But this year there’s no curing what ails us. An op-ed in the New York Times got us thinking of what we could do to put our land back into production, but in a sustainable, healthy way, so that someday a beginning farmer could farm it. We didn’t want to be those folks who buy an acreage just to look at, inadvertently driving up the cost of farmland all around us. But we were those folks. And the head of the National Young Farmers Coalition made that clear to us.

With most of our productive land either in federal conservation programs for now, there is only so much we can do, but inspired by Grant Schultz at Versaland Farm and Mark Shepard at New Forest Farm, we’ve decided to put an orchard into our hillside prairie planting. Native prairie aficionados can think of it as an edible savanna.

Orchard plan in the works

This Backyard Orchardist book, loaned to me by my favorite neighbor Margaret Bailey,  is the beginning of my education. She’s looking ahead, already loaning me a book on grafting, but I’m not there yet! Next week we go to the MOSES conference in LaCrosse Wis. for, among other things, an all-day class on the best berries to plant.

The plan for now includes two sets of two rows of multiple varieties of apples, pears and plums. Then along a long road into the place, one row of a variety of paw paws. We’re also planning a row of berries between each of the double rows of trees, probably honeyberries or blackberries. While we recognize that blackberries can be aggressive, they also belong here. We hope to pick ones that will spread slowly. With proper management including mowing at first, then burning and/or grazing, they should stay where they belong. The total comes to about 450 trees and berry plants.

But this year we implement Stage I – Site Prep. We’ll be removing all of these trees and others like them on the second line. Most of these are box elder trees, not considered very useful for much though we did make syrup from their sap last year. But we also have cherry, ash and mulberry. (Native mulberries elsewhere on Draco Hill will certainly supplement what a farmer can market off of these orchard trees!)

Site to prep for orchard

Once we remove these trees and cut and chip them for mulch and firewood, we’ll be bringing in a bulldozer to cut swales and berms out of the 30-foot wide terraces that these trees are on, stair-stepping them into two berms for the trees. This method will help capture and hold water in the ground, though the swales will be graded at about 1 to 3 percent to move excess water away from the tree roots in case of a long, wet season.

We’re looking for  WWOOFers and anyone else who likes to cut, hoist, chip and throw wood around this spring! If you’re interested, contact us. We provide great accommodations and food, according to former WWOOFers.

Other News: For interested readers please be sure to catch Paul’s page – Soapbox – for a more in-depth analysis of how we think and why we do what we do. Also, our daughter Ayshe is currently studying in Osaka, Japan and has a photo-filled blog at Osaka Nokaidan 


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