English: Apples on an apple-tree. Ukraine. Рус...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve become a bit obsessed with fruit trees. It seems to me that the ideal tree to plant is one that provides food, whether it be out here in the country or lining the sidewalks and medians in an urban area. You get beautiful flowers in the spring, then shade and fruit in the summer. Branches you prune are excellent to use when grilling to provide extra flavor.

I’ve become fascinated with the idea of a mini orchard and am using the information from the Deep Green Permaculture  and Dave Wilson’s Nursery websites as my guides. The basic premise is to plant fruit trees quite close together – just 18″ apart – and keep the trees pruned short. So on the northwest side of our raised garden beds we’ve planted some young fruit trees. These are trees I got on clearance 2 summers ago for about $3 each and planted in BIG pots on the deck. I originally thought how great they would be to create shade on the deck, but this past summer they’d gotten so large that their watering needs were overwhelming. So Mike tilled the ground and we transplanted the young trees in October. Imagine my surprise when 2 weeks later they started blooming! Now these trees are much farther apart than 18″, but I do plan to fill in with more fruit trees this spring, so they are forming the basis of the larger plan.

I’ve used another permaculture concept and planted some of my spare strawberry plants around the bases of the trees to act as a living mulch. Strawberries grow so thickly that they rarely allow any weeds to poke through, so my hope is that this strategy takes away the need for other mulch or for weed-whacking in between them. As a bonus my mulch will provide me with more strawberries!

Some of the fruit trees I planted are dwarf varieties and some aren’t, but you can make any tree a dwarf through diligent pruning. My plan is for these trees to be limited to no more than 6′ tall so we can pick the fruit without a ladder. So far there are 2 apples, 1 peach, 1 nectarine and 1 cherry tree, and I plan to add many more! In the same vicinity are already-established trees including 1 apple, 2 cherry and 1 mulberry tree. About 10′ away, planted along the fence, are raspberry and thornless blackberry vines. My vision is for this side yard to become a densely planted and productive garden area with fruit trees forming a hedge that provides both food and beauty!

Of course, who am I really kidding? The 6 peach trees and 2 plum trees we planted 15 years ago have produced plenty of fruit, and rarely have I ever gotten a single bite. The squirrels and deer here form a vast network of thieves that I probably can’t overcome. Maybe I can just reach a point of saturation where I’m growing more than they can eat…