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Monday, 13 June 2011

Plan your own orchard

Whether you have room for a few fruit trees incorporated into your garden or a couple of rows of them, then to a degree, you have an orchard. And with just a few trees, or many, they will more than pay for the space they use in lovely organic fruit and in saving you money. 

Eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day is essential for a balanced and healthy diet and what a better way of ensuring fresh fruit, which has not travelled thousands of miles and been treated with numerous chemicals is there than growing your own. 

Trees do need room to grow but once established they mostly look after themselves with only the need for some pruning, feeding and control of pests and diseases. If space is limited you could consider espalier or fan training trees to grow against walls or fences or fitting a few trees into a traditional garden layout. 

We are fortunate to have enough space for a decent size orchard and the area was already occupied by four well established olive trees that are providing us with lovely olives. The orchard measures 28 metres by 33 metres and we now have 45 trees  planted which are about 3 metres apart in all directions. 

There are numerous fruit trees, with many varieties, which are suitable for the Mediterranean area, so choose carefully. Make a plan of your space and plant the most suitable trees for your soil, whilst utilising the space to fit as many trees in as possible. Also consider the possible harvests, as some varieties of lemons will provide fruit all year round whilst a cherry will only fruit for 2 months and an apricot for 1. 

Buy your trees from a recommended seller in your area, as purchasing an inferior fruit tree may not be apparent for 2-3 years. Before buying trees to plant, research the varieties that are growing locally, what is and what is not suitable in your area, the soil requirements and the pollination needs of each tree. For example, plums and apples need another variety close by for pollination purposes to set fruit. It is also worth considering the age of trees to buy, although this may depend on how much money you have available.
 Trees can be purchased as young, older or mature and each has advantages and disadvantages. Young trees have the advantage of allowing you to control their shape but it may be a few years before you start enjoying any fruit. Older trees, two to four years old, will fruit much sooner but their shape is less controllable and their cost may be three times that of a young tree. Mature trees, from seven to ten, will have an instant impact in your orchard and will fruit the same year but the cost, in comparison to a young tree can be ten times or more. 

General Information: 

The traditional time for planting trees in Cyprus is October which ensures they benefit, during their settling in period, from the rainy season and milder temperatures. 

All fruit trees have a wide spread of roots to collect the moisture and nutrients they need to grow and remain healthy. It is therefore recommended that a hole, for young trees, of 100cm square and at least 50cm deep is dug. The under soil can at the same time be loosened by forking to assist drainage and well rotted compost or manure added, depending on each trees requirements, before refiling. It is also worth allowing the soil time to settle, for at least 10 days, before planting your young trees.  

The distances between trees recommended is mostly that aimed at commercial growers, to maximise size, yields and allow access for tractors, but many trees can be planted a lot closer, as long as their size is controlled by pruning. When growing your own, it is more important to utilise the space available to provide a variety of fruit, harvests over a longer period and yields that are adequate for your needs. Closer planting will reduce the trees ability to grow large and will make it easier to prune, net against birds and harvest. We would, therefore, recommend a three metre distance where trees are spaced to fit as many trees as possible into the area you have available.

When planting trees always (a) create a watering circle by providing a circular soil ridge around each tree which is wider than the trees spread; (b) before planting insert stakes for young trees to protect from wind damage; (c) water in well and then follow instructions for individual trees regarding watering but all young trees will need regular watering until well established for about 2-3 years; (d) do not prune young trees until well established and (e) don't add any extra feed, if you have prepared your soil then it will be not be needed.

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