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Re: [fukuoka_farming] intro- and orchard beginner ideas?

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  • Stephen Inniss
    ... Hello Carrie, Carrie, I would advise you or anyone with an orchard to seed the ground with clover or some other nitrogen-fixing ground cover, and plant it
    Message 1 of 3 , Feb 29, 2004
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      carrieshepard wrote:

      > We have a small orchard that I've added native plum, bush cherries,
      > apple, and plum trees to and this year I want to add more herbs and
      > bulbs and other edibles to.
      > I'm very unclear about how best to do this. Last year I fenced in
      > the orchard and ran some geese and ducks and they really helped
      > clear a few areas of the bermuda grass. I've read that bermuda
      > grass or any other grass steals nutrients from the trees? Anyway,
      > I've sown some rye grass in one of the cleared areas and have it
      > covered with row covering till it's well established as I have free
      > range chickens who would gladly eat it all up for me before it gets
      > growing well.
      > Can anyone more familiar with Fukuoka's experiences give me some
      > clear cut ideas for my orchard in particular?

      Hello Carrie,

      Carrie, I would advise you or anyone with an orchard to seed the ground
      with clover or some other nitrogen-fixing ground cover, and plant it
      with useful herbs and shrubs, and to otherwise do as little as one
      reasonably can. My experience is that Mr. Fukuoka is right. You can get
      very good results that way.

      It may also be good to plant seedlings of cultivated varieties instead
      of using grafted or otherwise cloned trees. In the first two generations
      at least, it seems, they produce acceptable to very good fruit, and may
      be hardier than grafted varieties for whichever climate you live in
      (since the weakest do not survive). Own-root trees may be a bit bigger
      than is convenient for picking, but it seems to me that is only an issue
      if you are trying to maximize production per acres. If seedling trees
      are third generation or more, they may have reverted closer to the
      "wild" type, which means they may not be human tastes (cherries on the
      small side, apples a little sour or mealy, plums with a very brief
      "sweet" harvest period, etc.). even though they will be hardier and more
      trouble-free. If you look back through the archives of this group you
      can find some discussion of this.

      I imagine others can add more, but here are some of my experiences (you
      can find some of Mr. Fukuoka's from the copy of One Straw Revolution on
      the group web site):

      The orchard I have now is a mix of young to middle-aged apples, quinces,
      sour cherries, sweet cherries, peaches, and plums (the European
      variety). Elsewhere there are walnuts and filberts. There are some other
      fruit trees (loquat, apricot, asian pear, asian plums, figs, pawpaw, and
      strawberry tree) that are still to young to bear. Just outside the
      orchard are grapes (supported on structures, not on the trees), and
      blueberry and raspberry bushes. I've begun to add saskatoons,
      gooseberry, jostaberry, and black and red currants as an understory
      between the trees themselves. If there is room I will eventually add
      mulberry, medlar, date palm, pomegranate, and almond trees. The last
      three won't produce reliably in this climate right now, but my guess is
      that global warming will make my area a little warmer and drier in the
      near future (the long-term effects of global warming on any one climate
      are essentially unpredictable, unfortunately).

      Except for some of my new additions, some of which are volunteer
      seedlings, all of these trees except the quince are grafted varieties on
      semi-dwarf stock or (in the case of the hazelnuts and walnuts) named
      varieties on their own roots. They were conventionally pruned for some
      years, and the fruit trees were sprayed most winters with lime-sulphur
      mix. For the last few years before I acquired the property the trees
      were neither sprayed nor pruned, as the health of the previous owner
      deteriorated and he was unable to tend to them. The ground between the
      trees was covered in a mixture of barrier cloth and recycled artificial
      carpet (from the number of square metres I've removed, it looks as if
      this was old carpeting from several different houses), covered with
      several centimetres of bark mulch. By the time I arrived the bark mulch
      had partially composted, and been colonized by a mixture consisting of
      grasses and buttercup. In the past, but not since I've moved in,
      chickens were allowed to forage on the ground between the trees.

      I have not sprayed the trees with anything, nor treated them for disease
      other than to remove blighted twigs or branches from the apples and
      "black knot" fungus from the plums, or to remove blighted peach leaves
      and twigs. I do not thin the fruit, and do not provide summer water
      (except to the very young trees I planted within the last year). I do
      not keep hives of pollinating honeybees, but I do put up nesting blocks
      for the native "mason" bees. The former owner let the vegetation grow
      beneath the trees and periodically scythed it down. I've used the
      occasional pass with a lawnmower instead, since in my climate the tall
      dry grass is a fire hazard in summer. In places I have removed the old
      barrier cloth and carpet, dug in the layer of bark mulch, planted with
      whatever shrubs, bulbs, herbs, and so on were handy at the time, and
      seeded with clover. That has made the undergrowth quite rich where I've
      done it, but hasn't yet affected the trees one way or the other. This is
      a long term restoration project, since the feeder roots of the trees had
      grown into the layers of bark mulch and carpet, and I don't want to
      disturb all of them at once. I haven't added lime, manure, or anything
      else to the soil. After a few "corrective" cuts the first year, I've
      kept the pruning to a minimum. I don't plan to quit pruning entirely,
      since I would like to keep most of the fruit within reach. Besides, as
      Mr. Fukuoka found early in his farming experience, it is not good to
      simply "let go" with trees that have been pruned all their lives.

      All of the trees produce heavily under this treatment, with the
      exception of the peach (which bears a few very tasty peaches or none at
      all depending on the year). Peaches aren't really suited to my climate,
      unless you grow them under shelter against a south wall and spray them
      with copper sulphate. The plums are numerous and practically spotless.
      The quinces are good, but tend to split when the autumn rains start. The
      walnuts don't produce much, but they are still young. The apples and
      filberts are the heaviest producers of all. The apples are a little
      small by "supermarket" standards, with some blemishes, and about one in
      10 has the core eaten by moth larvae, but I get well over a hundred
      pounds per tree and all of the several varieties are sweet, tasty, and
      good keepers (those obviously insect-damaged I make into apple sauce,
      dried apple, or juice): they are good for at least 7 months storage if
      packed with care in the bins I keep outdoors under an east-facing deck.
      How productive the underplantings of saskatoon, gooseberry, currant,
      mint, horseradish, and other useful plants will be remains to be seen.
      Disease is no more prevalent than it was before; perhaps less so. A
      heavy infestation of aphids came and went on the plums without any
      lasting damage: when the number of aphids grew great enough, wasps and
      birds moved in to eat them.

      All in all, I estimate this orchard is producing much more good food
      (even measured by mere volume) than other, more heavily managed,
      orchards nearby, and takes very little of my time. I have not sold the
      considerable excess, but have given it away to friends, extended family,
      colleagues, students, neighbours, charities, etc. instead. However,
      there are several local retailers for "organic" produce, and I may sell
      to them next year, partly for whatever cash it generates, and partly
      because it would be simpler than distributing the produce in such small

      A while back there were reports in this group from people who said that
      a Fukuoka-style orchard didn't work. I believe these were second-hand
      reports, though, not first-hand. They might also have been reports from
      people who were trying to make a go of it as commercial growers rather
      than merely to become self-sufficient in food. It seems to me that given
      the low upkeep costs an orchard of apples and filberts would be
      worthwhile in my climate, given the relatively high prices that organic
      produce fetches. Perhaps some of the professional growers on this list
      can comment on the economics of Fukuoka-style orchards.

      As an aside, I've found that with grape vines traditional pruning *is*
      necessary. I also remove old raspberry canes rather than leave them as
      is. If others have found a less interventionist approach works I would
      like to hear from them.


      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • carrieshepard
      Stephen, Thanks for the great advice and sharing what you ve done with your orchard. I m printing it out to add to my garden journal to help keep me going in
      Message 2 of 3 , Mar 2, 2004
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        Thanks for the great advice and sharing what you've done with your
        orchard. I'm printing it out to add to my garden journal to help
        keep me going in the right direction.

        I just recieved my own copy of One Straw Revolution, so now more is
        making sense. I don't quite understand why you enclose seeds in the

        I really love his insights into education and as a non-traditional
        home educator, can see lots of overlapping between how I choose to
        live (a somewhat frugal stay at home homeschooling mom and wife) and
        Fukuoka's choosing to live simply and farm. It's taken a lot of
        frugal living support books and email lists to get some of my
        childhood public schooled consumerism ideas OUT of my head so that I
        am very content now to be home raising my animals and crops.

        Fukuoka's do-nothing idea is very similar to that of the Solviva
        author's message on 'doing no harm' that if I remember correctly she
        recieved in meditation. Anyone who actually farms or in her case
        spins and weaves AND farms knows that there is a lot of work
        involved, its just the satisfaction level rises to meet the
        challenge of the work load.

        Thanks again,
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