Better Use of Home Orchard Space

This spring, I built a 85’ x 85’ fenced area for fruit trees. The fruit trees are mostly semi-dwarf and are spaced about 17’ apart. There are apple, Asian pear, sweet cherry and apricot. This area gets almost full sun with woods in the north side of the area. It is slightly sloped toward the east. This area is grassed with blue grass and I mow the grass with push mower. I do have the tractor mower, but it is too large for this area.

Since I’m short on vegetable space, I built a garden area at the end (North side) of the area. This weekend I decided to dig out the weedy Bermuda grass. Then I just realized there is so much garden space I’m not using. I can dig more vegetable beds between rows of fruit trees. If I dig a 5’ wide bed, I’ll still have about 12’, or 6’ on each side. If I dig 2 4.5’ wide beds, with 2’ path between the beds, I’ll have about 6’ grass area, or 3’ on each side.

Before I do this, I just like to hear what you folks think, anything else I should pay attention to. I do realize that, when the fruit trees grow taller, they may shed more shade on the garden beds. Then I’ll plant more shade tolerant vegetables…

My trees are planted about five to six feet apart. I have about the same amount of area as you do, and I have 33 trees. I have room for eight more trees but I don’t think I want the work (or want to wait five years for fruit to appear). Most trees have taken quite a while to fruit for me. It all depends upon your energy and age. Your orchard looks great. I think you have plenty of room for more trees. (are they dwarf, semi-dwarf or full sized trees?) That would make a difference.

Using the strip for veggies sounds two fold good to me. You would wind up with a good chunk of square footage for the veggies AND there would be that much less grass to cut.

I don’t know what your precipitation is there, but I’d lean toward leaving the 6’ break between garden and trees, just so that I didn’t accidentally damage any of their roots. I’ve seen roots grow out beyond 3’ from fruit trees at a relatively young age. Are you going to eventually plant more trees in the rows between the ones you have, or do you specifically want them that distance apart?

I can develop more orchard area if I want to. But having a total about 30 trees is good enough for me. When I planted the trees, I wanted to be able to mow the grass. Also, the fruit trees are part of the landscaping. I’m just short with vegetable space and this is the only fenced area I can use. The other fenced area is for my 40+ grape vines and berry patches.

I lose some of the apple trees and they will be replaced this season. They will be planted in original spot and the trees will keep 15’ to 17’ spacing, both ways. I may plant a couple of dwarf trees at the corner or last row, just to fill the space. With your 6’ grass spacing between trees, it appears I can only have one bed, not two garden beds. That is just fine. I’ve already started digging some bed at the perimeter area under the fence. The bean trellis will be re-built next year and fully extended.

I grew veggies around my fruit trees until it got too shady. It makes the wait for fruit more tolerable. Also, when a tree dies, you don’t feel like you wasted space for however many years the fruitless tree was there. Enjoy your veggies!

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Red Sun,
Looks like you have the beginnings of a very nice back yard orchard indeed! You might be interested in Dave Wilson’s “Back Yard Orchard Culture,” I might go as far as saying it changed my life, or at least my whole outlook on my favorite pastime.

I began my orchard plantings at 14’ spacing because that’s what all the planting instruction labels said to do, now I’m filling in with plantings from 18" to 7’ apart. There are numerous benefits to close spacing and tree size control especially if you don’t like climbing ladders to prune, spray, and harvest the fruit.

I also had Kentucky Bluegrass between my trees but I’ve discovered that KB needs way more water than my trees do, in fact, my trees have been suffering from over watering despite being in well draining silt-loam soil. I’ve been capping off my sprinklers and covering the grass with wood chip mulch I’ve gotten from local tree service companies and after only a year and a half I’m already seeing an improvement in the health of my trees. One thing I’ve learned about mulching over grass is you must either kill the grass with chemicals or lay down cardboard or something to smother it before putting down the wood chips or the grass will come right up through, even where the mulch is a foot deep or more.

As for the garden area, my plan is to incorporate my veggie garden amongst my fruit trees. It seems like leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and lettuce benefit from a little filtered shade. They also thrive in the decomposing wood chips as long as I pull the mulch back a bit before planting so their roots can reach the soil.

To me the learning and experimentation is what makes this hobby so fun and rewarding, and this forum is such a wonderful place to come and learn with others of similar interest.

Have fun!

I know the BYOC for quite some time, but I’ve never grown into it. I have 3 acres of land, so space is never a concern for me. I actually like the natural look of the fruit trees and the low maintenance. When they are producing, 30 fruits trees can produce more than what we need.

I think I’m going to use the space to put on tomato cages and plant some pumpkins. The beds can be 7 to 8’ wide, for two rows of tomato cages. Also no intensive digging, so not to disturb the roots. The trees won’t shed much shade now. The pumpkin vines can grow out of the beds if they want to…

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Your idea of a single wide bed is a good idea. If the fruit trees get wider than expected you have the option of narrowing the wide vegetable bed.

Yes, for years now we all know about it. Also many commercial orchards are now pushing pedestrian orchards. I found this more useful as Michigan State University is for pedestrian orchards, so the info is more directly related to my situation. the problem with BYOC is it was developed in a place with completely different pest pressure than I have. Mostly fungi. Some of the BYOC techniques would never work here. Other techniques work very well. MSU helped me sort out what works and what does not. Pedestrian orchards are where no ladders are needed. A high density orchard is pretty much the same thing.

Red Sun, let me add my voice to the planting vegies between tree rows. From your pics, your trees aren’t likely sending roots out to that middle area yet, so no worries there. And veggies and fruit trees are compatible, certainly at the early tree stages.

Another bonus (maybe) is irrigation. The few fruit trees of mine that are closest to the vegie garden have grown the fastest and bear the most fruit. I suspect that is because they have sent roots under the nearby vegie rows, and are “stealing” some of that water. Not sure where you live, but if water is in short supply this may be an added bonus.

I think the light shade from the fruit trees are also actually good for the vegetables. Particularly in the hot summer. Very likely I water the vegetables regularly, so the trees get more regular water too.

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Yes, that’s a lot of space to fill. Do you grow any raspberries or black berries too?

I have been using the aisles between rows in my orchard for a few years now, makes sense for me as my standard trees will take awhile to fill in to the 25’ spacing. I have grown a variety of vegetables, covercrops, and nursery crops (more fruit trees) in the aisle spaces.
One thing I’ve learned is to watch out for making too nice a habitat for voles with providing them cover (mulch) and food.
Buckwheat covercrop, it will winter kill before going to seed. This will prep the ground for next springs planting- nursery rows and garlic going in the next week,

Nursery rows planted this spring,

Looks nice.

Redsun, from the pictures, I’m not sure your trees are getting all they need to fill their space quickly, although at that point in the season and by way of those photographs, it is hard to see the actual growth of annual shoots.

Growing vegetables in between will likely help the trees establish more quickly by breaking up the soil and eliminating a lot of the turf that competes against your fruit trees (grasses actually fight the trees with alleopathic chemicals besides the obvious competition of their dense roots).

By the time in the season vegetables have meaningful roots the fruit trees will already have gotten most of the benefit from the loosened soil.

I believe your trees would grow more vigorously if you expanded your grass and weed free zones to at least 5’ diameter circles.

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Good points. With 5’ mulch circle, the trees will be very happy. I think this is what I’m aiming now. I’m kinda tired mowing the grass in that area. Since I do not use any weed killer or lawn fertilizer, there are more weeds to combat. But somehow the green grass does look better than fully mulched. Too brown.

My fruit trees are still working in progress.