Several years ago we fenced off a section of open land (to keep buck and porcupine out) and created an orchard, as well as a patch to grow berries, potatoes, mealies and squash, which take up too much space in the veg garden. About 30 fruit and nut trees were planted in concentric circles at the top (eastern) end of the orchard, leaving room for berries and vegetables at the bottom (western) end. Once the trees and berries were planted, they were pretty much left to get on with it. This strategy didn’t work however and the orchard has never been a great success.
This year, I’ve focussed more attention on the orchard and my efforts are beginning to pay off. Thanks to the online permaculture course that I did, the first thing I did was plant a food hedge (fedge!) to stop the prevailing winds from barrelling through a gap in the existing windbreak. I transplanted indigenous trees and shrubs that had self-sown in my garden (mostly leucosidea sericea/ouhout, heteromorpha arborescens/parsley tree and buddleja salviifolia/sagewood) and interplanted them with quince, pomegranate and elderberry trees.
Then we transplanted about 200 strawberry plants into raised beds, which has made cultivating and harvesting them a lot easier. I also decided to espalier all the trees. This was not an easy task because of them being planted in circles but with Kho’s help (and YouTube) I managed to get the necessary support structure in. Fortunately, our local garden centre was selling off fruit trees at half price and I was able to add quite a few more trees to fill in the gaps.
At the same time as I was redoing the orchard, I got to know a young guy (Daniel, the plant whisperer) who came and fertilised all the trees with rock dust. I had never heard of rock dust and when I googled it I found mixed opinions about its efficacy. However, as far as I’m concerned it did the trick. Some of the trees that I thought were dead have sprung back to life with such vigour and, in the space of a couple of months, even have fruit on them. It is such a pleasure taking the dogs for their evening walk and detouring through the orchard, inspecting (and talking to) all the trees. It’s a bit like doing a walking meditation.
However, the tranquility has been somewhat marred by a malicious little murderer lurking in the trees. Our orchard has become a killing field thanks to a jacky hangman (aka fiscal shrike) who has been using a lemon tree with particularly vicious thorns as his pantry. For some years now I’ve noticed corpses of small critters pinned on spikes in the lemon tree but a couple of weeks ago, I made the most gruesome find of all – an impaled baby weaver. When I went back the next day with my camera, all that was left was the head, pierced through the eye socket.
This week, I found a tail (all that remained of a small rodent) and an unfortunate locust, impaled while still alive.
Read more about the macabre habits of the butcher bird here.
Still in the orchard, our potato crop is looking good. We have decided not to plant mealies again because it seems to attract monkeys and we really don’t want to encourage them.
The veg garden, or allotment as we call it, has kept us supplied with salad greens, asparagus, artichokes, broad beans, sugar snap peas, celery, parsley and coriander. My courtyard potted herbs are doing well, with plenty of mint, lemongrass, lemon verbena, chives and thyme.
And even the rest of the garden is looking good considering how neglected it’s been. Mind you I did get some help from Daniel with pruning and fertilising.