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 Orchard floor management 
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Joined: Fri Aug 28, 2009 10:47 pm
Posts: 7
Location: Stayton
Post Orchard floor management
I know everyone won't agree, but I'd like some suggestions of how I should manage the ground under my trees. I live just south of Salem, OR. I have three rows of trees, each approximately 120 ft long. The trees were mostly planted in 1999 and probably three or four in the last three years. They consist of 18 various apples, and 10 miscellaneous other fruits, (pears, plums, cherries).

I have been trying to keep an eight foot wide strip under the trees bare, with mowed lawn growing between the rows. The only way I've been successful keeping that strip bare is with glyphosate, which I have discontinued. I just spent the last two hours weed-whacking the weeds out of that bare strip, and it's obvious I'm losing the battle; grass is winning.

I could turn it into sod and mow it, or I could plant a heavy cover crop of some kind and try and manage that, or I could mulch heavily, or maybe there are other alternatives. What would anyone's suggestion be for managing that area for the benefit of the fruit?

Thanks in advance for your help.
Dave


Wed Jul 31, 2013 4:28 pm
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Joined: Fri Feb 09, 2007 1:21 pm
Posts: 417
Location: SW Washington
Post Re: Orchard floor management
27 cubic yards of wood chips would cover an area 4 feet wide by 360 feet long 6 inches deep.

You might be able to find a local arborist to supply them for free.

There's a guy in the Portland area that will deliver that volume fir peelings near him for about $150.


Thu Aug 01, 2013 10:17 am
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Joined: Fri Aug 28, 2009 10:47 pm
Posts: 7
Location: Stayton
Post Re: Orchard floor management
Thanks for your reply jafarj. So you are suggesting that wood chips would be good for the trees? I hadn't thought about that since it's the last thing I would do for a garden and I am mostly a gardener. So for my 8' wide strip I'd want 54 yards. Would sawdust work? There's still a few sawmills south of me.

Dave


Thu Aug 01, 2013 11:07 am
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Joined: Sun May 15, 2005 10:57 am
Posts: 1348
Location: Portland, OR
Post Re: Orchard floor management
Hi xtapa,
I agree with Jafarj. Most modern orchardists probably would too. There's a lot of research to back it up. You don't want grass, places where small mammals live, or real competition under your fruit trees. One thing some people do (and I sort of do) is to put early flower bulbs at the drip line. Daffodil, crocus, grecian windflowers, snowdrops, etc. They are pretty and in bloom before the apple tree does, which brings in positive insects for blooming, etc.
John S
PDX OR


Thu Aug 01, 2013 1:25 pm
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Joined: Mon Dec 12, 2011 8:37 pm
Posts: 21
Post Re: Orchard floor management
plant lots of comfrey (Symphytum officinale) underneath all the trees. it will suppress the grass, accumulate nutrients, attract bees and you can cut it back for mulch! plant clover for a nitrogen boost or quick spreading things like mint. let the dandlelions come up too. those "weeds" are feeding the soil and your trees. mainly what you want is less space for grass to grow, as grass creates a bacterial dominated soil, and fruit trees like a fungal dominated soil. lots of wood chips will help with that too.


Fri Aug 02, 2013 1:19 pm
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Joined: Mon Oct 24, 2011 2:07 am
Posts: 6
Post Re: Orchard floor management
Check out Michael Phillip's "The Holistic Orchard" - http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/i ... :paperback

Image

What this picture shows is a fruit tree surrounded by plants that attract beneficial insects, both pollinators and predatory insects; plants that mine mineral nutrients deeper in the soil than the tree’s feeder roots reach; and nitrogen fixers such as clovers. What you can’t easily see in the picture is the mulch of ramial wood chips. Ramial wood chips are from tree branches less than 2 inches in diameter. As they decay into humus, they create fungal activity which increases soil life. You create relationships that benefit the trees. For example, comfrey leaves fall to the ground as it starts to go to seed creating a living mulch and enriching the soil. But comfrey needs nitrogen which is provided by the clover. The rich soil life will convert the nitrogen to ammonium which can be used by comfrey and other plants. And bumblebees love comfrey. Here’s Michael’s Buzz on Biodiversity which explains how this works in more detail. Basically, it’s selectively mimicking Nature to achieve a desired outcome.


Fri Aug 02, 2013 2:05 pm
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Joined: Wed Nov 17, 2010 9:43 pm
Posts: 34
Location: SE PDX
Post Re: Orchard floor management
You will want to consider how any plantings impact access to the trees for maintenance work (ladders, people, etc). Last year I have started the daunting task of trying to dig out Scilla bulbs that were planted by previous homeowners b/c I find as the greens die down, they become a slippery mass under my feet. The spent flower tops also get in the way and they also form more seeds so I end up spending time cutting them off. John's idea of the smaller bulbs like crocus is a good one. Also, I don't know if you need to keep the area somewhat mud-free for vehicles or foot-traffic but sawdust will only become mushy/ground in very quickly. (Ask anyone who has to clean horse stalls and generates a manure pile.) Wood chips will hold up a bit longer but with heavy equipment, they will get ground in after some time and create mud. Actually, last year I put in wood chips from our maple tree pruning and they do create a nice ground-cover but I don't have any heavy equipment in the backyard. Eventually, though, they will break down.


Fri Aug 02, 2013 8:02 pm
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Joined: Fri Aug 28, 2009 10:47 pm
Posts: 7
Location: Stayton
Post Re: Orchard floor management
I've actually read both of Michael's books. Althouigh I admire what he's trying to do with his biodynamic approach, I'm not going there. I had forgotten about his recommendatins for ramial wood chips until jafarj suggested wood chips.

I spent the afternoon doing some investigating, and found a possible solution. There is a local business that makes compost, lots of compost, for retail sales from residential yard waste, landscaper trimmings, etc. They have piles of what amounts to "rejects". After they compost this stuff, it gets screened for sale and the stuff that's too large, not adequately composted is reject for them. It looks like "chewed" up wood limbs and some smaller "stuff". The downside is I'd like it to be a little larger particle size, and it still contains "trash", (real trash like plastic bags, bits of hose, etc). The advantage is it's free, I provide trucking.

The alternate is, if jafarj would be willing to share his Portland source with me, I might be able to negotiate trucking costs with his contact for three (?) 120 mile round trips to my place. I like the sound of the stuff in Portland more than the local stuff.

Any advice? Jafarj, would you be willing to share your source with me? I have settled on a goal of 40 yards.

My plan would be to add amendments this October, based on my soil test, till it in and then spread this mulch 6 inches thick. Maybe I can find some biodegradable paper soil cover to put under mulch.

Thanks for everyone's suggestions. I appreciate the input.
Dave


Fri Aug 02, 2013 8:34 pm
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Joined: Sat Jun 14, 2008 9:45 pm
Posts: 95
Location: Camas, Washington
Post Re: Orchard floor management
I have an experimental plant guild under one of my apple trees. I have planted many different plants but it seems to have stabilized into the following mix, which requires no care:
- Comfrey - deep tap root breaks up my clay; flowers attract pollinators; leaves accumulate nutrients, provide mulch, and shade out grasses
- Yarrow - flowers attract parasitic wasps which do battle with codling moths
- Some kind of monster vetch - roots fix nitrogen; flowers attract pollinators; leaves and stem shade out grasses and provide mulch.
- Mint - flowers attract pollinators; leaves attract me :-)
- Wild strawberry - flowers attract pollinators; competes with grass and fills in the holes. Produces tiny but very tasty fruit.

If I need to access the tree, I just walk on the guild plants, they don't mind.

I started the guild by sheet mulching with newspaper and wood chips, but those are long gone. Originally there was only grass under the tree.


Fri Aug 02, 2013 11:56 pm
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Joined: Mon Oct 24, 2011 2:07 am
Posts: 6
Post Re: Orchard floor management
xtapa wrote:
I've actually read both of Michael's books. Althouigh I admire what he's trying to do with his biodynamic approach, I'm not going there.


It's not a biodynamic approach. In fact, the only time biodynamic shows up in the book is in reference to a tree paste for dealing with trunk wounds. And he says that if cow manure isn't your thing, use soil from beneath the tree.

We converted our small orchard this year to Phillips' approach and have been very pleased with the initial results. The pea gravel and wood chips have suppressed 90% of the weeds and the moisture retention in the soil has been fantastic. And the wild pollinator population has exploded because we've stop cutting the grass and allowed the so-called weeds - Queen Anne's Lace, yarrow, meadow sage, bugloss, mullein- to grow. I would assume that there's probably an equal increase in predatory insects. And we've added lots of Bocking 14 comfrey from subdividing a mother plant. Already we're seeing a fertility boost in the grass adjoining the wood chips. What's happening under the woodchips is probably greater.

Image


Sat Aug 03, 2013 1:30 am
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Joined: Sat Jun 14, 2008 9:45 pm
Posts: 95
Location: Camas, Washington
Post Re: Orchard floor management
Some pictures of my apple tree guild:
Image
Image
Image

The rocks are for the raised garden bed that I am building near the apple tree.


Sat Aug 03, 2013 4:24 pm
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Joined: Fri Aug 28, 2009 10:47 pm
Posts: 7
Location: Stayton
Post Re: Orchard floor management
Davem & MikeH, you both have good looking trees. It's tempting, but I feel I have too much I'm trying to master at this time. Mulch and mineralize is something I feel more comfortable with.

I have both of Michael Phillip's books, and admire what he's trying to do. I'm just not ready yet. By the way, as pathetic as my orchard looks, it's really improved since I started adding all the stuff that was missing in the soil. I feel like the calcium additions have had the most influence so far (and maybe the phosphorus).


Sat Aug 03, 2013 5:32 pm
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Joined: Fri Feb 09, 2007 1:21 pm
Posts: 417
Location: SW Washington
Post Re: Orchard floor management
His Craigslist ad isn't currently up and I don't see an email record. I'll keep my eyes open. I think I paid an extra $70 or more for delivery to Camas.

Since then I've got about an equal amount of free wood chips from pruning services. I caught them chipping on the side of the highway near my house and gave them my address, phone, email. They had a list of other people who wanted them but eventually got to me.

I've since printed a map to my house to hand them next time I catch them in the act nearby. Those loads were more like 10 to 15 yards each. But the free stuff is probably better for the trees because it includes branches and leaves.


Wed Aug 07, 2013 1:56 pm
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Joined: Fri Aug 28, 2009 10:47 pm
Posts: 7
Location: Stayton
Post Re: Orchard floor management
Thanks for looking for me Jafarj. I WISH I could get the tree trimming stuff, but the Rhodie farm almost next door gets everything. Can't complain too much, he's a nice guy, but he sucks up everything, and buys more. If you come into his number, please relay it to me.

Thanks for everyone's suggestions. There's certainly a lot of practical knowledge represented here.
Dave


Wed Aug 07, 2013 6:53 pm
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