We have created a high diversity orchard where we grow many different kinds of fruit and other perennials all in the same space. We use no synthetic pesticides, which is very different from the heavy spraying found in a conventional orchard. We follow the methods of Stefan Sobkowiak of Miracle Farms, who has for years run a very successful orchard like the one we are building, and he uses the term 'permaculture orchard' to describe it.
The basic idea of the orchard is to create a whole ecological system, rather than to grow just a single crop. By intermixing all of the plants, they provide many benefits for each other. First of all, it spreads out our plants so that any pests that do get in can't move from plant to plant as easily as in an orchard that was all, say, McIntosh apples. Each tree is an 'island' separated from the other trees like it. Second, the diversity of life and lack of pesticides leave lots of room for the predators of our pests, the spiders and wasps, but also the beneficial fungi and bacteria. Third, the variety of plants fills all niches, from the 'forest' floor, to a brush layer and an overstory of trees. Fertility is maintained and improved by the healthy soil life and the nitrogen fixing plants we have planted throughout. Finally, a mixed orchard that is bursting with life is a beautiful place to visit, with something new to experience at every step.
The trees in our orchard include apples, plums, and pears, and multiple varieties of each. We don't have all the varieties that are grown in a grocery store, which were in large part selected for appearance and shipping. Instead, we grow very tasty varieties that are naturally hardy and pest resistant in our region. We have only a few trees of each of the different kinds, so there is a lot of variety for you to taste.
The understory of our orchard is made up of small fruits, perennial edible plants, and flowers. The small fruits include blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, haskap (honeyberry), saskatoon berries, gooseberries, and sea berries. The perennial edible plants include many different herbs as well as rhubarb. For flowers, while we have planted some already, we will be adding many more in spring of 2022; in addition to being beautiful in the orchard we will be producing cut flowers that you could bring home. Our strawberry patch sits next to the orchard, and this is one of the few areas with just a single species as it is so much easier for us to maintain that block as strawberries alone. The strawberries include everbearing varieties that produce berries all the way from June until the first frosts of the fall.
In May of 2020 we planted the first half acre of our orchard. Then in May of 2021 we added another half acre, along with a 600 plant strawberry patch. In spring of 2022, we will add another 50 trees to the orchard with a perennial flower understory, along with expanding the strawberry patch. Over the next few years, we plan to expand the orchard out to around five acres in total. Due to the time needed for an orchard to mature, our 2021 harvest was modest. We expect that the amount of fruit will grow exponentially over the next decade as the orchard matures.
We operate our orchard as both a U-pick and selling pre-picked fruits directly in our shop. We welcome you to come in almost any time the store is open and we will show you around and help you to do some picking of whatever is ready that day.