Welcome to part two in my Permaculture Design series. One of my goals at Tanglefoot Farm is to get the orchard planted as soon as possible. This is primarily because fruit trees take quite some time to grow, but also because the orchard area is a huge part of the water management plan for the property. Planning for water and water retention is one of the primary principles of Permaculture because without water, not much is going to happen on a farm.
Detain Water High in the Landscape
The orchard is in the highest corner of the lot, for a couple of reasons. When feasible, water should be captured as high in the landscape as possible. So this high corner seems the perfect place to build swales, which are really tree growing factories in disguise. Additionally, a lot of water comes into the property at this corner from higher in the watershed. Thus, observation of water flow patterns on our land helped us figure out where to put the swales and the fruit trees so they will prosper.
So what is a swale? Well, its a ditch dug on contour, so it’s perfectly level. On the downhill side, a berm is built for plantings. The swales catch and hold the water, and allow it to seep slowly under and into the berms where trees and other plants can use it. Shallow swales can also be used as planting areas for water-loving plants, or even as walking paths.
When building any sort of water detention, you have to have a plan for overflow, ‘cuz it’s gonna happen eventually. So the lowest swale in the orchard overflows into a man-made dry creek. The creek will direct the water into a rain garden, which I’ll show you in another post.
Creating a Micro-climate
One of the challenges of growing fruit trees, especially stone fruits, in Oklahoma is the dreaded late frost. Placing the orchard high in the landscape allows cold air to “sink” downhill and may protect the trees from frost. To further protect the more tender trees, the northern-most line of orchard trees will be taller, denser, and hardier than the rest of the orchard. This will create a “solar bowl” that blocks cold northern wind. This will also trap heat on the south side of the larger trees. Creating a slightly warmer micro-climate in this corner will help prevent frost on the tree buds. In theory, anyway. In three-to-five years we’ll find out if it works!
A Phased Design Plan
Eventually, this orchard will be the pinnings for a fairly large food forest. However, for the first few years, I’m sowing annual and perennial Clover to put nitrogen back into the soil. I’ll also grow bio-mass plants such as Comfrey to add nutrients and organic matter into our very depleted soil. To help this process along, I’ll use a subsoiler in the Spring and Fall to help organic matter and water sink into the soils. The work of transforming our two acres of clay into a sustainable food-producing system is going to take several years and the orchard is part of the initial phase.
The planting of these trees will be a bit of an undertaking. We’ll need to amend the berms with “garden-ready” soil so the trees will do well until our soil improves. However, trucking in fertile soil for the trees means that our sustainable food-growing system gets started a few years early, so it’s completely worth it.
In the next post, I’m excited to tell you all about my beautiful rain garden!