Monday, August 24, 2009

Plumbing, Plums & a lot of... I guess you call it dirt

Ah, yes, yes. The orchard part. Well at least the beginnings therefore of. As the astute observer might note, I've added a splash of colour to the canvas. I've tried to match, as closely as possible, the colour of the effective, if not slightly cursed, modular blocks that gather on the horizon. I do hope it will look somewhat more special when the lawn overwhelms that brown smear of dirt and dust which in no way resembles soil.

But lets not fuss with the minor details, its time to talk about trees!

You might have thought by this stage, I'd have it all sorted out. But no; like all good long-term decisions (and a number of very bad ones), I struggled with it right until the last moment. In my original vision, we'd plant all the trees & vines that we were passionate about. Avocado. Apple. Plum. Mandarin. Lime. Lemon. Grapes. Kiwi fruit. But no matter how your heart yearns for the glorious picture you see staring into the blue sky on a sunny day, there comes a time when you have to just come to terms with the fact that you're being stupid. Some love, however great, is just not meant to be. And there just isn't enough orchard to put them all in!

So, on with reality. Today I have three beds filled with a brown-grey mixture of said dirt & dust, containing about as much nutritional value as an uncooked bag of cement. The two beds closest gets almost a full-day's sun, year round - while the bed in the back corner of the pergola gets most of the day's sun; provided whatever lives there has a bit of height. I'm also hoping, overall, to get as much shade as we can in the summer, while allowing a lot of sunshine in winter.

One of the biggest problems we solved with this new wall was our terrible (by terrible, I mean non-existent) drainage. Yes, we have our very own cascade of groundwater, which gathers en masse in the general vicinity of that wall; conspiring to be our undoing. It's now kept at bay about the level of the wall's base, but its very existence strikes a blow very close to my heart - alas, I am to be ever separated from my true love, the avocado. Deep rooted and incredibly prone to root rot; to plant one behind this wall would no doubt be the start of a beautiful, but slowly destructive relationship. * sniff sniff *

So for the first bed I've selected two kinds of plum; the Satsuma and the Mariposa. You need two of these guys for fruit to set; although the staff at our local nursery mentioned that you might get some fruit with just the Satsuma ( ...Eh, I'm not going to try it). I've planted these towards the back of the bed; and being deciduous, they'll give the front of the bed almost full day sun and late afternoon shade in summer, and full day sun in winter. This gives me tonnes of options for the front of the bed - having the deeper-feeding plums in the back will give a good opportunity to plant some surface feeding plants. Maybe a low, tightly pruned hedge of citrus? Or vegetables in the summer, and greens in the winter.

If you've stepped outside any time in the last few weeks; you'll know that spring came to the party early this year, and its well into the 11th hour of deciduous planting. I was almost going to call it curtains for this year and grow a feature bed of potato (as you do), when I discovered something wonderful. Our local nursery isn't selling these trees bare-rooted at the minute - but instead, potted. To me this means even if these trees are starting to grumble about having to wake up, the root-ball can be pretty much transferred into the ground without disturbing them too much. I picked the sleepiest trees I could find and drove victoriously back home, tree-tops poking out the windows of my car.

Because the soil is about as tasty and hard as a water-proofed brick (and I mean this more literally than you might think), I've dug some extra big holes (Renovator's note: ALWAYS explicitly tell your landscaper not to back fill with bricks and cement - it'll improve the soil, your back and your sanity). These are flared at the bottom edges (bell shaped) to give the best drainage through the water-resistant soil, with a mound in the middle of the hole to push the water out that way. I've lined the bottom of the hole with compost so beautiful you could almost eat it, some cow manure, and back filled with a good mix of soil and compost. Hopefully that'll get these guys off to a really good start.

And now its time to start planning a good long term plan for improving the soil in these beds...

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