A couple weeks ago I attended an Organic Field Day in western Wisconsin at Mary Dirty Face Farm: Beginning Orchards and Small Fruits. During their half-day seminar/workshop/field day I learned a lot about things to consider in starting out a small, mixed orchard and fruit production operation. It is apparent that Rachel and Anton have really done their homework in what it takes to gets things started right. They bought their land about 6 years ago and do many incremental improvements every year.
My thanks to them and to MOSES for hosting this field day (and thanks for arranging the beautiful weather)!
This field day wasn’t designed to be a comprehensive rundown of what it takes to start an organic orchard, but an overview of what one farm has done to get started over a several-year period. Walking through the orchard was a great education – far more so than any book learning I’ve done so far. That said they did highly recommend The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips. I ordered it as soon as I got home.
Some of the notes I took along the way:
- Put up the deer-proof fence first – before any plant material goes in. Fruit trees are like candy to deer. (See pic below of their 6-strand, high tensile, solar electric fence.) Anton and Rachel enclosed 3 acres before planting anything.
- Place your order for bare root stock at least 6 months ahead of spring planting. 10 months would be better. That’s the best way to ensure getting the varieties you want the next spring.
- Stake ALL trees. In the first few years they’re just too spindly to risk getting snapped off by high winds.
- Set traps for codling moths (and other insects). This is a good way to monitor what’s starting to emerge in your orchard.
- Hinnomaki Red is a good variety of gooseberry to start with. Red Lake is not a good currant (can’t remember their reason on that one).
- Used burlap coffee bags make good berry mulch.
- It’s a good idea to have a wide variety of blooming plants in an orchard to keep pollinators around. (You’ll see in the pics there’s a lot of clover and perennial grasses planted among the orchard.)
- Keeping grapes pruned in summer of vegetative growth (excessive new vines) is important to maintain good flavor. Letting the grapes vine out too much leads to grapes with bland flavor.
- “The Holistic Orchard” is a good book to check out.
- Check your soils’ calcium first. Add amendments before planting. Really need good calcium in the soil for fruit growing.
- Research the Midwest Invasive Plant Network. Good resource to keep notified of trending and emerging weed plants.
Pics From the Field Day
Videos of Mary Dirty Face Farm
If you want to find out a little more about Rachel and Anton’s farm here are a couple videos. The first, from Matt Binetti at Vimeo, is absolutely beautiful!
Resources for Starting Farm Fruits
Michael Phillips Seasonal Checklist for the Holistic Orchard.
If you’re interested in attending a field day like this check out the listing at MOSES Organic Field Days. Most are in Wisconsin, but they are all generally in the upper Midwest – and most are free.