Andrew Mangwarara —
THE rainy season is upon us and this is the best time to establish an orchard in your garden. Fruits are one of the best things for your garden.
With the rising cost of living, growing a few of your own favourite fruits is the way to go. But there are a few things that need to be done to make the orchard a success. You will need to plan by choosing the perfect site and the layout; and then there is the land preparation, topography and planting.
The first step is to choose which fruit trees you are going to grow in your area. This will be determined by your site, its soil, climate and water availability.
Orchard crops require deep soils since their roots go very deep. Test the depth of your soil by randomly digging two-metre deep holes around the orchard to see if there are any impervious layers beneath.
Water placed in the holes must drain away overnight, if not then choose another site.
Next, take soil samples to a depth of 30-45cm and send for analysis of nutrient levels, which will give you an indication of possible fertilising regime. You will also have an advantage of knowing if there are any nematodes in the soil.
Repeated planting of the same crop in the same area will result in a build-up of nematodes, which could really affect any preceding crops, unless a four-year rotation is adhered to.
Plant your orchard on most slopes, except the steepest ones, but consider gently sloping or flat areas. Planting on high slopes will expose your fruit trees to frost attacks and will also make it difficult to spray them and harvest the fruits.
Your climate is the underlying success factor in fruit tree growing. For some areas, the wind speeds are just too high for good fruit growing. Plant some tall trees to act as wind breaks as heavy winds can cause flower and fruit drops. Try to plant your windbreak trees two to three years before establishing your orchard.
Talk to your neighbours and find out which tree types are growing well in your area. Ensure that your orchard is located near a good source of water. There are a number of ways to water your garden, which can include furrows, sprinklers, drip lines, basins using buckets and flooding.
However, drip lines can have an extra benefit of allowing you to fertigate your trees. Using sprinklers has the disadvantage of enhancing disease occurrence.
If you are really stuck with a poor draining site but you still want to grow some trees then consider digging some drainage holes and laying pipes that will channel excess water off the site. Then comes the layout of your orchard. Consider a square, quincunx and hedgerow.
The difference between square and quincunx is that an additional tree is planted in the middle of the square, but however that tree can be cut down when the crowns of the trees begin to touch. In hedgerow, you are simply growing the trees very close to each other in lines, creating a hedge effect.
Land preparation is important for the growth of the trees. This will include removing all weeds, levelling and ring barking all existing trees to be removed. Ring barking is essential in all African soils since armillaria mellea fungus is present.
This procedure of removing the bark all-round the stem depletes the carbohydrates in the roots of the tree to be removed, thus killing the armillaria. This must be done a year before removing the trees.
If ring barking is not done, the fungus will survive in the left over roots in the ground, such that the fungus will move into the fruit trees planted later. Armillaria mellea fungus kills the trees outright without you knowing what is happening.
Keep the area around the trees in the orchard free of grass or weeds, at least one to two metres in diameter. In between the trees, a lawn can be kept or you can even grow vegetables. This has the added advantage of keeping your orchard well watered and fertile.
On a slope of at least 10 to 15 percent, terracing should be done to prevent soil erosion. Fencing your orchard should be considered if your garden is unsecured or in a rural setup. Besides security, a fence can serve as a support for granadillas or grapes as well.
When planting the trees, dig holes for each tree to a depth of 60cm to a metre. Add organic matter or compost to both the topsoil and subsoil. Superphosphate and a compound fertiliser should be added (D or X).
Refill the holes and allow them to settle for some weeks then plant. Remove the plant from its pot or sleeve and place it in the hole, ensuring that you maintain the correct level as was in the pot. Enjoy creating an orchard that you will treasure for years to come.
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