Orchard upgrade: WIP

This long weekend we attempted to catch up on time we lost last week due to very hot weather. Saturday was still reasonably hot, but Sunday was lovely and cool, and we made a big chunk of progress on our latest garden upgrade: fixing the roof on the orchard.

Our “orchard” consists of four espalier trees: a plum, a peach, a Gala apple, and a Pink Lady apple. The plum has two different varieties grafted onto the one rootstock, so it cross-pollinates with itself. Space saving! The peach is an Anzac (I think?) and self-pollinates, but we needed two different varieties of apple to ensuring fruiting.

In between the trees we also have tubs of blueberries, thornless blackberries, and a boysenberry. These go into the orchard because we have bird netting surrounding the area, and the birds and possums can’t get at the fruit.

However … the roof is too low. The peach tree is amazingly vigorous and grows through the netting every year, punching big holes that have to be repaired. One year we found that a hole in the roof net had allowed a possum to come in one night and eat every single almost-ripe apple on the Gala tree. That was about thirty apples! Pretty devastating! This year there are more holes than net, and we didn’t get many blueberries as a result (birds!). Rats have eaten most of the apples and plums, too.

So, now that we only have fruit ripening on the Pink Lady tree, we decided it was time to raise the roof once and for all. We’ve been researching Hoop Houses and figured this would be best solution for our awkward fence line. The neighbours up the driveway and over the fence have a fairly prominent view of our orchard roof area, so we needed to make it reasonably pretty. We decided to use black irrigation pipe to make roof arches, and stretch knitted black bird netting over the top. Stretching the netting means that birds won’t get tangled when flying past or if they decide to roost on one of the arches.

Here we are installing the arches, which didn’t take too long (maybe about a morning, give or take). The saddles made the job pretty easy: we just put one at the top rail on the fence, and one about 30 cm lower to stabilise the pipe vertically. We also stuffed the pipe with a couple of bamboo garden poles to give the arch a bit of rigidity at the fence line.

We put one arch above each espalier frame, and then another in between, for a total of five arches. We concentrated on the area above the vigorous plum and peach trees. The apples up the top end of the orchard are still only half their height, and are dwarf varieties. They will probably not cause us much trouble height-wise.

We anchored the in-between arches to the driveway-side top rail, but there was nothing to fix the lower part of the pipe at that point. Ultimately they will be lashed to the new orchard wire which we used to replace our old black net:

We installed a skirt along the bottom of the wire, to try to prevent rats from entering (from that direction, anyway). This is the same technique and wire we used when constructing the walls of the chicken run. We don’t have any worries from foxes or goannas, but the rats seem to be deep-miner varieties that tunnel from across the yard. They keep making new tunnels into the chicken coop and we keep stuffing them with rocks. :-/.

The new skirt meant we had to dig all the dirt and plants out of that driveway garden, and then put it all back again on top of the wire. That was amazingly heavy work! Not much organic matter in that soil, it’s all crushed up rock. The Gazanias seemed to be okay with this treatment, but we will have to cross our fingers for the Daisy.

At the end of the weekend we ended up with some secure wire walls to keep our chickens inside, and the back end of the orchard has been seeded with lucerne (and a few other green manures) to replace the dreadful grass we’ve had in there. The seeded area is fenced off from the chickens so that they can’t scratch there. Boy was there a frenzy when Stephen was scattering the seed!

This is a Work In Progress because we still need to:

  • Secure the tops of the arches with bamboo sticks to stop them toppling sideways under the weight of the netting,
  • Repair and then put the netting over the top,
  • Source more wire for the top end of the orchard, and the bottom end near the chicken coop that is currently temporary chicken wire,
  • Make a door and frame like we have for the chicken coop, so we can enter the orchard more conveniently.

Almost there really. 🙂

I really love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment! :)

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