Jul 29, 2013

Patio Polyculture Orchard Design

This is a design for a small backyard orchard on the East side of a house. The space was an annual garden bed for years and left fallow the last two years with composting wood chips.  It has partial shade on all sides with a small direct sun area in the middle. The space allows for four fruit trees and a few shrubs. Starting with a grid base map for measuring and notes. The scale is 1" = 4'.

Working to scale, it is important to diagram the planting space and the surrounding hardscapes in order to plan access and the correct plant sizes.

 First use a piece of simple quarter inch graph paper and a long tape measure. For a backyard space the 25 foot tape measure seems to work fine. Measure the hardscapes, sidewalks, steps and house area. Sketch and make notes of these measurements on the grid paper, being as accurate as possible.

Once you have your initial notes and graph paper measurements done, overlay a fresh sheet of 8 scale vellum paper onto your graph paper and trace the spaces using a drafting triangle, ruler, and circle template. This cleans up the design and gives you an opportunity to refine the spaces for more accuracy. Using 8 scale, 8 subsections per inch, helps in measuring the spaces. Being neat at this point pays off later with less visual noise and confusing lines.

Once the new base map is finished on a fresh piece of vellum paper, overlay the new base map with tracing paper (bum wad), taping both down to the table. Make small alignment marks on the corners of hardscapes so that you can easily line up the tracing paper and base map later.

 Now we can begin adding the plants.  Using 3 or 4 different sheets of tracing paper you can play with the different positions the plants might be in. First place the trees, in this case they are 8 to 10 feet across. Using the correct sized circle stencil, the are easily placed with a 4 H pencil. Secondly add the shrubs that are next to and under the trees. Next to and under the shrubs are perennials and groundcover plants. Using the different sheets of tracing paper, try a few different arrangements. This is a creative process at this point, so neatness does not count on tracing paper. Its about seeing the different positions of the plants and how they might fit.

 the yellow sheet at left is the final tracing paper with the plants. There is also arrows showing access into and through the orchard space. You can see the little benchmark +'s and L-shaped markings used to align the tracing paper with the base map.

 At this point you have a clean base map on a scale paper and a final choice of plant positions on one of the tracing paper practice sheets. Place the fresh base map on top of your final tracing paper plant design and redraw the plants using the correct stencil. Again, this is an opportunity to be more accurate with the position of the plants and make the design neat and easy to read.

 Once you have positioned the trees and shrubs, the perennials, and groundcover, you can start selecting the plant species for those spaces. Number the plant circles and make sure your plant lists coordinates with those numbers so you will know where to put your transplants later.
 This design has 2 swales that intersect next to the raised bed near the patio. They are the access routes through the garden and also collect water from the patio and surrounding landscape for soil storage. In the process of preparing the planting bed the swales moved slightly from the original design.  Swales are level ditches on contour for holding water so it can soak into the berms and underlying soil.

Baptisia Astaulis  is a nitrogen fixing perennial that is planted underneath the fruit trees. One is planted close to the trunk of the fruit tree when installed and another at the edge of the future canopy of the tree. This is to allow both plans to supply nitrogen to the tree at its different growth stages. The roots of the fruit tree will intermingle with the badge and fixing roots and gain nitrogen each season as the Baptisia dies back in the fall.
 Yarrow is a beneficial insect plant for the poly-culture. It is habitat and food for parasitic wasps and many types of bees. It adds groundcover and protects the soil.
 Aster is a fall blooming plant that will act as ground cover and habitat for most of the summer and then an alternative food source for bees, wasps, and beneficial insects.
 Artemisia is a delicate groundcover that will fill in spaces between the perennials.
 Honeyone  strawberries are located near the sidewalk for easy harvesting. The stolons will spread and cover back into the orchard area and also supply nectar to bees.  Alpine strawberries are also included for the same purpose, although they do not have stolons and will instead grow in sick bunches adding mulch to the soil at the end of each season.
 Echinacea, Cone flowers add additional  beneficial habitat and a  summer long nectar source.  They will spread throughout the orchard.
 Lupines also bloom mid-summer and carry through to the fall.  They are a nitrogen fixer for the soil, and organic material, and beneficial habitat for insects.
 The 4 trees for this design are a Snow Sweet Apple and 3 Evans Bali Cherry trees.  This is a new Apple for our property and although we have other cherry trees, the Bali cherry is said to be sweeter and slightly larger than the Northstar and Meteor cherries. These are the primary producers for this planting bed and for which most of the nitrogen fixers and dynamic accumulating plants are positioned.  they are the anchor plants of the design and the over story that will eventually shade much of the planting area.
 We have also added a summer crisp pear  to an area across the sidewalk next to the house. It is tall columnar shape will tower next to the low roof line and benefit from the water and climate protection.  This will be the center of the circular shaped planting bed to be surrounded by herbs and beneficial habitat.
 As a practice, we leave certain areas to grow naturally for most of the summer and allow the wildflowers or volunteer trees to emerge. In late July we mow back the grasses and more around the prairie plants and trees. This year we had Purple Coneflower and Black-Eyed Susan's appear. An especially large bed of Purple Coneflower emerged and will be left for later transplanting and seed collection.

 We are surrounded by wetlands and have a pond filled with cattails.  It is a great source for mulch. We use Scythe to cut the stands of cattails and bring them into the garden, laying them between the plants in small bundles. This time of year the cat tale Paul and can be harvested and so we cover their heads with large zip lock bags and shake off all the pollen into the bag. It is high-protein and has a yellow color, much like saffron.
 Ground cherries are native to our area and spread with rhizomes. They cover the soil and if not competing with grass will stay low to the ground. This species, Physalis Prunosa, is also a trap crop for Colorado potato beetles and can be used as a trap for that past early in the spring. Later in the fall the ground cherries have a nutty pineapple flavor and are used in chutney and sauces. The paper wrapping is much like tomatillo.
On a beautiful Saturday morning the Polyculture Design class from the University of Minnesota installed the garden. They were working on their own designs and and have this opportunity to experience the implementation phase of the design process. Students used the above finished design and plant list to place and install the plants. Many of the plants were transplanted from other areas of the property into the new forest garden space.
 Students Ben, Jennifer, and Aidan check the positioning of the trees and shrubs and placed white flags that were marked with the plant names and numbers. Some adjustments were made as usual to the final positioning.  Many beneficial perennial plants were left to be placed after the trees shrubs and major perennials were in their position. Potentially bare spots and wasted sunlight was filled with lupines, daisies, and chicory.
Erin filled out the flags with the appropriate names and numbers for positioning by the other students.  Once the plants are positioned the flags are pulled and used another time. Plant flags are left in the position if those plants are not available at time of installation.
We used old barn wood to stand on while installing the plants so we did not compact the soil.  Many times these boards are left in the garden for later access while the plants are becoming established.
 Asian uses and 8 scale ruler to measure the position of the plants so that they are in the correct location. 1 inch equals 4 feet in this design. Having the trees installed first helps give a visual check to the relative positions of the other plants.
 Jen cuts back the French Sorrel  after transplant. Most of the native transplants on the property are pulled with as much root as possible but then cut back to reduce evapotranspiration and transplant shock. This allows for the plant to save his energy for generating new roots while still having enough foliage for photosynthesis.

Ryan and Jenn break up the roots once the tree is removed from the pot.  This late in the season many of the plants were root bound and needed to be the tangled so that they would grow correctly in the new soil.

 Large sections of comfrey removed from the Southwest Orchard and transplanted into the new patio Orchard. The roots on these older comfrey were massive and entangled. One group such as this cold from the soil will produce dozens and dozens of transplants.
 Ben and Ryan pry out as much taproot is possible, trying to extract the root before it breaks deep in the soil.
 Aidan gently waters the new transplants in the berm. As each hole was dug for the transplant, it was filled with water and allowed to soak, then the plant was on potted, its roots unbound, and then placed in the hole with fresh topsoil and compost. Once again it is watered.
 Ryan and Christina spread cattails between the plants and in the swale.
 It gets a little harder to work as the plans are put in and gradually places the step are reduced to a minimum. The design takes shape and everybody steps back to assess the positions and the relationships of the plants.

 This small planting bed will soon become a fruitful orchards and we look forward to many years of production.

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Permaculture and Polyculture Consulting and Design

Permaculture and Polyculture Consulting and Design
Getting to know your property, the plants you have and those you can grow, is a fulfilling endeavor. With most I am the steward of the land. I give them good soil biology and they do the rest. If I group them in cohesive plant communities, they respond with greater yields. If I encourage the micro-organisms (Fungus and bacteria) , the roots obsorb more nutrients making a pest and disease resistant plant. A stronger plant that gives us more organic food and takes less energy.

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A Ten Acre Farm Transformed to an Edible Forest Garden
Self Renewing Fertility, Soil Building, Water Catchment, Tea Trail Swale, Erosion Control and Native American Medicinals