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We’ve always been excited about fruit and nut trees. However, with our erosive, heavy clay soils we felt that the standard method of deep ripping for orchard preparation seemed inappropriate for our circumstances. Instead, with some research, we thought we’d experiment with a mounded method, building soil up on contour to catch rainwater while improving soil structure from the top down.

Wrestling the rotary hoe for the first till of the soil.

We began with constructing a shortlist of common species that are likely to be successful in our climate and soil type. Our intention is to construct a series of small-scale, experimental plantings around the farm before scaling up the most successful species and soil preparation methods.

Sophie adds compost to topsoil, tilled on contour, with gypsum added.

To prepare the site for our first orchard planting, we initially tilled the top soil on contour using a rotary hoe. To this we added gypsum to improve the structure of the heavy clay soil and a generous layer of compost, which we then incorporated into the topsoil using the rotary hoe again.

Compost in the process of being tilled into the topsoil and gypsum.

Completed planting mounds with a cardboard weed barrier covered with mulch and trees planted and guarded.

We then added a layer of cardboard to limit weed growth and added more compost as a mulch on the top. To plant the trees, we punched a hole in the cardboard, incorporating some blood and bone into the soil beneath, planting them snugly into the mound and watering each in. With any luck, we’ll be dining on pomegranates, plums, quinces and figs in a few years, expanding those varieties that are most successful and continuing to adapt our planting methods.

Just in time for the rain!

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