As a homesteader, you’ve probably learned that diversification is a great way to ensure success, but have you considered growing anything other than annual crops that must be replanted each year? Fruit and nut trees are perennials that can provide you with excellent sources of food with little effort past the initial planting.
These benefits make adding a survival orchard to your crop mix well worth your consideration should a food shortage occur. Even if no problems arise, you’ll still be blessed with nutritious crops throughout the year.
Why you should plant a survival orchard
Adding an orchard to your homesteading plan has many benefits. First, it’s an easier way to grow food. Most homesteaders start out—or focus on—planting annual vegetables and grain crops. These provide the nutrients we need in a healthy diet and can be grown in large quantities with little resources beyond the land to plant them, water, and fertilizer to nourish them. Unfortunately, they also must be planted annually from seed you buy or save from a previous harvest.
In contrast, orchards consisting of fruit and nut trees only need to be planted once, and they bear fruit annually or on a regular cycle. They require little—if any—effort to maintain, especially compared to a garden or crop field. Orchards also help you produce food from land that’s otherwise unsuitable for crops but fine for trees.
Fruit and nut trees also add diversity to your diet. They are excellent sources of the sugars, proteins, and vitamins needed for a balanced diet. Your canned vegetables can and should be supplemented with dried fruits, fruit-based jams and jellies, and nut butters of all kinds for inclusion in meals during winter’s coldest months.
Another, perhaps less obvious benefit, is that because foodstuffs like jams, jellies, and nut butters are highly desirable, they’re excellent items to barter for other goods or services.
Like any project, first decide what you’d like to accomplish. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Why do you want to plant an orchard?
- What do you want it to provide?
- What areas are available where you could plant an orchard?
- Do you want others to know you have an orchard, or is it a secret?
- What will grow well in your region?
Start with a good plan
Now that you know what you want to accomplish, you can begin researching. Fortunately, the resources you need to develop your plan are free and easily accessible. There are numerous online resources that can guide you as you plan and plant your orchard.
Local arborists, garden centers, and agricultural extension agents can tell you which trees will grow well in your region or, more specifically, on the land where you’ll plant them. With their help, you can make informed decisions on the types of trees to plant and when and where to plant them.
When we think of orchards, most of us think of fruit trees. But, if you understand that diversification is one of the foundational concepts of successful homesteading, you can see that planting multiple smaller orchards to address various needs is a solid idea. Plant a small apple orchard and another with nut-bearing trees. If you live in a latitude that supports them, add citrus trees to your mix.
As you decide upon a mix of trees, consider how they can provide fruit and nuts for you throughout as many months as possible. For example, lemon trees bear fruit year-round, while mandarin oranges have mature fruit in late fall and early winter. Persimmons can put food on the table long into the winter.
The trees available to you are based on where you live. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has divided the country into 13 plant-hardiness zones and mapped the crops that’ll grow in each one.
Order or chaos
Once you’ve chosen what to plant, decide how and where you’ll plant it. If you simply want to add an orchard to the mix of foodstuffs already growing on your property, deciding where really becomes a matter of where the trees will get the best soil, water, and sunlight.
But, if you’re more focused on preparedness and self-sufficiency, then you may not want your neighbors and everyone who drives by knowing they can come by to get “free” fruit or nuts. In that case, choose an inconspicuous location.
Next, decide on a planting pattern. Here are some considerations:
- An orchard’s traditional layout is one or more rows of trees spaced far enough apart so that when they mature, their branches won’t touch each other and compete for light and water. This, of course, varies by tree type. The rows are normally planted on a north-south axis to give the trees the best sunlight possible.
- Your rows can be in the traditional matrix of rows and columns in a rectangular shape to fill in the area
- You can also run one or more rows along linear terrain features like a road, stream, or hedgerow to help it both blend into the landscape and beautify your property.
If you want to keep your new food source hidden, you can mingle your fruit or nut trees with existing trees, or plant them individually or in small groups.
Here are some benefits to this approach:
- It blends your new food source with existing flora.
- It makes use of your entire property in case you don’t have large open plots where you can plant a traditional orchard.
- You can use trees to attract wildlife to your property or even specific areas.
- If you’re a hunter and want to attract deer, squirrels, and other game animals, planting trees like oaks, apples and persimmon is a legal and effective way to attract them without using artificial means.
Beyond the pattern you use, if you expect a sizeable crop, leave space for a vehicle to help haul the harvest back to your homestead.
Maximize your harvest duration
By picking the right mix of trees, you can reap a harvest that begins in late summer and continues through the winter and into early spring.
Citrus trees and when to harvest them
- Orange – Winter
- Lemon – Winter
- Lime – August through March
- Tangerine – Winter
- Grapefruit – Late autumn through winter
Fruit trees and when to harvest them
- Apple August through October
- Cherry – Mid-summer
- Crabapple – Late September through early November
- Peach – Late summer
- Pear – November
- Persimmon – September through January
- Plum – Late summer
Nut trees and when to harvest them
- Chestnut – Mid-September to mid-October
- Hazelnut – September to October
- Hickory – Autumn
- Oak/Acorn – October
- Pecan – October
- Walnut – Autumn
Orchards and long-term survival
Orchards are an exceptional way to augment your long-term survival resources. This is especially true if you have an emergency retreat that you’re unable to spend a lot of time at, either due to its remoteness or not wanting to go there too often and give away its location.
The nuts and fruits they produce are excellent sources of fats and vitamins often missing in survival diets. This is especially true if your food stores are based on grains and dried foods.
At some point, your supplies will be consumed, and you’ll have to start growing your own food. An orchard, hidden or in plain view, will give you a solid foundation for feeding yourself and your family in times of need, and it’s a resource that requires little attention beyond the initial planting.
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