by Jenny Brown

Even when you have land or a little space from the next dwelling, having good neighbors is a blessing 100 times over. There is a small gate in our front yard known as the ‘friendship gate’ that connects with our neighbor’s front yard. It existed before either of us lived here but we use it often.

Originally from Ukraine, Viktor grew up learning many old world farming skills. One spring I gave him English lessons in exchange for milking our goats so our family could go on our yearly camping trip. I pulled down a few ‘I Can Read’ books off my shelf that I thought might give him some insight into our country’s history, but it was I who ended up receiving a history lesson. When Viktor saw the pictures of early American living, his eyes lit up; he began to share with me what it was like growing up on a farm in Ukraine. One of his jobs, up until the age of 19,  was to walk behind a plow pulled by  a horse all day during planting season. He explained how they made a ‘special’ grain mixture for their horses that gave them the strength to work such long days.

Over the years, we have shared many farming and gardening ideas at the fence.  I feel that I have more often been on the receiving end than he has.  Although our conversation is somewhat limited due to the language barrier, we have learned our own style of communication. It is perfectly acceptable for me to walk up to the fence line when he’s out working,  and with a furrowed brow, pointing my finger, ask him  “What are you doing?” (Which I learned from him). Any other neighbor might likely be offended and consider me intrusive but to Viktor, it’s a compliment. He is always happy to share is native lifestyle with me. It was on one of these occasions that he showed me how his family cared for fruit trees back in Ukraine.

Two years ago we planted 30 fruit trees on our property, turning what was previously a front lawn into a small orchard. I feel I have entered into the orchard of unknown when it comes to growing fruit organically on such a small scale. Being in an area that at the turn of the century was all apple orchards, I am told by many that you must spray with chemical pesticides if you don’t want wormy apples…there is no other choice because of the years of insects and pests that have made their home in our soil. So, when I see Viktor working on his trees, knowing they never have used chemicals to grow food, I make my way to the fence line to learn what he’s up to.

Viktor also had planted his small orchard amongst lawn but he was digging his lawn up! At least around the trees. “The roots need to breathe; they need oxygen,” he told me. “It is very important when the trees are young to dig up the soil around the base.” He was digging up a 3′ radius circle (6′ across) of lawn around the base of each tree. He also instructed me to dig approximately 6″ deep at the outer edges of the circle and less so as you near the tree to prevent any damage to the root system.

I noticed he did not dispose of the dense lawn that he dug up, he just flipped it over, root side up.  Most of the valuable topsoil is lodged in those roots. Composted manure was then added to the top to feed the young trees. Placing the compost in direct line of the tree’s drip-line makes it more readily available to the spreading root system since the roots reach out as far as your tree is wide.

Late winter-early spring is the time to do this, before any growth appears. I have been completing a few a day, working my way through the 30. It’s great exercise. I love when my workouts actually accomplish something!

(see video below)

One of our fruit trees planted in our lawn to make better use of the land we have for growing food.

Measuring approximately 3′ out from the tree using my foot as a measurement. I know my shoe is 11″ long so I allow a 1″ space gap between my steps. A handy tool that is always with you.

3′ marks the spot.

After making a circle around the tree by measuring every so often, I begin to dig up and turn the sod over.

First tree done; 29 more to go. Then I will add a few shovelfuls of compost around the drip-line. I will be posting more information on how to care for your organically grown fruit trees throughout the season. If I hear anymore tips over the fence from Viktor, I will be sure to let you know!

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