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  • Writer's pictureTeresa Derrick-Mills

The Fruit Basket Orchard at Chocolates and Tomatoes Farm (Part 1)

We never had an orchard before, but we had long wished we could. We started farming in 2013, but before buying in Middletown in 2018, we had been farming on other people's land. Trees are a long-term commitment and you can't easily move them from place to place so you need to be sure you can stay where you are planting the trees.

What did the orchard field look like before it was an orchard?

The field where Crema, our dog, is sniffing is now the orchard field. When we first bought the farm, that field was in soybeans. We spent 2019 putting in cover crop to nourish the soil and get it ready for what we wanted to plant there. We covered it in rounds of peas, buckwheat, winter wheat, and clover.

At sunset, dog sniffs in cover crop, tractor prepares field and sun peaks through trees lining the driveway
Orchard field before the orchard

What were some questions we were trying to answer as we planned our fruit basket orchard?

The first one was could we actually do a a fruit basket in such a small space? Our motto at Chocolates and Tomatoes Farm is "colorful, sustainable, delicious." One way you get to "colorful" is through variety. Farmer Mark is also Chef Mark and so he likes to grow what he would want to cook with -- lots of fruits -- and he would like to try out some you can't find on the grocery store shelves.

  • We did learn that you can't just have one of each type of tree. Many trees do not self-pollinate so you've got to have more than one of that kind of tree OR you have to pair it with a specific other tree. Most of the apple trees are this way, and many of them need something like a Mackintosh apple tree nearby to actually grow apples.

The next one was what kinds of fruits could we grow here and how many could we fit in about 3 acres (the space we had set aside for the orchard)? We learned that the climate in Maryland actually allows for lots of different fruits and you can fit hundreds of trees into three acres.

  • We decided to start by planting 100 trees in one acre. We felt that one acre had the most ready soil. And honestly, we didn't have the time or money to do more than that. We had to buy the saplings (tiny trees), tree guards (protect from deer), and nutrients to boost up the soil a bit more right where each tree was planted. We needed to dig all the holes by hand for that first acre (with shovels and a hand auger).

Here is a picture of that first hole-digging adventure. Dig the hole, put in some nutrients, put a flag next to hole so we don't fall in before we plant the tree. [Farmer Mark is taking the picture. In the picture are Teresa (yes, she helps out in the field sometimes) and Raffi -- our first intern at our Chocolates and Tomatoes Farm Middletown location (he helped us establish strong soil, roots, and a foundation for sustainable growth in our first year on the farm).]

Two people digging orchard holes for trees with a dog looking on and flags to mark holes already dug
Digging holes to create the orchard

More next week on what we planted and why, and a few more weeks on what comes next to fill up the whole 3 acres....

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