My weekend work for the last 2 weeks has been building our new fruit cage video location. The plan, as I think I mentioned in a previous mail, is to film a new set of videos showing how to plant, prune and care for a broad range of fruit varieties. Our most popular videos on you tube (we have over 3 million views!) are the ones where we re-visit our vegetable garden a number of times in the season so we will be doing the same here for fruit.
As you can see in the plan we are planting a wide range of fruit in our new cage. The crops will require a range of supports which I will hopefully be able to explain well enough that you can build them too. We will also be supplying all the parts used in the videos including the main fruit cage so it should be pretty easy to build your own fruit garden at home.
I will be filming the first phase of the videos in the next few weeks concentrating on supports, preparing the soil and planting the fruit. We will return in the Spring to cover pruning (much better done in early Spring) and applying any feed. I will be back again to look at flowering and plant management before wrapping it up with harvesting and any other seasonal jobs that need doing. I will be keeping you updated with photos and information as we shoot so if you’re interested in cultivating fruit this should be a nice little series.
My fruit garden
Unfortunately the site I want to use is wet with only a thin layer of topsoil and impermeable grey clay below. I have remedied this situation by building rows of simple raised beds and adding about 25cm of soil. I also dug and removed some of the poor soil underneath the beds before filling so have about 40cm of good stuff before the tap roots hit the grey clay. The beds are very simple to construct by hammering timber pegs into the ground and simply leaning the boards against them, the weight of soil inside holds them in place with no fixings required.
The structure, which is obviously to keep the birds out, has been made by sinking posts in the ground and making net supports with fence rails, I will go into much more detail when I’m finished. As I said we will be supplying all the parts needed to build the same design but we are also working on a modular version that does not require any digging but more on that in a later mail.
Plant roots and waterlogging
If you have a wet site, even if waterlogging only occurs in Winter, it is essential to grow in raised beds or mounds to keep roots above the water and allow them to breathe. Water holds less than 1/10,000 of the oxygen air can so if roots are in wet soil for long periods the plant will struggle and eventually die. Fruit trees were traditionally planted on mounds of earth for this reason.
Most tree and bush roots grow in the top layers of soil so your raised beds or mounds do not need to be that high. Even very large trees have most of their roots in the first 6-12 inches of soil and the same applies to your fruit bushes. If you think about it this all makes perfect sense; in nature all the plant food is near the surface of the soil where fallen leaves or dead vegetation decompose. Surface feeding roots are also very fine (0.2mm in diameter) so you may not be aware just how far they spread.
Shallow roots – feeding and mulching
Once you understand that the feeder roots are very close to the surface of the soil and spread over a wide area your feeding regime should also slot nicely into place. Roots are opportunistic and will grow wherever the nutrients are so it makes sense to feed over a broad area with slow release surface mulches. By doing this you will encourage an extensive root system with a large catchment area for your fruit bushes or trees to absorb food.
Mulching with well rotted manure or garden compost are ideal both to feed your plants and protect your soil. Roots do need oxygen so don’t make mulches too thick, this is especially true if using grass clippings which can form a dense and soggy air excluding mat. I use a thick seaweed mulch on my vegetable garden as a Winter mulch but I don’t use it so much on fruit as they like a slightly acidic soil and seaweed will slowly raise the pH. Heavy applications of seaweed can also have the same effect as grass clippings so it is best used on dormant vegetable beds rather than live fruit plots.
Indian root bridges
Yes, I am aware I am drifting off the point of my fruit garden but I came across (not literally) this Indian root bridge the other day which I thought you might find interesting. The bridges are living structures made by training the aerial roots of rubber fig trees across rivers. Apart from looking very cool the bridge also strengthens as it grows as long as the parent trees remain healthy and can last many hundreds of years.
The ‘ficus elastica’ is a master at anchoring itself to steep slopes and rocky surfaces so the roots are perfectly suited to this application. If you are planning crossing a ditch on the roots of your gooseberry bush you might need to think again.