After the backyard makeover, we were left with an open piece of land about 12m wide running for about half the length of the property between the pool and the fence to the northern side (on the side where Dreamland now lies). At this stage we had a lot of apples and pears in the driveway, we had some more pears and jostaberries between the vegetables and the fence on the southern side, we had two persimmons in the back yard, but we only had a single lone lemon tree slam bang in the centre of the vegetable patch. So we made the call to transform that open area into a citrus orchard.
Fortunately during the backyard makeover, Mal and his guys put a good layer of topsoil and compost over that area, so all we had to do was dig holes. And plant. And irrigate. And mulch… But together with the topsoil and the biodynamic preparations, the soil on that side was starting to look a lot better. So before the “cowboy” packed up his machines, we asked him to dig all the holes for the proposed citrus trees in that area. This saved an enormous amount of labour, and in retrospect it was one of the best things we did – with all the paths and things now laid out, you won’t be able to get a digger in there now. And digging tree holes manually – even shallow ones for citrus – in our rock hard clay soil is no task for a mortal being.
At that stage we hadn’t discovered Pete the Permie and his Telopea nursery yet, so we went citrus tree hunting all over the place. Some were ordered in from Diggers Club, some were bought from Wombat Gully Plant Farm (although not organic, it is a great “plant farm” with a wide selection of healthy trees and plants out in Moolap) and some were just scraped together from the local hardware warehouse. So these were all planted, irrigated and mulched. Each little tree was irrigated with a single 8l/hr dripper and the whole area was mulched with forest mulch we bought in from The Mulch Centre. Oranges, blood oranges, limes, loquats, mandarins, grapefruits, pomegranates, lemons, name any citrus and we planted one or more species of it.
Notably though, during this time we had a visit from Jim and Heather Scott. Jim is the pastor at Wellspring, our first Australian church when we still lived in Melbourne – and they brought us a very carefully selected Tahitian Lime. It got the prime spot right in the centre of the citrus orchard.
Some of the trees are taking their time to grow, others are growing well, some are bearing and others are battling. It is all coming together as valuable lessons about which trees like which positions, and interestingly, which nursery’s trees are better. We keep a log of all our trees, when they were planted and where they were sourced from.
In the beginning, the citrus orchard was pristine – it was beautifully mulched and weed-free from end to end.
However, as time marched on, the horrible couch grass that was there initially all started to grow back. We tried smothering it with wetted cardboard under the mulch, we tried to douse it with apple cider vinegar, we tried pulling it out, we tried all kinds of approaches – except we didn’t try “couch grass tea” but I doubt that would’ve worked. With the shallow roots that citrus trees have, I don’t want to keep tugging and pulling out the couch grass around the trees. Besides battling with couch is a very labour-intensive and totally unsatisfying activity. It doesn’t come out at all, it just breaks off.
So we made the call that we were going to stop fighting the couch and just start coping with it as a living mulch in that area. Let nature take its course… However, my one problem was that I couldn’t whipper-snip the couch around the trees because of a) damaging the bark and b) the whipper-snipper breaks off the irrigation drippers and their 4mm feeder pipes. Right about this time, I had a talk with Mal Heppel of DMS Landscapes (who did our backyard renovation project) about Dreamland, and during these discussions he gave me the good advice how to irrigate the trees using loops of normal drip irrigation pipe. This is such an ingenious way to irrigate trees! You can mow or whipper-snip right over the pipes, and as the trees grow bigger, you can just extend the circle to fill the area under their drip-line. This is a much better application of water than a single dripper. So, I got really sturdy tree guards (Sentree Sapling Trunk Protectors) from Arborgreen Landscape Products and a massive re-irrigation project followed. Now we can live with much easier maintenance and we can breeze through the citrus orchard once a while on a quiet maintenance run.
I’m glad to report that Jim and Heather’s lime tree is bearing beautiful limes at this time. Cocktails anyone? Or how about lime-doused Guacamole?
- One big lesson we learnt is that ideally we should have planted the apples and pears where the citrus orchard is, and the citrus trees along the driveway <<link>>. This has nothing to do with more suitable areas for which trees, but simply that it would have been way easier, cheaper and more aesthetically pleasing to put bird nets next to the pool than all along the driveway.
- The circular drip pipe irrigation, together with the tree guards, was a true revelation to me. Why didn’t I think of that approach for all our trees? All the trees in Dreamland are going to get that, and the driveway is now earmarked for a re-irrigation project once we have a quieter time, before the summer heat hits us.
- Keeping a good log of the trees acquired and planted is very useful for analysis and future buying decisions.