On a recent trip to Serenity Valley, I planted a cherry tree. Now, planting a fruit tree in the high desert, where there is no rain nor running water for half the year, may seem foolish. And maybe it is. But I planted it anyway. I think of it as an act of commitment; I’ve planted a tree, now I have to keep it alive.
A couple of recent developments make this decision slightly less foolish than it may sound at first. One is that I got a 300 gallon water tank, which I plan on hooking up to my gutters to collect run-off this Winter / Spring. There’s usually 20-30 inches of precipitation in the wet months, and even if I manage to collect 10″ of that, I should be able to harvest around 1000 gallons off my cabin roof alone. (If you want the math, it’s 0.6 gal / 1″ of precipitation / 1 sqft of surface area. So, 0.6 gal * 10″ of precipitation * 170 sqft roof = ~1020 gallons.) If my math is right, my 300 gallon tank won’t capture all the available water, so I’ll probably add more. The other recent development is that I (or, rather, a neighbor) found a couple of sources of water closer than the gas station in town, some 17 miles away. It turns out there’s a volunteer fire station 3 miles down the road that has its own well, where locals can take as much water as they want for a very small monthly fee. There’s also apparently a local who owns a water tanker, and will deliver water (if he likes you). So, between my rain barrels and an abundant water source just 3 miles away, I’m fairly confident I can keep the cherry tree watered for the foreseeable future.
So, why a cherry tree? Because I like cherries. Well, first of all, not all fruit trees can survive the cold winters we sometimes experience up here in the mountains. While not common, temperatures can drop down into the negative (Fahrenheit), with record lows down into the -20Fs. So anything that can’t withstand -20F won’t make the cut. At the local hardware store, that narrowed the selection down to: apricots, apples, and cherries. Of those, I like cherries the best. I suppose apples might be more versatile, since you can make cider and apple sauce, use them for baking, and the fruit lasts a long time if kept cool. (Hmm… maybe my next tree will be an apple tree.)
The next step was to choose a variant. They had a few options, including famous sweet variants like the Rainier cherry, but all the sweet variants need pollinators (i.e. another cherry tree). So I ended up picking a Montmorency cherry tree, which is a self-pollinator and semi-dwarf; two characteristics that should work well for me. On the other hand, the sour fruit that the Montmorency bears will only be good for canning or baking. It’s a bummer I won’t get to eat sweet fruit right off the tree, but seeing how cherries have a short shelf-life, having a variant suitable for preservation probably isn’t such a bad idea.
Planting a tree isn’t terribly exciting in and of itself. Digging the hole ended up being a lot of work because I encountered a rock-hard layer of clay that I decided to try and bust up — by repeatedly driving a pitch-fork into it with a sledge hammer. A pick-axe probably would’ve made things easier, but I didn’t have one.
Once I had the tree planted, though, I decided to try something new. I’d read that Native Americans and others living in arid regions were known to mulch their plants using rocks. The theory is that the rocks would slow moisture evaporation, dampen extreme temperatures by acting as a thermal mass, and possibly also improve the soil by slowly leeching minerals. I know that moisture evaporation and extreme temperatures are a concern where I am, so I decided to give it a shot. I also placed 3 drip irrigation heads (of which two you can see in the photo) between the rocks. Incidentally, the drip irrigation is the same gravity-fed system hooked up to my water tower that I set up in previous years, which keeps my garden watered while I’m away with the help of a garden timer. Finally, I covered the whole thing with straw to provide further shade from the harsh sumer sun and cold winter frost.
So, we’ll see how that goes. If all goes well, we’ll start seeing cherries in a couple of years…
Great choice!!! Of the fruits you considered sour cherries are far and away the most expensive and hard to obtain, at least in my neck of the woods–I paid $4 for a small can of them at Central Market (the closest thing we have to a Trader Joes) …and a 9×13 cobbler would require 6 cans! My absolute favorite thing to do with sour cherries is make tiny pies. Use a straight sided jam jar and smoosh pie dough into it like playdough. Fill 3/4 full with sour cherry pie mixture and freeze to bake at your convenience.
Cherries are a good choice!
They are relatively pest free in these parts and they ripen early — before the brutal summer heat.
We’ve got 3 cherry trees and each year there is a frenzy of pitting and freezing as they ripen. I chose varieties that ripen in sequence so they don’t all come on at once. But that means there are 2 -3 weeks of harvest and processing.
The solar freezer is now packed with cherries and peaches from the orchard.
Great for breakfast smoothies!
I like the rock mulch idea too. I’ve tried a variant of that by mulching with decomposed granite around the fruit trees and grapes.
A word of advice: buy some netting — birds love cherries too!
And racoons love grapes — they totally wiped out this year’s harvest in a single night, even though the vines were netted 😦
Good to hear more from you
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Good luck with that cherry tree, I hope it does well. We’ve planted a couple of trees here, an oak and a willow, so far they’re doing well, but we get a LOT more rain than you do, sometimes we can get 20-30 inches of rain in one month, nearly drowning any plants! I thought another reason you chose the cherry was it’s association with Japan, after your aid trip there. Are you keeping in touch with those you helped, or your fellow workers?
I don’t see any cage around it to keep the deer off, is that something in the works? Deer are h-e-double-hockey-stick on young fruit trees. They can strip it bare in no time and kill it or leave it severely damaged.
While I don’t live in the area you are, I am in similar area. I strongly suggest you protect that tree from 4 legged creatures (deer). Get yourself some 6′ or 8′ tall stout sticks or angle iron – make a triangle 8-13″ on each side. Then wrap the triangle in “heavy” hardware cloth – small the squares the better – will help keep the smaller rodents out to. Make sure those poles are 12-24″ deep in the soil, the deer when they can get at the tree are then going to try and knock it down by jumping up against it
Planting a tree is such a beautiful thing to do.
How are you going to protect it from deer etc?
I just caught a link to your blog from Tiny House Living, and have spent the last three days reading the whole story. I look forward to your book! I’ve got some property in Northwestern Ontario, and have plans for a tiny cabin of my own.
Thank you for sharing your stories, they are an inspiration.
As far as cherry trees go, up here (Zone 2a) we grow “north star” cherries. If they can survive here, they would likely thrive in your moderate winters.
Nice! You may need to find a way to protect it from birds though; they love cherries. None the less, it is always exciting to hear from you.
Take care of the cherry tree eating wildlife with the rifle…
I run Tiny House Buzz which is a fairly new web forum dedicated to tiny houses and minimalist living. If you have the time please join the community; we would love to have you. 🙂
I forgot to put the URL in my last comment.
Love this idea! I wish we could plant a tree in some of our land in the UK but it’s only a little veg patch and don’t think the neighbours would appreciate it.
Hello Ryo, I’m glad to see that you are doing well and working in new projects for your land.
When I read about your idea of mulching with rocks, I remember one video (a documentary, actually) about a man that has a great garden in Washington State. It’s called “Back to Eden”
This gardener has very little rain, just like you, and cold weather, and is mulching with chips from wood. The gentleman is very devote and the video have several quotes from the Bible (a bit boring that), but he has a great garden and it seams to be done with little work. Maybe you would like to check it to see if you can use some of his ideas:
Well, best of luck with your cherry tree and the water harvesting.
Greetings from Uruguay
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