The starts for Kenai’s new community orchard, and soon-to-be food forest are in the ground.
On June 25, staff from the City of Kenai’s Parks and Recreation Department, O’Brien Garden and Trees and the hands of a few volunteers planted fruit trees and shrubs in the Kenai Community Gardens that, in only two years time, will bear apples, gooseberries, raspberries and currants. When the time comes, anyone can take their pick.
“We are taking an open source and free-sharing approach,” said Randy Dodge, Kenai Parks and Recreation operator. “This allows everyone access to the 1-acre of space.”
Dodge came up with the idea this winter after receiving an email from Heidi Chay, district manager for the Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District, who tipped him off to the Community Orchard and Food Forest Grants offered by the Alaska Division of Forestry. It was a new concept, but seemed like a good fit for the city. He said he saw it as a chance to show more residents how they can be closer to their food supply, and ways to get involved in local production, he said.
Chay also set Dodge up with the O’Briens, who supplied all root balls and saplings for the project.
Michelle LaVigueur, O’Brien orchard manager, said she suggested a list of varieties that do well in Alaska’s cold climate. For the trees, she went with “some of the old reliables” like Garlands, or Norlands, which are heavy producers. At full maturity each tree in the community orchard has the potential to yield 100 pounds of apples annually, she said.
“The more we can feed ourselves and each other, the better off we will be,” LaVigueur said.
While the trees won’t reach the height of their production for roughly another decade, they will likely live to be 100 years, LaVigueur said.
LaVigueur offered spacing, pruning, planting and maintenance tips at the ground breaking June 25.
While the apple trees do have the capacity to produce during the first two years, the city will be cutting back all buds to prevent fruit from growing, she said.
“It makes the tree put the majority of its energy into growing otherwise it would put all its energy into ripening fruit, but you want to make your tree be big and healthy before there is any fruit,” LaVigueur said.
Once it has been growing for three years, bearing fruit does not seem to stunt development, she said.
Dodge and LaVigueur will host a second planting in late July at the Kenai Community Gardens to finish planting the remaining apple trees and shrubs. The date is yet to be announced.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at email@example.com.