Churchyard Orchards: Different from Commercial Orchards; Different from Backyard Orchards

The design and management of churchyard Orchards, like backyard orchards, are considerably different from commercial orchards.

  • Commercial orchards are designed for mechanical harvesting, consequently trees are planted in rows, spaced far apart.  Churchyard orchards, like backyard orchards, are designed for small scale hand harvesting, consequently trees may be planted in clusters, hedgerows, espaliers, Belgian fence formats, or other space-saving configurations.
  • Commercial orchards are designed to have single, large-in-quantity-but-compressed-in-time harvests.  Consequently, commercial orchards are planted with many trees of the same variety of fruit.  Churchyard orchards, like backyard orchards, are designed for small-scale production extended over a long period of time.  Thus, churchyard orchards are planted with several different varieties of any given fruit or nut, each variety coming into harvest at a different time.
  • Commercial growers are not concerned with providing a variety of foodstuffs to customers from any given location.  In most cases, they are shipping to markets where products from many growers will be available.  Churchyard growers are concerned with providing a variety of foodstuffs to the community as those we are producing food for may not be getting adequate variety elsewhere. Thus, churchyard growers try to include a variety of different kinds fruits and nuts.
  • Commercial orchards are generally only used for growing foodstuffs.  Churchyard orchards are often used for sacred, educational or recreational purposes, as well as growing foodstuffs.
  • The ground beneath the trees in commercial orchards is often tilled or planted with a cover crop.  This is generally to make it easier to water, harvest, or otherwise mechanically care for the trees in the orchard.  Mechanical devices are generally not used in churchyard orchards.  Thus, the understory is available for other planting schemes.

Churchyard orchards also differ from backyard orchards in some important ways:

  • Churchyard orchards must meet the needs and aesthetics of a large, diverse, group of people, not just a single homeowner or family.
  • Churchyard orchards must often be used for sacred, educational, or recreational purposes involving large groups of people.
  • Churchyards, and consequently churchyard orchards, are often irregularly shaped, divided up into a variety of small spaces, adjoin large buildings or parking lots, or are otherwise configured in ways that are challenging to find appropriate plants for.
  • Churchyards, and consequently churchyard orchards, are often tended by volunteers or poorly trained landscapers.  Consequently, the rigorous trimming and pruning regimes often recommended for backyard orchard culture, may not be possible.
  • The scale of the church property, buildings or parking lots, or the need to block or complement certain views, may dictate the scale of the trees: large trees for large spaces, large trees next to large buildings, or large trees to block the views of roads; small trees or bushes in small or narrow spaces.

Having noted the differences between churchyard orchards, and backyard orchards, however, the churchyard orchardist seeking to expand his or her knowledge will most likely find the information provided on-line, or in print, regarding backyard orchard culture, more useful than that provided for commercial orchard culture.

About the Author

Our Executive Director, Stu Richardson, is a former teacher with 25 years in K-12 classrooms. Currently an MDiv. student at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary preparing for ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Stu has an M.Ed from Chapman University and an Ed.D. from the University of San Francisco. Outside of work, Stu is a beekeeper with 30 hives of his own set in an organic herb garden. He uses a Worksman Low-Gravity Platform Bike with Extra-Cycle Freetail and a 6 foot Bike-to-Work Trailer for most local errands.