An orchard is an area which is dedicated to the growing of fruit or nut trees and sometimes shrubs which produce fruit and nuts. Orchards vary widely in layout, shape, and size, depending on regional preferences and the types of trees involved, and many people have fond associations with orchards, as they produce favored treats like peaches, cherries, apricots, almonds, and many others. Even a small orchard can be amazingly productive, which is why some homes in rural areas have a planting of a few fruit trees to supply household needs.
Humans have been establishing orchards for a very long time, and until the 15th century, the word was also used to refer to vegetable gardens. Pioneers in the world of agriculture undoubtedly learned a great deal through the domestication of fruit trees, finding out how to breed desirable varieties, making grafts and slips, and learning about the best conditions for growing various types of trees. The remains of ancient orchards can be seen in many regions of the world, and some orchards have trees which are hundreds of years old and still producing.
The primary feature in an orchard is obviously fruit and or nut trees. Some orchards also have a cover crop which can range from flowers to vegetables, keeping the soil well conditioned and making the orchard more productive. In other regions, people allow their animals to graze in their orchards, keeping the grass in the orchard clipped, providing fertilizer for the trees, and disposing of windfall fruits. Many orchards are fenced to keep out pests, and netting may be used to keep birds away from the fruit as it grows. Beekeepers are fond of keeping their bees in an orchard, taking advantage of the numerous flowers which appear in the spring.
Planning an orchard requires care. When mixed trees are planted, gardeners need to ensure that the soil and weather conditions are right for all the trees, and the trees must be well spaced to allow them to grow. The orchard must also receive regular care to ensure that it produces, with people pruning the trees annually to shape them and promote healthy production. Gardeners also need to consider how the trees will exchange pollen for fertilization, in the case of trees which are not self-pollinating.
Many orchards are planted in a grid format, making it easy to work and harvest in the orchard. However, orchards can also be more naturally scattered, to take advantage of prevailing soil and weather conditions, and these natural orchards may be made ornamental as well as productive with cover crops of flowers and benches which allow people to sit in the orchard, enjoying the presence of fruit trees and flowers.
In some regions, it is possible to visit an orchard and pick your own fruit. Several botanical organizations also maintain orchards of heritage fruit trees to ensure that unusual cultivars do not die out. Many of these organizations are happy to send grafts to interested gardeners, keeping rare fruit and nut varieties out and about for future generations to enjoy.