A dream came to fruition (literally) last month as a new orchard was planted near the Benicia Community Garden site on the grounds of the Heritage Presbyterian Church. The orchard grounds were generously donated by Heritage Presbyterian. Many years ago, the church donated the land for BCC’s Swensen Garden, the first of two community gardens in Benicia. Avant Garden, now in its third year, is on First Street.

On March 8, a group of volunteers planted 18 fruit trees in a veritable cornucopia of varieties, including apple, pear, apricot, almond, fig, Asian pear, plum, persimmon, pomegranate, and orange. According to Elena Karoulina, BCG’s Executive Director, this project was conceived as part of the nonprofit’s five-year strategic planning process last year. Karoulina says, “It became clear that in order to ensure sustainable food sources for Benicia, we'd have to turn our focus to perennial plants, orchards, food forests and permaculture gardens.”

The organization studied current trends in permaculture and orchard management to find the best ways to keep the trees naturally healthy, high producing and easy to manage. “We learned that the best strategy was to plant trees on full-size or semi-dwarf rootstocks, but keep them small with severe pruning—about 8 feet tall,” says Karoulina.

The planting ceremony was a family affair. A group of both adults and children held a candle up for each tree and repeated together: “We promise to keep our orchard beautiful and productive, to use resources wisely, to work together in the spirit of cooperation and mutual respect, to share the fruits of our labor with community members in need, and to inspire a larger community of Benicia to learn and grow together.”

Getting the trees in the ground was hard work. 18 holes had to be jackhammered into hard-packed clay and sandstone, along with an irrigation trench. Fresh, organic soil and fertilizers were brought in and brightly painted signs were created for each tree.

The Benicia Community Orchard was organized and installed by a group of founding members, with priority given to current BCG members, the BCG wait list, and members of the Heritage Presbyterian Church. This group will tend to the orchard and share the harvest with each other and community members in need. The land itself was generously donated by the church, and trees were obtained with the help of a partner nonprofit, Common Vision.

Karoulina is excited to invite the community to learn about small orchard management with upcoming workshops that will take place on a donation basis. The first class will be called Getting to Know Your Trees. “We’ll learn about all the trees we planted—their history, growth habits, yield and potential problems. We’ll also begin a conversation about food forests and managing an orchard as a thriving ecosystem. Watch for the announcements in local press or check our website, BeniciaCommunityGardens.org, for dates and time. We hope to see you there!”

There’s also a “gleaning group” in the works, which will provide labor, expertise and care (pruning, fertilizing and harvesting) to community members with fruit trees in exchange for a share in the harvest. Email info@beniciacommunitygardens.org with a description of your trees if interested.

Members of the BCG invite readers to stop by the garden, at 1400 East Second Street, to experience springtime in the new orchard.