Buckhannon to get a community orchard

BUCKHANNON — Workers hope the fruits of their labor for a community orchard will yield a big harvest in a few years.

Local resident Josh Hinchman lives nearby a FEMA lot located at the corner of Ritchie and Randolph Streets.

He began brainstorming ideas for what could be done with such a lot.

“The city has several of these lots and they can only be used for certain things,” he said. “Through my own interest in fruit trees, I am trying to learn. I thought it would be a good idea to get people involved and educated in my own way of learning how to plant, grow and prune trees.

“I spoke to the city several months ago and talked to the mayor. They put me in contact with [city horticulturist] Rob [Barbor].  I put together my own money and got donations from a lot of people in the public. Businesses such as Tractor Supply, Inc. donated trees. Lowe’s donated a lot of materials from soil and compost to mulch.”

And the idea for a Buckhannon Community Orchard began to take root.

In fact, adding fruit trees to the City of Buckhannon, was something horticulturist Rob Barbor had been studying. He began grafting trees a couple of years ago with the intention to plant them in areas around the city.

“I can take a cutting and place it in a root stock of a similar diameter, have the growth traits of that root stock but the fruit species that I chose,” he said. “It’s species specific but it’s an economical way to also propagate fruit. You can take your own cuttings from trees and you can order root stocks for a couple of bucks.

“It’s a real efficient way to grow trees, but it takes a little longer and you have to have the knowledge of how to do it.”

There are 12 apple trees and six Asian pear trees at North Buckhannon Riverfront Park that are a result of this grafting process. Others are scattered at various parks around town.

“I began planting fruits around some of the parks and that’s going to continue because the trees are just coming to the appropriate size to plant,” he said. “I plan on continuing this as well as at the walk trail with the fruits I have grafted with the apple and Asian pears.”

The apple, pear and peach trees planted at the Buckhannon Community Orchard at the corner of Randolph and Ritchie Streets are donated trees from Hinchman’s recruitment efforts. 

Then Barbor tilled the lots and planted the trees. Hinchman and other volunteers are also helping.

The city dropped off a lot of leaves that are being used as mulch as well.

Barbor estimated it will be three to five years before the trees begin yielding fruit of any significance, although there may be some after a couple of years.

He sees the benefits of having fruit trees and bushes around town.

“The city has a number of FEMA lots that are mowed and maintained, but it’s nice to be able to produce food for our community,” he said. “We are a few years out from food production. The best time to plant a tree was 10 years ago, but that’s just how it goes.”

Some FEMA lots were turned into wildflower plots earlier this year.

“This goes hand in hand with that,” he said. “We were providing a beneficial nectar source for butterflies and bees with those wildflower plots. Here, we will be producing food for our community.

“If we take these spaces and fill them with food bearing plants, it’s just going to benefit society. It’s going to promote a healthier and livelier atmosphere.”

Barbor and Hinchman also envision the community orchard can become an educational center for different growing techniques, pruning lessons and more.

Along with the trees, there will be six grapes, eight blueberry bushes and a number of blackberry and raspberry bushes in the roughly 60 feet wide by 75 feet long lot.

Hinchman said, “This is beyond full.  There are still other people contacting me wanting to donate money and trees, but that is on hold until we find a future project.”

And Barbor said people like Hinchman who are so enthusiastic and ready to help make projects like the orchard feasible.

“Having community members who live near these plots will make this more possible,” he said. “We can come up with an initial investment in man hours for establishing these plots only if it’s well maintained,” he said. “That’s hard for us to because there are so many other projects.”

Hinchman said he and other volunteers will be doing the day-to-day maintenance to keep the orchard going.

Those interested in helping at the community orchard can search for Buckhannon Community Orchard on Facebook.

Anyone wanting to donate for future projects should contact the City of Buckhannon at 304-472-1651 or stop by city hall.

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