Instructables
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A portable life support system for fruit trees. Giant self-watering planters.
The trees can be moved anywhere with a forklift or a truck.
A 70 gallon water tank under the tree wicks moisture up to the tree's roots as needed.
Rain water and sunshine are free. Fruit trees are free. Dirt and boxes are free. You do the math.

The big plastic tubs used here are "macro bins" the winemakers next door gave me.
They are about four feet square. Seen here with a fig tree and a fruiting cherry.

The Tree Dolly was used for transplanting and A-Frame for heavy lifting.
Here's the A-Frame transplant method without tree boxes, just into the ground.
Many thanks to Dad, Rachel, James, and others!
 
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Step 1: How Does It Work?

Picture of How Does It Work?
A wooden platform supports most of the dirt above the level of the water.
Along two sides of the platform the dirt extends down to the bottom of the water tank
This wet dirt acts as a wick to raise water up into the rest of the dirt, where the tree's roots can get to it. I call any similar arrangement with rags or dirt a "Pot Wick" or "Potwick". It's fun to say.
There's a 2" overflow hole in the side of the tank at about the 70 gallon mark.
That keeps the water level from getting too high and drowning the roots of the tree. A plant's roots need both air and water.

         Tool Box for Thought:
"Soil Mechanics" is the name of the science that studies the interaction between particles and moisture. The "Wetting Angle" is the angle of a water droplet where the meniscus contacts a solid material. The lower that angle the greater affinity the water has for the solid. A very hydrophilic material with a very low wetting angle will have no water droplets on it. The water just sheets out.
"Pore Size" is how large a void is in the soil.
Capillary Action occurs where the attractive affinity at the contact line of the Meniscus exceeds the weight of the water below the meniscus. The water is magically lifted against the force of gravity.
Wetting Angle and Pore Size together tell you how high and how fast the water will move through your dirt.
The particle size distribution determines the pore size distribution.
The pore size distribution determines which pores will contain air and which contain water. Like a sponge, the small pores will contain water and the large ones, air.
Since the roots need both air and water, a jumbled up arrangement of pores is great, so both air and water get to all parts of the root system.
Agitation and pressure compacts the dirt and eliminates large pores. That suffocates the roots two ways. By making a denser mass of dirt between the roots and the sky, and by making smaller pores that wick more water.

katmckee2 years ago
Are they blooming now? Did you get fruit last year? : )
Kathleen
gemtree4 years ago
When I moved into my house (which I bought) I assumed I could just plant trees and be happy. That was until I found my neighborhood had fruit robbers in the form of bugs, critters and lawn care 'professionals' that came back after seeing my fruit ready to harvest.

I had put most of my trees that needed chilling time in the front yard which has no fence. That is the northern side of the house. I will attempt to put all my peaches and plums into barrels cut in half longwise (thanks for the info, Redhead) so they will have more 'toe' room and the other robbed trees (figs) into the plastic barrels cut in half from top to bottom. Then use the transporting methods in your other instructables to move them from the cold side into the protected back side AFTER THE FRUIT is set.

Let the dogs out into the back yard every time they hear anything and I may actually get a decent harvest one year. I think I need to cut them back so they are smaller trees but I will educate myself more before taking this task on. I look forward to NOT SHARING my hard work, fruit and large watering bill with the thieves. <3
i'm not sure i agree with angry redhead - in my experience, it's possible to grow trees, even fruit trees, for years.  decades, if necessary.  with root trimming you'll be able to even use the same containers though it will take a small army to lift a tree out of that box.  with proper care, adequate dirt changes, fertilization, and watering  you'll create a stunted tree but nonetheless full of fruit.
Based on what I've learned about growing fruit trees in containers, I have a few concerns with this for anyone wanting to maintain fruit trees in containers permanently especially on this scale:

Root pruning must be done every 1-5 years which is why most container grown trees won't require a forklift - it's too much effort.  From what you said in one of your steps, it sounds like you plan on repotting these trees to even larger containers once they've outgrown these which is very ambitious - soon you'll need to be a crane operator.  Plus there's no knowing what sort of damage the tree roots could inflict on the tank and supports.

Tree selection for growing in containers is also very important.  Some trees such as peaches and plums are such vigorous growers that they don't make good candidates for growing in a container.  Figs are slow and can be easily maintained to remain dwarf in size.  Citrus are also popular trees to grow in containers.  I'm not too sure about cherries, but I suspect they aren't a good candidate.

Keeping the soil consistently moist for fruit trees might not be the best idea especially for the trees that come from areas with very sandy/rocky soils.  It might work really well for certain fruiting plants like tomatoes which need consistently moist soil to prevent blossom end rot, but I'm not sure about trees and bushes especially the ones native to the Mediterranean/Middle East.

And because not everyone lives in California, there's what to do when it comes to overwintering plants since hardiness is based on the tree being in the ground and how that might affect ever increasing pot sizes or root ball pruning which wasn't mentioned.
 
TimAnderson (author)  AngryRedhead4 years ago
Both these trees grew in the heavy east bay flats black clay, in a garden that was irrigated, so these roots are used to being kept wet all the time. It was interesting digging them out, The top few inches of soil was mulched and very loose, then a region of lots of roots for a couple of feet, and about two feet down the nearly undisturbed wet black clay soil and very few roots.

I was given a couple of root bound potted citrus trees that have stopped fruiting.

I'll take your advice and thin their roots a lot before re-planting them in bigger pots.
Thanks for the tip! I'll let you know how it goes
Tree roots tend to spread out rather than down.  Most tree roots can be found in the top 18" of soil which is why it's very important to dig the tree out as wide as you possibly can rather than as deep as you can.

Girdling can certainly be a problem with trees which is why it's very important to inspect the roots of trees, and girdling can cause the decline/demise of a tree if not attended to properly.  If it's been in the pot for a long time, it might need a soil refresh and some root pruning.

If you want something that'll blow your mind, look at this.  It's only 13 cm tall and has 16 crabapples (by my count).  That's a crazy amount of production for something so itty bitty, but bonsai requires lots of limb and root pruning.  I have a hunch bonsai techniques could be applied to larger potted fruit trees, but the fruit trees would have to have root balls that could be feasibly trimmed without resorting to butchery.  Maybe 10 gallons or so.
 
shed-head4 years ago
That's an amazing idea. Ive always wanted to plant myself some fruit trees, I've had vegetable gardens for years, but have also moved frequently so I've never bothered with fruit trees. Can you tell me how large you would expect a tree planted this way to get, and also how would you transport it, in the back of a large flatbed stood upright or some other way?
TimAnderson (author)  shed-head4 years ago
I don't know how big these particular trees would get, they were in the ground 5 years when I dug them up. That would make them 8 years or so old right now? Both trees have been crowned, so that would limit their height.
I'd load them on and off a truck with a ramp or an a-frame crane, or with a forklift if I had one at either end. A trailer would work well also, loading the same way.
I just planted two tall sprouted purple potatoes I grew last year the same way. The biggest problem with the bucket I use is the top gets tons of water and the bottom gets none, and it's not that deep of a bucket. I will have to give this a shot. Nice instructable!
Which means less potatoes. (Forgot that bit)