When its latest contribution to the local food production movement comes fully on stream, Qualicum Beach residents will be able to get their fill of fruit — for free.
“Everything’s a go,” said Diane Sharp, a founder of the Qualicum Beach Community Garden and the spearhead for the town’s adjacent community orchard project. “The town has generously offered the land on a similar basis to how the community garden is done.”
The orchard site lies between the community garden and the E&N rail line on a road right of way at the end of Village Way.
“The community orchard is contiguous land and fits with the community garden mandate of getting food to the public,” Sharp said. “Right now I am on the search for the right kind of trees.”
Sharp said she wants to plant a total of 12 to 15 new trees of various kinds along the strip of land, supplementing several fruit trees which are already there.
“We need big trees,” she said. “If we went with dwarf or semi-dwarf, which is what most people get for their gardens, it wouldn’t work. We want a tree that gets to a good size.”
Sharp said the town is going to prepare the land and remove the old, sickly Pin cherries that are on the site.
“All the healthy trees that are there will remain,” she said. “Over the last three years we’ve been pruning the trees that are there and reducing them in overall height to improve bearing and so they can be more easily picked. Those fruit trees stay.”
The fruit, she added, will be free for the picking.
“If someone comes with a ladder and picks the whole tree well, so be it,” she said, “although we hope people will come in and pick their grocery bag and be happy with that.”
She stressed that while some people have expressed fears of increased bear activity because of the orchard, she noted the existing fruit trees have not posed a problem, noting she is working with the newly-formed Oceanside Harvest Share program to glean the ripe fruit that’s left over before it becomes a major draw for bears.
“It’s basic bear-aware stuff,” she said. “The gleaners will watch carefully and when we see the fruit is ripe, they’ll get it off before it becomes an attractant for bears. One third will go to the gleaner, while two thirds will go to the Salvation Army food bank or St. Stephen’s Church.”
In order to plant, prune and otherwise look after the trees in the orchard, Sharp said she is looking for a group of volunteers to step forward.
“I’m trying to get a group that will become responsible for this little community orchard and help care for the trees,” she said. “We’ll do pruning workshops and help people essentially adopt the orchard.”
The fruit from the new trees won’t be harvestable for a few years, but Sharp said she’s looking farther down the road.
“I’d like to see these trees stick around for the next 50 to 100 years,” she said. “It may be a little slow getting going, but we don’t need it done tomorrow. This is for the community in 20 years or 30 years. The people who planted the existing trees could do it, and so can we.”
Funding for the new fruit trees came from a $600 grant from Seedy Saturday and $100 from the Town of Qualicum Beach.