Orcharding tips?
February 25, 2010 12:15 PM   Subscribe

Orcharding tips? Bring them, please.

I've ordered apple trees for a small home orchard, two of each of these: Ashmead's Kernel, Dabinett, Golden Russet, Roxbury Russet, Hudson's Golden Gem, and Wickson. They'll all be on M111 rootstock, which I concluded (and the orchardist I'm ordering from agreed) was pretty much the best option for the space I have and the climate (Zone 5B). I've got room for all of them, planning to space them 15 or 16 feet apart in a 3x4 grid.

I've read a few books -- particularly The Apple Grower by Michael Phillips -- and visited several websites to prepare, and while a lot of that info in the book and online seems appropriate to my situation, I'm sure there are really useful things I haven't come across yet. For those of you growing apple trees (and particularly folks in Zone 5B), what tips and techniques do you have to share regarding getting an orchard started off right? On the off chance anyone is growing those particular cultivars, any tips specific to them?

(I haven't done this yet, but I'll probably also order a couple cherry trees and a couple hazelnut (filbert) trees. I've done a lot less reading about cherry and nut trees, so if you have tips specific to them, please post them! Also, I have consulted my local extension agency regarding these questions; unfortunately, they were not particularly helpful.)
posted by cog_nate to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My dad has a little orchard in the backyard, with cherry, plum and apple trees. He lives on five acres of sugarbush, in the same growing zone as you. I don't know where you live, but here's some tips that we've learned over the years -

1) Fence those trees with chicken wire, with lots of room to maneuver, while they are still small. In the winter, wild animals will strip the bark from the trees in their search for food. My dad built semi-circular frames to hold the chicken wire. When you want to mow around the tree, just pull the circular fence apart into two, mow, and replace.

2) If you live near woods, there is literally nothing you can do to prevent bugs from eating your trees, short of spraying the living heck out of them. Bugs that would normally eat forest trees will happily migrate. This will, incidentally, bork any and all attempts on your part to gage what bugs are active in your area using the usual homebrew recommended methods. Do yourself a favour and inquire with your local university as to whether the entymology department (or the agriculture department, for that matter) publish weekly updates on what pests are currently active. If they send out an email, subscribe to that.

3) We've had our biggest success grafting the apple cultivars we want onto tough-as-nails crabapple trees that were already established on the property. My Dad is big into heritage apple strains like the Cayuga Redstreak (the so-called 20-ounce apple).

4) If you plant cherries, be prepared to deal with birds, who will quite happily eat the cherries while still only partly ripe. You may need to look at netting if you intend on actually *harvesting* the cherries.

That's all I can think of right now.
posted by LN at 12:37 PM on February 25, 2010

Mice will eat the bark too. Keep a close eye on the bottoms of the trunks and be ready to wrap them in hardware cloth if you see any nibbles.
posted by rusty at 1:14 PM on February 25, 2010

We inherited multiple apple, pear and peach trees, a plum tree, a fig tree, orange and lemon bushes and even some grape vines. BOY is it a lot of work trying keep up with them. There's pruning and picking up all the fruit you weren't able to harvest (which is just backbreaking work). There's all the critters you have to deal with who ruin half your harvest by taking bites here and there out of your fruit. There are the birds who eat whatever they please, even when nets are up (we go net free, because we'd rather have to pick up rotten fruit than dead birds). We look forward to the winter because at least we get a break from all the fruit maintenance, but we still have the pruning and mulching to do. We don't use pesticides but we still have to spray the trees to make sure they don't develop fungus or any other diseases that might affect next year's harvest.

My point is it's not like oh la dee da let's have an orchard. It's hard to maintain an orchard. So I'd start small and see what you can handle and build from there. This book helped us tremendously the first year.
posted by wherever, whatever at 1:22 PM on February 25, 2010

I've found stephenhayesuk's YouTube videos on orcharding to be a trove of general information, with intelligent (on YouTube!) and engaged comments. He's based in the UK, in an area that's more like 8b than 5b, but the demonstrations of pruning and care are worth a look if you haven't already visited.
posted by holgate at 1:33 PM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't have anything to share as far as advice but I read a really wonderful nonfiction book, called
The Orchard, about a woman trying to make a go of her apple orchard during the Depression. Maybe you'll find it interesting too.
posted by Kangaroo at 1:33 PM on February 25, 2010

Thanks for the book tip Kangaroo. I'm gonna pick it up.
posted by wherever, whatever at 1:42 PM on February 25, 2010

KEEP UP WITH PRUNING. Seriously. I have had to try to bring wild, unmaintaned trees back into shape-lots of work. Also keep them close to the ground. I cant pick the best apples due to how high the tree is (over 40'). The taste of fresh apple off of the tree is absoleloutely the best, better than steak or even...well its really good. Like most of the necessary work in the world it is hard, kinda dangerous and not well paid, just like growing vegetables. It is also extremely rewarding to be eating food you grow yourself and it really gives you sympathy for the plight of the farmer everywhere.
posted by bartonlong at 2:09 PM on February 25, 2010

Dwarf fruit trees are one of humanity's greatest inventions. I live on property with 4 dwarf fruit trees (three apples and a frost peach).

Picking all your fruit just standing there? BEST THING EVER. Dragging out the ladder to pick plums from the big huge plum tree? NOT BEST THING EVER.
posted by ErikaB at 6:12 PM on February 25, 2010

« Older Should I Ride The Free Internet Gravy Train?   |   Sartre's No Exit: More in-depth analysis? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.