Dateline: 20 April 2013
|On my way to plant apple trees. (click on any of the pictures to see enlarged views)|
This installment of Birth of an Orchard will give you some perspective of the layout of my land and where the orchard will be located. I'll explain how I planted the trees, and fenced them.
It was a cold and raw day in April when I loaded my tractor wagon with trees and supplies for planting the apple orchard of my dreams. It had rained most of the previous two days. The wind was steady out of the west and more rain was in the forecast. It seemed like the ideal kind of day for getting apple trees planted.
For more than 20 years my family has lived on a 1.5 acre section of rural land, and I have long wanted to expand the size of our property. Last year we providentially acquired 16 acres right next to our home. In the picture above I am driving down the road, away from our 1.5 acre lot. Our house is up the hill, past the telephone pole you see in the distance. The wooded land you see along the side of the road is part of our 16 acres. I can't just drive through the woods to the field portion of the new land because there is a deep gully and stream running through the woods. I have to drive down the road...
|That double-wide trailer came with the new land.|
As I drive further down the road, there is a bend to the left and the double-wide trailer that came with the new property comes into view. Most people would have bought the house and got the land with it. We bought the land and got the house with it. That house is packed with all kinds of inventory and work tables for my Planet Whizbang mail-order business. Just past those pine trees in the picture above is an entrance to the field portion of our new land...
|Entering the field.|
As you can see, the ground is wet with standing water at the entrance to the field. The trees at the top of the hill define our eastern property line.
|Heading up to the future orchard.|
The apple orchard will be 2/3 of the way up the hill, about in the center of this picture. The T-post on the left side of the picture marks the beginning of a very wet spot in the field. Water comes up out of the ground there and flows down into a ditch behind the house, then into the stream. There are several field tiles under the ground that flow full bore into the ditch. It is a spring-fed area. A lot of water. It would be a good place to have a pond..... someday.
|Part way up the field, looking back at where I entered the field (by the pine trees).|
|I've already dug the tree holes.|
I had already dug the holes for the trees. I dug them by hand, using a shovel and a 17-lb digging bar. The holes are approximately 30" in diameter and 20" deep. I dug 16 holes but I didn't dig them all at once. My body isn't capable of that kind of feat. I dug them over the course of four days. The first day I could only dig three holes before I was physically spent.
After digging those first three holes, I wondered how I would ever find the wherewithal to dig the other 13 . Then I remembered The Sermon I'll Never Forget, which is the story of Pastor Ralph West as a young Marine at Iwo Jima, marching, after a brutal beach assault, in the hot sun towards Mount Suribachi. And I realized that I would dig all those holes... one shovel of soil at a time. One shovel and one rock at a time.
The above picture also shows (to some degree) the layout of the apple trees. I did not put them in straight rows. I positioned them in concentric, semicircular rows around a knoll. The top row has 4 trees, spaced 30 ft. apart in a 90 ft. radius. The second row has 6 trees, spaced 30 ft. apart in a 120 ft. radius. The third row has 4 trees spaced 30 ft. apart in a 150 ft. radius. And the fourth row has two trees spaced 30 ft. apart in a 180 ft. radius. The 4th row came about after two holes in the third row filled with water (as you will shortly see). Perhaps next year I'll add two or three more trees to the fourth row. And that'll do it.
The radiused placement of the trees was determined by pounding a T-post at the top of the hill, making a ring of heavy wire to fit loosely over the post, and tying a length of baling twine to the ring. I stretched the twine out 90 ft. for marking tree placement in the first semicircular row, and added 30 ft. more of string for each of the other rows. It's an unconventional layout for sure. I like to think it's perfectly contra-industrial to not have straight rows.
As for that spacing of 30 ft., it is a bit further apart than the recommended spacing for trees on B.118 rootstock. But I want to create a spacious little orchard. When the trees are full grown many years from now, I don't think 30 ft. will look as far apart as it does now.
|One tree hole|
There is an old saying that when it comes to planting fruit trees, you want a $10 hole for a $5 tree. I guess those prices are some indication of how old the saying is. My trees averaged out to $27 each. So I dug "54-dollar holes." The point being that a good-size hole is important. I think the theory is that the loosened soil in a large hole provides an ideal environment for the tree roots to get off to a good start.
|That's not good.|
|Leyland (my tractor) and 12A (my wagon) at the top of the orchard.|
|Lots of rocks.|
|A view over the rock pile|
Looking over the rock pile pictured above, into the woods (to the north), you can see some of the stream that runs down through the woods. The road is just beyond. I would like to someday put a large culvert pipe in the stream right at this point and bring in fill to make a driveway through the woods to our field. It would come out on the knoll at the top of the orchard. That would be a big expense, and the government probably has all kinds of regulations that would hinder the idea. But it would be a great place to build a house on the new land.
|View to the southwest|
|My future apple orchard came in a relatively small bundle.|
Now that you know something about the layout of my land, it's time to plant trees. The 16 bare-root trees came bundled together, with plastic wrapped around the roots to keep them moist. Tree roots should never get dry before planting.
Although the ground was plenty wet, the newly-planted trees needed to be well-watered at planting time. I filled a 55-gallon barrel with water and added a little liquid seaweed solution. That barrel is the same one we use as a maple sap collection tank when making backyard maple syrup. And it was also used when I made one of Steve Lonsky's amazing siphon-tube rain-barrel systems, as I explain in my soon-to-be-published Planet Whizbang Idea Book For Gardeners.
Planting the trees was a fairly slow process (since I was doing it alone) but I wasn't in any hurry. I backfilled each hole, putting the topsoil in the bottom, around the tree roots. I made a point of carefuly spreading the tree roots out, as the picture above shows (click to enlarge). The graft union at the base of the tree needs to be around 4" above the soil line and I was cognizant of that as I planted each tree.
The steady west wind eventually blew in a shower of little ice pellets, followed by steady rain. I kept working until the rain soaked through to my shoulders. I had 12 trees planted by then. I left Leland and 12A in the field and walked home through the woods.
|Our stream in the springtime.|
I went to bed that night envisioning a herd of deer eating my just-planted trees down to stubs. I understand that deer love young apple trees and can be quite a pest. So I was up the next day, anxious to get the rest of the trees planted, then fenced.
The fencing I used is 2" x 4" welded wire and 5 ft. high. I bought 4 rolls for $49.99 each, and put a 12 ft ft. length of wire around each tree. To support the fence, I drove in two 7-ft. T-posts. The posts cost me $6.29 each. Total, with sales tax, for the fence and posts: $433.34.
I don't think a 12 ft. length of fencing will keep deer away once the tree "whips" start making branches. So next year I'll probably have to buy 4 more rolls of fencing and 32 more T-posts.
If this orchard was much bigger I'd have to start an Indiegogo campaign to finance it. And I could send apples to those who donated... maybe ten years from now.
I also need to add in the stakes I put next to each little tree. After watching This knowledgeable chap from the UK explain how to plant apple trees, I felt like I needed to stake them (and I think the Cummins Nursery how-to information recommended the same thing). I used 1" galvanized electrical conduit for the stakes. Ten-foot lengths of the conduit cost $6.77 each and 8 lengths would give me the 16 stakes I needed. Total cost, with tax, $58.49 ($3.66 a stake).
I also purchased 50 ft. of yellow poly rope ($7.00) to tie the trees to the stakes (using the little trick explained in the abovementioned video).
And I bought a 50 lb. bag of organic phosphorus (0-3-0) fertilizer at the local fed store. Michael Phillips, my apple tree growing mentor, recommends that one pound of phosphorus fertilizer be added to each tree's planting hole. The 50 lb. bag was $26. The extra fertilizer will keep.
So now the trees are planted and protected. I need to pick up all the rocks I unearthed and add them to the piles along the woods, like those who worked the land before me have done for over 100 years.