Birth of an Orchard
Part 2
Layout & Planting

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).
The above picture is looking west. There is a valley, and the rise of land in the distance is the other side of the valley

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.
After a couple days of rain, two of the tree holes I had dug were full of water, as you can see in the picture above. The other 14 holes had no standing water in them at all. Fruit trees need well-drained soil. Two days of rain revealed to me that two of my tree locations were not the best (but 14 of them were very good). So I ended up digging 18 holes for my 16-tree orchard.

Leyland (my tractor) and 12A (my wagon) at the top of the orchard.
Before I commenced to plant trees I took a few pictures from the top of the orchard. They give you some more perspective on the lay of the land. The road that I was driving down in the first picture of this essay is on the other side of those woods.

Lots of rocks.
The picture above shows one of many rock piles that are along our field at the wood-line. This particular rock pile is at the top of the future orchard.

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
For more perspective, this view from the top of my future apple orchard shows  the farm that my land was once part of. My property line is along the corn field. That  farm was the home of my high school pal, Art Dillon. It is a rare piece of property for these parts because the farm consists of land on both sides of the road for nearly a mile. Art's parents have died, and his older brother died, and Art himself died, and the place is now owned by an adopted brother. It was once a well-kept farm, with a nice herd of beef cattle and a small dairy. But the house and barns are now in disrepair and the land is rented to an industrial-scale farmer. I envision that an Amish or Mennonite family will one day buy the land and revive the farm. It would be a family farm again, and that would be nice.

Looking west.
For more perspective, this is a view from the future orchard, looking down at the double-wide house that came with the property. The elderly man who owned our property lived in the double wide. He grew up on the farm in the previous picture. His parents sold it to Art Dillon's family in the early 1970's.  The blue house across the road is where the man's son now lives. Once I figure out what I'm going to do with the excess of water down that way, I'll plant some rows of pine trees behind the doublewide. Picture those grown pines on the left all around behind the house. It will give my field a little  more privacy from people driving along the road.

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.
The picture above shows where I usually cross the stream. My home is in the distance.

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.




Mrs. T said...

What a beautiful property you have! I love the stream and the view of the hills. It's good that the Lord allowed you to see the two holes filled with water, before you planted the trees. They might have been lost, otherwise.

It sure takes a lot of work to dig those holes! As you know, we have the help of our son on our property. If it depended on my husband and I, we could accomplish the same work that he has done but it would take us a lot longer! You've done a great job.

Herrick Kimball said...

Mrs. T—

It's a blessing that you have your son to help you. My sons are around to help me if I ask, and then they are good about helping. But they're at an age where they are busy with jobs and girlfriends and such as that. So I don't ask for their help too often.

Digging the holes was a challenge, especially with so many rocks, but I've had a lot of experience at digging in years past, and I needed a physical challenge after sitting so much for the past three months as I was getting my next book together.

By the way, I'm sorry about your two missing cats. Hopefully they will surprise you and show up at the door.

Anonymous said...

Good that you have planted apple trees. Is that a nest egg for when you are elderly? Is there in your country such a thing as old age pension? Why can not there a bridge over the stream? That seems a lot easier. greetings, Margriet

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful property! We have a small orchard not so well thought out and it shows . It seems you must go ahead with your your stream crossing idea , it seems just right . You are not preventing the stream from flowing so the government should be content to keep its nose busy in someone else's yard!

Anonymous said...

The gray electrical PVC conduit pipe is sunlight resistant and would be better for the row covers than the white plumbing PVC pipe.

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Margriet—
Yes, maybe the trees will be a nest egg when I am elderly, but that isn't why I planted them. I am planting an orchard to improve the land, and as a legacy to my children and grandchildren. We do have old age pensions in the U.S. It's called Social Security. I'm determined not to sign up for it as long as I can continue to provide for myself. The bridge is something I have to learn more about. Thank you for your comment.

I hope you are right about the bridge idea not being an bureaucratic problem. It would be so nice to have.

My tree stakes are not pvc. They are made of galvanized steel conduit.

Daniel said...

Hi Herrick

I have been reading some of your posts with great interest over the years. I have not read your lates post but would like to share with you something that I think you would find interesting.

There have been a nutrient dense squash growing competition in the US last year. They painstakingly analysed 29 squashes for various minerals and atributes. The winner say he had squashes that lasted 2 years and still be eatable. Now thats what I call good shelf life! Here are the lab result of all 29 squashes.

The problem with certified Organic is that its a guarantee of process not outcome. My view is what we really need is nutrient dense high brix crops especially those who suffer from poor general health, children and the elderly. These kind of food have therapeutic healing attributes as they come from plants with very strong immune systems unlike gmo/conventional plants that needs to be defended with pesticides.

Its a myth that fruit and veg are supposed to rot. Heathy crops dont rot but dehydrate. Thats because they contain complete proteins or other compounds thats not digestible to pests.

It seems we need a agrarian revival to stem the tide of ill health that is so rampant in our culture.

There is a very interesting young farmer John Kempf from Amish back ground who started his own business advancing eco agriculture. I think you would find it worth listening to these two talks from him if you have the time. I think he also mentions about the need for a agrarian revival.

its from this page

Daniel said...

The links above you need to copy and paste in your browser address bar to view their media/page

Bill said...

Congrats on getting the orchard started. It looks like fine work. We put our trees in several years ago, and they're now starting to give us apples and pears. I hope the deer spare yours and you have abundant harvests in the years to come!

Herrick Kimball said...


Thanks for the links. I will check them out. You are right in thinking that I will find them interesting.

Agrarian revival? Yes, that's what we need, and that's what this blog has been about since 2005.

Dr. Carey Reams is rumored to have grown squashes that kept two years, as a result of proper remineralization.

I have remineralized my garden this year with the whole reason being to grow more nutrient dense food.

Thanks for the comment!

I'm glad you are finally reaping a harvest of apples and pears. That's encouraging. Thanks for the well-wishes.

Daniel said...

Thats great that you're remineralizing your garden.

I am currently in a Facebook discussion group called "The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation " on GMOs and nutrient dense food. Surprisingly the one who seems to be the leader promote GMOs arguing its mans God given right to dominate over creation by modifying plant genes.

Here is a link to an article on John Kempf approach to growing healthy crops if you cant listen to the audio.

Anonymous said...

Hello Herrick,
I put in some standard apple trees this season as well. I can relate to your words about the hard ground. I am on a limestone ridge with only a couple feet of soil at best (good soil though). Every hole can be a battle. But I have the time, so I practice patience. Interesting your graft union is above the soil, mine, according to the nursery (Jungs) says 1-2" below the soil line. They don't list the rootstock anywhere. Anyway, I enjoy your blogs. May your orchard prosper.


Herrick Kimball said...


My rootstock is B.118 (explained in part one) and it grows a tree 80 to 90% of full size. So I'm not actually growing standard size trees. Close, but not exactly. If I were, it wouldn't make any difference if the graft union were above or below the soil. That's my understanding.

Congrats on getting the holes dug and trees planted. It's a good feeling to have that done. I was looking at my trees yesterday and the buds are swelling so that's a good sign.

Pastured Providence Farmstead said...

I am very interested in this series of your posts, as planting an orchard on an open section of our land is in the future for us as well. I completely agree with your longer term viewpoint, taking the time to invest in a better overall product and resisting the urge to "get rich quick" in apples!

Besides apples (my favorite), what other fruit grows well in your region? You mentioned the pear trees you purchased, and a potential interest in peaches, but I somehow thought that peaches were a little more tropical minded?

Also, in the picture of the roots spread out, that was before another layer of dirt was added over top of them, correct? Did you find that adding dirt in layers and spreading out the roots as you moved up the stem in sections was the best way to plant them?

Again, great posts! I'm looking forward to more installations and pray your investment in time, money and elbow grease will pay dividends to you and your family in the long run. Take care!!

RonC said...

I wish I had heeded the advice about the water in the holes. I planted four apple trees this Spring and ended up moving two of my trees today. They just weren't thriving and were starting to look sick this week. Hopefully, I remedied the problem in time. I washed the roots off as they smelled a bit.