Birth of an Orchard
Part 1
Getting Started

Dateline: 19 April 2013

A traditional orchard is the orchard of my dreams. (photo link)

I’ve dreamed of having an apple orchard since I was a teenager. Since back in the day— back when Me & Ed Made Apple Cider in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont (that was a long time ago). And now, with the recent acquisition of a section of decent New York state farm land, I’ve decided to direct some effort into making my dream come true.

If I had the land and the money to plant an orchard way back then, I would know a lot about growing apple trees by now. When you start early to learn something like that, and you stick with it, you acquire a lot of useful knowledge by the time you become an old-timer like me.

But I didn’t do that and, as a result, I’m pretty ignorant about what it takes to grow apple trees. I’m also a little bit fearful. Maybe a lot. It’s a fear of failure that I have. When I read my apple-tree-growing books, it appears to me that apple trees are prone to all kinds of insect attack and diseases. That’s a real bummer. And then there is the matter of pruning. I’m intimidated by pruning.

A lot of people never undertake to do anything of significance because they think they may fail. I’ve confronted and surmounted that obstacle many times in my life. And sometimes I did, indeed, fail at what I attempted. But there have also been successes. That’s the way it goes. You win some and you lose some. But you never win at anything unless you motivate yourself and give it your best shot. That there’s a little pep talk for me.

I think, when you decide to do something you've never done before, something that is new to you, and seemingly difficult, that it helps to tell someone what you’re going to do, like I’m doing here. Then you'll feel more compelled to follow through with your undertaking. 

So that explains why I've decided to chronicle my apple orchard adventure here, with periodic installments. 

Apple orchards take years to grow, which means that establishing a homestead orchard is a very contra-industrial thing to do, especially with heirloom apples on B.118 rootstock (more about this shortly). There is no instant gratification in this endeavor! It’ll be a lot of years before I ever see an apple.

Fact is, I may never live to see an apple. But I’ll tell the story here, for as long as I can....

Buying The Trees

That there is 16 bare-root fruit trees. Purchase price: $357.79

They say the first step to embarking on a new endeavor is the hardest, but I don’t know if that is necessarily true. It was relatively easy last fall to send a check to Cummins Nursery in Trumansburg, New York, not far from where I live, to pre-pay for 13 apple trees (and three pear trees). 

I don’t want a big commercial orchard, mind you. A small, homestead orchard would be nice—a family orchard. And I don’t want any of those modern dwarf trees. I’d like my homestead dream-orchard to be composed of bigger, old-timey-sized apple trees. I also want some of the trees to be heirloom varieties.

So I ordered:

2 @ Ashmead’s Kernel
2 @ Black Oxford
2 @ Enterprise
2 @ Golden Russet
1 @ Honeycrisp
1 @ Newtown Pippin
1 @ Spitzenburg Esopus
1 @ Wolf River
1 @ Bartlett pear
2 @ Bosc pear

The apple trees are all grafted to B.118 rootstock. Budagovsky 118, that is. B.118 root stock “produces a tree 80-90 percent of standard size. Well-anchored, precocious, good productivity... Winter hardiness goes without saying for this Russian immigrant.” That quote comes from The Holistic Orchard: Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way, by Michael Phillips—my main guidebook to growing apple trees. 

In his book, Phillips says that the larger-size apple trees (like those on B.118 rootstock) have a more extensive root system and are better anchored in the ground. Once established, they do not require regular irrigation and a lot of “medicinal support of fungicides.” In other words, they’re less fuss to care for, more self-sufficient, and therefore better suited to growing holistically. All of that sounds real good to me. Here's a YouTube clip of Michael Phillips explaining what it means to be a holistic orchardist...

With sales tax, the total for the 13 trees came to $357.79. I went and picked them up. If they were shipped to me they would have cost more.

I’m going to include prices of the different things I buy here. I think that is an important part of the story. So I must include The Holistic Orchard book ($31.49) and Michael Phillips’ other book, The Apple Grower ($27.84). Before long, I expect I’ll also cough up another $40 to get Phillips' 5-hour Holistic Orcharding DVD (ClickHere for details). That’ll be a few cents short of a hundred bucks invested in my apple growing edumakation. A small price to pay...if it eventually bears good good fruit.

Newtown Pippins. Thomas Jefferson's favorite apple. My mouth is watering at the thought of fresh-squeezed cider, made with my own Newtown Pippins. (photo link)



Granny Miller said...

Herrick -
Why not buy & plant 1 or 2 dwarf or semi-drawf apple trees this year too?
That way while you're waiting for the main orchard apple trees to mature & bear fruit, you'll have some other apples within 2 years - maybe sooner :-)

Anonymous said...

When you feel nervous about learning something new, just remember that your other homesteading and business skills were once new to you, too.

We have about 5 apple trees that came with our property, but they're not very tall. I don't know if they are still growing or if they are dwarf or semi-dwarf. I don't even know what variety of apples they will produce!

There are some helpful pruning videos on YouTube. My son, Devin, has pruned our trees for us. I'm looking forward to learning from you. We would also like to plant pear and plum trees, and some nut trees.

Lilac Hill said...

I planted three peach trees from Cummins Nursery this spring. Pruning as directed was difficult but I did follow the directions. The trees are lovely. Good luck with your new orchard.

jean said...

Wishing you all the best in your apple orchard endeavor.

Herrick Kimball said...

That's a very good idea!

Mrs. T—
Thanks for the encouragement. But I'm not sure I'm the person to learn from, seeing as I'm new at this. :-)

Lilac Hill—
Peaches! Maybe someday I'll be confident enough to try growing peaches too.

Thank you for the well-wishes.

Cyndi Lewis said...

Reading this with avid interest as we just moved onto 5 acres a few months ago and will be planting fruit and nut trees. Not an actual orchard but we will glean tips from your experiences and (hopefully not) mistakes. I already took great interest in the fencing around the young trees as I do not wish to be feeding the deer with my newly purchased trees!