Birth of an Orchard
Part 3
After a Summer's Neglect

Dateline: 16 November 2013

Heading back to my orchard

I started my apple orchard—the apple orchard of my dreams—last April. I blogged about it in Part 1: Getting Started and Part 2: Layout & Planting. Shortly after getting the trees planted, my workload with the Planet Whizbang business really picked up. There was no time for working in the orchard. I didn't get back to even look at the trees for a couple months.  When I did, I found they were growing nicely but some sort of insects were eating the leaves. That was disturbing. But I didn't do anything about it,  and was sidetracked with business demands into the fall.

A week or so back I spent some time clearing weeds from around the trees and putting hardware cloth cylinders around the trunks to protect them from rabbits and mice. Then we got a couple inches of snow and I was feeling like I really dropped the ball with the orchard. 

But the snow melted and a sunny, mild day was forecast for today. So I determined that I would spend most of the day in the orchard, and that's what I did. I got my mail-orders done in the morning, and by 10:00 I was headed down the road with Leyland, towing 12A and some supplies.

I have to drive down the road from my house, then take a left and go a short ways to get into the field where the orchard is. In the picture above I am heading down. The house you see in the distance is the old farmhouse we hope to purchase. If we move into that house someday I'll be closer to the entrance of my orchard field.

click to see an enlarged view

The picture above gives you an idea of where I am with my trees seven months after planting. Weeds like you see in the background were grown up around the apple trees. I didn't mulch. I didn't keep the soil cultivated, or even mowed. I really neglected the trees for the growing season.

Every tree that I planted was a a thin whip in the spring (I pruned off all side branches and topped the main stems down quite a bit). But the trees all grew nicely, and branched out,  even in the midst of all the weeds. 

The trees are planted on a west-facing hillside. My intention is to level a ten foot diameter section of land around each tree. In the picture above you can see that I have a circle marked out with a shovel. I measured the circle with a string tied around the tree trunk. 

The old wood in the foreground is there for a hugelkultur mound, which is part of Michael Phillip's wholistic orcharding system. 

The picture above shows the ground leveled around the tree. The soil that was removed was heaped up over the pile of rotted wood. Here's another excavated "tree circle"

With the earth leveled around each tree, and a hugelkultur berm in place, the next step will be to apply some old hay as a mulch over the soil. Then, next spring, I will start planting a diversity of plants around the area, beginning with several comfrey cuttings around the perimeter of the circle. I'll also be interspersing some raspberry canes around the trees. These are permaculture techniques.

Unfortunately, my back gave out after pick-and-shovel excavating around only four trees. There are 8 more to do, but they will have to wait until another day—maybe next spring. I decided to focus on clearing the weeds away from the other trees and getting the hardware cloth around the trunks

The picture above shows why a hardware cloth guard is needed around the trunks. You can see that the trunk below the graft has been chewed by a small rodent. I should have had the protection in place in the spring. Fortunately, only two trees had any rodent damage and this one was the worst. I think the tree will recover. All the trees are now protected for the winter.

These old hay bales will be put to good use.

I will mulch the ten-foot leveled circle of soil around my trees with the old hay bales pictured above. They are along the side of my field and are several years old. Just right.

I headed home around 5:00, with the moon rising in the west. I had spent 7 hours in my orchard and it was a good day. No e-mail, no cell phone, just me and my trees and tools. I plodded along at my own pace. I didn't get as much done as I had hoped, but I made progress and that's good enough.

Sometime this winter I will have to prune the trees. I am intimidated by the prospect of pruning apple trees because, frankly, I don't know what I'm doing. I have no grandfather or other old-timer in my life to teach me this skill. I have to rely on book larnin'. And I'll probably end up buying this 5-hour dvd.

My orchard doesn't look all that impressive after a summer's neglect. But I am feeling pretty good about the trees growing as well as they did. And I'm still holding onto that vision of twelve full-size apple trees full of fruit someday in the future. I can see my grandchildren picking the apples. I hope I can be there with them to enjoy the moment.


Unknown said...

Thank to your stories I have just finished planting 4 dwarf apple trees and one almond tree. I don't have time to wait for larger trees and it's best to keep my feet closer to the ground when picking.

Anonymous said...

Here is a good YouTube video showing how to prune a young apple tree. I found the instructions to be very detailed and clear. Hope it helps.
How to prune a young apple tree.

I also read that late winter is a good time to prune, before buds appear in the spring. Our experience with pruning our established apple trees, is that they are very forgiving!

Anonymous said...

I was thinking that if you have a county extension agent near you that they would be of help in pruning your trees. Just a thought. Sounds like a Saturday well spent.

Herrick Kimball said...

Very good!

I'm already thinking about how to pick apples from way up in a full size tree while keeping my feet on the ground. There must be a way…..

Redeeming the Time—
That is a good link. Thanks.

Perhaps. But I try not to get involved with government agents. :-) Thanks for the suggestion!