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New Orchard Basics

 
Posts: 3
Location: NC
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First time poster and new to the Permies community.  Hoping to glean wisdom from those of you ahead of me in the game (we just closed on our little farm in July 2019)!  My family and I are looking to add an orchard space to our 15 acre homestead.  We're thinking about dedicating between 0.5 - 1 acre of space to fruit trees, with a blend of apple and pear.  It's the beginning of September in Zone 7, so *I think* this is a good time for us to figure this tree thing out.  We're hoping to plant somewhere between 20-40 trees.  So with that brief context in mind, here are my questions:

1. Thoughts on ordering bare root vs. purchasing in person in containers?  We don't have any local growers but the drive out to most is only around 90 minutes.  My brother in-law did the whole bare-root thing and his trees didn't survive even 6 months.  Maybe just poor care or is there something to that?
2. Standard vs. dwarf: is the added expense of dwarf trees worth it?  It would seem like production would be reduced for the sake of convenience but maybe not?
3. Light: I have a few different areas to consider for the orchard, but I have a patch of pasture set apart from my livestock pasture and it makes sense to put trees there if the lighting is right.  The biggest problem I have there is that there are some tall trees in front of the area and having observed the space for a few weeks, it looks like the space isn't in full sun until around noon.  Do fruit trees need that morning sun to be productive, or would the later exposure be ok?  I could clear some of the tree line causing shade issues, but I would prefer to leave as much of my wooded intact as possible as it creates a natural boundary with the adjacent property.

Thanks so much!
 
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Hi Michael, welcome to Permies!!

Here’s some of my thoughts. I recommend, if you are going to order trees this year to be shipped, to do that as soon as you can, without rushing into hasty decisions on choices. Bare root trees are only shipped after they go dormant and will be shipped later this year or over the winter, depending on where the nursery is located and how they operate. I found in my experience of waiting til november to order trees that a lot, or most of the varieties are sold out.

I have planted both bare root and trees in containers. Bare root can work, if 1) the nursery doesn’t completely butcher the root structure and ships a tree that looks like it has a club foot (that happened to me and those trees died). If there are some stringy roots as thick as twine or yarn, survival chances are much higher. 2) Because bare root trees don’t have much root structure starting off, it’s important to be diligent with keeping the soil from drying out during the summer. Usually regular watering is done for the first year, then trees tend to have enough root structure the second year to not need watering, unless a drought occurs.

Fruit trees will do best if they can have as much sunlight as possible. I think 8 hours of direct sun is recommended, but all day is better. Morning sun is important, because it helps dry the dew off the tree sooner than later. Some fungal and bacterial fruit tree diseases can be more challenging to deal with if the tree is in shade and stays damp most the morning. These diseases need moisture to thrive, and getting a tree dried off with early morning sun helps with disease management.

There are several varieties of dwarf root stock, but as a general rule, the smaller the dwarf, the shorter the life of the tree. Some mini dwarfs may not live more than 15 years. The “big” dwarf rootstock varieties like M111 and G890 can often have trees that can live 25-30 years or sometimes more. A benefit of rootstocks, besides keeping the tree to a size, is disease resistance, which in my opinion is important. If I am spending money and time, then nurturing a tree year after year, I want to have some fruit to eat, and not have a frustrating uphill battle with trees that are plagued with disease struggles and bear little if any quality fruit. Trees grown from seed, and apples are a great example, can live over 100 years, but disease resistance and tastiness/edibility of the fruit are unknown. Other kinds of trees can do quite well grown from seed. Peaches seem to be one of those, and citrus usually is another.

I only have a little experience planting fruit trees, and I have just ordered trees which are shipping later this year and some next year. The first time I ordered fruit trees, I thought I could “buy time” by planting a larger tree and save a few years of growing to get some edible fruit. These trees were about 5-6 feet tall and had a trunk caliper of about 1 inch. I think it’s too much tree, and they grew little if any the first couple years as they put all their energy into growing roots and getting established (the ones that survived that is). The fruit trees I just ordered last month are small. I chose 2-3 foot tall trees that have a trunk caliper of about a half inch. In my experience with planting trees and bushes, smaller is better, and they’ll get established faster and grow faster, with less transplant shock.

Hope this helps you make a decision!

Oh, thought you might like to read about starting fruit trees from seed. Here's a couple threads on growing fruit trees from seed if this is something you might consider.
https://permies.com/t/56523/Fruit-Trees-Seed
https://permies.com/t/95796/Seedling-peach-tree-success-proof

 
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Michael Cranford wrote:1. Thoughts on ordering bare root vs. purchasing in person in containers?  We don't have any local growers but the drive out to most is only around 90 minutes.  My brother in-law did the whole bare-root thing and his trees didn't survive even 6 months.  Maybe just poor care or is there something to that?



Hi! I'm in nearly the same situation as you, just about three years ahead (Zone 6, and have ~40 trees planted). I'm still a newbie, so take all this with a bucket of salt.

I use almost exclusively bare-root, but also buy the occasional potted trees locally. Online ordered bare roots do seem to have a higher failure rate, but are also cheaper and provide a wider variety of species than I can get locally. Don't be discouraged by dead bareroot trees, but factor the higher failure rates into your plans.

I order from StarkBros, and purchase during sales, and end up getting trees averaging $20 ($12-$30), which is about half the price compared to if I buy potted ones locally ($35-$40). Further, if a tree dies, they'll replace or refund it no-questions-asked within the first year of purchase (but if the replacement also dies, they won't replace the replacement with a third tree).
This definitely helps alleviate my numerous tree failures. When starting out, I had about a 80% failure rate. As I learned how to do things better, I now have maybe a 30% failure rate, with bare-roots - though I have worst luck with nut trees.

I tried ordering from a cheaper bareroot website (with trees as cheap as $5). 100% death rate. So I stick with StarkBros and am not displeased, but consider higher failure rates of bareroots to be the name of the game. If I take the time to plant them right, and remember to soak their roots for several hours, and plant as soon as possible, they have a much better chance of survival.

2. Standard vs. dwarf: is the added expense of dwarf trees worth it?  It would seem like production would be reduced for the sake of convenience but maybe not?



With many fruit trees (but not nut trees) you can heavily prune them into staying small, without buying a dwarf variety.

I purchase standard sized, semi-dwarf, and dwarf varieties, depending on what's cheaper, and intend to just prune stuff heavily to keep most everything within reach.
At StarkBros (I promise I don't work there! =P), the Semi-dwarf or dwarf varieties are often the same price or cheaper, but depending on sales (what they have surplus of), sometimes the dwarf or standard varieties are cheaper.

It's the exact same tree species - dwarf/semi-dwarf/standard varieties are just a difference in what rootstock they graft the trees onto. Even "standard" is grafted onto rootstock that's a different species than the tree itself is.
Semi-dwarf and dwarf varieties do give smaller harvests, but supposedly, they are still amazing harvests - presumably not something we'll be displeased with. Some professional commercial orchards plant only dwarf varieties (by the thousands).

This year was the first year I got any fruit from my trees, and I wasn't disappointed. On the first fruit harvest off my Santa Rosa plum, which is a dwarf (not even a semi-dwarf), I got roughly 150 plums (first year). I didn't bother thinning them, just to get a baseline feel for it, so the 150 plums were slightly larger than quarters - which is fine, since I just juiced them and made plum wine. And it's definitely nice to not need a ladder to pick anything.

The apple trees gave about a dozen each, first year, but that was the same irregardless of whether those trees were standard-size potted ones I bought locally, or semi-dwarf bareroots I bought online. I have a few dwarf apples also, but they are too young to fruit, so far.

3. Light: I have a few different areas to consider for the orchard, but I have a patch of pasture set apart from my livestock pasture and it makes sense to put trees there if the lighting is right.  The biggest problem I have there is that there are some tall trees in front of the area and having observed the space for a few weeks, it looks like the space isn't in full sun until around noon.  Do fruit trees need that morning sun to be productive, or would the later exposure be ok?  I could clear some of the tree line causing shade issues, but I would prefer to leave as much of my wooded intact as possible as it creates a natural boundary with the adjacent property.



They need alot of light, but delaying it to noon is perfectly fine. All of my trees don't get light until 11am or so, some not until noon. They all do fine, except for a few trees (3 out of 40) that are too shaded by the treeline even past noon.

My biggest mistake was planting nearly all the trees in a low spot right where it floods twice a year for a few days, and doesn't have good drainage, but I've since adapted to that situation.
 
pollinator
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Michael, welcome to permies!

Before getting into specifics on the questions, NC is a big place, with three major soil and ecosystems (mountain oak, sandhill pine and coastal clay). They are dramatically different in what will do well and what will fall flat. I lived in the sandhill region and it was painful, but I didn't know much about the significance of soil health at the time. The first order of business is soil improvement, and each one of those regions has different requirements. Your trees will only do as well as the health of their soil- it will mitigate nematodes, dry/wet, even japanese beetles to a degree. It will allow them to have adequate mineralization and have proper immune function against fungi and bacterial infections (both of which were a problem for me in the sandhills).  I would recommend a staged approach whereas you plant the trees but also start planting for soil improvement in the orchard area.

1. Thoughts on ordering bare root vs. purchasing in person in containers?  We don't have any local growers but the drive out to most is only around 90 minutes.  My brother in-law did the whole bare-root thing and his trees didn't survive even 6 months.  Maybe just poor care or is there something to that?


I have had very good success with bare-root. Miserable success with Starke's bare root. They bud graft and there is always an awkward 45 degree spot that seems to rot out. I have had several returns that died and I wrote them off. I have been ordering from Hidden Springs, very reasonable and whip grafts which have performed much better. I would say unless I drive over them, I get about 80% survival the first year, and I don't do anything special. I prefer smaller saplings, and these had good roots. I don't even water them but I do have circumferential mulching and decent infiltration and moisture retention. When planting I grind up some multivitamin tabs as Dr Redhawk has recommended to reduce transplant shock. I plant very early in the spring, targeting about a month before the last frost, or if I get them in the fall, I plant in the fall and then I have to water them until the temperatures are cold and they are quite dormant. Most of the time I have ordered in the spring because you catch the spring sales, but I have more mortality and I figure I am wasting both money and growing years, and now I just get the bareroot. Hidden Springs has a lot of homestead salvage varieties, grown around cedars and withstood the test of time for disease.

2.

Standard vs. dwarf: is the added expense of dwarf trees worth it?  It would seem like production would be reduced for the sake of convenience but maybe not?

Depends on whether you want to harvest fruit or make pigs or animals do it. I think James' take on this is good, there are different rootstocks and a good supplier like Cummings can help. They may require a larger order but they have good advice on the website for free. I've moved to semi-dwarf with the intention of mixed human and animal harvesting. But this depends alot on what you are going to do in the bigger picture.

3.

Light: I have a few different areas to consider for the orchard, but I have a patch of pasture set apart from my livestock pasture and it makes sense to put trees there if the lighting is right.  

I have some trees in half-shade and they are fine, but you must must must have varietals that are not likely to get leaf shot or other diseases as mentioned. As I have mentioned in other posts, I am moving away from a standard orchard due to disease concerns to more of an interplanted method. Kind of a balancing act, whether the deer or the bugs are the bigger pest. With semidwarf the deer are less of an issue.

Hope this helps.
 
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All amazing advice so far, I would just like to add......DEER.

If they are known to be near, they will come.
 
Michael Cranford
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Location: NC
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Wow, what great responses.  TJ, I have thought about the soil issue a bit.  I'm in the southern Piedmont region just Northeast of Charlotte.  Most of the soil here is red clay and, I would imagine, needs amending.  Question for you: when you say "start planting for soil improvement," are you referring primarily to cover crops that I would sow among the orchard floor?  Also, since you're familiar with these various regions, any thoughts on varieties with good opportunity for success in the climate?  I'd like to plant Stayman, Mutsu, and Gala, but the Piedmont climate is quite different from the Western part of the state.  Great advice on the size question as well.  We are bringing in small livestock in the Spring, including pigs, so I'll likely opt for a larger tree and prune as you all have advised.

James and Jamin, thanks for the breadth of your counsel: lots of good advice, in particular on the time horizon for ordering as well as counsel around the bare root/container decision.  I reached out to a family-run tree farm here in NC that has been in operation for over 100 years, so I'm hoping for good success.

Watering is obviously a big deal.  I walked the orchard area today and I think my "Phase 1" tree count will be around 40.  So the question is, what's your watering strategy?  Time and frequency seem to be all over the place depending on who you ask, and method is a big question as well.  Are you using soaker hoses, broadcast sprinklers, large watering cans :)?  

Mike- the deer are definitely here.  We have around 3.5 acres tied up in a pre-existing lease with a local farmer that terminates early in the Spring, and the deer are quite fond of that space :).

Wishing you all the best, and super-appreciative of the help!
 
Tj Jefferson
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Michael,

Red clay is generally incredibly low CEC, which means whatever calcium you had is now leached out, replaced as a cation by aluminum (at least here). This supports pines, which has been the economy in the southeast for a while. Easily compacted. Pain in my ass!  What this needs is moisture retention to allow roots to dig in as much as possible. What I am doing is getting massive amounts of wood chips, which will eventually support fungi chelating the small amounts of minerals remaining. This is all from Bryan Redhawks Epic Soil Series. If you can't get free biomass, you need to grow your own, but there is almost always a source of biomass since it holds little value in our economy.

I'm using the chips to generate soil, which will grow huge biomass after it degrades and continue the process. The climate here will support huge biomass annually. So thats my evil plan. This is regardless of in the "orchard" or out of it. Every available place should be shaded by growing biomass all summer, retaining moisture and soil life unless it is a road or a building. Around the fruit trees there are aromatic plants. I use mint, monarda, oregano, onions, whatever. Every tree, all these species can hold their own. Every tree gets vines, mostly scarlet runner beans at this point but I'm experimenting with squash and grapes and kiwis. Keeps the deer off them to some degree. Maybe...

Varietals- I would hesitate to plant ANY nonresistant apple. At all. Cedar apple and related rusts travel over a mile. Unless you are on a mountain, you will tend to suffer badly. All the varietals at Hidden Springs are proven resistant. Those varieties will make you sad. They have resistant pears as well. I don't plant any varieties you would know from the store- probably have heard of Liberty Freedom and AR Black, but not store fruit. I have twelve total apple varietals and six pears. Too early to say which are awsome they are from last spring and this spring but none showing CAR this year. Yay!

I am a big fan of water retention, and that dictates the whole system, including paddocks. Paddocks determine rotation pattern. Rotation pattern dictates desired fruiting time. That is a hot summer, with near savanna climate some years. Water retention will help so much.

If you want to see our setup, which is very much a work in progress, it might be helpful, we have ten acres right now with maybe more to follow. Maybe I will get around to a drone tour if I can get my son to run the drone.
 
pollinator
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Michael.  If you have red clay then you have soil that should have all the minerals you need but get a in-depth soil analysis from a soil test lab.  I too suggest reading the soil series written by Dr. Bryant Redhawk.  
I don't think amending the soil is needed but maybe a way to get biology into the clay portion maybe good. Maybe spend the first year growing some plants that have deep roots to break up the clay. Rye or alfalfa. Putting animals to graze first is also a good idea.
Suggest looking into trees that have few disease or insect issues. Pawpaw, Asian Persimmons, Jujube and Mulberry are good recommendations.  Make sure that you look for low chill hours and ones that are good for your winters.  
If you want to go beyond trees try hardy kiwi and hardy pomegranate so you can have fruit at different times of the season.
 
Tj Jefferson
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Dennis Bangham wrote:Michael.  If you have red clay then you have soil that should have all the minerals you need but get a in-depth soil analysis from a soil test lab.  I too suggest reading the soil series written by Dr. Bryant Redhawk.  
I don't think amending the soil is needed but maybe a way to get biology into the clay portion maybe good. Maybe spend the first year growing some plants that have deep roots to break up the clay. Rye or alfalfa. Putting animals to graze first is also a good idea.
Suggest looking into trees that have few disease or insect issues. Pawpaw, Asian Persimmons, Jujube and Mulberry are good recommendations.  Make sure that you look for low chill hours and ones that are good for your winters.  
If you want to go beyond trees try hardy kiwi and hardy pomegranate so you can have fruit at different times of the season.



Dennis, I cannot say enough negative about "planting" cover crops. It pretty much doesn't work in my opinion without major intervention. My best cover crops have been stuff I haven't planted. Alfalfa turns out to not germinate in acid soils, clover is not quite as picky. I paid for and planted $150 of alfalfa with the prescribed lime. I cannot find one plant after two years.  I planted blue lupine which is supposed to be the heat, and it did nothing. I have a whole thread of my failures here. I have watched to see what shows up, and sometimes I will seed out something doing well (like red clover), but I am done with the "exotics". After ranging the chix through the system, the pasture is just improving with no intervention. I still have some seeds left over but they will be my last. There are a few winter species that I seed out and they are fantastic and cheap, but I am pretty much done buying seeds. I do throw out some iron clay cowpeas each year in brush piles, because they rot those out STAT. Winterpeas and turnips for human consumption over the winter (yum). I have gotten rid of the seed spreader at this point, I just throw some seeds around by hand. Maybe $20 a year.

I am firmly of the belief the seed bank is pretty much ready to rock, especially when animals are ranging. I do amend minerals using rock dust in massive amounts I get for free from a nearby quarry as noted in the cited thread, and it has accelerated things in my opinion, but nature is actually really good at repair in the southeast US.
 
Dennis Bangham
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i will scatter a pound of curled mustard around for breaking up the soil and fresh eating.  I need to look into winterpeas.  what variety do you recommend?
 
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On clay soil, whatever else you do, DON'T dig a big hole and put in all kinds of soil amendments, compost, organic matter, etc. and then plant the tree in that.  When it rains heavy the water will collect in the increased pore space in that spot and not soak easily into the surrounding clay, and if this happens during the growing season the tree will quickly drown!  I have learned this the hard way on more than one site!  Plant the tree into the unimproved clay rather, and add any soil amendments on top as a mulch, or perhaps (especially if they are "nasty" amendments like humanure or roadkill or some such) buried in holes BESIDE and not UNDER the roots.  In many heavy clay soils it is often a good idea to plant the trees on shallow mounds, or even little raised beds, and the soil in these mounds can be thoroughly improved since the excess water can drain down and out.  The only exceptions might be if the trees are on a pretty good slope, or perhaps the mound portion of a swale, or some other such freely-draining location.  This is mostly a problem for young trees, so if your mounds gradually settle and level out as the trees mature it won't be a problem.  Some varieties are worse sensitive than others and often grafting rootsocks are chosen for "sogginess" tolerance.
 
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plant bare root in January/February. early fruit tree blossoms can get wiped out by frost in spring so plant that stuff on high ground. plant sapling/seedlings with a dibble bar or hoedad and planting will be much easier quicker easy task.
 
Jamin Grey
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Michael Cranford wrote:James and Jamin, thanks for the breadth of your counsel: lots of good advice, in particular on the time horizon for ordering as well as counsel around the bare root/container decision.  I reached out to a family-run tree farm here in NC that has been in operation for over 100 years, so I'm hoping for good success.

Watering is obviously a big deal.  I walked the orchard area today and I think my "Phase 1" tree count will be around 40.  So the question is, what's your watering strategy?  Time and frequency seem to be all over the place depending on who you ask, and method is a big question as well.  Are you using soaker hoses, broadcast sprinklers, large watering cans :)?



I ran 1" PVC down to my trees about 200 ft, where I have three water outlets at different spots. Each water spigot has one or more of these water timers on it, which I got off Walmart.com or Amazon for $50 apiece. (The timers need to be taken in each winter, but other than that, they are weather-proof and the oldest ones have lasted me four years now, so I just keep buying more).
The three outlets on each individual water timer I have connected up to 1/2" irrigation tubing which runs to different groups of trees. I use Rainbird irrigation tubing, which has expensive components/connectors/drip-nozzles when buying in tiny 10-packs on Amazon or at home improvement stores, but cheap when buying in bulk at Rainbird's online store. I buy the Rainbird tubing from Amazon for $45 a 500' roll, if I remember correctly. I've also gotten other tubing on extreme discount (85% off) from the clearance section of Rainbird's online store, which I use for vegetable garden stuff.

If I was to set it all up again from scratch, I'd probably using electronic water outlets, but I was looking for a cheaper solution.

Because it's downhill, I can drain the water outlets for winter, so the pipes don't burst by freezing. Depending on rainfall in spring, I don't have to setup and turn on the irrigation until May. Even then, I often get a rain, and click the "Rain Delay" button on my water timers, delaying the irrigation for 72 hours after the rain.
I irrigate everything for 1 hour every 4 days, and the irrigation drip nozzles I have on the irrigation tubing limits the flow to 1 or 2 gallons per hour, so it's basically 2 gallons per tree every 4 days. The downside is, I have the nozzles near the trunk which is good when young, but as they get older I want to move the water further from the trunk to encourage roots to spread out. I haven't figured out a good solution for that yet.

For newly-planted trees, I just water the new trees manually with a bucket in addition to whatever irrigation line they happen to be on. I need the exercise, and it's not far to walk - I usually don't have more than 10 new trees at a time, and they're usually not too far apart, plus I can fill the buckets at the water outlets in the orchard itself. I water the new trees every other day for about a month, then every third day for about a month, and then peter off at let the timed irrigation provide the rest, unless it's a particularly hot day.
 
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Unless I buy from a big box store I do not have the choice of bare root or not. Let's face it, you can get ok trees from the big box stores but they aren't great.

Stark Bros does have nice trees but I like the roots and trees I get from One Green World better. They just have bigger roots and thus survivability in my climate.

I am wondering why you are limiting yourself to apples and pears. I like to plant everything and see what does the best.

Like previously said, more light is better, but eh if that's the area you have make it work!




Now for the watering question, I bought drip irrigation this year and it's a game changer. My trees are alive. :P
 
Dennis Bangham
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I agree with Elle's question. Why apples and pears?  
I suggest looking at the fruits that are easier to grow and require no chemicals to prevent disease or insect damage.  Go to <<  http://conev.org/fruitbook9.pdf  >> and look at fruitbook9 and the "Most Resistant" side of the list.  
I am having a great crop of Jujube and had a good crop of Asian Persimmons and Asian Pears until the squirrel plague of 2019 hit my place.  I just planted Figs and Pawpaw, pomegranate, Che and Kiwi.
 
money grubbing section goes here:
Dave Burton's Boot Adventures at Wheaton Labs and Basecamp
https://permies.com/t/119676/permaculture-projects/Dave-Burton-Boot-Adventures-Wheaton
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