My partner and I are buying 10 acres on the Olympic Peninsula of WA. Part of this is an apple orchard that's about 20 years old and includes 269 varieties of apples! Totals about 300 trees. Needless to say we are beyond excited!
Now, the trees are densely planted mostly dwarfing rootstocks and trellised with metal poles along each trunk and a single wire along the top (at about 7 feet - the height of the trees). The pruning is strange - kind of espalier type, S shaped. Grass is in the rows and aisle.
To begin with, and because it's in a farm tax exemption we are going to continue selling them as hard cider apples to a local producer.
Anyway, a couple things we have to figure out: for one thing, many of the trees are unfortunately girdled by string (tied to the trellis) and plastic tape that wasn't removed in time (the seller is 90 and hasn't been able to keep up). There's peeled bark along these areas (especially along the tape) and along pressure spots where the trees press against the metal posts.. It's turned black there and often the distal portions are dying back. We are removing the tape and string where it hasn't been swallowed by the tree. But should we paint something on to these areas to help protect the trees?
Also, there is possible Fireblight (not sure) on a few rows with dying branches (no dead leaves still attached tho) and peeling bark. On the worse trees (only a few) there is bark peeling down the trunk even. What's a good way to tell if this is indeed Fireblight and if so what should be do about it? A friend recommended Michael Phillips "Holistic Orchard" which we will try to follow eventually but for now we are where we are..
Also the trellis itself seems to be a bad idea- two rows have collapsed completely with domino effect and as I mentioned posts are pressing into many trees. Could we remove this completely or ween the trees off it?
Finally (well more problems/solutions to be discovered I'm sure) there is the irrigation issue. We have a marine climate, zone 8b and pretty sure Csb on Koppen scale. It's in a Rainshadow behind the Olympic Mountains so near desert prairie (yes in the PNW) is bordering us to the west and an inch of rain/mile traveled west is the rule of thumb. We get around 25"/year but almost all of that is in the winter. Summer will be really dry and irrigation of even established trees is common here.. W
Fortunately the soil type holds more water than most in the area as a silt loam.. Water sources are two wells (but not legal to use on the orchard), a pond that even though there's been a lot of rain is only half full and it's fairly small, and the best source is river water off of a gravity fed network (dates back well over 100 years in this area and consists of a series of open ditches routed off the Dungeness river in the foothills of the mountains and predates water regulations but now has an instream flow threshold for the salmon.. Getting off track - the irrigation ditch runs along the east border of the peppery and flows from April 15 to Sept 15.. Flow is very variable and PSI ranges from very low to 60 psi in some areas - don't know how much we have yet..) so the water is there but the irrigation ditch is notorious for sediment and plugs pumps. I'd like to run drip tape to the orchard but hard to say yet it there's enough pressure/clean enough.. In the past he filled the pond with the water and pumped from there but that's quasi legal. Many people pump right from the ditch piping itself but to sprinklers. Anyway I'm not sure which route to go or where to begin - any suggestions?
I can take pictures next time I get out there (we move in in about two weeks.
Dwarf trees need trellis support for the fruit load, or there's a good chance a heavy fruit load could snap the trunk at the graft union altogether. It is an emergency repair.
Sounds like a spindle system, very common in WA.
Your new bestests friends are the cider people at WSU in Mt. Vernon. I would pay a visit, they know their stuff, even if you have to tweak it to a permaculture/organic profile. They can explain what you've got, fireblight, etc. and maybe steer you to a consultant.
There's a couple cider orchards over around Port Townsend, one in particular they are doing way beyond organic. Alpenfire, I met the Bishops at CiderCon2014, real good eggs.
Michael Phillips, get both books. I'm signed up for a copy of the Permaculture Orchard DVD which I suspect will be of use to you too.
20 years is a full lifespan for dwarf trees, so it's not too early to think about what you will replant with. Demand for cider apples is outrunning supply nationally and projected to continue growing, that's good news. You might try for a long-term contract with a cider house, grow the varieties they want. It's a bit late to graft up for next year, so you have time to plan and scheme.
Ok good to know about start to think about the lifespan.. Didn't realize it was so short on the dwarf stock. Can we replant directly into the same rows as we begin to replace trees? Also would be a good opportunity to start planting nitrogen fixing trees and other things in the rows during that process..
Ok - this is why I ask questions - I shouldn't just willy nilly go removing trellis! Makes sense- they are fragile looking trees. We will have to make improvements to the existing trellis then.
Yes, the apples are currently being sold to Alpenfire actually. We are fairly close to Port Townsend. I haven't gotten ahold of them yet but sounds like they almost were reduced to tears when they were told the farm sold. Probably will be glad to hear from us. We need to make more than they had been making on the apples though to meet the farm tax exemption basic income requirement..
Thanks for the WSU Mt Vernon recommendation will also contact them.
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Sounds like an opportunity for a cider and some chat. Between Bear Bishop and WSU you will get the full spectrum of opinions and then have to figure out what you want to do. I don't know enough about replanting issues and fireblight to be of much help.
Here's a link to the video I mentioned.
Also there is the Northwest Cider Association. More ciderists than farmers, but the pioneers had to grow their own, like the Bishops. I see they have a 1 day class on cider orchard management in May for $95 from Grant Moulton out of WSU. That might be your crash course right there.
Interesting thought, Eric. When I read your question about identification, the first thing that I thought of was scionwood. Too late this year for that, but if you have everything identified, you could even maybe sell buds for bud grafting to those interested. (of which I might be) That is something that you cannot seem to find and can stretch out over the summer season. (I did get an offer from the guy that is the head of the Seed Savers Exchange orchard to get some buds from him if interested when I mentioned that people show how to do it, but it is never available to purchase when it is the time to do it.)
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Thanks again for the info. That video is inspiring. It will be really cool to start transitioning it into more of a polyculture. A lifetime of fun!
Will get ahold of the Bishops. I'm sure they're waiting to hear from me.
Also thanks for looking up that Gary Moulton class. I see there's another one in September that we should try and get to. Despite the desperate need for information, we're temp broke after the down payment etc so for now I'm just getting the Phillips books from the library and we can start there.
Take care and good luck on your endeavors as well!
Good ideas. Scion wood is a great idea for our situation and I didn't know about the bud grafting and will look into that. We do have a list of the 269 varieties and which rows/number they correspond to. For buds, we're probably not going to get around to that this season realistically but will keep you posted for next season if you're still interested. And on scion wood next winter.
I've got the Philips books on hold at the library so will check out that borer possibility - thanks.
Thanks so much for that! We have been planning this for the past 7 years since we got back on a trip WWOOFing in South America. It's so exciting it materialized and we were very fortunate to find this specific situation. Good luck in your endeavors as well.
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