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Apple Orchard planning - tree placement

 
O. Donnelly
Posts: 12
Location: Hudson Valley Zone 5b
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Hi - long time reader, love the site. I posted this question on another forum, but also wanted to get advice from you good group of people, especially those who love and grow apples...

I'm planting a small orchard (approximately .25 acres, mostly apple) in the spring. MM111 and B118 rootstock. Site is a potential frost pocket. Hudson Valley Zone 5b. Approximately ten flat acres of meadow surrounded by low ridges. Orchard needs to be on the east side of the field. The furthest row to the east gets morning shade in the very early / very late season until about 11 am. The rest of the site has basically unlimited light. Would it make sense to plant the earlier blooming varieties on that eastern row, to shade them in the early spring to thereby potentially delay bloom? I'm wondering if that would help alleviate frost damage to those earlier blooming varieties. The other consideration is that most of those varieties are the best eating varieties (the rest are cider varieties), and so I need to consider the impact of morning shade on disease pressure. Goal is to be as "beyond organic" as possible, with minimal intervention other than general permaculture principals (soil food web stewartship, guild construction, chop and drop, etc). Will post another related question on a separate thread. Thanks for the help!
 
John Wolfram
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Location: Lafayette, Indiana
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When a tree breaks dormancy is primarily dependent on ground temperature, so the timing of the sun/shade probably won't have much impact delaying the early blooming varieties. Where the sun/shade timing does come into play is when considering fungal/bacterial disease pressure. I would plant the most firelight resistant varieties in the areas that got the morning shade because those trees will stay damp from the morning dew longer than the other trees.
 
O. Donnelly
Posts: 12
Location: Hudson Valley Zone 5b
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Thanks John - that's helpful.

I had speculated that a few hours less sun might delay melting of the snowpack, and thereby delay warming of the soil, but it sounds like that's an iffy assumption and outweighed by fungal pressure in morning shade...

I had also planned to group varieties within rows by bloom time to facilitate pollinators working down rows. I will have 4 rows of trees on an 18 x 25 foot spacing. Should I worry about that? Or again should i focus more on the disease pressure / shade dynamic?
 
John Wolfram
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Location: Lafayette, Indiana
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O. Donnelly wrote:I had also planned to group varieties within rows by bloom time to facilitate pollinators working down rows. I will have 4 rows of trees on an 18 x 25 foot spacing. Should I worry about that? Or again should i focus more on the disease pressure / shade dynamic?

Unless you planning on putting in trees that use crummy pollinators (i.e., pawpaws are fly pollinated) I wouldn't worry too much about arranging the trees for pollinators. I believe honey bees will travel 3 miles to a pollen or water source, so whether the trees in bloom are 18 feet apart or 60 feet apart isn't a big deal to them. In my experience, having a diverse assortment of trees takes care of just about every potential pollination issue.
 
Cristo Balete
Posts: 421
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
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If I had it to do again I wouldn't use trees on rootstock. They don't live as long, and it's going to take them several years to be up and producing anyway, especially apple trees that can live to be over 100 years old on their own roots. It's better to prune them to whatever size you want, rather than limit their growth.

And I would plant them twice as far apart as recommended, and fill in between with nitrogen fixers, flowers and herbs, create an ecosystem/Permaculture design system that brings in tons of pollinators. I have a pear tree that is 1000 feet up a hill from my neighbor's hobby orchard that has pears in it, and my tree never got pollinated until I grew an understory of herbs and flowers. I know pollinators are supposed to fly a long ways, but will they be there in that small period of bloom, especially if it's raining, that's the trick.

Leave a few empty spaces to be able to experiment in the future.

About placement, if you've got direct sunlight from bloom until harvest, I wouldn't worry about the early morning shade. I would be more concerned with strong spring winds that could affect blossoms and snap branches, or winds that could snap branches when loaded with fruit. Early fruit is subject to the last-minute spring storms before everything calms down.

I wouldn't mess with delaying bloom. That means intervention that you say you don't want. A healthy tree that is growing because its location keeps it healthy is what you want. There's tons of varieties that will bloom and ripen under your conditions, so research the best ones for where you are, which might include some old local trees you can get cuttings of.
 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1969
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
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If I had my orchard to plant over again I would plant the trees and bushes on winding lanes that can be mowed between easily. I an planting all my trees this way now. I got thus idea in my head before I read Ben Falk's "resilient farm and homestead" book, but he confirmed it for me and put the fire under me to do it up right from now on. I am now mulching along the tree lane and meeting between. It's a much lower maintenance and more realistic design for me than the random blobs of circles of forest garden guilds that I've seen in many designs.

It is easy, if planting all the plants in a guild at once, for the understory perrennials to compete with small tree. Or weeds, if you don't have time to chop and drop on a semi regular basis in the growing season
 
Ann Torrence
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18x25 is pretty wide spacing. We did 15x20 in one acre, then went back and interplanted on 7.5x20 spacing. The next planting we did on 10x12, all on MM106.
Of course, we don't have the humidity here that you have in the east. More room might help with some of the fungal diseases. But in the UK they are planting in hedgerows for cider these days.


 
Ken W Wilson
Posts: 333
Location: Nevada, Mo 64772
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Fireblight resistance is the most critical selection. I'd try to find scab resistance and if you have cedars in the area, apple cedar rust resistance. I like the mm111 but don't have a mature tree yet. They seem vary hardy. I have a 3-4 year old Winecrisp that would have had a few apples this year except my friend's pet wolf half destroyed it. Haven't tried the other one. Glad you're selecting rootstocks and not just varieties of fruit.

How many trees do you plan to plant? What is your goal? You might consider a few other fruits like pear and cherry.
 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1969
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
69
bee books chicken forest garden fungi trees
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Luckily for me cedar apple rust is mostly a cosmetic problem on my trees. The spots on the leaves do inhibit some chlorophyll production but my apple trees are still healthy and productive despite the cedar forest nearby and the two cedars on my property that have visible galls every year (what weird alien tentacle looking things they are!) The spotty apples still make excellent cider.

I have noticed that when an infected apple tree touches a blueberry bush, the rust spots are transferable, while bushes that are only a few feet away have no signs of spots. I wouldn't plant these plants close together again.

You can always fill the space between far apart trees with other guild plants if you want to go in that direction. I inherited many nice trees that were planted too close together. Think about the size of each tree at maturity.
 
O. Donnelly
Posts: 12
Location: Hudson Valley Zone 5b
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Lots of great advice here. Thanks to all. And keep it coming...

Maybe a bit more detail on my plans. Apologies, I posted some of this on another thread and probably should have combined them...

This spring I will be planting 23 apple trees, 2 plums and 2 cherries. There will be room to plant perhaps a dozen more fruit trees in future years, as well as berries and a vegetable garden. But I'm in the middle of constructing my house so I don't have the time and tools to take on more than what I have right now, and also much of the land around the house is in a very disturbed state from the construction. I will turn my sites on fixing that next summer / fall to prepare for spring 2017 plantings...

The apples are predominantly heirloom hard cider varieties - european bittersweets, american sharps and crabs - as well as a few heirloom desert / culinary varieties. Basically good old varieties that cannot be bought in a store or in a nearby commercial orchard. B118, MM111 and a few Antonovska rootstocks for their larger size, drought hardiness, long life and lower maintenance... On pretty wide spacing. 18 x 25 is larger than any recommendation I have read (but I too had the urge to make it even wider...) The entire thing is an experiment - its hard to find detailed information on heirloom varieties, especially european varieties. What varieties, rootstocks and cultural practices work best or at all on my land? We will see... Its also a bit of a test of the viability of a hard cider operation down the road... And a varietal library for future grafting.

I totally agree with the comment regarding planting a diverse understory... My site is a diverse pasture, with grasses, nitrogen fixers (red clover and trefoil), wildflowers and herbs. And I will be actively trying to increase that diversity within the tree rows.

So far I have scythed down each tree row (LOTS of biomass there...), staked out 3.5 x 3.5' (~10 sq ft) stations for each tree, broken and turned the sod layer at each station, dug down to about 18 - 24 inches, amended with rock phosphate, greensand and dolomite (very deficient soils due to decades of haying without any amendments added), deeply mulched each station with the scythed hay. Each site will have had about 6 months to mellow from this treatment before I re-dig the holes for the trees. I also gathered quite a bit of leaves this fall to allow to decompose.

After planting the trees, I plan to sheet mulch a ~6x6' area at each tree site with cardboard, leaves and the spoiled hay that I cut this past summer. Over the next few years, I intend to gradually increase the area that is sheet mulched between the trees as I have time and material. I plan to mulch an area for a season, follow by daikon or other deep rooted annuals to break up subsoil compaction, and then follow that by perennial mix of nitrogen fixers, dynamic accumulators, insectary plants, herbs and mycorrhizal accumulators. this process will continue ahead of the growth in the roots until each trees' guild merges with the next. I will continue to scythe down the pasture aisleways to use as mulch for the trees. I am hoping with this plan, I can stay ahead of the ever expanding root network, allow the mulching and planting to de-compact and improve the soil, prevent competition within the root zone during the early years of the trees life, allow me time to grow all the support plants in my nursery, and have a fully functioning guild by the time the trees come into bearing. By the time the trees are mature, I envision the trees just barely touching, and the entire row being taken up by trees and the supporting guild, haphazardly mulched, with a pasture aisleway.
 
Cristo Balete
Posts: 421
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
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OD, for what it's worth, heirlooms have been the trickiest trees I've ever grown. They are far more vulnerable to diseases than other trees. It's good that you are spacing them widely. Because we have to put so many years into fruit trees before we see whether they are going to flourish and do what we expected, and be what we expected, you might want to include some modern apples for reliability in varying weather conditions. Every year affects the crops differently, so what we really need are trees that will perform as consistently as possible in our locations. It is also very discouraging when trees fail to perform well, and take up valuable space.

All the great soil prep in the world will not turn around a marginally performing tree that doesn't do well in our zone, in our soil type. I think growers are typically optimistic, and I know I've spent too many years waiting for trees to hit their stride, when they really couldn't and weren't going to. My location does not suit heirloom varieties that haven't been proven to grow here, say, 100 years ago. Modern trees are the ones that have kept my spirits up when things go wrong with the other trees. It's another one of those Permaculture principles, don't do all the same thing, mix it up.

Not sure where you are or what zone you are in, but the M111 only keeps it at 85% and doesn't do well in wet soils. Even if you are in a zone where it is mostly a drought zone, deep irrigation or one or two years of wet weather can set back this rootstock, especially if you have clay soil that holds water. That's why a tree on its own roots will be healthier and stronger because if the roots can't make it in your soil, you'll know right away, and you won't struggle for years deciding whether to take a tree out. If it's going to make it, it will take off like a shot. And for 15% size difference, I just don't see the advantage.



 
John Wolfram
Posts: 632
Location: Lafayette, Indiana
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Cristo Balete wrote:Not sure where you are or what zone you are in, but the M111 only keeps it at 85% and doesn't do well in wet soils. Even if you are in a zone where it is mostly a drought zone, deep irrigation or one or two years of wet weather can set back this rootstock, especially if you have clay soil that holds water.

That's interesting since M111 is often advertised as a good selection for heavy, poorly drained soils. Do you have a recommendation for commercially available rootstock that does do well in wet soils?

http://www.davewilson.com/product-information-general/rootstock/apple
http://fedcoseeds.com/trees/?item=234&cookies=no&cat=Rootstock
https://www.acnursery.com/resources/rootstock-info/apple
 
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