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Apple orchard - land prep

 
O. Donnelly
Posts: 12
Location: Hudson Valley Zone 5b
2
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Hi again - question two / thread two on apple orchard planning.

Brief background - planting smallish orchard (0.25 acres, primarily cider apples) in the spring. Hudson Valley zone 5b. Site is flat, 10 acre diverse pasture, hayed by local farms for decades. Soil is a very nice dark loam for 18 inches and then a gravelly loam underneath. Very well drained. Soil very deficient in phosphorus and potassium - likely from decades of haying...

Reading through many forums and Michael Phillips' books on organic orcharding (which are a great read), consensus advice seems to be cover cropping the site for a few seasons to reduce weed pressure and build soil, plant trees, then planting a diverse pasture mix.

If you start out with a diverse pasture environment (grasses, legumes, flowers, etc) why go through the trouble and soil damage of repeated tilling, cover cropping and re-establishing the pasture? If soil organic content is an issue, why not simply mow and allow cuttings to rot in situ for a few summers, or just allow pasture to lie fallow?

FWIW (and would welcome constructive criticism) What I've done / plan to do is: break sod, deeply dig and amend 10 ft 2 stations for each tree; deeply mulch each station for a season prior to planting [this part is already done]; plant trees; deeply mulch around trees at planting; sheet mulch over time concentrically enlarging areas around each tree to smother sod; plant daikon or similar annual into newly sheet mulched area for a season to break up compaction and deposit organics in the subsoil; follow daikon by perennial guilds of accumulators, nitrogen fixers, insectary plants, etc. Will scythe down the aisles (existing grass and legume pasture) to mulch trees along with leaf mold and any ramial wood chips i can get my hands on. I'm hoping with this gradual multi-year sheet mulch strategy I can stay ahead of the growth of the trees while not trying to do too much all at once. Will allow time to grow out all the support plants in home nursery. Will allow sheet mulching / chop and drop to de-compact and build the soil ahead of root growth, will allow a diverse guild to be in place by the time the trees come into bearing... Understory between trees in rows will gradually merge with all the support species; aisles will remain diverse pasture mix.

Does this sound like a good plan?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Posts: 1819
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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When you mulch fruit trees (or any trees for that matter) you can not have the mulch touch the bark of the tree, it will cause to many problems and young, trees die from this abuse.

The chop and drop method works very well for building soil, you do not need to till.

Trees grow roots out to their drip line, some a little further. Tree roots do not go "deep" the average root depth for fruit trees is 18 inches to 24 inches (max).

One thing most folks don't seem to realize is that fruit trees like a bit of acidic condition, usually a pH of 6.0 will do better for trees than 6.5 or 6.7.
Fruit trees also like their P and K to be higher than their N, and they thrive when there is a good assortment of trace minerals present.

Fruit trees that are well established can be less bothered by other plants nearby, new trees don't do well with close by competition for water or nutrients.

Our orchard (as an example) has between trunk spacing of 20 feet.
We have raised beds (4' x 8') mid way between the trunks, the trees are mulched 6" back from the trunks to a depth of 6".
Twice a year compost is spread on top of the mulch, Our mulch rings are out to the edge of the drip line for every tree.

Daikon is a good way to loosen soil but we do that the year before we plant the trees in a new part of the orchard.
When we plant new trees we dig the hole 1' deeper than the root ball and we make it so there is 1' of soil space all the way around the root ball.
we add compost to the removed soil before we replace it.
Roots that are spiraling around are either teased out or trimmed off at planting time.
We water in new trees with a B-12 dilution to stimulate new root growth, this is repeated once a month for the first three months if the trees are planted in the spring, if dormant when planted we wait till the first of march to start the B-12 watering.
We also prune back when planting a new tree so that more energy goes to root growth the first year.
 
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