Stefan Sobkowiak

permaculture orchardist
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since May 28, 2014
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Recent posts by Stefan Sobkowiak

It's called plastic mulch. You can find it from suppliers of 'plasticulture'. We used 4 mil (which is 4 thousandth of an inch thick). It comes in different widths rolls. We expect it to last the life of the orchard (30-50 years). As for the leaching from plastic it usually happens in the first few months so using a thin film like 1 mil, as is used for vegetable production, leaches out during the season and again the next and the next with successive new plastic mulches. Using a thick one mulches in the first few months and no more in the following years. It's a choice, I chose work saving with the mulch. If you have less than 100 trees go with organic mulch and reapply it every 1-2 years. If you have more than 100 trees and want to go with organic mulch invest in a mulch spreader. There are good ones that fit in orchard rows.
11 months ago

Nick Segner wrote:Stefan-

Thanks so much for your response.

I forgot to mention my zone (8b) here on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state. We are in a rainshadow behind the mountains and have very very dry summers (and only approximately 20" rain/year).

I'm intrigued by the pruning technique.

One other thing that came to mind- the video didn't address flower/fruit thinning. Assuming you mostly grow eating apples, what do you do along those lines?

Nick Segner


Ah balmy zone 8! We have never thinned. I realize I should have last year. With our great flowering diversity we now have TOO MUCH POLLINATION. While others cry about the lack of bees we have an over abundance of bees and other pollinators and will likely have to resort to some type of thinning.
3 years ago

Ann Torrence wrote:
Stefan, our DVD came last week. My husband and I watched it, took notes, stopped it to discuss how to apply various advice to our arid system, and scheduled to watch it again! I missed the codling moth trap-that sounds incredible.

Can you recommend a couple pollinator cultivars to incorporate to make sure we have good coverage. I tried to get only mid-season and later, but no one really knows how different cultivars will perform here. I have Geneva, Snowdrift and Chestnut crab (1 each) in one acre, but I'd like to put something with an extended bloom time in the other parcel as well. Something good for cider is a plus.


Ann if you have enough, ie at least 10 cultivars, don't worry about early, late ... By planting NAP's or equivalent with other fruit species you will automatically get a mix of cultivars that are more than likely compatible. In fact we held a course at the farm with a French expert Dr. Evelyne Leterme and her observation was that we have TOO MUCH pollination. We should thin our fruit trees to prevent overbearing. We have never thinned. We have so many pollinators and cultivars of the same fruit that we get too much of a good thing. Crabapples are a good insurance we have a few as well.
3 years ago

Ann Torrence wrote:I wonder if the alfalfa in the alleys would be defeated by 6 mil plastic...


Ann my question is why would you want to defeat the queen of legumes in the alleys. It is just benefitting the trees in the rows. Alfalfa is the deepest rooting legume we have and I presume you have as well. Usually down to the water table after 3 years. Then nothing stops it. It can be mowed 4 times in the summer and creates a great mulch. The animals love to graze it, especially the fowl. We use a mechanized version of chop and drop we call mow and blow. When the grass and alfalfa is more than 12" we cut it with a sickle bar mower, we can leave it in place or let it dry for 1 day and them mow and blow it. If it's less than a foot high we usually just mow and blow so the chop goes under the trees.
3 years ago

Michael Qulek wrote:I've read that another fruit that birds prefer to cherries is Mulberry, so I planted Illinois Everbearing next to my cherry trees.


Michael the key to any 'Lure crop' as they are known is TIMING. The fruit of the lure crop must ripen at the same time or just a few days before the main crop you want to protect. In our area mulberries fruit too early for cherries. 'Illinois everbearing' is not reliably hardy here but may be a good choice.
3 years ago

Zach Muller wrote:

Stefan Sobkowiak wrote:Give the tree 4-5 years or 3-4 years of care to get it off to a good start then STUN. I made the mistake in one block of trying it from planting year and now have STUNted trees.



Hey Stefan, thanks for all your contributions and insights on the forum thus far, so awesome of you. I would love to hear more details on your experience with timing the STUN. I have been thinking a lot about how much to water for proper establishment of my trees. Also in my forest garden there are always tree seeds germinating, so I have to decide what to weed out and what to allow. Some thing will germinate uncontrollably like mulberry, hackberry etc. so utter neglect means these natural growers will take hold. You mention letting the tree go at planting year, and 3-5 years, did you have any species that made it after being let go after 2 seasons of care?


Zach the only one that made it with minimal care is honey locust. Fruit trees that are STUN in our poor sandy soil give STUNted results. Not recommended. You mention mulberry comes up easily then get some scions of the best cultivars and graft them onto seedling mulberries. You will have seedling vigour, uninterrupted roots and desirable fruit qualities. Just consider working with your site.
If you want to grow good fruit give them good care since if you loose early years of good growth they will never catch up once they start to bear. Good care means NO GRASS competition and sufficient water.
3 years ago
Sorry I missed the second part of the question.
Limit your tree to 12-14 branches and you will get a commercial crop.
Each branch below the horizontal should be left intact or almost so and the pruning is simply the removal of growth BELOW the branch. This growth is usually shaded anyway so not as productive. This is pretty well the only pruning you do to a branch. Do not cut the tips. The branch continues to be productive by adding a little bit of growth to each spur which will give next years fruit. Eventually that spur bends down with the weight of fruit on it and becomes a spur or branch below the branch which you will dormant prune off. We use a heavy glove and just rub them off. Try it since you already understand that that branch angle is productive.
As a transition to having a fully trained tree I dormant prune one or 2 of the most vertical main branches each year until I get a tree with all branches below horizontal. Follow up with 1-2 years of summer training and you will enjoy years of FAR easier pruning. My tress have gone from: OK where do I start (since there is so much to remove) to now Ok is there ANYTHING to remove. A dramatic change.
3 years ago

Nick Segner wrote:Stefan-

Thanks for your great film and taking the time to answer questions on this forum.

I just got the DVD in the mail and had to borrow a TV to watch it twice now. I was keen to see it as we just bought a small farm with 300 dwarf (M9) apples on a collapsing trellis, without working irrigation and out of control as it hadn't been pruned in a few years. We are scrambling to adapt this orchard to organic/permaculture/soil food web practices.

I have two questions:

1) First, you mention that your apples are also on dwarf rootstock, but there wasn't any info on trellising in video - do you use one? Conventional "wisdom" is that dwarf trees are trellis dependent but have you found a way around that?

2) Second, I am kind of stunned by your training technique after having read a lot of other material on pruning.. My understanding was that branches should be ideally at a 45 to 60 degree upward angle and never at a downward one that you utilize. I know that the tree won't have a lot of vegetative growth at downward angles and the branches in our orchard that are sloping downward DO have a lot of fruit but how do you keep regenerating growth to have 2-5 year old branches that will bear the most fruit? Is it simply because you prune out any branches that are 50% of the size of the trunk that encourages enough new growth?


Good questions Nick. I don't see where you are from but likely USDA zone 4 or warmer as you use M9 rootstock. We don't use a trellis. Some trees get a stake for a time so they will grow straighter. We occasionally prune to allow a straighter tree. We have apple trees on M26 which is a little larger than M9.
2) I really need to give a few pruning and training workshops in the US. Your pruning and training practices tend to be behind the times. The French primarily from the research at INRA originally led by Dr. Jean-Marie Lespinasse progressed the art and science of pruning to a simple and far more efficient system. Being in Quebec and functioning in French I have followed their work and taken a 1week training from them. Fantastic. It has cut my pruning time by 80%. Training branches to a 100-120 degree angle (resulting in below horizontal branches) produces branches that are fruitful instead of being branchy. In the end do you want to grow branches or do you want to grow fruit. Each tree has a limited amount of energy and will put it into branch growth or fruit growth or both. Focus the trees energy in its youth to grow branches and once mature to grow fruit.
3 years ago

Bill Erickson wrote:OH my, Stefan has done an awesome job there. What hardiness zone is it there in Quebec? That looks like something I'd like to try myself, along with the hugelkultur I am planning for my properties. Not sure what a good nitrogen fixer would be for my zone 3a to 4b areas.

Most standard size fruit trees require around a 25 foot spacing, with dwarf and semi-dwarf getting down to 10 to 15 feet. There is also the need for cross pollinators for the fruit.

Very interesting video.


Bill I am in the same climate zone as you are. Zone 5b in Canada is USDA zone 4b.

John Saltveit wrote:That rock pile looks great to attract garter snakes so they'll eat your slugs and snails. I plan on making one of those myself, whenever I get the mythical "enough time". Nice thing about carnivores-they won't eat your plants!
John S
PDX OR


Nice touch adding rocks for snakes. The absolute best site I found for snakes is a similar pile made from old road pavement (asphalt). Black to absorb and hold the heat at night, a snake magnet!
3 years ago