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!