Starting Your Own Orchard

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Starting an apple orchard can be a lot of fun, but will also be a lot of work.

Many days, maybe even years of work may pass until you pick apples.

The one constant your crop is at the mercy of mother nature.

There are many variables an orchard designer has control over: site selection, apple variety, ultimate tree size and tree spacing. However, the weather, bugs and disease are working against you.

If you can keep your apple trees happy, they will provide apples for you. Keep your apples happy and they will make your customers happy.

Site selection

When looking at a site for an orchard, seek ground that has good water drainage and does not lie low in the terrain. These low areas can become frost pockets, in other words, cold air settles in to low areas.

Fruit trees flower in the spring. A late freeze will damage the flower, thus reducing the crop.

Ripening happens in late summer until first fall frost. Frost/freezing can ruin the crop of those late ripening varieties.

Try to choose a site that will not be a frost pocket. If you own land that could be susceptible to untimely frost, choose varieties that bloom late and ripen early.

Stark Brothers Nurseries & Orchards Co. has a bloom and ripening chart for the different fruits that they sell. These charts will help determine those varieties that may do will on your site, in your region.

Finding varieties

Now, given the restraints of your site, your varieties need to be selected.

After considering your frost times, both spring and fall, under-stand that not all apples varieties will grow in Nebraska. Your local nursery will have done that portion of the selection process for you.

There are some 7,500 varieties in the world, 2,500 in the US, but only 100 commercially produced varieties. Pick the varieties that ripen when you want them to; August to November.

Select fresh, baking, saucing or cider varieties. Opinions will vary on what is the perfect apple. Keep in consideration that some varieties of trees will have some disease resistance to Cedar Apple Rust and/or Fire Blight while others have no resistance.

Pollination

Another consideration is cross pollination of flowers.

All apple tree flowers will need to be cross pollinated. In the typical home owners 2 tree orchard, those two trees will need to pollinate each other; in a commercial setting with multiple varieties of apples, pollinating is not an issue.

You can choose apple trees of different varieties but they need to be blooming simultaneously.

Crabapples can also pollinate regular apple trees. Bees can only do their part if pollen is available at the needed time.

Understand, each variety of apple has slight differences in growth characteristics and vigor. These differences vary greatly in the overview of all apple varieties.

Size matters

With an orchard site and varieties picked, you will need to determine the maturity height you want: standard trees (20–40’), semi-dwarf (15–30’), or dwarf (10–18’) trees.

A fruit tree is a grafted, asexually propagated tree. The root stock and above ground portion (scion) are of two different trees. The union of these two parts is called a graft. The degree of incompatibility in that union is the dwarfing agent.

Dwarfing root stock along with the vigor characteristic of each variety will dictate the tree’s ultimate size. These factors will help determine the spacing of trees in the field.

Dwarf trees may be as dense as 300 to 1000 trees per acre. Semi-dwarf trees might be 100 to 300 per acre. The higher the density, the larger the cost, the larger the harvest and therefore the larger the work load.

Overly simplified, trees convert sunlight to fruit, the more sunlight captured, the more fruit produced.

Maintenance factors

Modern high density orchards require more intense trimming. Dwarf fruit trees in orchard settings are easier to trim at eye level versus a lift needed to trim some semi-dwarf and standard sized trees.

Dwarf trees, because of the density, will “cover” better with less chemical spray. All commercial orchards are sprayed weekly throughout the entire growing season. Organic orchards share apples with the bugs.

Modern high density dwarf apple orchards require that all trees must be individually staked.

Staking is not necessary in a regular and semi-dwarf orchard. Staking and training is a must to prevent the dwarf apple tree’s fruit load from breaking branches, not to mention the effects of brutal Nebraska winds. This staking or “trellis system” will cost more than the actual trees themselves.

There are different methods of tree training. Your trellis or staking system will dictate which pruning system you will use. Vertical axis, vase or slender spindle are some of the high density tree training methods.

Production

Because dwarf trees start to produce early, dwarf and semi-dwarf trees tend to get planted more than standard sized trees. High density dwarf orchards are not common in the heartland due to high start up costs and low land cost. Costing 4 to 5 times more than semi-dwarf orchards, dwarf orchards are usually found on the east and west coasts where land prices are much higher.

In our “pick your own” orchard setting, Trees, Shrubs and More, Inc offers a modern high density dwarf apple orchard.

We have 8 varieties of apples ripening from Ultra Red Gala’s in early September to “BraeStar” Braeburn apples in mid to late October.

These trees are trained to a central axis system in a single system with overhead wire and post trellis. Spacing allows for a lawn like grass bed between tree rows.

At Trees, Shrubs and More, Inc., we have plenty of apples, plenty of parking and plenty of smiles.

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