Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Adventures in Fruit Trees

 Well, it was last year, at almost exactly this time, we took the plunge into planting our own orchard of bare root apple and pear trees.  Nine in all!  If you know anything about NH soil, and even if you don't, trust me, NINE trees is a MAJOR undertaking!!  Unfortunately, I wasn't even in the realm of thinking I would be blogging about that adventure so, I don't have too many wonderful pictures.  I will share what I have.
Beyond the pigs are our trees with their water buckets.
The orchard is surrounded by solar powered
electric fence to TRY to keep our the deer.

Let's start at the beginning.  Why grow our own fruit trees?  In an effort to be self-sufficient, why not grow (or try to grow) what you eat the most of?  We eat A LOT of apples and pears.  Plus, my mind is set on ORGANIC apples which are in short supply locally.  Overall, with not an over abundance of long term effort, we decided to grow our own organic fruit trees.  Plus, we were getting bees.  Bees LOVE apple blossoms and apple blossoms LOVE bees!  What a love affair!!!

Anyway, not knowing a thing about how to grow fruit trees I was lucky enough to be able to attend a local workshop with the Seacoast Permaculture group on "Orchard Installation (with bare root trees and shrubs).  I was so grateful for that opportunity!  Surely my trees had little hope of making it into the ground properly let alone surviving without that gathering.  While I do enjoy 'trying' to read through educational books I am very much a hands on learner.  This was the perfect scenario for me.

So, what are "bare root" fruit trees you might ask?  Well, they are just that, trees and/or shrubs with the root virtually fully exposed waiting to be planted.  This is how they will come to you from most orchards/suppliers.  We are lucky enough to have a fabulous orchard not far from us where we were able to get our trees.  Obviously, because their roots are bare/exposed it is very important to keep them moist at all times.  This is easily solved by keeping them wrapped in some sort of wet towel or covering in a cool dark place until you are ready to plant, easy peasy.  They can stay this way up to a week or even two.  As was explained to me, the roots of fruit trees have virtually microscopic branches off of the larger roots.  These will basically die off if left to dry out uncovered which can potentially compromise the health of your tree.  Keep your roots COVERED!

Now it's time to dig your hole.  We actually ended up having to borrow a friend's motorized post hole digger.  Every hole we dug would yield more rocks and actual boulders than dirt.  We'd STILL be digging without that digger.  The hole needs to me much wider than you would think, more than likely at least 3' across or larger.  The roots need to lay out flat and not curl around themselves for best results.  You also want to try and avoid trimming the roots if possible.  Again, we are always keeping in mind what we can do to ensure the trees grow strong and healthy.    Roughing up the sides of the hole is also important to give the roots the best opportunity to actually be able to break through the hard ground.  Flat sides are like concrete to small tree roots.  The instructor at my workshop would actually cut pathways into the sides of the holes for roots that were longer than the hole was wide.  It's a labor of love I tell you!

Unwrap your trees 3-6 hours before planting and soak in a bucket of water.  This will help them get a good drink before planting.  Try to position the tree in the hole so that it is as deep in the ground as it was in the nursery.  This will mean no more than 3" below where the tree was grafted.  Spread the roots out following their natural growth pattern.  Remember, don't curl the roots in to fit the hole.  Always fit the hole to the roots.  Ultimately, you will have a stronger healthier tree with a larger root system, YAY!

Back fill the hole slightly with the native soil that came out of the hole when you dug it and water heavy to basically create a mud pit.  Then, fill in with the rest of the soil.  Really get in there and distribute the soil/mud into and around the roots.  Try to avoid amending your soil with compost, peat, or fertilizers.  The tree needs to acclimate to it's new soil surroundings.  A hole filled with, say, 100% compost will have a root system that stays compact and will not spread out.  Unfortunately, because our holes were filled with, AT MINIMUM, 50% ROCK, we had to do some amending with compost.  So far our trees seem to be fairing well.

When the water has fully soaked in we put a layer about 6 sheets deep of black ink newspaper all the way around the tree.  This really helps keep the area at the base of the tree weed free.  Then apply 2"-3" of mulch in a 3' diameter circle around the tree.  It's important here to NOT bury the base of the trunk of the tree with mulch.  Would you like FREE MULCH???  We were very lucky because the trees all around the power lines up and down our road were being cut back last year.  The tree trimmers were more than happy to drop their chipped ramial wood off at our house for FREE!!  I've also recently discovered that if you have a local arborist/tree service or the like they may also be more than willing to drop off their excess of wood chips.  What are you waiting for???  Call them NOW!

Now, on to watering.  The soil around the tree needs to be kept moist but, not soggy.  A great tip that I learned is to get a 5 gal bucket for each tree.  Put one nail hole close to the edge of the very bottom of your bucket.  Place the bucket at the base of the tree with the hole closest to the tree.  Put a somewhat sizable rock or weight of some sort in the bottom of the bucket.  Don't plug the hole.  This will prevent the buckets from blowing away when they are empty.  Fill the bucket every couple of days and it will drip slowly out over a couple of hours vs. flooding your trees with a hose.  Also, remember to move the bucket one quarter turn around the base of the tree each time you water.  Keeps things even, you know.  Your tree and its roots will thank you for not drowning it.  Keep watering this way the entire 1st season your trees are in the ground.

Watering a newly planted apple tree
We used pea stone around the base of the tree.
Next time I will only use mulch.

Lovely blooms!
Can you see the baby Comfrey plant
peeking out from behind the water

In an effort to try and keep permaculture principles in mind I planted Comfrey and Horseradish between my trees last year.  We'll see soon what actually survived however, both Comfrey and Horseradish have very long tap roots which helps to bring nutrients up from the depths.  This will only benefit your trees.  Comfrey is also great as a green mulch and as fodder for your livestock.  Take caution, though, if you can't afford to have invasive plants in your orchard for some reason or another, comfrey can take over.  Either don't plant any or don't disturb the root system of the plant at all.  When the roots are cut or injured spreading is sure to begin.

I'm no expert at fertilizing.  From what I gather, a good thick layer of good compost at the base of the tree every year should provide enough nutrients.  However, fruit trees need a lot of Nitrogen so, scratching some bone meal into the soil as well probably won't hurt.

This is what happens when the snow is so deep
that the deer can just step over the fence!

Casualty of the winter of 2014-2015
I did, however, see a bud below the break.
I cut off the break above the bud.
Maybe it will survive after all?

My go to fruit tree bible is:

The Holistic Orchard: Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way
by: Michael Phillips

Holistic Orchard link to Amazon
(I do not, at this time, have any affiliation with Amazon)

Thank you also to: Patty Laughlin and the Seacoast Permaculture Group for sponsoring the bare root fruit tree workshop.

I can't wait to hear about all or your fruit tree planting experiences!!!

1 comment:

  1. It's so cool to see this! Well done implementing Patty's techniques!


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