Recipe for an apple orchard

Well we are finally finishing up planting apple trees for this spring! It has been a real challenge getting them planted in between the rainy days. It seems just when the ground dried up enough to plant, we would get another inch of rain and have to wait again!

The recipe for an apple orchard has changed a lot over the years. Back in the 1930’s and 1940’s, it was common to plant trees 35 feet apart or more with 40-48 trees per acre. Those were the big old spreading apple trees that you climbed as a kid. They were huge, often 24 feet wide and just as tall. And planting was simple. Just plant them and in 5-8 years you would start getting some apples! When the trees got older, it could take a man all day to pick two trees!

Today things have changed greatly. The recipe for one acre of orchard now looks like this:

  • 1,200 apple trees
  • 102 treated 12 foot posts
  • 7,250 feet of high tensile wire
  • 1,200 ten foot x ½ inch steel Conduits (pipes)
  • 2,400 wire clips
  • 4,800-6,000 feet of plastic tying tube.
  • 3,600 feet of drip irrigation line
  • Various other hardware.
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So let’s get started! The trees are planted 3 feet apart in the row and the rows are 12 feet wide.

 

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Posts are placed in the ground 36 feet apart to support the trees.

 

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2 holes are drilled in the post for the support wires. The wires are fed through the posts for the entire length of the row, and then they are pulled tight.

 

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Next, a conduit is placed by each tree for support, and clipped to the wires.

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The the tree is tied to the conduit every 2 feet as it grows. This supports the tree, which would fall over if it was not tied.

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The new planting looks like this at the beginning of the second summer!

This is obviously a simplified description of the planting process. Hundreds of hours of work go into each acre in the first year alone! If everything goes perfectly, we should begin to pick some fruit off the new orchard when it is three years old. Oh, I forgot. Just add sunshine and water! (and a few other things!)

Hope you have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

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6 thoughts on “Recipe for an apple orchard

    • The old style orchard produced 500-700 bushels per acre. These new plantings should produce 1200-1500 bushels per acre. But the real difference is this. Those old trees were 18-22 feet high–a lot of work and peril in both harvesting and trimming. And a high percentage of the apples were #2 grade because they grew inside of the tree away from the sunlight. The new system at 11 feet high is much easier to harvest and trim and almost every apple gets full sunlight. Percentage of #1 fruit is very high.

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  1. I enjoy receiving your blogs. I always learn something new. Plus, it allows me to open my yap at social functions, making it appear I’m somewhat more knowledgable! 🙂

    Thank for the blogs and keep up the good work!!!!

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  2. Interesting how the growing of fruit has so thoroughly changed. Used to be, as it had always been, stand alone trees were how orchards were laid out. This most recent method I’m seeing not only here but all the way up the Lake Michigan coast. It very much seems to be the fruit tree growing wave of the future and it’s easy to see where this planting method would improve production as well as efficiency when it comes to spraying and other care concerns.
    Questions: Are the new trees here somewhat more dwarf growing than your typical semi-dwarfs have been? And if you know, who came up with the novelty, where was it initially developed, and how long has it been in practice? Thanks!

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    • Yes these new trees are truly dwarfs. They will be allowed to grow to 11 feet tall as a slender tree with no permanent big limbs. The new systems are being developed all over the world and adapted to fit in each growing region. You will see similar orchards in Italy and Chile and other countries as knowledge is shared throughout the orchard industry. It is especially prevalent in areas where farmland is scarce. Obviously the need to maximize production drives new methods and systems. These orchards will also lend themselves to mechanization in the future since they are so uniform.

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