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5 Keys to Establishing an Organic Orchard

Mulching the orchard

Mulching the orchard. Photo from authors.

The joy of harvesting an apple is so many seasons in the making: After snowmelt, the blossoms are buzzing with bees, tiny fruit swelling all summer, and then harvesting that fruit, sweetness in hand, is so deeply nourishing beyond calories. In this time, when sound bites are seven seconds and media is considered social, deepening our relationships with ourselves and the world around us becomes a healing balm. Indeed, planting a few fruit trees for the seasons and generations to come may be one of the most radical acts of hope and resilience in our lives.

#1: Design for Ease & Access – of the Tree and You!

As you dream of abundance and begin designing your orchard-to-be, ask yourself these two questions, whether you plant 1 or 100 trees:

Where is the best place for a tree (or three)?

Often, as we plan where we might plant trees, we center our dreams rather than those of the tree. When we think like an apple tree, here’s where we would love to find ourselves:

Full Sun – all day, every day, all year!

Deer Protection – in all seasons is essential.

Another Apple Nearby – Did you know that apples need at least one other apple of a different variety within 500 feet for pollination? Wild and crab apples are marvelous, as are planted, named varieties to pollinate each other.

Water Drainage – Well-drained soils grow healthy and expanding root systems with strong anchorage.

Air Drainage – Frosted blossoms won’t bear fruit, so avoid frost pockets and plant apple trees where they won’t warm up too quickly in spring!

Wild Woodsy Meadows are happy places for apple trees! Rich fungal networks, native herbs, flowers and unmowed areas nearby provide biological diversity as well as habitat for beneficial insects to help keep pest populations at a dull roar.

Where is the Best Place for Me?

After (and only after!) we consider the tree’s needs, then we consider our own. Here are some key lessons we’ve learned (and sometimes the hard way):

Close to Home – Are we planting the tree in a place close enough to our home to receive the care and attention it deserves? Trees are dear, so keep them near!

The Better to Mulch You With! How easy will it be to bring wood chips and mulch to the tree? By wheelbarrow? By truck? Slopes are handy for air drainage but a lot of work to haul mulch up! The easier you make mulching for yourself, the more abundant your orchard will be.

Water – Does a hose reach your tree? Is drip irrigation possible? Water is crucial for establishing trees.

Part of the Family – Will we be able to enjoy the bright pink buds as they open in spring? See when the baby birds are flying from the nest? Breathe in the sweet fragrance as the fruit ripens? Care and attention come in many forms and go both ways.

#2: Start Small

In orchards and in life, it’s so easy to bite off more than we can chew – and prune! Trees require a lot of work in their first few years.  This is when they are small and vulnerable to borers, mice, deer and climate shifts. Each tree requires the annual care of weeding, mulching, and pruning.  The better we take care of young trees, the healthier they will grow and greater abundance will surround us all.

#3: Soil Testing is Everything

Whether you’re planting one tree or many, the cost of a soil test is a small price to pay for the precision of soil building that is possible with the insight from a soil test. Especially, as Michael Phillips, author of The Holistic Orchard, often says, there is no sharper tool in your tool box than a soil test.

One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself and future generations is planting fruit trees… …and one of the greatest gifts you can give those fruit trees is testing your soil – prior to planting, and amending it – so your freshly planted trees will sink their roots into rich fungal soils, establishing quickly to surround you with fruit and beauty for many seasons to come.

 #4: The Right Variety Makes All the Difference

There are thousands of apple varieties, each one unique. We love apple pie, applesauce, sweet and hard cider as well vinegar; we also love apples dried as trail snacks and we even love tart crabapples in chutney!

Culinary ambitions aside, disease resistant varieties often surround us with even more abundance.

Here are a few facets of choosing varieties:

Needs & Dreams – Finding the right balance of flavor, disease and ultimate tree size is key. For you, is flavor more important than disease resistance? If low maintenance is critically important, choose disease resistant varieties. The rootstock of an apple determines ultimate tree size from dwarf (10 to 12-foot tall), semi dwarf (10 to 16-foot) to full-size standard trees.

Disease Resistance makes all the difference! Natural resistance to scab and other diseases surrounds us all with that much more abundance. Found in both modern and heirloom varieties, we share bare root stock of a few of our favorite highly disease resistant varieties include Triumph, Goldrush, Enterprise, Crimson Crisp, and Cornell’s latest release, Cordera.

Purpose – Do you dream of your own apples for fresh eating in the fall as well as fresh from the cellar all winter? Are you passionate about baking pies? Some varieties are particularly excellent in very specific ways – like winter storage or for pies – while others are ‘all-purpose’ and enjoyed in many ways. We love to grow many different varieties to savor all the ways apples bring sweetness to our lives.

Season – Here in Naples, NY, in Zone 5, apple harvest extends August through November, with varieties like Goldrush keeping all through May. We’ve planted a diverse orchard so we can savor the spectrum of flavors as well as an extended harvest.

#5: Bring the Biodiversity!

Biological diversity increases abundance both above the ground and below, encouraging beneficial insects that keep pest populations in check while surrounding us all with deliciously medicinal capacities and beyond.

Friends, there is so much to consider when dreaming of and establishing fruit trees to savor for generations to come. We’re honored to join you on the journey!

Don’t be shy & Happy Orchard Planning!

Sow Seeds & Sing Songs,

Petra, Matthew & the whole Fruition Crew

Find everything we’re learning at www.fruitionseeds.com including blogs, a step-by-step and season by season growing guide, how-to videos and webinars as well as our free online course, Organic Apples & Orcharding, to surround you with abundance for years and generations to come.  All of Fruition’s organic apples are both delicious as well as disease-resistant, each with their own unique nuances and qualities, all on easy-to-grow and quickly fruiting semi dwarf rootstock. We’d love to see you here on the farm for a taste test in our orchard one day.