I have a tendency to add things to the farm on a whim. I am sure my husband hates this but bless his heart, he never says it to me. This week my on a whim decision was planting an apple tree… or four. So I guess you could say we have now started the orchard on our farm.
I have some frozen peaches in my freezer right now for a church event. I’m trying really hard not to eat them. Smoothies, ice cream, pie- all the delicious things that remind me of summer. Having these has made me wish I could find peaches locally or better yet, I wish I was growing them myself on the farm. This was on my mind all summer. Now the temperature is dropping (some but not much) and I am seeing bits of fall starting.
Despite the temp’s being in the 80’s, fall is coming. I can feel it. The trees are changing, the air feels different and even though it is still in the upper 80’s most days, we have been in the 90’s and over 100 most days this summer so I would say we are having some cooler weather.
I keep seeing people canning pie filling online and I have even seen several people mention their apple trees are producing early. And of course, they are all starting to decorate for fall. Living in Arkansas, we do not get fall weather until well into October if even that so decorating for fall is no where on my radar. However, I could not help but think about if we had apple trees. Especially since one of my best memories is at a small home my family lived in before we moved here when I was a kid. On only two acres we had a decent sized garden, laying hens, and a couple of fruit trees plus all of your usual play yard and shop areas. We had pear trees and apple trees and I wish we had those here!
Keith and I ran to town this past weekend to get some boards for our window frames on the farmhouse and I asked if I could run out to the garden center “just to look”. But, I knew what I was looking for and my wheels were turning. I had already looked at a few online nurseries to compare prices. Our Lowe’s had apple trees for much less than the other nurseries and despite being standard trees when I had figured we would eventually plant semi dwarfs and the fact that Lowe’s probably is not the best place to invest in fruit trees, I bought two anyway. I just couldn’t help it.
But you know what this goof ball did? Bought two of the same variety- red delicious. I knew to get two different, I even read it on the tag while standing there to check if the golden delicious they also had would be a good option to cross pollinate. I guess my excitement took over because I got two red delicious and we drove all the way home with two fruit trees hanging out the back window and no air conditioner.
So now I am a proud (a little too proud since I brought them inside and made my family admire them before planting. They almost touched the ceiling.) owner (farmer?) of four apple trees because we had to go back the next day and buy more.
I am so happy to get these apple trees into the ground and start our small orchard. Especially since I ended up with standard trees that can take 6 years minimum but closer to 8-10 years to produce. I don’t know much about growing fruit trees, and I didn’t even buy what I had planned but apparently I like to research a lot then do the opposite of what I plan ha! Regardless, I really want to grow our orchard and add each year. Buying standard size trees will mean I need fewer trees, but even with these four, I have plenty of room in the orchard space and I would love to add a few more trees around the farmhouse. Maybe even a few smaller varieties throughout the property as well for a faster harvest. I’m so happy that this weekend we started our orchard and spent Labor day planting our apple trees.
If you’d like to watch us plant the orchard, check out this week’s vlog!
Planting Apple Trees
I did a lot of reading before buying and planting. Since I bought these at the end of the season at Lowe’s, my options were limited so I am working with what they had. Our soil is also incredibly rocky. I mean, 1-2 feet down in most places is just sheets of rock. So I tried to pick the best place for this where I could fit more of a larger orchard space and plan to add a few more throughout the property if I can.
Dug The Holes
The first thing we did is tried digging a million holes that did not work. Ha! I’m not joking. We even had a tree planted before realizing we had accidently planted it directly under a powerline and that would not work. So we dug it back up and I had to rethink my plan.
I ended up moving the trees up a little further. We have a small pasture area in between my grandpa’s house and my parents. It’s maybe 100 feet by 300 feet? That could be totally wrong but just an estimate. A lot of it is rock. You can see boulders on the surface but there is no other place for an orchard but here so I worked around rocks the best I could.
I ended up deciding that since apples are the main fruit tree I want to grow, I will space them out however I can in this area. There is a power line that crosses about 2/3 of it and a few established shade trees already. So I had a few things working against me. But I think I can fit probably 6-7 standard sized trees in this area. I started at one end with my four apple trees and plan to add the rest next year. Then I hope to add a few smaller peach, pear and cherry trees in around them since I can just piece them in once my apples are more established.
We started by using the auger on the back of the tractor. This is my grandpa’s set up and for our house, it didn’t work out because of all the rocks. I shared the latest farmhouse update and talked about how we dug I think 36 holes for our footers with two shovels, 3 people and a tiller for part of it. This is why. But it was really helpful for putting in our temporary pole and for the apple trees.
We used this to find places where we could reach a decent depth (at least a foot) and get a hole that was not surrounded by rock. It took a bit but we got it and it made digging the holes out so much easier.
Widened Holes and Cleared of Rock and Debris
Once we got our main hole dug, I used a shovel to make the holes wider (as wide as I could for the roots to spread) and to empty the dirt and rocks out.
I pulled as much of the grass out as I could and separated as many rocks as I could, keeping them from going back in the hole.
Planted Apple Trees and Filled Back In
Next, I planted each tree by removing the plant, scoring the roots with my shovel and sticking it down in the hole. I dumped the rest of the soil from the pot into the hole and then covered the hole back in until the dirt hit right where the rootstock was grafted on.
Three out of four of the holes were not as hard to dig or plant as I expected. One though, Keith dug out for me and had to break some of the rock up with a rock bar. It was still pretty rocky around where the tree was planted. I even tried to dig several holes right around it and had no luck but I wanted to be sure it was close enough to the other trees, so I used the original hole. So far it still looks okay but I am keeping an eye on it.
After getting the roots covered, I went ahead and watered the trees- with Ila’s help of course. I didn’t have a good water system in that area yet so I used the wheel barrel to wheel water over.
After a few days, my mom had the idea to place smaller black buckets at the base of each tree and puncture a hole in the side with a nail. This allows for slow watering over time giving the soil and roots time to soak up as much water as possible. Otherwise, the water just rushed away.
We can also use a nail to stop the hole up for the most part to fill the buckets if needed, but I have just been using the wheel barrel or a 5 gallon bucket to fill them since we do not have a water spout in this area yet!
Fertilized and Mulched
Next I just added a bit of compost on top and covered with a bit of straw for mulch. It is still fairly warm right now so I wanted to hold in as much moisture as I could.
Last, I just went through and pruned off any broken branches that were from traveling or when I was planting.
I am keeping an eye out for wildlife. We have a lot of bunnies and deer and I didn’t actually cover my trees. If I notice anyone making a snack of my trees, I will be putting up netting or fencing around to keep them out.
I have been watering the trees daily (sometimes twice) and they are looking great. I am really excited to have this started since it takes so long to see a harvest. I may even add a few semi dwarf or dwarf trees to see an earlier harvest and to have some closer to the farmhouse.
I just picture dreamy rows of fruit trees and my little family wandering out with friends and family on a crisp fall day to harvest apples. I dream of the fabric topped cans lining my future pantry of apple butter, pie filling, and jams. These are the pictures that fuel my desire to add to our farm and produce more of our food on our little country farm.
Do you have an orchard or even a few fruit trees? Any tips? I’d love to hear from others who are growing their farms or orchards with your experience!