Last March, we planted a 40 tree cordon orchard on our property, which I wrote about in Discovery Orchard. There were things left unfinished after the initial planting of the young trees as we moved into a busy spring and summer. We have finally completed the support system and protective roof structure in time for winter, as well as learning a few things about the pruning of these fruit trees. Unfortunately, a persistent deer got into the orchard one night and stripped all the leaves off every tree, which altered the pruning techniques we learned to some degree. All the trees came back just fine from this ravage, however, leafing out once again and putting on some new growth along the top leader.
Colin split all the posts we needed from his salvaged cedar collection, a side benefit of his business, Thujawoodart. They are mounted on saddles that were concreted in place when the rows were dug, a total of four posts in each of the four rows. We used airline cable (1/4 inch stranded stainless cable) tensioned at one end with turnbuckles, three to a row placed at 2, 4, and 6 foot heights.
trees planted at 45 degree angle
running the cables
cutting the cable
my dad rigging the turnbuckle
At each tree, I attached a long piece of bamboo with zip ties to the cables, at a 45 degree angle mirroring the angle that we planted the trees. Then the main stem of each tree was gently tied to the bamboo with stretchable plastic ties. We pulled off all the flowers (after they were finished- I had a hard time pulling them off when they were still so beautiful!) to encourage the trees to put more energy into establishing their root systems. The trees sent out side branches during the summer, and when it came time to prune them in August, Colin met with Bob Duncan at Fruit Trees and More to watch how he prunes his cordon fruit trees. That’s when the deer got in, but we did what we could anyways, which was cutting back each side branch after the third cluster of leaves. The leader was tied along the bamboo as it grew.
We also added a watering system to help establish the trees in their first few years. We have a rain barrel sitting on a platform 6 feet high, using gravity to send water as needed to each row using drip tape. The rain barrel is outfitted with a float at the top, which triggers automatic refilling as needed from our spring. It has been hard to keep the rows free of weeds- it seems that the well watered soil is hard to resist for many of the field plants that were growing there before. I have decided to let the clover take over, which seems to do a good job of keeping out the buttercup, thistles, blackberries, and dandelions My thought is to perhaps cut it down or mulch over it again in late fall and allow it to decompose over the winter.
pulling across the plastic
securing the plastic to the metal frame
one side down
finished! The water barrel is at the end of the rows.
Our next challenge was constructing the roof over the rows, something which Bob suggested. He has been growing fruit trees for more than 30 years, and has come to realize that our naturally damp climate makes in difficult to avoid canker and scab and a variety of other diseases after a period of time. He was in the process of covering all his apple trees when we purchased our trees from him last spring. It is not common to put a shelter over apple trees, but Bob considered it to be a major organic solution and something that is easier to install right from the beginning. Covering the trees meant that we could also add some water sensitive varieties like apricots, nectarines, and peaches to our orchard. Colin tracked down long metal pipes that are used for drilling wells, and with the skills of a local welder, he constructed a frame that mounts to the top of the posts, one frame covering two rows, with a minimal overhang. We stretched greenhouse plastic as best we could across each frame, using pvc piping cut into quarters to clamp the plastic to the metal frame and using self tapping metal screws to hold it all in place. We aren’t sure if the plastic will develop any sags with heavy water collection, although Colin did make sure that each roof had a slope for run off.
So long as the deer stay out, we should be looking to begin harvesting next year, and with practiced pruning and training our trees should be in full production in 4-5 years. To read more about the planting and varieties of the trees, please read my previous posting Discovery Orchard.