The orchard is located in my front yard of the house my wife and I purchased in July of 2002. Looking at the future orchard site only a real visionary could see any sort of planting there, but the location was right and the site had a lot to offer. We are located on a southeast slope in the shadow of Long Meadow Hill but on a raised terrace above the valley below. The site offers excellent air drainage for spring frost and winter low protection, and the surrounding woods serve to trap heat and release it slowly, giving us an extra degree of protection. Our frost-free season is easily a couple of weeks longer than Montpelier, down in the river valley, and our site actually tends to miss the last couple of frosts that our neighbors with more open cover see. We are located at just about 1500 feet above sea level in USDA zone 4 (average annual minimum low temp -20-25 F). There is no question that I am pushing this zone with some of the apples, and I intend to do so with future plantings of peaches, grapes, and other foolish things.
After hand-clearing the brush in fall 2002, a soil analysis was conducted which showed need for nearly everything. The pH was 5.1, well out of the range of the 5.8-6.5 that apples prefer. I lugged some bagged lime and horse manure to my intended tree holes and dug them in with a very small excavator. With winter approaching, the site was still very rugged with stumps and shale ledge poking out everywhere. I felt half-heartedly that I could plant in the prepped holes in the spring and prepare the rest of the site as I got to it.
Spring 2003: The nice, even cover of snow melts, and with my trees on their way, I can see that the place is nowhere near ready for planting. I parked my trees in a nursery row for a season at the orchard I manage and really get to work on this site. I rented a larger excavator and dug out all stumps, moved ledge, and got a feel for where I could lay out the rows where bedrock wouldn't prevent me. Three tons of Ag Lime-Ash (spread by hand) and a small amount of phosphate fertilizer later, the site was twice cover cropped with buckwheat before discing and planting a permanent sod of white clover and creeping red fescue. In the fall the new rows were marked and the site truly ready for planting the next spring.
Before any trees could go into the ground, it was essential to get our deer protection taken care of. I originally thought I would fence the orchard with "Invisible Fence" radio wire and run a dog in the area. After getting a dog for ten days in the winter of 2002-2003, we quickly decided on another plan. It was clear that only a good fence would do the job I needed. I wanted a fence that would give near complete exclusion, be flexible to add to as I cleared the lower terrace, and be as cheap as possible. I finally decided on an eight foot tall, ten-strand smooth high tensile electric fence. After some careful planning the supplies were ordered from Wellscroft Fence Supply and the fence installed by myself in just a couple of days in April 2004. The total cost of the fence was around $1000, a small price for the complete protection it has offered. We fenced a total of an acre at first which allowed us to include protection for a garden and some other planting space. It doesn't work on turkeys or woodchucks, however, and I've had to pop one of the latter off the front deck with the .223.
Trees are finally planted from a mix of the 2003 and 2004 orders. The planting is laid out in eight rows oriented north-south. Between-row spacing is fourteen feet for semidwarf trees (M7, G. 30, M 26) and nine feet for dwarves (M. 9, Bud. 9, G. 16). In-row spacing is eight feet and six feet, respectively. At this tight spacing I will be training to a slender spindle or vertical axe system with regular limb renewal, heavy cropping (hopefully), branch spreading, and leader renewal.
The plan is to continue clearing and planting ovet the years, with an eventual goal of 1-2 acres in apples or 2-300 trees.
All material Copyright Terence Bradshaw 2006-2013
terryb at lostmeadowvt dot com