Returning to Our Roots // Apple Trees
It's finally happened! We've planted the next steps in our kitchen garden... apple trees! I am so so excited. The more steps we take, the closer we are to having a small, sustainable homestead. How cool is that? We now have four berry bushes, raspberries and blueberries, and three apple trees: two Honeycrisp and one Golden Delicious. Yum!
My dad, Kurt + who we lovingly call Grumpy, and Tad decided to get down and dirty in the mud to plant our little baby apple trees the other day. We drove out to the Amish greenhouse and picked our favorites (we love honeycrisps over here!). The berry bushes are planted behind the studio, to the south, and the apple trees are on the west facing side. When we start building the other pieces of our garden, the greenhouse and chicken coop will be built on the east facing side and the vegetable beds will be on the north side, in between our two studios (yes! two!). My dad will have his own workshop inside our new garage. And I'll let you in on a secret; we're dreaming of owning the property on the other side of ours, which just went into foreclosure, so that we could combine both of the yards! That's a lot of room for chickens to roam (;
You will want to choose your variety of fruit based on their characteristics, bloom time, and pollen compatibility. Our next-door neighbors have a few apple trees which are beginning to bloom (that I am currently unaware of the variety), and the employees at the greenhouse said those would help with cross pollination to our trees. There are a few trees like, "Grimes Golden," "Golden Delicious," "Red Delicious," and "Winter Banana" that will give you the best results for cross pollination. We picked up a Golden Delicious tree for ourselves. A crabapple tree is also a great pollinator. Our trees and our neighbor's trees are a short distance away so that the bees can travel back and forth between them.
As far as planting goes, it is best to plant in the spring, especially if you are located in central and northern areas. We are planting closer to fall, which may work against us, but so far it has been a very moist summer and we expect it to be a moist autumn as well. This will help the trees immensely! The employee that helped us at the nursery said it would be a good idea to spread mulch around the base of the tree, but to not touch the actual trunk of the tree. The mulch will help retain moisture to the roots, but if it is too close, the roots will rot.
There's Grumpy, who you never get to see! He's working all of the magic behind-the-scenes, building us amazing places to work in and all of our displays. We love you, Grumpy!!
So, the next question after choosing which kind of apples we wanted was how to care for them. We've never cared for fruit trees before, so this was something that we needed to do a little bit of studying up on. After reading up on what type of apple tree to purchase, we read that it might be a good idea to find a rootstock that was "dwarfing" or a smaller tree, which is easier to care for and harvest. Each of our seedlings are dwarf trees. You want to try and aim for a seedling that is at least one-year-old so it has an established root system. Dwarf trees will bear within 3-4 years and yield around 1-2 bushels per year. If you were to purchase a standard-size tree, you would get apples within 5-8 years and have about 4-5 bushels of apples a year.
You must also make sure that you plant your trees far enough apart and away from any buildings. Here is Tad helping measure the distance from the studio! We planted our trees 12 ft from the studio and 10 feet apart. A dwarf tree needs to be planted about 4 to 8 feet apart when planted in a row. A trellis or fence may be a smart move to build near your dwarf trees so they have some support, as they can be easily uprooted. It's also not a good idea to plant apple trees near a forest or other trees as this can throw everything off balance. Though we do have a large elm near the back of our property, thankfully the other mature apple trees will help balance this out!
When you have planted your trees, do not fertilize them. At least not yet; if you were to fertilize directly after planting, you could potentially burn the roots.
After the trees have matured, which will be when Tad is school-age! Oh my, that seems so far away, and yet it really isn't at all. He'll be able to take an apple to his teacher... which might be me - ha!! Anyway, where was I? When the trees are mature, you can start caring and tending to them. While they are still growing, you do not need to prune. Unless there is a broken, misplaced, or dead branch, any excess pruning will delay the tree's overall growth and slow its ability to begin fruiting. If you must, you can rub off misplaced buds before they grow into branches and/or bend a stem down and tie with string for a few weeks to slow its growth and promote branches and fruiting.
When the tree is fully grown, it needs regular and moderate pruning. The tree will need to be pruned of vigorous, upright stems which generally grow at the top. Remove any weak twigs and shorten stems that become too droopy, especially if they are growing low in the tree. Stubby branches that become overcrowded can be cut away or shortened. Some branches will decline and not produce as much fruit with age, and they can be clipped away to make room for a younger branch.
Tad was really enjoying the mud we made after dowsing down the freshly planted trees. I quickly removed his little shirt before it got ruined! Though, it was extremely resilient to water, which was surprising and yet not surprising at all. Chasing Windmills makes all of their clothing out of merino wool, which is sweat and water resistant! Woohoo!
I think one of the most interesting things to me about caring for apple trees is the maintenance of the fruit, thinning the fruit out and also making sure to remove any rotten apples that have fallen to the ground. Our neighbors no longer tend to their trees, but they have offered us to eat all of the fruit we like. We picked a few apples the other day and they were almost flavorless! There are a ton of rotten apples lying all over the ground, which now makes sense. Cleaning up and thinning the fruit ensures better tasting apples, even if that means having a smaller crop. You'd rather have a few really yummy apples then a ton of okay-tasting ones - I feel the same way about friends!! (;
There are several pests to look out for when it comes to caring for apple trees. Deer, mice, and rabbits are all threats to your fruit. We don't witness many deer traipsing through our yard, but there are several rabbits hopping about. Like a lot of rabbits. They've already devoured our little sunflowers! We'll have to find a way to keep them at bay; perhaps wire-mesh around the bases of the trees will help, though that's not very pleasing to the eye! Apple maggots are probably the biggest concern to look out for; I've read that sticky trap balls painted red will help to catch them! Apple leaves fallen to the ground can also make your trees sickly, so rake those regularly. By pruning, you are reducing the risk of disease and pests! You can also hang a solution of 1 cup vinegar, 1 cup sugar, and 1 quart water in your apple trees to keep insects away.
That's all of the information I have for you so far! I would write about how to harvest apples, but we're definitely not there yet. A few more years, and we will have some delicious apples to eat, bake with, and share with friends!! I am loving this kitchen garden journey more and more.