Over the last few years we have experienced a great number of guests visiting us at Kimmel Orchard. Along with all the family fun and educational activities at the orchard, the biggest attraction for us in the fall months is of course, APPLES! We have noticed larger crowds throughout the months of September and October and we want to be able to provide the growing number of guests with apples throughout those months. We currently sit on 98 acres and since we cannot stretch the ground, we need to become more economical with the way we use it. That is where the decision to start planting high density/tall spindle tree plots has come into play. In today’s blog I will provide a brief description on what exactly a high density orchard is, the effectiveness of them, and how in the long and short run this decision will benefit the orchard as well as our guests!
High Density Orchard Plantings
A high density/tall spindle orchard (pictured below) consists of dwarf apple trees planted in close spacing with relatively narrow rows. For example, this last year we planted our trees three feet apart from each other, with 12 feet in between rows. This model will allow us to plant roughly 1100 to 1200 trees per acre.
That is a lot of trees compared to a traditional 12’X18’ vertical axis orchard planting (pictured below) which would only generate roughly 400 to 600 trees.
You will also need a good trellis system for these trees. We will use posts every 30 feet or so and four or five wires to help support these trees. The posts will be 10 feet out of the ground. We will also use bamboo stakes to help support the central leader of the tree and promote upward growth (I wrote about this two weeks ago).
When comparing a high density/tall spindle orchard to a vertical axis orchard; the question often arises, “how in the world can those small trees produce more apples than the bigger trees?!” This question can be answered by saying, sometimes bigger is not always better. It would take a vertical axis orchard 8-10 years to produce the amount of bushels per acre a high density/tall spindle orchard could produce in 5 years. The biggest difference in how you achieve that number is the fact that a high density/tall spindle orchard could (and will) come into production (if trained right in the first year) in the second year, as opposed to 4 to 5 years on a vertical axis plan.
Along with higher yields in earlier years, fruit maturity and color are also improved with a high density/ tall spindle orchard. With fewer branches and fewer leaves, the fruit on these trees will receive more sunlight causing both maturity and color improvements. Some other benefits of planting a high density/tall spindle orchard are: non-permanent simple branches (we will talk about these in a future post), a thin tree, and much improved labor efficiency. Although there is a little more time involved when getting this orchard established, the labor reduction that results from simple pruning when the tree has become mature is extremely desirable in the long run.
As mentioned, this was a very brief description of what a high density orchard is and we will continue to write about this style of orchard planting. I believe we are on the right path at Kimmel Orchard and taking the most efficient steps in continually providing our guests with the fresh, locally grown apples that everyone loves.
In the next blog we will be writing about renewal pruning of high density orchards.