Thursday, April 17, 2014

Planting Our New Home Orchard - The Tall Spindle Growing System

This past weekend was a rather busy one as we finished planting our fruit trees - 14 to be exact.  Most of our trees came from Stark Bros while two of my apple trees and my Asian pear trees came from Adams County Nursery. All and all, I was happy with the trees I'd received.  Obviously, as a home grower, you have less say in what is sent to you, but in the long run, the overall quality of each tree is really what matters.

At the front of our house facing the main road, we planted seven trees - 'Wilson Delicious' apricot, 'Stark Surecrop' pie cherry, 'Shiro' plum, 'Methley' plum, 'Sunrise' pear, 'Shinko' Asian pear and 'Shinsui' Asian pear.  In the middle of our front lawn is an old peach tree that still produces loads of peaches, though I have a feeling it tends to be a biennial bearer.  I removed all of the dead branches this past summer and pruned it a few weeks ago to create more of an open center.  My cherry and apricot trees are self-pollinating, while I planted two plums and Asian pears to cross-pollinate with each another.  I only planted one European pear but my neighbors have an unknown edible pear variety and several ornamental pear trees that I'm hoping will cross-pollinate with mine. 

For the most part, digging up our front lawn was not too arduous.  We encountered several mighty roots and rocks when we dug near where the old maple trees used to be, but all in all, the soil was in decent shape.  Our holes were about 2 feet wide and 20 inches deep.  When planting out our trees, we replaced the soil in each hole with high quality soil mix obtained from a local landscaping company and firmed it well.  I also mulched the top several inches of each planting hole with some amazing leaf mold taken from the neighborhood compost pile behind our home.  We've had quite a bit of rain earlier this week, which I'm sure helped greatly to settle the soil around these trees. 

We encountered much more resistance when we went about planting my row of high-density apple trees in a spot to the side of our home where a row of cedars used to be.  The topsoil was virtually nonexistent and filled with lots of large rocks and tangled roots.  It took us a good 45 minutes to dig each hole and by the time we reached the depth desired, there was nothing but shale. 

 Here is the pile of rocks we removed from the first three holes alone.  

In this spot, I planted 6 apple trees spaced 3 feet apart - 'Red Rome Beauty', 'Gold Rush' and  'Honeycrisp' from Stark Bros, 'Pristine' and 'Daybreak Fugi' from Adams County Nursery and 'Winesap' from our local Home Depot. For those of you who might be interested, I'm growing my apples using the tall spindle planting system.  I won't go into too much detail about this apple growing method in this particular post, but I will say that more and more commercial growers here in New England are switching over to this high-density system of growing apples.  The yields per acre associated with this method are quite impressive, but for the average home grower, I believe it's ideal for several reasons - including early fruiting (possibly the year after planting), limited space requirements, easier pest/disease management and very straightforward pruning.  In addition to these things, I like the fact that I can grow six different varieties of apples in a space that would traditionally accommodate only one or two, and still get a respectable harvest from each tree.  Finally, for our family of three, I'd rather get several modest pickings of many different types of apples stretched over a period of three to four months than one large haul of one variety all at once.

Ideally for this growing method I would have planted un-pruned trees with many short feathers, but unfortunately, this was not an option with the nurseries I'd purchased from. I will most likely miss out on a first harvest next year because of this, but to have apples within two years of planting is still an accomplishment.

Because of the tight spacing, each tree will be supported by a 10 feet length of medal conduit driven two feet into the ground.  I still have to tie my trees to the poles and bend down any existing branches to focus most of the tree's energy into growing the leader, but other than that, most of the hard work is now done.  I really liked how this project turned out and am looking forward to seeing how this particular growing method performs in our small home orchard.  As for now, I can only imagine the wall of different apples that might one day come into fruition.


  1. Good luck on your trees. It sounds like a nice method.

  2. That was a lot of hard work. I hope your babies grow and produce bushels of deliciousness.

  3. Wow - 14 trees! I'm planning to plant a few apple trees in our front yard this year as well but only 3 or 4. Up until your post, I had never heard of the tall spindle system but it definitely sounds interesting.

  4. Wow, couldn't imagine digging that many holes, can't wait to see your fruit harvest and yummy fruit recipes.

  5. I like your planting and your use of the tall spindle system. Do the conduit stakes sufficient to support the trees without a wire tying them all together? Many places suggest a wire to connect the stakes, but I wonder if a home application can get away with just the stakes. Thanks.

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