Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Wolf trees and more planning for the wildlife orchard

The wolf tree I took out today was an old Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) that was originally growing on a rock pile. That gave it a head start over the competition and allowed it to sloppily sprawl out with multiple trunks.

My photography is getting sloppy. This is from a slightly different angle. The tree had some massive, dead Poison Ivy vines clinging to it.

I started sticking in surveyor's flags to get a sense of what the actual grid would look like.

The intention is that hunters will harvest deer heading toward the dining room. However, if it is late in the season and the person in the Swamp stand doesn't have meat in the freezer, I wanted to set up the orchard so he/she could efficiently take a deer out of the orchard.

My current plan is to not run the rows square to grid but rather to have them align in the radial direction from the Swamp blind. Think of spokes in a wheel where the Swamp blind is the hub. The rows will be more widely spaced at the north end than at the south end.

That puts them something like 27 feet apart at the north end. I can either put wider growing species/varieties at the north end (like Spigold apple or Chinese Chestnuts), I can plant the trees more closely in the row or I can plant some short rows between ends of the spokes.

Looking at the surveyor flags, the twenty-by-twenty foot nominal spacing looks very sparse. There are several places on the internet that will happily sell me additional apple and pear rootstock at about $3 per. This might be one of those times when it makes sense to clean out my "nursery" AND buy rootstocks to get the baby trees in the ground at a nominal 10' within the row and 20' between the row spacing.

How long does it take?
That is a tough question to answer.

A post from summer 2015 and a post from spring 2018
Both of the cohorts from those two posts are of a size where I expect forty pounds of fruit from them in fall 2020.

This is one of the rootstock from the 2015 cohort. As you can see, it is only about 15" tall at the time of the grafting.
Before you get excited, I had irrigation and I fertilize my trees aggressively to fill their allotted space. Once they have "filled the hole" I back off on fertilizer and (sometimes) spread their branches and they tip into bearing.

Some apples and pears are precocious. Yellow Delicious, Liberty, Jonafree, Honeycrisp and Crimson Crisp are precocious apple varieties. Asian pears, Kieffer, Anjou, Blakes Pride and Harrow Sweet are precocious pears. That is, the trees bear fruit soon after planting.

Less precocious apples include Northern Spy, Red Delicious and Fuji and many heirlooms. Most pears are NOT precocious.

Realistic expectations
In Michigan on a decent site (soil, sun), forty pounds of fruit per tree five years after popping the tree in the ground. By "tree", I mean a tree that was grafted and grown in the orchard for a year before you bought it.

Assuming I planted the quarter-acre on 10'-by-20' centers that would be 2000 pounds of fruit (fifty trees X 40lbs of fruit per tree).

The top-end of fruit production on a quarter-acre will be 10,000 pounds of fruit a year. A commercial grower isn't in the hunt unless he exceeds 50,000 pounds an acre almost every year. But OUR wildlife trees are don't grow on trellises, have trickle irrigation, dedicated bee-hives, petiole analysis to optimize fertilizer, 14 hours of sunlight a day....

A realistic expectation, after the trees fill their canopy, is for the quarter-acre orchard to produce 5000 pounds of apples, or the equivalent of 20,000 pounds of fruit per acre.  Canopy fill is mostly a function of how far the trees are planted apart. In a happy, perfect world after the trees recover from the shock of transplanting, the width of an apple tree canopy will grow by three feet every year. Rows that are twenty feet apart will take at least  seven years to kiss.

I know I have a few readers in Texas and I suspect most of you are nodding off.

Apples (and persimmons and pears) grow in Texas.

"Heck no!" you say. "It is too hot."

According to this site, Cripp's Pink grows well in Southern California. Fuji and Granny Smith are of higher quality when grown in hot climates. Gala is like a Honey Badger, it doesn't care what your climate is. Gold Rush suffers a wee bit of sunburn when the actual temperature exceeds 110F. Reverent Morgan originated in Houston, Tx.

Another page on the same site claims that Lady Williams apple is grown in Malaysia.

Although I have never done business with them, Womack Nursery of De Leon, Tx appears to have a good selection of Texas-tough apples and pears and persimmons at reasonable prices.


  1. I get by far the most pounds of apples per tree from Wolf River. But I'm 6 miles from Lake Superior so that may make a difference. I like buying from Stark Brothers Nursery--ken

    1. Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting.

      I grafted a branch of Wolf River onto one of my trees but it was slow to come to bearing.

      One factor that is rarely talked about is day-length. Most apple trees "decide" if they are going to produce fruiting or vegetative buds around the summer solstice. I believe that some varieties demand much longer days than others.

      Ironically, some of the most cold hardy cultivars like Centennial, Chestnut, Kerr do well even in the deep south. Must be the M. baccata genetics.

      Others, like Keepsake, are very shy bearers below the latitude of Cincinnati.

      It is a case of each grower having to try things out for themselves on their unique site.

    2. Thank you for writing your blog. I enjoy it a lot. We have similar interests and I value your thoughts.


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