Wake up, apple growers

frank_getchell(4-5 Maine)June 5, 2005

I was a commercial apple grower for many years. I followed the practice of the day, Christms tree shaping of the trees. Today, with four McIntosh I am wondering why that former practice is still relevant. For six years I have pruned my trees without any tops. Everything, pruning, spraying, thinning, picking is carried on without the need for a ladder. I wonder if people are more concerned with growing trees or fruit. Sure, there is a lot of cutting to do, with all the suckers but it is a breeze compared to the old way. I think it could be a good method for commercial growing. Reduction in volume is not much and is offset by other advantages. Think about it. fg

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frank_getchell(4-5 Maine)

made a mistake. should have put it on fruit and orchards. can I tranfer? fg

    Bookmark   June 5, 2005 at 9:02AM
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huisjen(z5 ME)

To transfer, just cut and paste it into a new thread over on Fruit and Orchards (must remember to check that out!).

But, I am interested! We have put in lots (well, twenty or so) of apples over the last couple of years and have deliberately chosen standard rootstocks, both because of the hardiness/longevity issues and because of the deer! Are you training them tall enough so that the deer don't wipe you out, but short enough so that you can do everything with tools on poles, or are they short enough for all hand work?

I suppose deer are less of an issue for a commercial grower with a nice, tall, tax-deductible fence, but that doesn't work wekk aesthetically or financially on a smaller scale.


    Bookmark   June 5, 2005 at 11:10AM
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frank_getchell(4-5 Maine)

Katey, my trees are on standard rootstock. I pick every apple from the ground. No pole tools needed, either.

With only five trees the deer can be more damaging than one might think. My latest ploy is installing motion lights. It looks promising. Frank Thanks for the tip.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2005 at 12:42PM
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softmentor(z9/sunset13 CA desert)

I completely agree. I have been doing this for 20 years and scratch my head as to why people still allow tall trees. When I plant new trees (a lot in the last 3 years) I prune the center height of the tree to only 3 feet above the graft. This does mean you have to watch a little closer for suckering the first 2 years.
The first flush gives me most of my framework limbs, which I clip to 12" and let them flush again, keeping the overall shape somewhat boal shape. We have very intense summers in Indio so I let the trees remain rather dense in the middle, but my costal trees are very open in the middle to allow good sunlight.
With established trees, I am able to keep the fruit wood to about shirt pocket height.
My home trees I keep just a wee bit taller for shade value and ... well, at 6'3", my shirt pocket is a bit taller than some. lol

    Bookmark   June 6, 2005 at 5:18PM
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huisjen(z5 ME)


I've got a pretty good idea of how damaging deer can be, as we had 20 dwarf trees at our place in Washington state (planted by the previous owner) and hardly ever got an apple. There was one deer who I named "Sausage" (as in, "I'll eat those apples one way or another...!") who had little fear of us or a pellet gun and would come right up to the deck of the house.

Here we've been caging everything until it gets tall enough (about five feet, in my estimation) that branches at that height might be above their notice. I'm well aware that one good size buck could clean us out if he catches on. Between the cages and the hardware-cloth sleeve to prevent vole damage (learned that one the hard way) our trees look like they are ready for medieval battle! It's a wonder that so many old apple trees survive around here, but I suppose they got extablished before people got less serious about eating the deer. We often have a herd of six or seven at the far end of the field in summer twilight. Probably what we need is a good old-fashioned poacher. (I've heard rumours about our selectmen, but I won't repeat them here...)


    Bookmark   June 7, 2005 at 4:15PM
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The debate sounds good- to be able to reach all apples from the ground. But I've done that in the past and found that the trees without a "Central Leader" are much more prone to splitting open onder the weight of the fruit load, especially when strong winds are added. I lost quite a few trees that split clear down to the trunk base. From now on I only plant a semi-dwarf 6/10 size(M-111) tree and allow the "Central Leader" to stay with minor pruning. For those using trelis support you have to prune differently.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2005 at 12:25PM
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frank_getchell(4-5 Maine)

I have had no trouble with branches breaking. My trees were well developed though, when I butchered them. fg

    Bookmark   June 8, 2005 at 3:02PM
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geraldo(Cent. WA z6b)

Frank, I think most of us did wake up. Years ago. That is why everyone I know, and I mean everyone, uses dwarf, or at least semi-dwarf, depending on scion. I grew up pruning red delicious on seedling. As a teenager that was my job on the family orchard. A never ending job. Never again.
I use the French Axe system and either B9 or B118, and will never use MM111 again. I know how seedling trees grow and I know how much you are pruning. It is a mistake. With dwarfs or semis, you don't have all of those suckers. There is no reduction in volume, in fact there is an increase in volume, because the trees are 5 or 6 feet apart.
I hear your comment about people growing trees and not fruit. Right you are. I don't prune a tree enough to mention until it is three or four years old and starting to bear fruit.
So folks, listen to Frank and farm from the ground, but use dwarfs or semi dwarfs and not seedlings.
If you have a deer problem then I guess you need big trees.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2005 at 3:06PM
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frank_getchell(4-5 Maine)

Well said, Geraldo, if you want to go with dwarf, ok but if one has trees too tall to service without ladders, then
bring em down to reachability. I stand by my statements.

My deer problems come in the winter when the deer are so short of food that they come and eat my flower buds.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2005 at 11:54AM
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huisjen(z5 ME)

Aside from the deer, many dwarf and semi-dwarf rootstocks have problems with vigor (and outright winterkill) in the extreme northeast (Maine, Vermont, northern New Hampshire, probably much of eastern Canada too).


    Bookmark   June 13, 2005 at 2:15PM
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softmentor(z9/sunset13 CA desert)

is M-111 a dwarf stock? I thought it was a near standard stock, giving 80% or more of full size tree.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2005 at 2:25PM
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A friend on mine who moved to New Zealand for a few years got a job at an apple orchard there as a picker. Her job was to roll around in a wheelchair! The trees were trained very low so that a person sitting down in a wheel chair could reach the fruit. I believe she said that the trees grew in rows so that machinery could drive down between the rows in one direction and the pickers scooted under the branches in the opposite direction. They had some sort of basket devise which held the apples behind the chair.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2005 at 3:20PM
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Spiney(z6 NE Ohio)

This is very interesting information to me. My Grandparent's farm has an apple orchard that is slowly dying off from old age. I am strongly considering taking upon myself to bring the orchard back to life, as it has been a source of extended family gatherings in the autumn.

Deer will be a problem, and neglect my be an issue from time to time as I live hours away. I was considering use MM.106, or compareable, rootstock and grafting from the remaining trees, but I have not found a retail source of this rootstock.

Any thoughts as to how I might go about acquiring this rootstock, or something compareable? Any thoughts or things I should consider, regarding my situation?

Thank you.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2005 at 10:50AM
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frank_getchell(4-5 Maine)

Spiney, planting an orchard is one thing. planting 106 and grafting is something else. Removing old trees to plant them is daunting, too. Sprucing up the old trees is laudable if there is enough life left in them.

I have used 106 and found it satisfactory in zone 4-5, but I planted the tree already on that rootstock. Living hours away does not sound good. fg

    Bookmark   June 24, 2005 at 6:59AM
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