Would you believe it if I told you we begin planting apple orchards in winter? It’s true! While the coldest time of the year doesn’t seem like the ideal time to start a new orchard planting, in our world it is because it also happens to be the only “quiet” time in the orchard.
You might be surprised to learn apple trees are grown quite differently today than what we recall in storybooks or maybe even from farm tours as a kid. Today, many growers use a trellis system to grow apple trees, planting the trees at higher densities (closer together) in hopes of producing more fruit per acre. The trees purposefully won’t grow very tall or wide, and from a distance, it will appear we are growing a wall of fruit rather than individual trees. The main reason behind growing trees on a trellis is that it makes the many laborious jobs required to grow great tasting apples (pruning, thinning, harvesting, etc.) much easier on our crews. With a shorter tree to tend to and less branches and growth, our crews can work from the ground level or on a harvest platform, rather than ladders.
At Stemilt, a new orchard planting starts in the winter season but we won’t plant a single apple tree until the weather warms up. It’s important that an apple tree is planted after the frost season and – most importantly – when water is available to hydrate it.
So, what are we doing in the winter when it comes to planting a new apple orchard? Everything else! First, we map out orchard rows with a tractor powered by GPS technology to ensure accurate locations for every post and every tree. Next, we soften the ground where the tree will eventually be planted. The irrigation system is built out entirely, beginning with trenching and ending with a finished main line and sprinklers that can be placed at different levels of the tree depending on water needs. A machine will dig post holes for crews to easily install posts and bring the trellis system (which is either vertical or v-shaped) up quickly. Crews run wires from each post and tension those properly to complete the trellis system.
A few months later, when we know that water is available in the irrigation system to hydrate trees, the new apple trees are planted in the ground. Because all the prep work has been done in advance, this process happens very quickly, with thousands of trees going in the ground in just three days. Water is available and utilized the moment the tree goes into the ground to ensure every tree gets off to a great start.
I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into how a new apple orchard is planted at Stemilt. We see these trees as our “babies” and always look forward to bringing them from infancy to adulthood and sharing the delicious fruits they produce with you.