Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Tale of Two Apple Trees.

Saturday, we planted trees. Apple trees. To be more precise and risk sounding pretentious, we planted organic, heirloom apple trees.
I'm beyond excited.

I've coveted apple trees for awhile now. The thought of walking to the forest, plucking an apple, sitting by the river and eating a homegrown snack just sounds so...romantic. Plus, even our picky kiddos like apples. Honestly, who doesn't like apples? (Well, my niece does blow up like a balloon if she eats them, so I suppose we can count her out.)

Still, the dream of apples growing in our backyard seemed unrealistic.

Peter is an avid NPR listener. And on NPR, we have a terrific, local call-in gardening program, with experts from Clemson University's Home and Garden Information Center. During one of these segments, a caller asked about starting an apple orchard in our region. The hosts informed him that apples don't grow well in South Carolina, and he should pursue other ideas.

Our apple tree idea was—pardon the really bad pun—chopped down.

But then, last May when I was selling plants at the Slow Food Earth Market in Greenville, I had the pleasure of meeting Creighton Lee Calhoun, Jr. Mr. Calhoun's booth was next to mine, and he was promoting his book: Old Southern Apples: A Comprehensive History and Description of Varieties for Collectors, Growers, and Fruit Enthusiasts.

People were lined up, waiting for their turn to purchase this comprehensive tome of the pomme.

As I tagged plants and made change for customers, I told Mr. Calhoun of our apple plight and asked if he could recommend a variety that might do well in our garden. Mr. Calhoun devotes his life to pomology. I figured, if anyone knew an apple tree that could grow in our backyard—he was the man.

(Did you notice the inscription is written to Peter? I might have mentioned to Mr. Calhoun that my husband was a bit skeptical about growing apple trees after his NPR revelation.)

Finally, two weeks ago I ordered our Blacktwig apple trees from Trees of Antiquity. I adore this company's website. I felt like a kid in a candy shop—and could have spend a small fortune on fruit trees. But I resisted.

For now.
Sadly, our UPS guy didn't share the same reverence as I did for our apple trees. There's something—sacrilegious--about leaving Trees of Antiquity apples trees standing on their theoretical heads.

Fortunately, the company anticipated such treatment—the trees were well packed and unscathed by their upside down delivery.

The kids wanted to plant the trees immediately, but Peter needed to clear some space in the garden.
Both kids quickly adopted a tree—without any fuss. Truly, it's a testament to the company that they selected two trees that are compatible in shape and size. (And I'm a thankful mom that they did.)
Also impressive was the detailed instructions included with the shipment. Along with the trees, I decided to order a “starter kit” for each tree that included a tree guard, branch spreader, label, organic amendment, and humates. What can I say? After waiting this long for apple trees, I wanted to ensure the best start possible for them.

So, because it's almost spring and there's still time to plant fruit trees before the heat of summer makes planting rough not only on the gardener but also on the's a bit of information on how to plant an apple tree:

Choosing the variety you wish to grow is a personal preference, but it can also be based on climate, like with our selection. Do you prefer tart or sweet? Will you be eating fresh or cooking with the apples? And—does your tree need a buddy so it can be pollinated and produce fruit?

Any good catalog or website will give you specific information about the variety of apple you choose. For instance, here's what Trees of Antiquity showed about our selection:

Arkansas 1868

“The ultimate in a tart apple. Fruit is medium to large with varying color, usually green to yellow skin that is streaked and flushed red. The yellow flesh is firm and fine grained with tannic juice that adds a kick to sweet or hard cider. Great for eating fresh or cooking, this apple is an excellent keeper and should be stored in the refrigerator for peak flavor.
Bloom: Late
USDA Zone: 6,7,8,9
Pollination: Required
Fruit Storage: Excellent
Mature Size: Medium
Ripens: Very Late
Uses: Fresh eating/ dessert, cooking (puree, applesauce, apple butter), juice/hard cider
Rootstock: Semi-dwarf
Size when shipped : 5/8 to 3/4 inch caliper (width around trunk)
Height prior to shipment: 6 ft.(trimmed to 5' when shipped)
Shape when shipped: Feathered (prominent side branching) and Whips (no branching)
Certified Organic
(Photo from Trees of Antiquity)

If you hesitate to plant an apple tree due to space restrictions, you can find dwarf and semi-dwarf trees or train your tree into an espalier by pruning. You can also plant trees in containers, but you'll need to pay close attention to watering, as containers dry out quickly. Every two to three years, you will also need to replant the tree into a larger container with fresh soil and trim back some of the larger roots to ensure its health.

Our apple variety is grafted onto semi-dwarf root stock, which means the trees will reach an average height of 15 feet. The root stock helps control issues with pests and diseases. Dwarf root stocks typically grow 6-9 feet, which is ideal for containers or small areas.

After looking at different varieties, we took a family vote. Our green apple lover—who was outvoted—agreed that Blacktwig looked pretty delicious!

Fruit trees require a minimum of 6 hours of sun daily. According to Trees of Antiquity, though, partial shade during the warmest hours of the day can improve the texture of apples, particularly in extremely hot climates like ours.

Our apple trees are surrounded by a forest, so Peter first prepped the site by cutting out dead trees and branches to ensure the apple trees would have adequate sun. We also battled some native vines that were overrunning the forest floor and cleared them out prior to digging the holes.

Peter dug holes slightly larger than the root system of the trees, and I added some finished compost into each hole. Don't add chemicals or fresh manure into the hole, as they can burn the tree roots.

We positioned the trees so that the graft line was about two inches above the soil surface, then filled the holes with the native soil, tamping down to avoid any air pockets.

Tree Guard
Because our trees are planted in the forest, we added tree guards to the trunks. The guards protect the trees from gnawing rodents, deer, and rabbits, plus it also prevents sun-scald. The spiral guard is perforated to prevent heat build up, and according to the directions, should be removed and reinstalled annually to prevent girdling.
The installation of the guard was easy—starting at the base, wrap upward to the first branch with the overlap of the spiral pointing upwards. Two minutes of time to install the guards, and they will hopefully keep our babies safe.


I added more finished compost surrounding the trees, and our girlie spread the organic amendments around the trunk. The organic amendment was part of the “starter kit” I purchased. According to the information, it is certified organic and “...ready to provide the Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, and Calcium in plant available form. It is also alive with microbial life, humus, organic matter, humic acids, and more.”

In other words, good stuff!

In addition to the organic amendments, we also received a bottle of humates, which are comprised of humic and fulvic acids. These activate the availability of soil nutrients, mobilizing them for uptake by trees and plants.

And it is—whew—stinky.
We diluted the bottle of humates with a gallon of water, then watered the trees with it. (One gallon water and 4 tablespoons humates per tree.)

And finally, we added a layer of leaf mulch to the planting site.

Once the trees leaf out, they will require regular watering, at least twice a week throughout the first season. Always check the soil before watering, particularly with containers—which will most likely require daily watering.

And—that's it. Now, we wait.

Sunday morning, our girlie went out to the forest in her PJs to check on “her” tree.

The trees were still there, she reported. They hadn't walked away overnight. And they seemed "happy."

Now, I need to convince her to share "her" apples with us this fall!

Happy planting!

XO ~ Julie

1 comment:

  1. Apple tree at home! That's incredible!
    Your kids are so lucky to have homegrown apples!
    Here we buy them with expensive price and i bet it's full of pestiside!