We’ve owned our little 20-acre farm for about two years now. One of the first items on our to-do list after we purchased the farm from Natalie’s grandparents was to plant some trees—apple trees. We had a good spot for a potential orchard, an unused quarter-acre patch of land that was grown up in brambles and wild Bradford pears. Wild Bradford pears are vengeful creatures, with spiny thorns capable of puncturing a tractor tire. In the spring of 2014, we carefully cleared the pear trees, burnt off the weeds and brambles, and then plowed the patch.
After that, we planted a summer cover crop of buckwheat (which the bees loved) and a fall cover crop of crimson clover.
We also planted the apple trees in the fall, in November 2014. We planted 12 Winesap, 12 Arkansas Black, 7 Grimes Golden, and 1 Lowry. These are all heirloom varieties, which we ordered from Century Farm Orchard in Reidsville, NC. The owner, David Vernon, was very helpful. Both the Arkansas Black and Winesap are nearly sterile, so he recommended the Grimes Golden for pollination. We ordered one tree of the Lowry variety for Natalie’s poppaw’s—his name is Lowry.
The trees are grafted on M 111 rootstock, so they’ll be about 15 feet tall when they’re full grown. We planted them with 20 feet in between trees. It will take four to five years till they produce an apple. With the extreme drought this past summer, it may take longer. Thankfully, we didn’t lose a tree, but several failed to put on much growth this first year.
So what do we do for four, five, or six years? Well, we could just wait. But’s that no fun. Hmmm. I’ve got it—let’s plant strawberries. Yep, that’s what we did: we planted 1,200 strawberry plants between the rows of the apple trees this fall.
Right now, the strawberry plants are under row covers, more to protect them from deer than cold weather. But so far they seem to be doing pretty good. If all goes well (and there’s a lot that could go wrong), we’ll have strawberries in four or five months—and apples in four of five years.