Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The New Face of Apple Orchards

I showed one picture in yesterday's post on the apple harvest of the 'new face of apple orchards' in Ontario, high density plantings of new varieties, on dwarf rootstock.  Global Fruit, a large orchard on the south side of Clarksburg where these pictures were taken has pioneered these new orchards, and now it is becoming the norm for new plantings.

These new orchards are planted at 2, 3 or even 5 times the density of older orchards,  moving an orchard from as few as 300 trees per acre to as high as 1500.  This is an expensive investment up front, but there are a number of advantages.

You can see here how closely together the trees are planted in the rows - as close as 2-3 feet.  You can also see the obvious bulbs where the tree is grafted onto the dwarf rootstock, and the fences that are used to support them, like old-fashioned espaliered apples.

The rows are not nearly as close together, but certainly closer than in typical low density orchards - here about 10 feet.  In this design the sprayer can drive down over top of two rows, spraying inwards toward the trees, with very little escaping to the atmosphere above, unlike the big open air spraying in older orchards.

And a big advantage is lower labour costs, as you don't need tall ladders to pick these apples, making harvest quicker and easier.  Productivity per acre is significantly higher and it looks like a great crop this year!

The apples in this high density orchard are 'Red Prince', a new harder variety for long storage and use in late winter.  The biggest difference such orchards make is earlier harvesting in the life of the trees, within 2-3 years of planting.  You have to consider the economics of an orchard over the life of the orchard.  The planting investment is up-front, and if you need to wait 5-7 years for harvest, that's a huge up-front cost.  Getting trees to start bearing fruit earlier is the biggest economic benefit of these high density plantings.

And the entire orchard is surrounded by fence high enough to deter the deer (as well as fine chicken wire at the bottom to deter rabbits), to protect that big initial investment.  These are the type of orchards now being promoted in Ontario apple-growing regions, and rapidly being adopted as more profitable over the long run.


  1. Thanks for posting this. I find it quite interesting as our friend (I mentioned that in your last post's comments) is trying this. I hope you don't mind if I share this with him. I'm sure he knows all about it but it's nice to see such a great crop on these trees and will encourage him. I haven't heard of this variety of apple but they sure look good.

  2. How very interesting. Any additional yield per acre is good! Thanks for taking the time to share these lovely photos.

  3. Hmmm. ... reminds me of the farming in Illinois, where the corn is now so close together there isn't even room to walk between the rows. But if it works!

  4. Wow - amazing photos. We have seen one orchard like that near here and now I understand their plan. Most of the apples in Washington are grown across the mountains in the central part of the state. We haven't been over there for a long time and probably there are many orchards like that over there now too.

  5. I haven't seen any of those kind here yet. Interesting. Although espaliered fruit trees is really a very old method of producing accessible increased fruit, it's interesting to see it used commercially.

  6. An orchardist I worked with years ago was switching to dwarf trees on wires. He said that harvesting from ladders caused a loss of 10% of the fruit for each step the picker was up a ladder -- due to bruising and dropping. If he was right it makes a lot of sense to go low.