Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.
First off, hello there! I'm Nate Poell, a librarian and absolute neophyte amateur orchardist in Lawrence, KS. Let me give you the backstory on how I got my start doing this sort of thing.
I'm an avid homebrewer and cidermaker, and was (still am) interested how the ingredients of those products are raised and processed. In 2002, I planted Cascade hop rhizomes at my parents' place in St. Marys, KS, as an experiment. The bines (please note, that's not a typo -- they're bines, not vines) are still going strong and producing hops every year. A few years after I planted those I got interested in planting apple trees, particularly apples that are raised specifically to be used in cider. I planted a couple trees in downtown Lawrence, and they're doing well and starting to produce reliably now.
In late 2009 my wife and I purchased a house with a large backyard. Given the amount of space, I figured I could fit 16 or perhaps even 20 into the yard and we could still have room for my wife's garden. Discussions ensued. In the end, I purchased a dozen apple bench grafts from Ric Godsil at Wagon Wheel Orchard, a mix of cider and multipurpose apples, all heirloom varieties. One died over the summer, but the rest survived and in late fall of 2010 I situated them in the yard. Here's how they looked then (also note the overwintering leeks in the straw-covered garden bed -- they're still growing today!):
They all survived the winter and the wet spring we've had here in Lawrence, and as I was traipsing around surveying them in mid-April something caught my eye. One of the strongest trees -- I believe it's an Ashmead's Kernel -- had actually sprouted blossoms. Needless to say, that's not really something you want to encourage. All of a young tree's energy should be put into growing up (and out, a little bit), not producing fruit. At best, the fruit would be small and not particularly good, at worst, it would snap the tree in half and kill it. So, I wagged my finger at the tree, told it it was too young, and removed the blossoms, but not before snapping a picture:
I should mention that these trees have not received the red carpet treatment. They get water if they need it, but I haven't added any soil treatments or anything else. Regardless, they're pretty strong and I have a hunch that all of them are going to make it. Next post I'll upload a picture of how the orchard looks now. Stay tuned!