Saturday, August 8, 2009

Operation Apple Orchard

Having received our five little apple trees a month or so ago, it was time we actually got them into the ground now that they're definitely dormant. We ordered a selection of dwarf varieties from Digger's Club which includes Rome Beauty, Snow, Jonathan, Gravenstein, and Vista Bella, which should mean that we have enough for cross pollination and a range of early through the late harvest.

Like all of our backyard garden projects, phase one involved lab-proofing the area where the new trees were going. We managed to pick up two lengths of wooden lattice from Whyte's Gully for $40. These were cut in half lengthwise to give us double the length and enough to fence off the bottom corner of the yard as a mini-orchard.

Next we planned out the spacing of the apple trees and dug the holes and put in a stack of clay breaker. After these had a few weeks to settle, we started work the last phase. The plan was to sheet mulch the ground of the orchard with newspaper and mulch to conserve water and also to give our new trees less competition from weeds and the ever invasive kikuyu. We had recently helped our neighbour seriously prune and remove some bottlebrushes that had gotten too big and were taking over his clothes line. All the prunings had been thrown through a chipper we hired so we had a nice big pile of mulch.

The clay breaker was struggling with our heavy clay soil, so we decided to backfill the holes with some "vegie soil" (leftovers from the load we bought to top up the vegie patch) and plant the apples into small mounds and built up the area in between them with mulch.

For each apple tree we made a small mound, hammered in a stake (made from branches pruned from other trees that had dried out), up-ended the trees from their pots, teased the roots a little, then spread them over the mound and covered with more soil until all the roots were firmly covered and there was a small "well" at the top of the mound. We trimmed the trees to 30cm about the graft, as per the instructions that came with them, and loosely tied them to the stakes with bits of old pantyhose. The trees were then watered in with some seaweed solution to help ease the transition.

The area in between we covered with wet newspapers. We had about three wheelbarrow loads (courtesy of my parents saving their newspapers, thanks!). It didn't quite cover the whole area, but was enough to start with. We then covered the newspapers with a thick layer of mulch. Later, once the newspaper and mulch have had a chance to rot down a bit, we're going to put in some ground cover plants between the trees.

The end result, as the Cunning Plans Dept put it, looked like some sticks, tied to some other sticks, surrounded by lots of little sticks, but come spring there will hopefully be some new green growth.

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