January 16, 2016

Urban Micro Orchard: Year 2


The 7 apple trees in the micro-orchard did very well in the beginning of the season, we ate our first couple fruits in the fall, and got plenty of production from the companion plant understory. Overactive management on my part led to the destruction of 2 trees in late summer. Nevertheless, I have high hopes for next year!

You can find a post about the design of the orchard here, and a review of the first growing season here.



Growth
Last season's growth was modest but steady, so the trees entered their second leaf still fairly small. The settling of the excessive snow fall we saw in the Boston area last year cause a few of the training canes I had set up for the angled branches of the espalier to come loose, but luckily I noticed and reattached them as the snow melted down.

I did the pruning in March. It was not much work, because the trees were so little. In two cases, I didn't get branches where I wanted last year, so I put a small notch above a bud or small growth on the trunk to encourage the branch I needed to fill the design. I headed the leader a little above where I wanted the second rung of branches, and cut back the first rung branches a bit to even them up and encourage more growth. Here is the center tree, the Wickson, after pruning.


A double neem holistic orchard spray (recipe included in my year 1 post) was applied at about 5mm green tip, no spray while the blooms were open. The flowers were open in early May, coincident with some bulbs we planted the previous fall.


It was such a lovely sight after all the snow and cold we endured through the winter.


The trees started growing quickly after blooms fell off, and I had to scramble to keep up with pinching to remove errant growth, stimulate branching in the case of the central leader, and to stimulate spur formation on side growth from the rung branches. Also added bamboo canes for the chevron pattern trees, and lashed down growing limbs to their guides throughout the season.

As the leader would get up to the next wire or set of canes, I pinched it to encourage branching, then allowed two branches to grow out over the guides and the leader to proceed up to the next level. This worked out very well, and I have only one missing branch on the Ashmead's Kernel which I need to try to rectify next spring with a notch.

I did a couple guerrilla grafts onto trees along the bike path for practice, using prunings off my trees. Some of them made it.


The sprayer got a workout putting on holistic orchard spray something like every two weeks. A half tank of spray would quickly cover these small trees, so it wasn't a big deal. I was hoping to stay ahead of Cedar Apple Rust, and indeed it hit my trees a lot less than it did the previous year. On the other hand, the trees are now more established and the spring was fairly dry. So not sure how much the liquid fish, kelp, EM-1, molasses, and neem in the spray helped.

In any case the trees grew out around 50+cm, which I'm very happy with. I don't think I'd want them to go more than that in a season anyhow.


Several trees have reached the end of their allotted area on the first rung, and the second rungs are about halfway out. Third rungs grew out enough to receive grafts this coming season, to hopefully begin realizing my multigraft espalier plan. Right now I have a spreadsheet where I constantly shuffle in and out varieties which I want to put on. I think I have picked out 21 total varieties. Not sure how many I'll actually graft on or what my success rate will be, but it's fun to daydream.

The Goldrush tree is perhaps the best looking specimen at present. I intend to graft a scion to the leader above the fourth rung and let it grow up to form rungs 5 and 6, while stimulating Goldrush branches below the graft to grow into rung 4.


In early August I cut a few lengths of willow bough from a tree on the bike path and fashioned them into a heart shaped guide to grow the center tree upon.



 Just after I did this, that tree died. What a blow!


Fruit
I think only the Wickson and the Rox. Russet bloomed, and to my surprise set some fruit. I probably would have been better off stripping all the fruits and letting the trees focus on making wood, but I couldn't resist leaving two fruits on each of those trees, justified by the reports that those varieties are high in vigor so I might want to slow them down a little anyway.


The Rox. Russet did grow a bit less than the Goldrush right next to it, and gave us two nice sized delicious apples.


They fell off early because the shoulders got higher than the stem length and pushed the fruit off in September.


They also exhibited pretty severe watercore, which I'll attribute to the young age of the tree.


I told the kids watercored apples were considered a delicacy in Japan, which made them even more pleased to eat them up. Violet is about to eat a slice here, while she is showing off the fairy dress and hat she made out of leaves, grass, flower petals, and maple seeds.


The Wicksons fell off in August as the tree was dying, so they were not ripe but we ate them anyway. They did have some of that characteristic Wickson flavor, but tasted unripe and not sweet. Too bad.


Troubles
Biggest problem I had this year was encountered when I painted the lower trunks of the trees with straight raw neem oil as a preventative measure against borers. I had read about doing this both in the growingfruit.org forum, as well as on a forum run by Michael Philips. As it turns out, G.11 rootstock really hates getting covered in neem oil in the hottest part of the summer.

I put on the oil at the end of July, and some weeks later, I noticed the center Wickson looking like this.


WTF?? I posted this issue to the growingfruit forum, and the general feeling was that it must be down to the neem.

4 of 7 of the trees (plus a spare Wickson I had temporarily set between designed-in trees) were on G.11/M.111 interstem rootstock. For some reason, most likely the neem, the roughly 15cm chunk of G.11 was really damaged by the oil. In the case of the center tree, it died all the way around. I could see the bark was dead on the G.11


 while the M.111


 and the Wickson wood


were still live. But over the next month the Wickson top of the tree died out and eventually I cut it off so it's corpse wouldn't taunt me over the winter. Arrgh.


Well, you win some you lose some.

Almost all the plants on the west side of the terrace and orchard beds are doing better than those on the east side. The west gets more morning sun and a little shade in the afternoon, which is the only difference I can think of between the two areas. The pieces of G.11 interstem on the east side suffered more, maybe as a result of being baked in the afternoon sun. While the center Wickson died all the way around, the other G.11 pieces on the east side showed much more damage on the south face of the trunk, with some surviving bark on the north face. This was enough to keep the trees from dying, though the spare Wickson was so crippled I cut it down to put it out of it's misery. The trees on the west side with G.11 were not badly damaged by the neem.

G.30, B.9, B.118 and M.111 all seemed unaffected by the neem treatment, along with all the varietal wood on the tops.

I wrote to Cummins, where I bought the trees, to see if they had any advice. Here is our exchange:
----------------------------------------------
>> Hi guys, I bought 8 apple trees from you about 1.5 yrs ago, most on
>> G11/M111 interstem. Everything was doing great until this summer. At the
>> end of July, I painted straight raw neem oil on the trunks, as an attempt
>> to kill borer eggs/larvae. I don't know that I would have borers, but I
>> had
>> read from two different sources about painting on neem and it seemed like
>> a
>> good preventative measure.
>>BOTH PLUM BORER AND DOGWOOD BORER, WHICH ARE THE MAIN CULPRETS, PRETTY WELL RESTRICT THEIR ATTACKS TO BURRKNOTS.  APPLE TREE BORER IS PRETTY RARE.  I THINK YOU TOOK SOME VERY BAD ADVICE.
>> About a month later, the whole upper section of one of the trees abruptly
>> died, and some others started looking terrible. With some investigation,
>> I
>> found that the interstem piece of G11 had died all the way around the
>> tree,
>> while the lower root and top variety were still alive. On the ones that
>> were looking bad but not dead, the G11 was dead in some places but still
>> partly alive in others.
>>
>> The only explanation I can think of is that the G11 really hated getting
>> coated in neem oil in the summer heat. All the varietals on top, some
>> G30,
>> the M111 roots, and some B9 and B118 seemed fine. But the G11 was really
>> affected. So probably a self inflicted wound on my part with the neem
>> treatment. Doh!  DOES SOUND AS IF G.11 IS PARTICULARLY SENSITIVE TO CONCENTRATED OIL.  I'M SURPRISED YOU GOT LITTLE OR NO DAMAGE ON OTHER STOCKS.
>>
>> On the tree that totally died up top, the M111 lower root is sending up
>> some vigorous shoots now. I'm thinking of trying to use the two years of
>> root growth there by grafting to them in spring either using a bark graft
>> to the cut off little trunk or else a whip and tongue onto one of the
>> shoots if it gets big enough.
>>
>> For the space I have, growing right on M111 will get much too big without
>> a lot of continued pruning work, so I am still attracted to interstem.
>> I'm
>> hoping you may be able to give me some advice:  IF YOU HAVE GOOD GRAFTING SKILLS, THEN PUT IN A 10-INCH PIECE OF G.11 OR BUD.9 EARLY IN THE SPRING.  YOU COULD GET LUCKY BY ALSO INSERTING A VARIETAL BUD IN THIS INTERSTEM ABOUT 7-8 INCHES ABOVE THE BOTTOM GRAFT.  IF BOTH GRAFT AND BUD TAKE, YOU HAVE Y OUR TREE RESTORED.  IF BUD DOES NOT TAKE, YOU CAN STILL REBUD IN THE SUMMER.
>>
>> - Do you have any experience with B9 on M111? Or should I just put G11
>> back on as interstem?  BUD.9 MAKES AN EXCELLENT INTERSTEM.
>>
>> - Do you think grafting on the M111 roots is a good idea? Or should I
>> just
>> dig it out and start over with maybe just a non-interstem G30 or G202?
>>
>> - Do you think the neem coating is the likely culprit, or should I be
>> looking for a different problem?  I VOTE FOR NEEM OIL.
>>
>> On the trees that the G11 died only partially, I'm entertaining the idea
>> of doing one or two bridge grafts from the M111 lower root up to the
>> varietal. Maybe this is crazy. It would certainly be more advanced
>> grafting
>> that I have yet attempted, but it seems like a shame to just dig out and
>> start over.
>>CRAZY, YES;  BRIDGE-GRAFTING MM.111 WOULD EVENTUATE IN A FULL MM.111-SIZED TREE.  BUT YOU COULD BRIDGE USING BUD.9, G.11 OR EVEN G.30  AND GET WHAT YOU REALLY WANT.  ANOTHER POSSIBILITY, IF YOUR INTERSTEM IS NOT TOO HIGH ABOUT THE SOIL:  INARCHING -- PLANT A COUPLE OF LIN ERS OF , E.G., G.11 OR BUD.9, JUST AS CLOSE THE THE TREE AS POSSIBLE;  THEN GRAFT THE TOP OF THIS IN JUST ABOVE THE DEAD INTERSTEM.


Companions
The other plants in the bed mostly did very well. They show the same pattern of thriving more on the west side, but the east side plants did ok too. We ate plenty from the bed this year, and enjoyed it's assortment of flowering and interesting plants. Review of Alliums here, herbs and greens here.

Daffodils, Tulips, and Muscari were great their first season, we'll see if they can make it past that especially with the squirrels digging everything up twice a year.


The irises I planted in summer 2014 were lovely.


One of the oriental poppies from last year had died, so I put in another from the nursery.


 They don't seem to be thriving though I so may need to find a different plant for those spots.

An interesting exception to the tendency for the west side plants to do better than the east side was seen in some annuals I tried to grow up poles and onto the as yet unused upper wires of the tree trellis.


On the west side I grew a Sweetmeat Oregon Homestead winter squash up a pole. It was doing pretty well and looking neat in the orchard, until it was dispatched in a matter of days by what I think was squash vine borers.


A couple plants of Cosse Violetta purple pole beans were grown up a pole on the east side too. These did awesome and made tons of delicious beans from a small number of plants, seen here encroaching on an Opalescent apple tree.


On the west side, I tried to grow Blacktail Mountain watermelon and scarlet runner beans up poles. They did germinate but then languished and remained small. My theory about that: these are summer growing annual crops that can deal with the heat and afternoon sun of the east side, and exploited the scarcity of other plants there to thrive. On the west though, the soil is already dense with other perennial plants which maybe competed more vigorously with these annuals. Additionally, it is on the whole probably slightly less sunny.


Plans for 3rd Leaf
The biggest issue to sort out has been what to do about the dead tree in the center. The shoots off the M.111 roots are not big enough to graft to and really slowed down as the season progressed. So I'm concerned the M.111 roots suffered by having the top of the tree die 2/3 of the way through the season. My friend Ben convinced me that rather than messing around with complicated grafting on a highly compromised tree that may never fully recover, I should just bite the bullet and dig it out to plant a new tree. So I ordered a King David on G.222 from Cummins to put in this coming spring. The King David is more resistant to Cedar Apple Rust than Wickson, and I was aiming to graft some on later anyhow. After letting the first two rungs grow out King David, I'll graft it over to Wickson.


I may try to inarch a piece of G.30 rootstock to the Ashmead's Kernel on the east side which was weakened by the neem incident.

I also intend to graft some upper parts of other trees to begin my multigraft journey. Right now for this coming year I'm aiming to add Esopus Spitzenburg, Calville Blanc d'Hiver, Bramley's Seedling, Chestnut, and Karmijn de Sonnaville.

The two Sorrel plants will be divided, and I'll start shaping the onion plantings more aggressively. Hopefully I can get a perennial leek patch going too.

A couple parting pictures: Violet reading a book in the garden in fall.



Snow on the orchard in January:


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cool experiment. I am about to plant a row oblique cordon apples in a 7 meter space, all old varieties on M111. I am on sand in a hot climate and the grower I have been in touch with says he has no luck with the other rootstocks in anything but perfect conditions. M111 is a an oldy but goody. Read a lot about warm climate growing from Kevin Hauser at Knuffle creek california. I am in Australia so it gets pretty warm. Anyway, good to read your blog, Hope your trees thrive, great to see people growing apples I used to eat as a kid in England, shop stuff is so boring.