Rethinking apples...

23 October, 2012


One of the things I most love about gardens is that they are never finished. They are always evolving.

And at the moment it is the apples that are about to experience a revolution.

Some of the first trees I planted here were the apples. I came across Woodbridge Fruit Trees somehow (I now can't remember where I read about them) and it was from them that I bought my first apple trees. The thing that sold me is that most of their trees are sold on M26 rootstock, which is one of the more dwarfing rootstocks available. M26 rootstock trees grow to about 2-2.5m high, but more importantly, are suitable for espaliering. Most of your average Bunnings variety apple trees are sold on M111 or MM106 that grow to about 3-4m trees. Great if you want lots of one type of apple. Not so good for me when I love variety and want one of everything, which is not possible when there are thousands of varieties of apples, but I can try.

I originally bought three trees, but this has now expanded to a collection of 37 trees. I know, crazy! 22 of them are espaliered in the 'orchard'. Here is a snippet of the main espalier area, where 17 are (or were to be) trained in a horizontal style. Each bed has varieties that ripen at about the same time, and I've chosen ones that ripen from January to July.
 

Here is the St Edmund's Pippin, which is the most advanced in this style so far.


While this one has taken to the horizontal espalier style well, it may have peaked too early. Many of the other trees have grown much straighter, and as the supports of star pickets and wires were only finished in winter this year, have yet to be properly trained. However I have been lazy and not yet cut them back to the lowest wire so they can start branching out and I can start tying down the first horizontal branches.

And now it appears my laziness may come to good purpose.

Now I love farmers markets (this may seem like a change of subject, but bear with me). Over the winter months at a couple of markets I've seen a few nurseries selling fruiting plants, which I have steadily avoided as I don't need the temptation of more plants. Ignorance is bliss! But last month at the Slow Food market at Abbotsford Convent I got drawn into looking at some plants. And joy of joys I came across M26 rootstock apples. Now of course I had to look at what they had, and found an Orleans Reinette, which I had heard of as a particularly good apple. Of course I had to buy it. Whoops, that makes 38 trees. My bad.

But it appears all is not lost. On talking to the purveyor of these fine trees, I got to chatting about how I was going to fit this extra tree in, and he told me about his espaliered trees (of which he has around 300, which makes my poor effort seem insignificant) which he has trained as a single cordons.

Source

Instead of branching out wide, these are trained as a single stem on an angle. He plants them about half a meter apart and gets about 30kg of apples from each (advanced) tree.

I thinks I will be emulating this system. If I retrain my espaliers in this style, I'll not only have less work to train them, but will also be able to fit in more trees. Sold! I will have to think about how I will adapt the current wire system, but will post progress as I go. I'm thinking I can fit around 10 more trees in this space with this system. This excites me to no end.

The other three espaliered trees will remain the same. These are the first apples I bought (a Sundowner, Fuji and Grand Duke Constantine) are espaliered in the KNNN (Knee, Navel, Nipple, Nose) style which I read about on the Woodbridge website, which has heaps of great articles.


These are now on their third year. They fruited for the first time last year, and I have high hopes of more apples this year.


Another four apples are free standing M26 rootstock trees so they won't grow big, and another two are cider apples which are on M111 rootstock so they will take up a bit of room, but I can handle that. 

The other 11 are stepovers bordering the backyard garden beds. Stepovers are grown on even more dwarfing rootstock (M9) which will grow around 1.5m high as a tree. However they are mainly trained as a single low horizontal branch, i.e. low enough to 'step over' hence the name.


The stepovers were bought last year, and are going great guns. The new branches, which are just visible on the left side of the photo, will be tied down as they grow to continue along the wire.



But amazingly, they have actually flowered and look like they will set fruit.


Which is, after all, the point.

12 comments:

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    1. I figure if I put the work in now, I can spend the next 20+ years eating the fruits of my labour. Hopefully things will go to plan! :)

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  2. Oh, thanks for this post. So inspiring. I love espalier, although my husband does not. We could fit so much more fruit in this way.

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    1. So do I! It's the perfect garden equivalent of beauty and brains - they look great and provide so much fruit! But I know not everyone is a fan... fools. :)

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  3. Oh wow that's fantastic. I've planted my trees rather close together as well...perhaps espaliering is what I should be doing too. I do worry about their tangly roots though.

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    1. Go the espalier! I've seen some pictures of people using them as living walls between garden areas, which I think is fantastic. But some rootstocks are not suitable, as they grow too vigorously (or so I've read - I'm by no means an expert). I can't say I've ever worried too much about the roots, though I am conscious of feeding them well so they all get enough nutrients!

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  4. Hi Bek, just wondering what the spacing of your cordons is? Cheers, Emily

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    1. Hi Emily. They are mostly around 70-80 centimetres apart.

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  5. Thanks Bek. Just wondering - did you consider doing double cordons at all? Im just planting a whole heap of apples now - cordons - and Im tossing up about spacing (Ive read conflicting things about spacing - some advice is to plant much closer than 75cm) and whether I can more out of the area if I do double cordons planted at 70-80cm rather than singles..... Any thoughts at all?, Thanks again, Emily. PS I just love your blog.

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    1. No worries. No, I didn't as I have done angled cordons (my understanding is that double cordons are usually straight upright), but with short side branches (around 30cms) on each side to maximise space usage. But I see no reason why you couldn't train two branches in a 45 degree angle as per usual angled cordons. It just might be a bit tricky to establish the first branches. But if you want more trees in less space I'd just go straight angled cordons.
      Good luck, I'd be interested to hear how you go.
      Cheers!

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  6. Thanks Bek. Well I went ahead and tried. I saw it in a book on espalier by....Allen Gilbert so I thought Id give it a try. I also got some advice from some other keen espalier-ers and Ive put a notch in my maiden whips just above a bud which is at the right height and pointing in the right direction to train up next to the existing branch which Im leaving in place. Im not sure if I notched to the right depth, so we'll see how it goes! Im a little nervous as first time apple tree grower. Yikes. Im keen to hear what yield you get from your apples this year. Thanks for responding. Cheers, Emily

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    1. haha, I think I have that book too! I hope the notching works. I've tried it and I think I was always too chicken with my cuts as the buds didn't develop as I planned. Ah well. I will be sure to post on this year's crops. :)

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