Can you start a private apple orchard on less than an acre
Yes, I started my own apple orchard 12 years ago, on less than a half of acre. My orchard is now producing up to 5 bushels per tree. How I started, I first order 5/8″ bare root whips, which I got for $8 each, when I told the nursery that I was starting an apple orchard. I order 10 Honeycrisp, 10 Connell Red, and 10 Wealthy. By planting these varieties, I made sure I had early and late maturing apples, good cross pollinators, and great eating and baking apples. Today I think nurseries want you to buy 60 of each kind for that price, so you may want to find a few others to buy a few or start with one and learn how to graft, which is very easy to learn and has a high success rate. You can even start your own root stock easily. Please take into consideration it does take time to start an apple orchard. I have spent 12 years learning on my own, but with the Internet today you should be able to start an orchard and see fruit within 3 to 4 years.
Planting Your Apple Trees
When planting first mark off the area (columns & rows), keeping everything straight and square. Then step off approximately 6 long strides (18-24 feet) between each spot and mark where the next tree will be planted. Keeping straight, you will do this in both the row and column directions. When digging your hole make the circumference much large than the tree root system, such as the size of a large beach ball. Make the hole deep enough such that the grafting of the root stock and your apple tree will sit 2 to 3 inches above the ground. I also recommend pointing your root stock step in the direction of the sun, East to Southeast. The sun will help pull the tree toward the graft step giving it early strength. Now this is not required, but why not take advantage of this natural growing phenomenon. Another thing I did, but not required, was to purchase root simulator and placed my tree roots into this water and simulator combination for up to 20 minutes before planting. Advantage, it will give the tree root system a head start and protect them from shock; however it will slow the first year’s growth down. The trade-off is up to you. Once I place the tree in the ground, I add the soil back to within 2 inches of the top of the ground. I then add water to get all the soil to settle around the stock and use a wooden rod or my hands to press the mud in, removing all air gaps. The last two inches I add a peat moss and top soil mix. Also, for the first couple of years I babied these trees by watering if needed and adding fertilizer stakes.
Protecting your trees
For the first 5 years you may need to protect your trees if you have animals, such as Rabbits and Deer. Here is what I did that worked well. I purchased electrical fence post (rods), three for each tree. These are ~1/4″ diameter and stand 2.5 feet tall. I also purchased wire fence and chicken wire. I wrapped the chicken wire (18″ tall) around the base of the tree, with the circumference large enough for the tree trunk to reach 5″ diameter, which now protects you from the Rabbits. For the deer, I took the fence wire, which was 6 foot tall and I wrapped this around the entire tree, cutting the fence into 5 equal lengths and this established by circumference, maybe a diameter of 2.5′. I then used the 3 electric fence post to keep the wire fence spread out as far as possible, from the tree, and slid the fence onto the post, interlocking through each grid in the fence. Now the key here is to keep it in the 6 ft length, because after the first or second year the branches will be pushing through the fence and the deer will nip them. This is the time to cut the fence in half, creating to 3 foot sections and now add them together to make one large circumference that is only 3 foot tall. You then take and slide the fence up your electric fence post so the deer can not touch your branches. After 5 to 7 years you can remove both the Chicken Wire and Wire Fence, your tress should be find.
Spraying Your Apple Trees
I do not like chemicals, so I spray very little. Also, I do not sell my apples, but give them to family, friends, work, the school home-mac class, Ronald McDonald, etc.. So for spraying here is what I do, I wait until the apples are about the size of my thumb or a marble, I then spray them lightly with Bonide Fruit Spray. After 5 to 6 weeks I spray them once more, than I’m done. The apples turn out great, yes not as bug free as an Orchard, but with much less exposure to chemicals.
Now I do not sell these apples as this is just a fun hobby for me, so I give my apples away.