Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree . . . Yet

When a big ole oak has an enormous gash in its side and is oozing black goo, you might suspect that it’s time for the tree to go. Since the tree in question was in the easement between the sidewalk and street in front of my house, the city sent over a service to remove it. It made me a little sad to see it leave in chunks the big truck, but it was also an opportunity.

A neighbor a few streets over has two apple trees in her front yard, right on the road, that are usually loaded with fruit every late summer/early fall. She sends out a friendly note over the neighborhood listserv inviting folks to help themselves.

I love the idea of sharing this kind of gift with one’s neighbors, so when I saw that the oak had left a nice, sunny spot rich with ground up stump matter, I ordered two dwarf apple trees to go into that little strip of earth. Three weeks before the trees were scheduled to ship, I went to work on the spot, testing the soil pH, mixing in some lime to neutralize the acid, adding in heaps of some marvelous chicken poo compost I’d been saving just for this sort of thing.

The trees arrived the week before Thanksgiving: one Gala and one Fuji — you need two trees of different varieties in order to achieve fruit. Pre-pruned (so that the newly planted tree will focus its energy in the root system), they looked like little more than twigs, about four feet high, with tiny stubs of branches off the main stem.

I followed the planting directions carefully, digging two generous holes to allow the bare roots plenty of space. I planted them about twelve feet apart. I gave  them deep waterings and piled up about eight inches of wood mulch at the base of each, taking care not to mound the mulch around the trunk, which might cause rot.

There’s little else to do now but wait a few years. Planting a fruit tree is a long-range investment. Next year, after the trees have grown a few inches and new growth has emerged, I might train the new branches to grow upward by clothes-pinning them to the main stem. In another year, I’ll do a little pruning. After a few more years of training and pruning and feeding, maybe I’ll start to see flower buds for my first crop of fruit. And maybe by the time I retire there will be enough to invite neighbors to share in.

Because that is a long time to wait, and because the trees are so little now that there is still plenty of sun between them on all that good soil the oak tree left behind, I gathered up some leftover seeds from my fall gardening and cultivated a little patch for radishes, winter salad greens, Swiss chard, and cilantro. The seeds came right up the following week, and maybe in early spring they will have wintered over and started to mature, and I will be able to invite my neighbors to pick a few greens and radishes for a salad.

Waiting for the apple trees, those few months don’t seem nearly so long.

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2 Comments

Filed under Community and Citizenship, Gardening

2 responses to “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree . . . Yet

  1. I’M a retired orchardist from Washington State and Phyllis went to high school with your dad. When apple branches grow vertically they remain vegetative and don’t set fruit. Most fruit growers here spread the branches on new trees to grow perpendicular on the main trunk. This encourages them to set fruit (produce flowers) early. Of course, most new orchard planting are high density with dwarfing or semi-dwarfing rootstock. The farmer doesn’t want to wait for years to have a crop and you shouldn’t have to either. We used toothpicks, clothes pins, a nail low down on the trunk with strings tied to the branches, stakes in the ground to tie strings to that pulled the branches down, etc. We also had trellis wires that we could tie strings to and the strings went to the branches. In a new cherry orchard we put stakes in the ground and had maybe 10 to 20 strings going upward to bring the vertical growing branches down to perpendicular. In the second growing season, we picked several tons of beautiful Rainier cherries off of that one acre. YOU DON’T HAVE TO GROW OLD WAITING FOR A CROP!
    Thanks, Ivar

    • Ivar, I have been meaning to tell you how thrilled I am about this advice and I cannot wait to give it a try–just as soon as I have some branches to tie down on my little whips! Thank you so much–

      Allison

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