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Old 04-26-2013, 11:32 AM   #1
SeamusMac
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Default Soil and Site Amendment for Apple Trees

Hey all,

I have a parcel of land that I' like to start growing some cider apples on as it's no longer being use for hay. If I were buying land for this purpose , I certainly wouldn't have picked this spot but it's what I've been given so I'll just have to work at it. I'm unsure of the soil pH at the moment but I've been able to find a good snippet of information on the soil composition.

Soil Type: Herbert, typically cropped to corn, small grain or pasture.

Soil Material: 40 to 60 cm of gravelly loamy sand to to gravelly loam over loose, glaciofluvial, sands and gravels; usually stratified. Soil on this site is imperfectly drained and remains wet for the majority of the growing season. Slightly stony but manageable.

The parcel is approximately 100m E-W and 70m N-S (1.75 acres +/-) and has been used for growing hay the last 4-5 years, before which I believe it had lay fallow for quite some time. Air drainage is good and I believe that the old Golden Russet on the corner of the property has cropped each year in the last 3, perhaps more. I'm somewhat concerned about drainage in the lower areas of the parcel and would like to hear some opinions on installing drainage tile under the rows.

I've put some thought into which varieties to grow and a mixture of Golden Russet, Honeycrisp, Northern Spy, Cortland, McIntosh and Gravenstein will be the first to hit the soil. Hopefully I'll be able to graft in or plant traditional cider varieties but I know the aforementioned varieties are being grown in the province so they'll likely do quite well. I'm also looking for advice on which rootstock to select and how cider trees are most commonly pruned. I understand that a dwarfing or semi-dwarfing rootstock would be easiest to maintain but I'm not fixated on growing attractive apples, just lots of apples with plenty of flavour that are mostly out of reach to the deer ha ha. Having said that, I believe a semi-standard rootstock like Antonovka might be well-suited to my needs despite being a big-un. The recommended minimum spacing is 16' so giving the trees 20' should allow for around 150 trees, not that I'll be growing that many! I figure an initial run of 10 tree strung from the higher to lower areas of the parcel will give me a good idea of what needs doing (i.e. drainage, soil amendments, ect.) before I plant more, if I do.

I haven't thought too much about soil amendments but once I know the pH and have a think on what's easily available near the parcel I'll probably have more to write on the subject. Any suggestions would be appreciate!

I should also mention the parcel is in Nova Scotia, Canada, Zone 5a.



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Old 04-26-2013, 12:06 PM   #2
gregbathurst
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Dwarfing rootstocks are used to give harvest a couple of years early, and to make harvesting easier. They result in stunted rootsystems, so I don't believe they are good for cider. Cider trees need a good root system so that the fruit ripens better, you can let the trees grow big because it doesn't matteri f the fruit gets dropped on the ground.
You should get the soil analysed for nutrients etc so you know where you are starting. One option if the drainage is poor is deep plowing, but the soil needs to be dry for that so it shatters into smaller pieces. Deep plowing of wet soil won't do anything.You need a big tractor for deep plowing, around here they use a dozer with a ripper tyne on the back.
Another option is mounding the soil along the rows so the young roots get more access to topsoil.



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Old 04-27-2013, 03:24 AM   #3
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What Greg said, plus:

Rootstock will be important with your soil and (especially) moisture conditions. Some rootstocks don't do well in wet ground. I don't have any experience with that as my soil is very well-drained (my problem is keeping moisture in it). My understanding of Antonovka is it's a standard and will handle pretty much anything the climate can throw at it.

Assuming you really mean cider, not apple juice, why not start right off with real cider varieties? Golden Russet is a good one, it can produce a very rich high-gravity juice if you have the right conditions (long growing season, mine ripen around the first of November). The others are great eating but wouldn't be my choice for ciders, especially Macintosh which does not make good cider, and Gravenstein which is too acidic for me (but would probably make a great interstem for later grafting, as it is quite vigorous and yet precocious). There are some Quebecois cider makers who should be able to give you tips on which apples do well up there.

I am in a totally different climate and the varieties which do well for me might fail for you; but my favorites include King David, Yarlington Mill, Porter's Perfection, Sweet Coppin, Taylor's, and Muscadet de Dieppe. King David in particular, it imparts an apple fruit flavor that persists through fermentation, so the resulting ciders taste sweet even though they are bone-dry.

Definintely deep-rip if you can. I have a 24" single-tooth ripper and can pull it through my sandy soil with a 30-HP tractor, though in virgin ground I have to make a shallow pass first. And then definitely mound up in the rows so the feeder roots are not waterlogged and the crown is well drained - this last is critical.

Apples need calcium or you'll get bitter pit (big problem for me), so get the soil tested and amend if necessary. You'll want nitrogen to support vegetative growth in early years, but once the trees start to produce, give them P and K but starve them of N. You want very low nitrogen levels in the juice for good ciders.

Best of luck, planting a cider orchard is quite an adventure - making a long-term bet! I did this 14 years ago and am now drinking the results, while reworking half my trees (mostly to KD, and MdD).

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Old 04-27-2013, 07:47 AM   #4
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Thanks for the replies guys, it's been a great help.

Greg, I'm pretty sure we'll have a few weeks of dry weather in August that'll make for the perfect time to rip up the ground prior to winter. In regards to mounding the soil, I'll definitely be mixing in my soil amendments and mounding up this summer and chucking some clover and vetch seed down as a cover crop.

Albionwood, I figured I'd use Golden Russet as my primary variety in whatever blend I can come up with on this property. I've heard the names of most of the varieties you've mentioned and would really like to know how they might fair in my climate. It's that uncertainty that has kept me from going after the true cider varieties until now but I just sent an email to Siloam Orchards in Ontario and hopefully they'll have some recommendations. I'm really intrigued by King David but I've read that it probably wouldn't be suitable for my climate... damn. As for the ripping, I'm pretty sure I could wrangle some equipment and assistance from the relatives in the area. I'll probably need to find myself a rental spot for the ripping tine but they've got the hp to move it. Once I get the soil tested I'll bounce back here with the result and recommendations from the agri dept, just for everyone's benefit.

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Old 04-27-2013, 04:09 PM   #5
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Where in Nova Scotia is this? I've been up that way a couple times, to Cape Breton Island for Celtic Colours. Great country, great people.

Good plan to cover-crop, I do that as well. With the right clover mix you can get a self-resowing cover crop that comes back year after year, so the topsoil just gets better and better. (Sweet clover also sends deep taproots, helping improve drainage.) Have to be vigilant about gophers though.

One thing to think about is harvest timing. Some apples on your list ripen late, others (Gravenstein) very early. This means you'll be harvesting over a period of weeks/months, and you'll have to store/press over that time as well. This can be okay for a small operation, if you have the right equipment and can do small-batch pressing as the apples ripen, or if you have cold storage to keep them until all are ready. Or it might be logistically easier to plant varieties that ripen around the same time, avoiding a lot of logistical issues and allowing you to blend pre-ferment. I did not think this through when I planted and now have difficulty storing the early apples until I'm ready to start pressing.

Oh, I mistyped one variety, it's Muscat de Bernay that does well for me, not Muscadet de Dieppe. MdB ripens around the same time as GR so I can blend them. MdD ripens too early and doesn't keep (same problem with Kingston Black).

You might subscribe to Cider Digest, an e-mail group of cidermakers that includes a lot about growing cider apples. Someone on that list probably knows which cider varieties do well in your climate. Send a subscription request to: cider-request@talisman.com

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Old 05-01-2013, 06:49 AM   #6
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They'll be growing a few kilometers inland of New Glasgow so you probably came pretty close to the parcel on your way to CB, great place as well!

Luckily we don't have gophers in our province but woodchucks are present in the area so I'll have to put a dent into the population this fall... As for ripening times, you've made a very good point. I have access to some cold storage but probably not enough for more than 2 bins of apples so I'll have to think more on which varieties to choose. I'll definitely be joining the cider mailing list, hopefully some local apple growers will get me started off on the right foot!

Here's an article that takes an interesting approach to treating calcium-deficient plants. A little too much effort for me ha ha.

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Old 05-01-2013, 07:45 AM   #7
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Are you going to include any crabapple types for tannins and pollination? And a spot for a beehive or 2 to get even more apples? Do roos eat apples? WVMJ



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