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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Permaculutre Elements: Apple Trees

The Apple Tree: malus domestica 
The Graphics Fairy
Today's post is going to be a little different than my usual photos or updates around the little farm.  In this post and in an on-again, off-again fashion, I plan to run a series of element analysis from a practical permaculture perspective.  So here we go....

For those of you who might have read my High Desert Gardening Blog (pre-permaculture), you will know that the three little scrawny apple trees sitting out in my field are not the first apple trees that I have planted.  The reason is that they are easy to grow, I like to eat apples, and a number of livestock species also like them.

The Apple is a fruit tree and a member of the rose family. There are several thousands of cultivars, and it is commonly used as food for livestock and for people.

Family: Rosaceae    Genus: Malus        Species: Malus domestica

Sample Cultivars:  Arkansas Black, Fuji, Gala, Granny Smith, Holstein, Pink Lady, Virginia Winesap

Intrinsic Characteristics
  • Permaculture Zones: All
  • Layers: Understory or overstory tree
  • Placement: in orchards, gardens, food forests, wild wooded areas, and as specimens in ornamental landscaping. Also grown in containers and as espalier. 
  • Size: cultivars range in size from 6 foot tall or less on dwarfing root stock, or upwards of 30 feet tall on some standard (own root) trees.
  • Tree Type: Deciduous – loses leaves in the dormant season 
  • Longevity - dwarf trees on root stocks may begin fruiting years earlier than own root trees, but they also pass away sooner

Note that while some outputs don't need any additional inputs and can stand on their own, many of the outputs may or could.  Where space, time, and interest intersect, I will include them.
  • For the Bees - nectar and pollen
  •  Beauty - spring time flowers in shades of white from pretty dog-goned white to creamy white to pink
  • Fresh food for - People, chickens, hogs, horses, goats, deer, and other wildlife
  • Preserved for People - frozen (as sauce or pie filling), dried, as part of cider or rumtopf
  • Leaves - composting or to leave around trees
  • Scion wood - to graft onto root stock for new trees
  • Seeds - to start new trees on the cheap to see what new variety you might discover
  • Wood - for fires, smoking chips, building
Note: some of these inputs may not be needed for your situation, but I'm listing a list here, so work with me.
  • Wood mulch and/or compost
  • Understory nitrogen fixers - peas, field or cow peas, clover 
  • Stakes - for staking young trees
  • Tree Wrap - for protecting young trees from sun scald or rabbits or to help keep trees dormant as long as possible during early springs
  • Wire fencing - or other protection, especially in zones 3, 4 and 5 where there is deer and rabbit pressure
  • Compost tea - to inoculate wood mulch and to spray on leaves to protect against various mildews and fungus, and as a type of foliar feed
  • Pruning equipment - pruners, loppers, knives, saws, something to sterilize them between cuttings
  • Harvesting equipment - long handled picker for taller trees, ladder, basket, cart or wheel barrow
  • Other apple tree(s) - for pollination.  If others are growing apples near by, or if you have crab apples, this might not be an issue; however, you still may wish to plant a known pollinator just to be sure.  To find out what apples pollinate each other, check out this Online Pollination Checker.  They check other fruit pollinators, also.

Other Things to Think About
  • Climate - are you in the hot, humid South where it rains "all the time"? Then you will need cultivars that are fungal disease resistant.  Are you in a "warm winter" area? Then low chill apples may be what you need
  • Tree Size - do you have acreage where you will keep your trees 20 feet apart or more? Or will you be growing two trees to a hole in a densely planted suburban yard?  Or will you be somewhere in between?  What kind of trees do well like that?
  • Dwarf and semi-dwarf trees -  you may wish to succession plan for trees that may only be at their peak for 15 - 20 years - planting a new set every few years ensures continuous production

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