[permaculture] spindle cut orchards

Rich Blaha rich at mossbackfarm.com
Sat Jun 2 01:31:03 EDT 2007

Hi Paul

I worked for a commercial apple orchard and nursery in Bellingham, WA 
(cloudmountainfarm.com).  They used the 'slender spindle' form for their 
trees, to pretty good effect, from a commercial orchardists standpoint.  
The trees require specialized pruning, it's true, but they are trained 
to channel some of their upward growth into side shoots, and trellises 
support the weight of the fruit.  It's esentially a technique that draws 
on the space efficiency of espalier techniques, scaled to commercial 

Trees pruned this low are vastly more cost efficient to manage, 
especially picking and pruning.  Not having crews haul orchard ladders 
around really speeds the process, not to mention worker's comp advantages.

I had talked to Tom at Cloud Mountain about clover in the rows for 
nitrogen fixing (he used a creeping red fescue that didn't need much 
mowing).  He'd said that the legumes shed a pulse of nitrogen in fall as 
they go dormant, just as he's trying to get his trees to shut down for 
the year.  If a warm snap hits after the N-pulse, he'd get a push of 
growth that will burn back when winter hits for real.  He's in a pretty 
wild weather area, so I don't know if that holds for all regions.

This is one of those commercial vs homestead scale issues....it seems a 
shame to rip out a bunch of mature producing trees just to introduce 
some diversity, unless there's a problem, either existing or imminent.  
Like all of these decisions, it depends on the context of the 
property...is it a cash crop, or a hobby?  Are they all just a couple of 
varieties, or is there a wide diversity of them?  And how big is the 
orchard?  And what's nearby? 

Questions just lead to more questions....


>   7. spindle cut orchards (paul wheaton)
>Message: 7
>Date: Fri, 1 Jun 2007 10:31:20 -0700
>From: "paul wheaton" <paul at richsoil.com>
>Subject: [permaculture] spindle cut orchards
>To: permaculture <permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org>
>	<22d4eb790706011031x37cc7b2n910e9cfd08bc66a8 at mail.gmail.com>
>Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1; format=flowed
>Anybody familiar with these?
>I was asked to go to an orchard yesterday and give some advice.
>Apparently, this approach is considered to be one of the most
>productive apple monocultures possible.  With about 30% to 40% more
>productivity than central leader trees.
>I thought it was scary.
>The stuff I found through google said that the pruning was less and
>easier since everything was kept so short.  My impression was that the
>pruning would have to be more because you would have to keep
>everytthing so short!
>I thought I would find something that said "this is not sustainable",
>but after an hour of googling, I could only find stuff that said it
>was great stuff.
>Apparently, a lot of the apple industry is moving in this direction.
>Essentially, this stuff looks like apple hedges grown north/south so
>that the sun can get on all the leaves.  The branches are kept short -
>2.5 feet long in the rows, 4 feet long between the rows, but only at
>the bottom.  The trees are prevented from getting taller than ten
>feet.  I think they are shooting for a hedge that is has a sort of
>christmas tree shape.  But not cones - more like the whole hedge is
>wide at the bottom and narrow at the top, with a 12 inch gap between
>It sounds like they use dwarfing stock, but the orchard I saw had
>trunks that were five to six inches thick.  These trees wanted to be
>15 to 20 feet tall and were only 10 years old.
>The woman didn't like any of my advice.  The only thing that she might
>consider is to replace the grass growing between the trees with
>alfalfa (perennial legume with deep taproot).   I think mostly because
>she has heard of alfalfa and she could still mow it if she wanted to.
>So I got to thinking about what I would do if I owned the property.
>Would I kill 90% of these trees so I could introduce some diversity?
>Would I go with this odd hedge idea and just let them go taller than
>ten feet - and just plant diversity between the rows?
>Maybe I'm just ignorant about this approach and should embrace it?
>Anybody familiar with it?

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