[permaculture] spindle cut orchards

woodsjay at cox.net woodsjay at cox.net
Sat Jun 2 19:09:47 EDT 2007

On Saturday 02 June 2007 00:31:03 Rich Blaha wrote:
> 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
> operations.
There is no reason that multiple cultivars of apples should be avoided which 
gives the ability to pick over a wider period of time. A crew can work on the 
field over a month's period rather than a week (for peak maturity). Likewise 
there are dwarfing rootstocks for pears, apricots, cherries, and peaches so 
that mixed plantings can be done.

The real problem that I know of is that the orchard requires very precise 
applications of water. The dwarfing works by restricting water uptake so the 
trees can't stand running short of water. 

Because of the continual pruning, there is the potential of lots of composted 
wood chips which can go back under the trees. This will help maintain soil 

There are new cultivars that don't use dwarfing rootstocks but are genetically 
dwarfed. Check them out.

APPLE BABE GENETIC DWARF APPLE Crisp, sweet, red apple - 
 excellent quality even in hot inland climates. Glossy, russett-free skin. 
 Heavy bearing 8-10 ft compact tree. August. 700 hours. Pollinated by 
 Garden Delicious or other apple. (Zaiger) 
 flavor, even in hot climates. Greenish-yellow with red blush to full red. 
 Dessert/cook, good keeper. September. 8-10 ft. tree, smaller with pruning. 
 600 hours. Self-fruitful. 
 McIntosh-type fruit is crisp, juicy and aromatic. Attractive, distinctive, 
 narrow-growing (columnar) tree, grows to about ten feet. Trees topped for 
 height control develop upright side limbs. Easily adapted to container 
 growing. Estimated chilling requirement 800 hours. Pollinated by Scarlet 
 SentinelTM or other apple varieties. 
 blossoms followed by large, delicious, red-blushed, greenish-yellow fruit. 
 Attractive, distinctive, narrow-growing (columnar) tree, grows to about ten 
 feet. Trees topped for height control develop upright side limbs. Easily 
 adapted to container growing. Estimated chilling requirement 800 hours. 
 Pollinated by NorthpoleTM or other apple varieties. 

> 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....
> Rich
> www.mossbackfarm.com/journal
> >   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>
> >Message-ID:
> >	<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
> >trees.
> >
> >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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