Orchard Life: Planting Trees Pt. 3 (a 4 part series) The Planting Process - Tree Health and Yield

Posted by Jeff Pauls on 20th Aug 2018

Orchard Life: Planting Trees Pt. 3 (a 4 part series) The Planting Process - Tree Health and Yield

“Planting is really one of my favorite times of the year. There’s just, I don’t know, something exciting about birth, and that’s kinda the equivalent here in the orchard. You put a tree in the ground and it’s dormant and it looks dead. After a bit it starts coming to life. Those little things take a decent amount of care the first couple of years, but it’s just fun watching them grow.” Clair Kauffman Orchard Manager | Kauffman’s Fruit Farm & Market, Inc.

Given the importance of this subject to our business, it seemed like a good idea to talk to Clair about our replanting program. Over the course of this 4-Part Series, he will fill us in on all the details that must be considered when planting in the orchard.

In part one, When, Where, & What to Plant, we got a bird’s eye view of the process. The weather decides when it happens. Our planting cycle determines which orchards need new trees and what kind. In part two, Deciding What to Plant, we discussed the reasons for what was planted, the driving factors and considerations.

Here, in part three, The Planting Process - Tree Health and Yield, we will discover some of the significant factors of the planting process. Considerations of what’s best for the trees figures prominently in the techniques being used. (This post answers the how question. The next post, which focuses on soil health, answers the question about innovation.)

Q: How did you plant this year's trees? Were there any innovations this year or that have come up in the past year or so that make the process better? What were they? How do the make the process better?

Who does what and increasing efficiencies and yield?

We plant our trees with a tree planter that hooks onto the back of a tractor. So, a person driving the tractor and person sitting in the seat of the planter with trays of trees beside them. The planter is putting those trees in at measured distances from each other as we go down the row. That is our latest method of planting. We used to plant with an auger. We would have an auger on a tractor and we’d make a hole, put a tree in and then make another hole, and so on. But that was on a much wider spacing than what we’re doing now. If we’d do that now, we’d be at it for a long, long time. Now we’re planting trees only about 4 feet from each other.

This year, actually a number of our trees were planted about 3’8” from each other. That’s very close compared to what we used to do. We used to plant 10 feet from each other. Back when Great Grandpa planted, they were spaced 40 feet from each other; quite a significant difference. Now, because of the dwarfing rootstocks—which could be a whole other story—we can get very nice, quality fruit at very nice production per acre; plus, a quicker return on investment because they’re more precocious, that is, they bear more quickly, meaning they come to full production sooner.

Who does what/benefits of pre-soak?

Another thing about how we plant—we’ve got two guys on the tractor, the planter, and the driver. However, following behind them we have a crew setting each tree, which entails making sure that it’s standing up straight, firmed around the roots, and it’s the right distance out of the ground. That takes a bit of work to do. Also, prior to planting, the trees are soaked in a special solution. It’s a mixture of fish, molasses, a specially formulated fertilizer, and a powder comprised of microbial fungi spores and other beneficial microbes. For a few minutes before they’re planted, the trees soak in the barrel into which this mixture was poured. This soaking gives each tree a boost on the microbial community right around the root zone. All trees have this symbiotic relationship with this host of microbes, but young trees often struggle because they don’t have this community from the start. It does develop over time, but this microbial soak gives them a head start in developing this crucial element so vital to their healthy growth.

Stay tuned for our fourth and final installment of Orchard Life: Planting Trees, Part 4 - The Planting Process - Soil Health. We will take a look at the practices that promote the health and conservation of the soil.