Orchard Life: Planting Trees Pt. 4 (a 4 part series) The Planting Process - Soil Health

Posted by Jeff Pauls on 17th Sep 2018

Orchard Life: Planting Trees Pt. 4 (a 4 part series) The Planting Process - Soil Health

“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.

In our last post, The Planting Process - Tree Health and Yield, we discovered some of the significant factors of the planting process, how it’s done, noting considerations of what’s best for the trees.

Here, in part four, The Planting Process - Soil Health (final installment of the series) we answer the question about innovation, taking a look at the practices that promote the health and conservation of the soil.

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?

Reducing Tillage Reaps Rewards in Soil Health + Conservation and in Efficiencies

Another innovation in relation to planting, that I came up with last year for the first time, and I’m quite pleased with it, has to do with how we do our tillage. In the past, we would have done a complete tillage on an orchard prior to planting, actually maybe three years in a row. So, let’s say it would be fallow for 2 years. Each year we would plow it, disc it, and then put a cover crop in. The year of planting we would also plow it, disc it, and then plant the trees. Along with tree planting, we have a lot of work in there, especially in an apple orchard. We drive stakes, we put tree guards on the trees, and we put a couple shovels full of gravel around each tree. We distribute the posts first, and then we go through with a post pounder and we drive the posts in. We also go in to tie the trees. By the time we’re finished, we’ve traveled over those rows a considerable number of times with vehicles. You do that on freshly tilled soil, and it’s very damaging to the soil. You get a lot of compaction. The alternative, rather than so much tillage, is to reduce that by one year and the year prior to planting and to plant the whole field in grass. In the fall then, we come through with an herbicide. This application would be instead of the spring herbicide that we typically put on after we plant grass.

Let me backup…so the old method of doing it, at the very end of that orchard establishment (i.e., planting and all that goes with it), we would go through and broadcast grass seed through the entire orchard. The grass seed would come up, including in the tree row. Grass can be very competitive with young trees, so we would come through and herbicide the grass after it grew—just on the row. Now back to the new way of doing it—the grass has been established the year before planting, the rows get marked out, and then we herbicide, just on the row. The next spring, we have a grass field with brown strips where the rows will be. We use a specially designed cultivator, small enough to cultivate just the row.

Benefits of the Subsoiler

We also use a subsoiler, which is a large tooth that digs a foot below the surface of the soil and really loosens up the lower strata of soil. This step is very good for the trees because it allows the trees to send their roots down fast into loose soil. The subsoiler enables us to get deeper than a plow. It’s a single tooth which creates a single track down the row, after which we come through with the cultivator and loosen the row a little bit and then plant the trees. With this method of only getting rid of the grass where the row of trees will be, the space between the rows is all sod, which gives a nice “driveway” for the equipment. Having been established over the previous winter, this sod is firmed up and helps to eliminate the compaction that normally would have resulted from the many trips made by the various farm vehicles required for the planting process. Because of the previous fall herbicide application, the next application can be delayed until the weeds start to show. Since the “sod method” requires less tillage, an added benefit is the considerable reduction of soil erosion, and I’m quite happy about that. That’s an innovation that I came up with last year and we did it again this year—and it worked beautifully. We weren’t able to do it on quite all the acreage because I didn’t plan quite properly. However, over about half of it was done that way, and I really liked it that way.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read about our work in the orchard. As noted earlier, it’s a vital part of our business. It’s the foundation of everything we do here at Kauffman’s Fruit Farm & Market. Thank you so much for your patronage.

As we move into fall, be sure to stop in and take advantage of all the beautiful fruit we have...fruit that is a result of trees planted many years ago.