The Grovestead

Farm, Family, Fun.

Category: Apple Trees (page 1 of 2)

Spring Ahead

Spring has arrived about 6 weeks early in Minnesota this year. That’s not to say winter won’t stop by again, but today is the 3rd day in a row of 60+ temps and will be the last day snow can be seen on our property. Even the grass is starting to green up!

Spring is always welcome here. However, Spring on a Hobby Farm means lots of work! And I’m not fully ready to come out of hibernation yet.

The seedlings are planted and growing well: tomatoes, broccoli (which Becca says she wants every week of the summer), lettuce, and a variety of flowers.

tomato seedlings

The chickens are laying abundantly, after about a 5-month hiatus during the coldest months.

Chickens enjoying the warm weather

All the maple trees are tapped and flowing a full 3 weeks ahead of season. I just hauled in 5 more gallons of sap after taking this picture. 30 gallons collected so far, waiting to be evaporated.

Collecting maple sap in buckets

Tapping maple trees started early this year

Since the sap is flowing, it is also the best time of year to graft trees. I made my first attempt, grafting a branch from a HoneyGold apple tree onto the MacIntosh nearby. The yellow HoneyGold was one of a few trees we planted without ever knowing how the fruit would taste. It turned out be delicious! Like a cross between a pear and an apple, but the texture of a HoneyCrisp. Needless to say, we want more HoneyGold and a simple way to expand the supply is to graft onto another tree.

Graft of apple tree

If successful, the MacIntosh will be bearing both red and yellow apples!


Tree Tips Worth Remembering

Apples Ripe for Picking

It’s January and the seed catalogs have started arriving. I haven’t decided if their timing is a welcome respite or a cruel joke.

My new favorite catalog is from Fedco, and it’s actually not a seed catalog, it’s a tree catalog. Fedco is a reputable source for a lot of things, especially fruit trees. I was turned on to them by Paul Gautschi of Back to Eden renown.

We’ve had a ton of success with growing fruit here. Our 14 apple trees, raspberry, blueberry and strawberry patches have yielded the most bounty with minimal effort, and they keep getting better each year. So we’ve decided to keep going with the fruit-bearing gardens. Which brings me back to Fedco. At the end of the season we planted a cherry tree, and just this week we put in an order for 7 new fruit trees from Fedco to plant this spring. They are 3 plum trees, 3 pear trees, and one apricot.

Kids reaching for the apple harvest

Fedco’s catalog arrived a few days later and I’ve been enjoying reading their tree-care advice.

It’s chock-full of personal experience and hand-drawn illustrations. Really a joy to read. Several tips that I felt were worth sharing, if only to help me better remember:


2-4″ of mulch out to the drip line to keep weeds and grass away (we use wood chips). Lay down cardboard or newspaper and put the mulch on top (of course, this is basically the back-to-eden method).

Pest Prevention

The Roundheaded Apple Borer is dreaded pest more commonly found on the East coast. “Borer beetles lay eggs under the bark near the base of the tree. The developing larvae tunnel through the wood, eventually weakening the tree until it falls over.” Look for small deposits of orange sawdust at the base of the tree in midsummer.  Fedco suggests a unique approach to dealing with them: “When you discover a soft spot or hole in the tree, get yourself a can of compressed air (for cleaning computers). Put the long skinny tube nozzle up the hole and give it a blast. Should do the trick.”

Painting is the best deterrent.

Recipe: White interior latex mixed with joint compound (the sheetrock stuff). Mix a thick consistency but still easy to paint. This mix will deter borers and make their detection easier.

Mice and Voles

We have our share of these digging holes and tunnels through our yard, mainly. Apparently, we overfeed our cats because they’re not dispatching enough of them. Didn’t know voles could cause a lot of damage to fruit trees, however, so this was good advice: “Keep the grass mowed and remove large mulch piles away from the trunk in Fall [to prevent rodents from nesting there overwinter]. A wrap of window screening or plastic tree guard will protect your tree. Remove them from April to October as they attract borers if left on the tree in the summer.”

Voles don’t like Narcissus (Daffodils)

“For years we’ve been planting daffodils around the base of some of our apple trees … The tunneling voles don’t like the bulbs and will veer away.”

Dear oh Deer!

“The best deer protection is a collie in the yard.” Another option is to wrap each tree in circular fencing, this is what we did. But Fedco makes a brilliant suggestion: Raise the bottom of the fence a foot or so off the ground. This leaves open space  to access the tree–for pruning root suckers, picking up dropped apples and adding mulch. The deer are only interested in the apples and new growth on branches, it won’t hurt anything to open up the bottom of the fence.

Aphids and Ants

“Aphids can do a lot of damage to apple trees… Whenever you see aphids, you will see ants climbing up the tree to feed them. Here’s an easy solution: Wrap a piece of stiff paper about 6″ wide around the trunk about a foot or two off the ground … Smear Tanglefoot (sticky stuff) on the paper. Ants will not cross the barrier and without the ants the aphids will die.”


Fall cleaning

Cleaning up the garden with my favorite people

It’s the end of the season for us Zone 4B growers. My faithful standby’s Lisa and Zina, who helped me plant this Spring, joined me for a day of garden cleanup. My dad also came out to help with landscaping around the house.

We pulled up all the plastic mulch and drip irrigation from the vegetable plot. Then we re-mulched the blueberries with fresh fallen pine needles, a great natural acidifier.

Re-mulching the blueberry patch

We also fenced the blueberries because they are easy targets for rabbits and deer during the lean winter months.

I didn’t end up liking the variety of strawberries we planted (Sparkle and Ft Laramie). So we pulled all the strawberry beds and I will re-plant my newly discovered favorite Jewel next year.

Ft Laramie strawberries

The other major project was weeding and re-mulching the apple orchard. Becca and, to a lesser extent, Ivar and Elsie helped with weeding and shoveling piles of wood chips around the base of each tree.

Mulching the apple trees

Everybody worked hard. But the pay was good. Everyone got to take home a free pumpkin.

Zina's pumpkin

Paid with pumpkins.

First apple

First apple harvested from our orchard

We enjoyed our first homegrown apple from our apple orchard yesterday. The Zestar variety ripens earlier than the rest, by the end of August. It tasted similar to a Honeycrisp but more tart. It was especially sweet since we have so few apples this year, having to pick most of the blossoms to force the roots to establish, then losing most of what remained to wind and worms.

Overall, I’m happy with our orchard’s progress. There were some mishaps to be sure, like the Harralson that got so weighted down with apples that three branches broke. Cedar Apple Rust, a common fungal disease has infected other trees but can be easily treated with a fungicide spray. And of course watering the apple trees every day with 5-gallon buckets for the first six weeks was a chore. But seems like we’ve done ok, overall. From here on out the maintenance decreases and the fruit increases.

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