The High-Density Longleaf Breeze Orchard

It wasn’t for lack of space. If we had been willing to cut down more trees, we could have made the orchard as massive as we wanted it to be. We settled on a south-facing slightly inclined hillside space of about 2/3 acre because it was the logical place to stay more or less on the same level and because it would be pretty to look at from the lodge we hope to build.

The main reason we approached orcharding as we did is for ease of care and to reduce loss due to storm damage. After studying the approach that Arlie and Jason Powell took at Petals from the Past, and in thinking about how an overweight, aging farmer and his wife could safely and easily maintain many fruit trees each year, we decided to trellis nearly everything that could be trellised, on rows 12 feet apart, running across the slope of the hill.

Most of the orchard is the “new orchard,” planted on lines running from East Northeast to West Southwest. However, there are 13 trees we planted last year before we settled on this approach, which we call the “Old Orchard.” The Old Orchard is in two rows that run north and south plus a June Gold peach that’s in a row by itself. Rows 1-15 will be enclosed in a three-wire electric deer fence. Rows 16-19, on the West side of the driveway, will have no deer fence.

Here’s a description of the orchard, running generally from north to south, and looking at it by row:

Rows 1-3. Blackberries. Row 1 is a short, untrellised row of erect thornless blackberries. We started with three, with room for three more. Row 2 has the first trellis, with twin lines at 36″ and 60″. We hope and expect to use the T-Pup system that Arlie developed, based on allowing two primocanes to develop each year, one trained to the upper line and one trained to the lower. Row 2 is exclusively Kiowa thorny blackberries. We chose them because of their large fruit and because they seem to be well suited to central Alabama. Row 3 is a mix of Kiowa, Natchez thornless, and Apache thornless.

Row 4. Plums, peaches, and persimmons. Growing plums in central Alabama is a crap shoot, because our long, hot, humid summers make it hard to keep the crop healthy and stave off fungus, disease, and pests. Everybody has to try them, though, so we chose two Ozark premier plums, with a Methley plum between them for pollination. We hope they will complement the two AU Rubrum plums and the two Bruce plums in the Old Orchard. Next are a Flame Prince peach (late season harvest) and a Harvester peach (early season harvest). They will complement the two June Gold peaches in the Old Orchard. At the east end of Row 4 are six Oriental persimmons, three Fuyu and three Wase Fuyu. If you have not tasted an Oriental persimmon, you should. These are nothing like those astringent persimmons that turned your mouth inside out when you were a kid. They ripen in October and November into gold/orange, and they have a mildly sweet flavor that Amanda and I love. Because of their high sugar content that acts like antifreeze, they can stay safely on the tree until December, well after their leaves have dropped. Fuyu bears about three weeks earlier than Wase Fuyu. Row 4 is on a two-line trellis, with lines at 4′ and 7′.

Rows 5-6 are vacant, allowing for additional expansion.

Rows 7-9. Muscadines. We’ve made more of a commitment to muscadines than to any other fruit. Bunch grapes are difficult to grow successfully in central Alabama, but muscadines grow wild here at Longleaf Breeze, so we expect them to be right at home in our orchard. Muscadines have a distinctive flavor that doesn’t please everyone, but Amanda and I love to pick them and eat them right off the vine. In addition, they make great jam, and we have friends who have made wine from them. We chose mostly the large, sweet modern varieties like Supreme and Black Beauty, which are female and not self-fruitful, so we interspersed them with lots of Granny Val and Nesbit, self-fruiting varieties that act as pollinators for the female plants. This is an experiment, but we also added two Noble muscadines at the end of Row 9. The berries of the Noble are less sweet, and we are told they’re more appropriate for wine-making. There are 16 muscadine plants in the orchard on 20 foot spacing, with a single trellis line at 60″. We hope they will complement the two Dixie (bronze) and two Cowart (red) muscadines we have growing on Veg Hill.

Row 10 is vacant.

Rows 11-12. Apples and pears. Apples are another challenging fruit for central Alabama, but we love apples enough to try several varieties. We haven’t planted these yet, so I’m reluctant to tell you where we’ve planted each one, but our lineup includes a Carter’s Blue (developed near us in Mt Meigs, Alabama), a Fuji, a Granny Smith, a Jonagold, a Southern Gold, and a Spur Arkansas Black. We chose rootstock designed to produce less robust skeletal growth so they will thrive better on the trellis. We hope they’ll be a good complement for the two Winesap apples and two Anna apples in the Old Orchard.

Apples may be tough to grow well, but pears seem to do better here, and we love pears, so we loaded up. We have two Korean Giant, two Shinko, one Ayers, one Warren, and two Kieffer, which will complement the two Moonglow and two Orient pears we had planted last year. Row 12 will be our most interesting blending of the Old Orchard and the new, because we’re retrofitting those four one-year-old pear trees to the trellis we’re adding. Not sure how it will work, but we’re trying to maximize the usable fruit and simplify management of the orchard down the road, so we decided to go for it. Both row 11 and row 12 have trellis lines at 4′ and 7′.

There’s one Tiger fig growing at the East end of row 11, beyond the trellis post. The drip hose will curl by this fig on its way to row 12.

Rows 13-15. The Old Orchard. All three rows run North and South. I’m naming all the trees in the Old Orchard as we get to them in the new orchard, but here’s a list by location. Row 13 has only one tree, a June Gold Peach. Row 14 is to its West. Running from North to South it has a second June Gold peach, an LSU gold fig, an Anna apple, a Winesap apple, an Anna apple, and a Winesap apple. Row 15 is to the West of Row 14 and has two AU Rubrum plums, a Celeste fig, a Brown Turkey fig, and two Bruce plums.

Row 16. Pomegranates and figs. This is the first row on the West side of the driveway and runs East and West immediately south of the lodge site. Running from the West to the East (as is true with all other numbers in the Orchard), it has six figs (two Papajohn, two LSU Black, and two O’Rourke) and three pomegranates (one Granada, one Wonderful, and one Rafi). The pomegranates are on 10 foot spacing, and the figs on 18 foot.

Row 17. Vacant. Not sure we’ll ever plant anything between Row 16 and the natural area, but if we do we have a row # set aside for it.

Rows 18-19. Blueberries. We planted 10 blueberries on 6 foot spacing last spring on Row 19, four Climax, three Premier, four Tifblue, and one Brightwell. Since then we’ve learned that six feet is probably too close for getting in to pick berries from a full-grown bush, so when we added six more to the East end of Row 19 (three Brightwells and three Powderblues), we set them 10 feet apart. We also added Row 18 immediately North of Row 19 and planted four Centurions on 10 foot spacing.

The Orchard Plot. I’ve included a worksheet within the Longleaf Breeze Planting Database that plots out every tree in the orchard (but not the ones on Veg Hill). With the database open, click on the tab that says “Orchard Plot.”

Why so much? We think the count is now 87. 87 trees we have planted as part of this orchard expansion. Add that to the fruit trees already in the ground, and we think the total count is 113.

Amanda and I have no hope of eating anything like all the fruit we are hoping to grow in the orchard. We know we’re kind of going overboard, but that’s part of the fun of it. We know, for example, that some of the trees we’ve planted may die, and some that live may not bear fruit, or may bear fruit nobody really likes to eat. Our hope, though, is that if we can maintain our health and that of the orchard soil, there will always be some kind of fruit we can share with friends and family. In the gift economy we expect to become more pervasive within the next decade or two, it’s just never a bad thing to have an extra basket of pears on hand to give away.

What comes next? We know we will be planting more fruit. We have three slots set aside on Veg Hill for kiwifruit, and we plan to plant them as soon as Auburn is able to release its Golden Kiwi for sale. To read more about it, click here and go to page 7. Beyond that, we really don’t know what we will be planting or where we will plant it, but we do know that if we continue with the trellised model, we have reserved three full rows in the orchard where we can plant other trees. In general, what we choose to do in the future will depend on what does well in our hillside microclimate, what we enjoy, and what complements the fruit we’re already growing.

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