From Brambles and Bradford Pears to Strawberries and Apples

We’ve owned our little 20-acre farm for about two years now.  One of the first items on our to-do list after we purchased the farm from Natalie’s grandparents was to plant some trees—apple trees. We had a good spot for a potential orchard, an unused quarter-acre patch of land that was grown up in brambles and wild Bradford pears. Wild Bradford pears are vengeful creatures, with spiny thorns capable of puncturing a tractor tire. In the spring of 2014, we carefully cleared the pear trees, burnt off the weeds and brambles, and then plowed the patch.

After that, we planted a summer cover crop of buckwheat (which the bees loved) and a fall cover crop of crimson clover.

The cover crop of buckwheat

We also planted the apple trees in the fall, in November 2014. We planted 12 Winesap, 12 Arkansas Black, 7 Grimes Golden, and 1 Lowry.  These are all heirloom varieties, which we ordered from Century Farm Orchard in Reidsville, NC. The owner, David Vernon, was very helpful. Both the Arkansas Black and Winesap are nearly sterile, so he recommended the Grimes Golden for pollination. We ordered one tree of the Lowry variety for Natalie’s poppaw’s—his name is Lowry.

You can barely see the apple trees sticking out above the thick layer of crimson clover in spring 2015

The trees are grafted on M 111 rootstock, so they’ll be about 15 feet tall when they’re full grown. We planted them with 20 feet in between trees.  It will take four to five years till they produce an apple. With the extreme drought this past summer, it may take longer. Thankfully, we didn’t lose a tree, but several failed to put on much growth this first year.

So what do we do for four, five, or six years? Well, we could just wait. But’s that no fun.  Hmmm. I’ve got it—let’s plant strawberries. Yep, that’s what we did: we planted 1,200 strawberry plants between the rows of the apple trees this fall.

Right now, the strawberry plants are under row covers, more to protect them from deer than cold weather. But so far they seem to be doing pretty good. If all goes well (and there’s a lot that could go wrong), we’ll have strawberries in four or five months—and apples in four of five years.

Rows of apple trees and strawberries alternate–the strawberries are under the white row covers in this photo

5 thoughts on “From Brambles and Bradford Pears to Strawberries and Apples

  1. Great. I love, love strawberries. How are the bees doing? I have a older lady in church I try to keep supplied with honey.

    1. The bees are doing okay. We still have four hives, but we have lost three since this time last year–two due to the cold winter last year and one because of mites. Because of the drought this summer, we really didn’t get any honey at all this year, which means we’ll be out of honey till the the spring. Hopefully, we’ll have a better year next year.

  2. We just bought a farm this past spring and want to make an orchard. We already have a few apple and pear trees. I’m curious, why plant the strawberries between the trees?

    1. Well, we didn’t intend to do the strawberries when we first planted the orchard. It just kind of happened that way. We planted the apples trees at a wider spacing, 20 feet by 20 feet, because the M 111 semi-dwarf rootstock grows a pretty big tree. That meant there was a lot of room between the trees that was idle. We’ll only be able to do the strawberries for a few years because eventually the apple trees will shade out the ground between the trees. It will, hopefully, give us a little bit of income from the patch of land until the trees get bigger.

      We like your blog. Is that an old dairy farm you bought?

      1. That’s what I though – the trees would get too big eventually and shade out the strawberries. 🙂 It’s a good use of the land in the meantime.

        Our farm was a small old dairy farm. Two owners before us sold off all the land except five acres. Our plan is to, hopefully, buy two fields back. The house is 115 years old and the barns must have been built in the 20’s. One might be older though; it has the same trim as the house so I’m wondering if it is original. I’ll start doing research after the holidays.

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