Monday, May 12, 2014

Apple Trees: Stayman Winesap, Arkansas Black, and Zestar

Stayman Winesap
Arkansas Black

As a follower of Apple Man Michael Phillips, and an inexperienced tree fruit grower, my plan was to wait a year to plant apple trees and work on helping our soil become wonderfully rich, full of life, and apple-friendly.  I was going to do this with cover cropping, compost, and woody debries to create a fungal-dominated soil that trees like.  Instead, I ordered 3 apple trees and plunked them in our phosphorus and potassium deficient soil with no more than a handful of worm castings and a little mycorrhizal fungi on their roots to help them take hold.  Oops.  I'm adhering to the "don't amend the planting hole with anything" train of thought.  I did make a large 3' diameter hole for them and broke up the sides of the hole with a garden fork.  My theory is I can feed them with love and organic matter from the top down.  Several large apple trees in the vicinity give me hope.  Best of luck to them.

I ordered EMLA 111 rootstock, a semidwarf rootstock that is good at anchoring (since we are on a windy hillside).  I mail ordered from Boyer Nursery in Biglerville, PA and was quite happy with the trees.  This is what Boyer Nursery says about the rootstock on their website:

EMLA 111
Semi-Dwarf, Zone 5-8 (Northern Spy x Merton 793)
Mature Height 18-22ft. with recommended 16-26ft. spacing.
It is an outstanding choice for spur-type Red Delicious varieties.  It has an excellent anchorage, with no staking required.  Very drought tolerant, high soil temperatures and adapts to sandy and clay loam.  Best Semi-Dwarf for heavy or poorly drained soils.  Quite resistant to collar rot and Woolly aphids, and moderately resistant to fireblight.  Can be susceptible to burr knots and powdery mildew.  Rarely produces root suckers.  EMLA 111 produces an early and prolific fruit crop.  

A tree planting, pruning, and growing novice, I spent much time watching youtube videos of different pruning styles and reading extension fact sheets on trees.  I realized I had on my hands feathered maidens (how lovely!) not 1 year old whips (which look like sticks).  I spaced them 16' apart.  I did know enough to get trees that have overlapping bloom times so they can pollinate each other.

In the end, after planting, I pruned them back to no more than 3 - 5 branches that had decent crotch angles and pruned those back to an outward-facing bud so they were shorter than the central leader.  I also mulched with pea-gravel.  After reading well-written arguments that improperly staking trees can lead them to never develop strong root systems, I drove in a single short stake intended to be cut off after 1 season.  I don't think they would need staking in a more sheltered planting site, but our hill sure does get some wind.  Still to do is putting up some hardware cloth guards to protect the trunks from rodent-nibbling and weighing down a few branches that need wider crotch angles.    So, that is the plan for them, and they are leafing out as I write.

I am attempting a bit of a hedgerow of trees, shrubs, flowers, herbs, and the like, similar to the ideas in this article from Permaculture Magazine...Replanting Hedgerows.  If it fills in quick enough, perhaps it can keep the deer from feeling comfortable in jumping over at least some sections the fence.  If it doesn't, we need to formulate a deer-diversion plan.  I planted the apple trees in 4' from the fence, and I got that number from Phillips' recommendation for building deer cages around your apple trees.

In any case, our soil where both where the trees are planted and where we plan to plant vegetables is deficient.  I know this from our UMASS Amherst soil test.  I have not purchased any rock phosphate or greensand, but I am haphazardly dumping different forms of organic matter and composted chicken manure on top of cardboard or newspaper sheet mulch style to slowly improve our soil (hopefully).  C'mon worms, incorporate it!  A local coffee shop has offered to supply us with spent coffee grounds and coffee bean chaff from roasting (surprisingly not acidic).  We shall see if our soil improvement on the cheap works.

Coffee Bean Chaff


  1. We finally were able to harvest a few Ark. Black last year, I had only seen them in badly retouched photos in old catalogs, but the fruit was amazingly dark-skinned. Nice and hard, and great for baking but also for eating, if you like a hard apple ( I do!). Love your blog!

  2. Matt, thank you, I'm glad you like the blog. I have only tasted Arkansas Black once and I was just taken with the color and crispness. So lovely. I definitely prefer hard as rock apples over anything the slightest bit soft or mealy. I look forward to watching them grow!