Growing apples on trellises calls for careful spending, field day reps say
CANA, Va. — The Southwest Virginia Orchard Field Day here July 11 gave orchardists and those interested in the industry a chance to see apples growing in a trellis system, a trend in the industry.
The tour included walking through the rows of trees and three generations of the host family explaining how they are using this new method of producing apples.
Ralph Berrie, his son, Ricky, and two of Ricky’s three daughters involved in the orchard operation, Megan and Thaxton, talked about what they are doing, what they have found doesn’t work and what they hope for as they move forward. Sister Linsey was unable to attend.
The group visited two sites of the Berrie Orchard, Inc. to see apple trees planted this year as well as last year. Megan and Thaxton have done all the work in planting and training the 1,210 trees on this year’s one-acre plot, Ricky said. The trees had been purchased earlier and trenched until planting time.
Economics drive the project, Ricky emphasized over and over throughout the tour.
“Anything we do is based on price,” he said during the tour. “Find the cheapest stuff you can that will work. Count your pennies.”
He said growing apples in the trellis system could bankrupt a business if costs are not scrutinized. He said any of those attending could implement the system on their own and not have to hire others to do it.
“It’s trial and error,” he stressed. “The key to this is you will make mistakes. Just don’t make them over and over.”
The trellises are nine feet tall, with five rows of wire fastened to 12-foot posts driven in straight rows 30 feet apart. The young trees are tied to the trellises as they grow straight up. Developing branches are trained along the wires.
What to use to attach the branches to the wires was one of their learning experiences, the trio said. Ricky had his daughters explain some of the things they had tried that did not work as they had hoped. Rubber bands were at the top of the list.
Plastic wrap was another. It worked to a degree but was found wanting. When visiting the orchard planted in 2017 they pointed out remnants of the plastic wrap saying it was ugly and they would remove it.
The family is using tomato twine this year and said it is working well for them.
“We’re really happy with it,” Ricky said. And it is cheap compared to other ways of tying the branches to the wires.
Ricky expects these trees to produce from one to one and a half bushels per tree.
Given the tree numbers, this could result in a harvest of 1,800 bushels per acre each year, he estimated.
The young Berries are the 10th generation of the family to grow fruit here on the orchard established in 1853. Ricky said the business is geared to wholesale buyers.
He noted, however, that apples grown on trellis are tailor-made for pick-your-own operations. The fruit on the trees are easily reached from the ground so no ladders are needed. Since customers don’t need to be on ladders, it is safer and involves fewer liability issues.
The tour also visited Bob’s Orchard operated by Bob Leonard who grows both peaches and apples for wholesale and Hill Orchard owned by Willy Hill, where they ate lunch.
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