Apple Orchards are A-Changin

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One of the perks of my job, as I see it, is that I am able to visit different farmers across the state. This week I traveled to western North Carolina to take pictures at apple farms for a project I’m working on.


As I drove the six hours from eastern North Carolina, where I live, to western North Carolina I couldn’t help but notice how the topography changes. The eastern part of the state is flat. We may have slight inclines, but the land is flat. As you drive west hills begin to emerge and eventually you drive into the mountains. The temperature also changes as you make the drive west with warm, humid air giving way to crisp, mountain breezes.


This change in topography has a big affect on agriculture. Take strawberries for example. A strawberry planted in eastern NC will ripen two weeks ahead of one planted in the mountains. Some crops can be grown in eastern NC that don’t grow well in the western half and vice versa. Apples are a good example. NC apple orchards are all in the western part of the state. It doesn’t get cool enough in the east.


The goal of this trip was to get pictures of apple trees in bloom. I was a week to late for prime bloom season, but taking apple tree photos in the rain, as it had the week before, doesn’t sound like much fun, so I settled for the end of the bloom.


apple bloom.jpg


As we drove around Henderson County, which produces more apples than any other county in the state, I could see how the trees are a-changin.


When I think of an apple orchard, I think of rows of trees like this.


apple orchard.jpg


Until the last few years, this photo captures the look of orchards. But recently farmers have started adopting the European method of using a trellis system. When I first heard about this, I couldn’t imagine how an apple tree would grow on a trellis.


But they do.


apple trellis.jpg


When grown on a trellis system, trees have a central leader that grows vertically and lateral branches are trained to grow along a wire.


apple trellis up close.jpg

There are several advantages to using a trellis system:


  • Since the trees are semi-dwarf, they don’t get as tall, making pruning and thinning less challenging.
  • Sunlight can get to more of the apples since the limbs are spread wide. In a traditional orchard, many apples are never picked because they don’t get enough sunlight to ripen.
  • There is a machine designed to drive down the middle of the trellised rows with a person on each side to pick the apples. No more climbing up ladders to reach the top fruit.
  • In a traditional orchard, it takes at least 3 years for trees to start producing marketable fruit. Trees grown using a trellis system will have fruit ready for market the second year.


It costs more to plant an orchard using a trellis system since you have the added expense of poles and wire. Also, more trees are planted per acre when using a trellis system than would be in a traditional orchard.


The benefits outweigh the initial cost ands as older trees reach the end of their productive life, orchards are getting a makeover. The next time you see a plant growing on a trellis system, it just might be an apple tree.