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High-density orchard method researched in Southwest Va.

By JANE W. GRAHAM
AFP Correspondent

CANA, Va. (July 11, 2017) — Two young women who are already apple growers are taking a good look at the high density method of growing apple trees in this community in Carroll County close to the North Carolina border.
The research being done by Bethany Hill and Cortney Schaepler is made possible by a grant the county’s former Extension horticulture specialist, Suzanne Slack, received before moving on to work on her doctorate.
Hill said in a telephone interview that Slack had asked them if they were interested in carrying out the research and they said yes.
They planted their first 200 trees on bud 9-root stock, putting in 10 different varieties.
“High density orchards are becoming more common,” Lawrence Narehood, assistant manager at 7K Farms in Rustburg, Va. said in a telephone interview.  “It’s becoming a trend.”
Narehood is part of one of the largest high-density orchards in the state.
He said they have nearly 300 acres of apples planted in this way.
The first trees were planted in 2013 using sleeping eyes, a bud grafted to root stock about 14 inches long.
They do not have any traditional trees.
He said that 7K has not yet had a harvest from this planting.
Last year, he said, they had what he termed “a pretty decent crop load” until it was hit by a hail storm in June that wiped out a large part of the crop. 
He added he is looking forward to starting picking Galas the first week in August this year.
Narewood said the high-density method is growing because it can help maximize the use of acreage. 
The commercial enterprise uses trestles strung on 12-foot long posts driven three feet into the ground. Four high tinsel wires are strung on the nine-foot posts.
While the sleeping eyes are cheaper to buy than one to two-year old whips they do present some extra labor.
The rootstock puts out suckers that have to be cut every year. On the plus side, they undergo less transplant shock, Narewood said. 
He reported the Buckeye Galas planted in 2013 are about 10 feet tall this year.
The system Hill and Schaepler are working together on is different in scope and the type of trellises being used.
Their endeavor is much smaller and has different goals.
“We want to use it as a learning experience, not only for us but also for other people in the area interested in it,” Hill said. “We want to see if it is viable here.”
Participants in the recent Orchard Tour sponsored by Carroll County Extension visited the small research orchard at Hill Farms before enjoying lunch provided by W. O. Hill and Son. 
Hill said their trellis wire runs seven feet high. She said this is a little short for this kind of system but they decided to adapt the system so they can do all the work without using ladders.
“We’re only a year into it,” she said. “We know a little bit but we have learned a lot.”
One of the things they have learned is about row width. Their initial rows were 16 feet apart but they found this is too wide.
Since the first planting they have double the number of trees in the orchard, planting an additional 200 trees 14 feet apart. 
She sees the next planting having 13 feet between rows. Reducing the space will allow them to get more trees on the acreage, she said.
Bethany said she is not sure of their long-term goal for the high density orchard. For now, it is a learning process she also finds to be fun for herself.
“Farming is an endless stream of learning,” she said. She has been farming for 10 years.