Brett Saddington talking with Dr Rob Crassweller about ideal tree fruit density.
Brett got his start in growing tree fruit by working at other orchards and farms in the Bucks County area, and quickly discovered that he wanted to start his own operation. He began Bedminster Orchards on his own in 2007. He grows a variety of tree fruit, including 18 varieties of white and yellow peaches; 25 varieties of apples and a few varieties of nectarines, in addition to tomatoes, strawberries, and other seasonal produce. Brett markets his produce through local farmers markets including the Doylestown and Ottsville Farmers Markets, as well as on farm sales. Brett utilizes Integrated Pest Management techniques in growing his produce, and strives to produce the best quality product possible for his customers.
Bedminster Orchard, Model Plot Case Study - Apples
Brett Saddington got his start in growing tree fruit by working at other orchards and farms in the Bucks County area, and quickly discovered that he wanted to start his own operation. He began Bedminster Orchards on his own in 2007.
Bedminster Orchard soils are a Penn Klinesville Channery silt loam (PkB) with about 34 inches to bedrock and the water table at greater than 80 inches in the site used for Apple planting. Other soils are Readville Channery silt loam, considered somewhat poorly drained with the water table at 6-36 inches. Mean annual precipitation in the area is 36-50 inches. The farm is in plant hardiness zone 7a with a frost free date starting on May 30.
Soil survey map for Kellers Church Rd Bedminster PA. Model plot in PkB soil.
The apple site is on a Northern to neutral facing slope of about 3%. The site is higher than surrounding areas with good air drainage. Deer pressure is high but managed by an eight foot high tensile wire deer fence. Drip irrigation is from a pond on the property. There are cedar trees on neighboring properties that pose a threat for cedar apple rust. However this plot is upwind and slope from the trees. The Apple plot at Bedminster Orchard is approximately 258 ft. long 60 ft. wide.
Apple model plot at Bedminster Orchards, Bedminster PA. Apple plot is delineated
The field had been used for vegetables for one year prior to the establishment of the plots. Prior to 2014 the plot area was in brush. In spring 2015 a nice crop of clover was carpeting the area.
Bedminster Orchard Plot History
|Winter Cover 2014||Crop 2014||Winter Cover 2013||Crop 2013||Winter Cover 2012||Crop 2012|
The following is a basic outline of site plans for Apple model plots included in the project. However, based on grower and site requirements, slight adjustments were made as necessary.
- Spacing will be 3.5 feet x 13 feet = 957 trees per acre (43,560/45.5)
- Each site will have 4 rows of 62 trees = 248 trees (124 Crimson Crisp & 124 Gold Rush)
- Turn-around area and anchor posts will need 30 feet space at both ends of the rows.
- Total trees to order will be 992 trees (4 sites x 248)
- Preferred rootstock: Geneva 11
- Second rootstock choice: B.9
- Preferred size: largest possible and well branched
- Shipping date Spring 2017
- Support system - 4 wire with 12 ft posts (3-4 inch line posts, 5-6 inch end posts)
Spring 2015 Soil Pre-Plant
To prepare the plot for planting in spring of 2017, many steps will have to be taken according to results of the soil and nematode testing. Cover crops will be rotated for two seasons to increase organic matter in the soil and combat any nematode issues.
The soil was sampled in fall of 2014 and a fertility analysis was done by A&L Eastern Laboratories. The original analysis and recommendations for the plot was in preparation for a blueberry crop.
Bedminster Orchard, Soil Test Results 2014
No fertility or pH adjustments were made during the 2015 season.
The nitrogen recommendation was 50 lb/A in order to successfully grow the sudangrass cover crop used for pre-plant biofumigation. Because nitrogen availability goes up and down based on microbes mineralizing it, most nitrogen recommendations are based on plant needs, not what is in the soil. To get a better estimate we needed to account for what nitrogen might be available from the organic matter, cover crops, compost and manure that was applied in the last three years. In this field the organic matter was 5%. Organic matter has about 20 lb of available nitrogen per % OM. Because the Penn State recommendation assumed only 2% OM, Brett gave himself a credit of 50 lbs. of N/A for the additional % OM he has. A good clover cover crop can have 120 lb/A of nitrogen in the plant material. But only about 40% of this nitrogen will be available the year after you plow it in. A legume cover crop has about 2,300 lbs. of dry matter in the first 6 inches of a good cover. Legumes are generally 3.5% nitrogen. So the six inch clover crop in Brett's field would contain about 80 lbs. of N. About half of that nitrogen would be available the first year and so Brett gets another credit of 40 lbs. N/A from his clover cover crop.
Bedminster Orchard, Fertility Calculations 2015
An additional soil sample was taken on April 9, 2015 and submitted to Cornell Soil Health Lab for a Soil Health analysis including Organic Matter, Soil Texture, Active Carbon, Wet Aggregate Stability, Available Water Capacity, Surface and sub-surface hardness interpretation, and root health.
The overall soil health score was a 58, falling in the Medium range with improvements in the physical and biological soil conditions recommended. The test indicated a Root Pathogen Pressure value of 6.7, which is considered low. However, management for disease will be of high priority in the plot. A summary of the soil health assessment is below.
Bedminster Orchard, Soil Health Test 2015
Spring 2015 Site Clean Up
This is a virgin site and so no specific clean-up is needed. However, there is a significant thistle problem, and patches were initially sprayed with Stinger in June of 2015, prior to cover crop seeding.
Spring 2015 Antagonistic Cover Crop
A soil sample was taken on April 8 and submitted to Virginia Extension for a Nematode Diagnostic Assay Report. Results showed presence of Helicotylenchus (Spiral), Hoplolaimus (Lance), and Mesocriconema (Ring) nematodes. It was concluded that Lance nematodes were a problem and that control options were advisable. A cover crop rotation protocol was followed in order to help control the nematode problem prior to planting.
Bedminster Orchard, Nematode Test 2015
Sudangrass produces large amounts of organic matter helping to increase soil structure, water retention and drainage. It can also help reduce nematode pressure because when chopped and incorporated into the soil it acts as a 'biofumigant', releasing compounds into the soil which are antagonistic to plant diseases, nematodes and weed seed.
In 2015, the Sudangrass cover crop (variety Pioneer 877F) was seeded on June 15 at a target rate of 25 lb/A drilled (35 lb/A broadcast). Variety 877F was chosen for it efficacy in biofumigation. Cover crop at Bedminster was seeded at an actual rate of 60 lb/A.
Sudan cover crop, just prior first mowing, July 2015.
On July 25 the Sudex was mowed down by flail mower. 75 lb/A of ammonium sulfate was added to support regrowth of the Sudex crop and to begin the nutritional plan for the following rapeseed crop. Prior to mow down, the sudangrass was approximately 5.5 feet tall with a biomass of 1,942 lbs. dry matter/A.
The summer sudangrass crop was followed by rapeseed as a winter cover in late August/early September. The rapeseed was incorporated in April 2016, and a second rapeseed crop was planted for the summer. As with the sudangrass, the rapeseed covers were mowed with a flail mower, incorporated, and cultipacked. Following two years of bio-remediation, a slow growing endophyte-enhanced fescue mix was planted in fall 2016. The well-established sod out-competes broadleaf weeds that may serve as reservoirs for viruses associated with tree decline.
After two seasons of cover cropping the model plot sites, populations of parasitic nematodes across all sites were zero. During the final sampling, two fallow fields adjacent to the Scholl Orchard and Rock Springs model plot sites that were not cover cropped were also sampled for nematodes. These adjacent fields each contained dagger nematodes.
Trees were planted in Spring 2017, and they are being trained to a tall spindle training system . To continue ensuring trees are off to a good start, leaders were regularly tied to a trellis support system . Trees were scouted weekly since early June to prevent damage from mites, aphids, leafhoppers, Japanese Beetles, and diseases, along with weeds, that could reduce tree growth during this important establishment phase. To streamline scouting, Penn State orchard scouts utilized Penn State’s new orchard scouting mobile app . The app allows the scout to enter scouting data into a spreadsheet on their phone or tablet, and can easily be shared with others that need access to the data. The sheets also automatically calculate block averages of all the pests and populate the results to a summary page. These features reduce the need to perform tedious calculations and data transfer by hand.
Trees received two applications of calcium nitrate in the spring, and are under drip irrigation to promote excellent growth in the establishment year. Vigorous shoots directly beneath the leader are also being pruned, so the leader does not have any competition for growth. This will allow trees to develop an optimal tree structure for fruiting in subsequent years.
The Interactive budget from "Models for the Future" apple plots allow growers to assess the costs and benefits of cover crops and other sustainable practices in their own operations.
This project is supported by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Grant # 2015-70017-22852.