Preparing to Plant an Orchard

Care had to be given in choosing an apple orchard site.  A wise farmer of the late nineteenth or early twentieth century selected a well-drained plot and prepared the soil carefully.

antique photography of a boy with a mule drawn plow on a hillside
Boy plowing potato field with a mule
and bull-tongue plow on steep slope
on J. W. Melton farm on Andersonville,
Tennessee. Picture source: U.S.
National Archives and Records

 An acre of ground would sustain forty-eight trees, planted in rows thirty feet apart.  Full-size apple trees grew to be over twenty feet tall and needed space to spread out. 

In early autumn the farmer cleared his chosen field of trees, brush and other growth.  Then, using a heavy turning plow drawn by a pair of mules, he broke the soil to a depth of about sixteen inches.  A second time he plowed, this time with a subsoil plow, digging out the same furrows.  After harrowing and smoothing the field, the farmer cut furrows thirty feet apart in a cross hatch pattern: Rows running north to south were plowed across east to west.  One-year-old trees were planted at the intersections of the furrows.

In the early years of an orchard’s growth, farmers planted Irish Potatoes, beans, peas, or corn in the spaces between the young trees. By the third or fourth year, when the trees were of sufficient size, the orchard was allowed to go to grass.