Colorful and fragrant from spring through fall, apple orchards are as American as—well, apple pie. However, while these orchards are very good at providing a nutritious and delicious product, a successful orchard operation does not just happen. Maintaining or starting an apple orchard takes careful planning and practice. An orchard must have the proper varieties of apples for the climate zone and conditions. An orchard must also prepare against various pests and diseases.
Apples are very fickle fruits. Some varieties need to be chilled a certain number of hours. Other varieties may need to be chilled a certain number of hours, but the freeze cannot be too severe. If so, the trees will die or the blooms will fail to set. Generally, apples thrive between cold hardiness zones 2 and 8. Some specialty apples may be able to grow outside of these zones but usually do not have large followings.
There are two major types of business models used for apple orchards—wholesale and retail. The retail model is the one many are familiar with. Orchards using this model allow consumers to come to the orchard and pick their own apples, or the orchards sell their fruit at a stand or farmer’s market. Wholesalers sell to a large buyer, who often repackages the fruit and may process it in some way. Many orchards may have operations that support both a wholesale and retail side.
The main challenges related to apple orchards are the financial pressures that come along with starting and operating an orchard. Mature trees are needed in order to realize a profit in the first several years. Thus the financial barriers when starting up are immense. Therefore, it is often important, especially when starting out, to supplement your income in some other way or deal with a bank that understands the business.
Whether you are a simple backyard gardener or the owner of a major orchard, various pests and diseases can present a problem for any apple grower. With so many trees in close proximity, they must be constantly monitored for problems such as frogeye leaf spot and other fungus, or pests, such as apple maggots, the codling moth, eriophyid mites and spider mites. If left untreated, the entire tree, or a section of an orchard, could be adversely affected.
Many apple orchards have more than one species of apple for two main reasons. First, the pollination with different varieties helps make the trees more productive. Second, cross pollination usually leads to a better quality fruit. This is true even if trees are capable of self-pollination. Different pollinators work better with different species.