Precision Planting for Stocks Farm Apples

This year, we have invested again in planting new apple orchards. Each time we plant an orchard, we learn how to do it better and more efficiently. This year, we utilised some modern precision technology to plant.

We planted two orchards this spring – Goldenfield and 10 Acres (some of our fields have interesting names, some are a bit more functional!) The Goldenfield patch was a Gala variety called Mondial, and the 10 Acres patch was planted with Dabinett cider apples. Both orchards had reached the end of their productive life so they were taken out (what we call “grubbed out” when talking about apple trees.)

The patches were taken out after the harvest of 2018 so they had a year off from being orchards – the 10 Acres field being planted with wheat by a local arable farmer, and the Goldenfield patch being grassed down and used to host the hop walk last year. We never normally see a combine at Stocks Farm, so we certainly enjoyed the spectacle!

Firstly, the fields needed to be worked down to create the perfect conditions to plant the trees. In previous years, the whole field has been worked down, but this year, we utilised some precision technology – an RTK GPS tracker. The tractor uses satellite technology to precisely track where it travels on the field. This enabled us to set where we were going to plant the apple rows and meant that the tractor could find the row locations on it’s computer and focus on these areas. We also used some equipment, usually reserved for potato planting, called a bed tiller – this got the soil to the perfect “friable” condition for planting the trees.

The trees were planted with the special planter we used last year, but using the tractor and the GPS technology, this meant that the rows were exactly where they needed to be and perfectly straight. The mechanical planter can plant 20 trees per minute. This year, our orchards wouldn’t have been planted without our new workforce – with travel restrictions due to Covid-19 stopping our normal Polish families from being able to travel, we appealed to the local area for hardworking individuals and were fortunate to recruit enough people to help us undertake this mammoth task.

Once the trees were planted, each tree is fitted with a guard to protect it and a support post

Pollinator trees are then planted by hand around the orchard afterwards. The final step is to put up the wirework to support the trees as they are planted to create a “fruit wall” system. This year, the variety we planted is a Gala called Schnico. This was chosen for various factors, but we look for things like disease resistance, cropping ability and durability when deciding what to plant.

The planting was completed on the VE day bank holiday – John even provided some patriotic bunting for the tractor and we had a minutes silence at 11.00am.

Following the investment of our new three row sprayer, this means only one in three rows will be regularly travelled with the tractor, so the other rows will happily be growing lots of lovely wild flowers and pollinating plants, just like the other orchards.