Thursday, September 22, 2016

Starting A Suburban Tree Nursery, Part II: Seedlings in the First Year

Back in December, I wrote part one of this series, which was about starting apple trees from seeds I collected over the past year.  The idea was to get a series of tree seedling started every year from various fruit seeds, and over time, begin selling them to people in my local community as each batch of seedlings matured.  Keeping costs low is a large part of making this work, so I planted them in the regular old dirt in a partially-wooded area in my back yard.

I haven't wrote about it since then, and I suppose you might be wondering if that's because the seedlings didn't grow and the plan was a failure.  Well, fortunately that's NOT the case, and I did successfully germinate a number of apple seeds into baby apple trees.

I took a short video of the seeds sprouting out on the last day of winter, March 19th:




Other than removing the mulch I placed in part one, I did nothing else to help these seedlings along.  As much as I wanted to pamper each seedling, I tried to keep in mind why I was growing them this way: To distinguish the strong seedlings from the weak.  If the weak plants want to die, I'll let them.  That just leaves me with stock that is better suited to survive in my location.


After a few months of randomly checking on baby apple trees every now and again, I decided to snap a picture of them on June 6th:




There were more seedlings growing than I had anticipated.  A few of them seem like they have a disease, but most of them seem happy and are growing at a decent pace.

With only a month of summer officially left, I made another trip down to the apple tree seedling pot, to take another picture, and to clean up the area so I can plant another round of seedlings in the fall.  Here's what they looked like as of August 23rd:

There was a smudge on the camera lens

The canopy of the forest blocked most of the direct sunlight getting to the seedlings, so they ended up a bit leggy.  A few of the seedling appear to be suffering some kind of leaf ailment as well.  There are a couple of really robust seedlings that are growing much better than the others, despite the less-than-optimal conditions.  These are probably the seedlings I will try to sell or plant for myself.

I am still going to wait until next season before I decide what to do with them, however.  I'm trying to follow the example of Patrick of Little House on the Urban Prairie.  He has already successfully grown and transplanted hazelnut seedlings using this method.  After a year of growing, he transplanted his hazelnuts to a better location and gave them each a bit more room to grow.  This is what I am also planning to do.

I'm very enthusiastic about this whole process, considering I haven't done a single thing to help these trees along, other than the initial planting of the seeds.  If the trees end up being too weak and die off, it was no real loss other than wasting a few hours of my time.  But, if some or all of them survive and grow adequately, it could mean a few extra bucks in my hands next year, or a few extra apple trees to plant in my yard.

Meanwhile, I will be planting the next round of apple seeds to grow for 2017.  Additionally, I'm going to branch out (no pun intended) and plant a separate group of grape seeds using the same method that I described in Part I of this series.  I have collected countless seeds from the bountiful harvest of grapes from my three year old concord grape vine.  I'm also enthusiastic about that, but also worried about the very different growth habits of vines versus trees.  Mostly worried about how quickly they could possibly grow and take over everything.  But, I don't think it could hurt to try, and considering that the seeds are coming from a plant (Vita labrusca) that is native to my location in the world anyway, it probably wouldn't be a detriment to the local environment.  If anything, my main grape vine has improved the life of at least one critter (most likely a raccoon I've seen in my yard on another occasion), as said critter managed to eat at least a half-dozen of the last remaining bunches of the ripened grapes one night in the middle of summer.  But I digress...

A few of the bunches of grapes from my concord grape vine, a native plant of the eastern US.

So that pretty much sums up my progress on the tree nursery project.  Everything seems to be on track, so now it's just more planning, planting and waiting.  I will most likely post another update on the subject sometime early next year.  

For my next article, I'll be going over what I learned in the 2016 season, and my progress towards becoming more self-reliant.  We're still pretty far from that goal, but we've made a few good steps in the right direction, this year especially.

Building up my seeds supplies for next year

Have any questions or advice for me about growing these apple trees from seed?  Leave a comment below to let me know your thoughts.  Thanks for reading.