Bryan Kelley, Winn Registrar of Voters and Rotarian of the week, introduced the special guest of the Rotary Club on June 23, 2021, Donald Boyett. Mr. Boyett is the assistant Registrar of Voters, a railroad historian, and a model train enthusiast. On this occasion, however, he spoke about another significant interest, his home orchard.
Mr. Boyett is a Louisiana Master Gardener, which means he has completed a 40-hour training program under the guidance and direction of LSU AgCenter Extension agents, passed an exam, and completed a 40-hour volunteer internship. To retain his certification as a Master Gardener, he logs at least 20 hours of volunteer time and six hours of gardening education each year.
Mr. Boyett grows a variety of fruits in his home orchard, including peaches, apples, pears, grapes, and plums, among others. He told the Rotary group that, before beginning to plant a home orchard, one should first consider why he wants to have a home orchard. Some motivations include reducing carbon in the atmosphere, attracting wildlife, or producing fruit for one’s own table or for the market. This can keep down prices of fresh fruit. It can increase the health benefits of fruit because the shorter the distance from the tree to the table, the healthier the fruit.
Mr. Boyett said his main motivation for growing his own fruit is to get the best-tasting fruit. With over 5000 varieties of apples grown in the United States, only about 15 of those varieties find their way to our grocery stores because commercial growers grow and ship those varieties which store and ship best, without regard for the taste of the fruit. The same is true for other types of fruit. Home growers also keep many varieties of fruit alive and preserve the DNA of those varieties for future generations to grow and enjoy.
For those interested in growing fruit, the first thing to consider is what you think you want to grow and how much room will you need to grow it properly. Tree roots will damage your house or utilities if the tree is planted too close to them, so determine if you have enough room for roots to grow out from the tree without damaging nearby structures. Leave enough room between trees for roots to spread out without interfering with each other. Plant in a location that gets between six and eight hours of sunlight a day.
Drainage is another factor to consider when deciding on a location. Fruit trees don’t like to stand in water, so be sure your location drains well. The best place to plant is on the side slope of the property, so water flows past the tree. The only fruiting plant that grows well in our area and likes to stand in water is the mayhaw.
It is very important to test and amend your soil before purchasing trees. You can get a soil test kit from the LSU AgCenter Extension office and place your soil sample in it. When you send it to the AgCenter, include a list of what you want to grow, and the AgCenter will tell you how to amend your soil to get the best outcome for your chosen plants.
When selecting the variety of fruit you want to grow, be sure to check the chill requirements of the tree. This is the temperature range and length of time required for the tree to go into its dormant phase. This area’s chill range is between 32 and 42 degrees Fahrenheit and we get between 400 and 600 hours of temperatures in this range per year, so the chill requirements of your chosen variety of fruit must match these temperatures and length of time.
Fruit trees require pollination partners such as bees and butterflies. Most varieties of fruit trees also need other trees of different varieties within close proximity to pollinate each other. Only peach and persimmon trees and grapevines are self-pollinators. Almost all others need other trees and insects to pollinate them.
If you buy a tree with bare roots, the best time to plant it is in early spring while the tree is still in the dormant phase. If your tree was grown in a pot and has a root ball, you can plant it any time of year, but the best time for good results in our area is April. The hole in which the tree is placed is important to develop a strong healthy root system. It should be at least 50% larger than the root ball, and as deep as the root ball is high. Do not put fertilizer or potting soil in the hole, because the roots will stay right there and fail to spread out seeking nutrients and the root system will not develop properly.
Once the tree is planted, you must stake it and make sure it is well-supported so the wind does not blow it over. In the first year, you must supplement rain by watering it regularly, especially during dry times. Even after the first year, you should watch your fruit trees carefully and supplement rainfall by watering if the tree looks dry. Placing mulch around the base of the tree will help retain moisture for the tree, but no mulch may touch the bark of the tree, for that will damage the bark.
You must fertilize the tree each year for the first ten years, spreading one pound of fertilizer for each year of the tree’s life. The root system spreads out further each year, so also spread the fertilizer out further each year to cover the root system. The local feed and seed store carries a fertilizer blend tailored specifically for the soil in Winn Parish.
Training and pruning of the trees will be needed to grow good robust fruit. Most trees overproduce, so you have to reduce the number of fruiting branches on them by pruning out the excessive fruits in the early stages of growth. This increases the size of the fruit, strengthens the remaining branches to hold the weight of the fruit, keeps the canopy open so sunlight can reach the fruit and ripen it, increases airflow through the branches to reduce wetness and prevent mildew and other problems caused by excess moisture, and spurs fruit production. Some plants, such as grapes, only produce fruit on new growth, so your vines will only produce grapes if you cut off old growth each year to spur new growth the next year. Peaches only produce fruit on growth from the previous year, so pruning is needed each year to get new growth and produce a crop each year.
While Mr. Boyett grows grapes, he said grapes don’t like the climate in our area and varieties from Europe will not grow here at all. You must be selective about the grapevine varieties you choose to plant here. Muscadines thrive in our climate and are a better bet for jelly and wine.
Mr. Boyett said you must observe your fruit trees closely to successfully grow fruit. If you know their character and habits, you will learn to spot problems and ailments before they become too serious and you will be able to nurse your trees back to good health. It is often necessary to spray your fruit trees here due to harmful fungi, insects, and other pests. If you spray, be mindful and try not to harm the pollinators in your neighborhood. Pruning diseased limbs or excess limbs will help the tree recover because it can devote more energy to healing than to putting on new growth. Be sure to clean your pruning tools thoroughly after pruning each tree, so you won’t spread the disease to all your trees. The most common pest affecting peach, apple, and plum trees here is the curculio beetle, for which a preventive spray is available.
Finally, Mr. Boyett said, everyone, has access to advise from the master gardeners in our area, as well as to our Extension agent, Mr. Donnie Moon. They are all available to assist you in selecting, planting, and caring for your fruit trees and all other plantings for which you need advice or assistance.
When Mr. Boyett finished answering questions from the group, the meeting was adjourned by the Rotary Club of Winnfield President Jodi Taylor with the Rotary motto, “Service above self!”
The Rotary Club of Winnfield meets every Wednesday at Noon for lunch at Lynda’s Country Kitchen. For more information about the Rotary Club of Winnfield, you may contact President, Jodi Taylor (832) 573-5085. You can also find club information on Facebook at Rotary Club of Winnfield Facebook Page or online at Rotary.org.
Pictured above: left Donald Boyett, Rotarian Bryan Kelley