Sep 7, 2010
Tall or super spindle? A matter of space

The difference between tall spindle and super spindle is simply a matter of space. Tall spindle trees have 3 feet to 1 meter of space between them, whereas super spindle trees are laid out with no more than 2 feet between them. The additional trees packed in to super spindle blocks make the tree densities much higher.

Seeing these systems firsthand during the International Fruit Tree Association’s (IFTA) tour of western New York in July, it was clear that growers are finding ways to make both systems work for them.

The yields produced by a super spindle system are marginally better than with tall spindle if, and only if, the grower has the right kind of management in place to handle the system, according to Cornell University researchers. The added expense of growing a super spindle orchard can be somewhat negated by growing your own trees. The majority of super spindle orchards seen on the IFTA tour were planted with trees the growers grew themselves, rather than buying them through a nursery. These growers usually worked in conjunction with other growers to form a cooperative nursery.

Lamont Fruit Farm in Medina, N.Y., has gone with super spindle. According to the plan, trees planted in 2009 will not begin to bear yields until 2012 and will not begin to repay the initial costs per acre until 2013. But the investment will show advances in income potential. When yields reach full potential with 1,200 bushels per acre, each acre will begin to show profit by the ninth year.

The Lamont growers are planting their trees in 11-foot by 2-foot spacings and at 2,000 trees to the acre. They are keeping costs down through a cooperative partnership with six other growers to act as their own nursery.

“With growing our own trees, we can keep the costs at right around $2 per tree,” said Rod Farrow, Lamont’s operator. “If we had to buy them from a nursery, it would cost us at least $4 per tree – and there would go our profit potential.”

Tall spindle systems produce slightly lower yields, depending on the rootstock and apple variety, but in general they yield faster than super spindle trees, according to Cornell researchers. There is also reduced initial cost due to fewer trees being planted, which reduces the cost of labor and training materials.

Training and mechanization are similar for each system. With each, there has to be some amount of training with the branches to optimize the fruiting potential, said Terence Robinson, an applied fruit crop physiologist with Cornell. He suggested that guide wires be used to trail down small branches, and that larger branches be thinned during pruning.

High-density orchards also permit mechanized harvesting, with platforms, bin sleds, pruning towers and fan-powered sprayers that get complete coverage and prevent excessive spray drift, Farrow said.

How do you decide between tall spindle and super spindle? Look at what you want to accomplish and plan it out well in advance, Robinson said. Tree variety and rootstock are dependant on soil conditions, so you need to factor those into your costs. Also, look at how much you can afford to invest and how long you can wait for a return on that initial investment.

Working closely with your local Extension agents and carefully mapping out your plans with them is a good idea, Farrow said.

— By Derrek Sigler, Assistant Editor

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