John’s Espalier Project

Plum Espalier
Plum Espalier

“We commenced planting our fruit tree orchard in the early eighties. Diligently we spaced a variety of trees a recommended 17 feet apart.

The trees grew very well, with a little help from a friend’s chicken manure, and it was not very long before we were picking our first fruit.

It soon became apparent that the birds were enjoying the fresh fruit more than Margaret and I. Not a problem, we can simply throw a net over the trees. We soon discovered that one has to be in a good mood before attempting this feat, because one certainly wasn’t by the time one had finished. Removing the nets, tearing holes and stitching them together again is another story.

When we joined the Rare Fruit Society, it became evident that we had no more space on our land to plant some of the rare and exotic fruits grown by other members.

There had to be a way to overcome both the bird and the space problems. Let’s build a netted framework over an espaliered system.

Pine posts soaked in arsenic didn’t appeal to us, nor did termites eating timber. How about steel? We didn’t have, or know how to use a welder, so we successfully experimented with square sectioned steel tubing, galvanised brackets and self-tapping screws.

A plan was drawn and a spacing was decided upon of 5 feet between rows and 7 feet between trees. We read that fruit is generally more prolific on horizontal branches, so we chose a simple 4 wire tiered system which would provide space for about 25 feet of main branches.

The reject steel was delivered by a local salvage yard at less than half normal price. They even cut it into requested lengths. We also ordered rolls of half inch square mesh to cover the framework.

Erection was a lot of fun using a cordless screwdriver, brackets and screws. The netting was also attached with screws and netting clips.

The watering system consists of a half inch polypipe tied to the bottom trellis wire, with upside-down low output micro sprinklers which comply with our water saving regulations. We figured that drippers would not give an even coverage and overhead watering would encourage fungus growth.

When the first stage was nearing completion, it was looking so good that we decided to double the originally planned area. Since then we have had two more extensions. A small area was covered with plastic film which provides a plant propagating area for John. Another corner is covered with shadecloth where Margaret’s grows her ferns.

The soil below is covered with a mulch of wood chips and prunings from our shredder, as well as almond shells which are a by-product of Corella destruction.

Training the new growth of the young trees is a regular but satisfying job in the Spring and early Summer. We have found that the most suitable material for initially securing the branches, is tree tie made from recycled fabric. It is flexible enough to allow expansion of the developing branch and is reusable for several seasons. Later we replace the ties with about 2 or 3 cable ties to each branch.

To label the espaliered fruit trees, we use a black, engraved, ultra-violet stable plastic,
attached by speed nuts to the supporting wire.”

John passed away in 2015.

The following links give testimony to the success of the project.

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