Jon has diversified his 15-acre farm with a high density trellised apple orchard. This orchard style allows for higher yields in a shorter amount of time than traditional orchards. He can plant 1,000 trees per acre, while a traditional orchard typically has 350 trees an acre. The trellising allows for sunlight to shine on all parts of the trees in equal amounts, ensuring high quality fruits on the entire tree. The compact setup also facilitates efficient maintenance and disease and pest control.
“The initial cost of a high-density orchard per acre is higher than a traditional orchard but this difference is quickly minimized based on the earlier first crop, increased quality of fruit, and higher production per acre,” Jon said.
Rows of trees are spaced 12 feet apart, and the trees within rows are only three to four feet apart. Anchor posts are at the ends of each row, and 12-foot posts are within rows, every 40 feet. Attached to the posts are three to four wires with the top wire being 10 feet high. A 10 to 12-foot metal post is anchored directly next to the trunk of the tree and provides support for the main leader. Pruning and training of the main leader is done so that it reaches the top wire, while branches are trained perpendicular to the main leader using wire for support. When the trees have grown out, they take on a wall appearance.
Jon expects to harvest his first crop in the second or third year instead of the sixth or seventh year like a traditional orchard. He anticipates 700 bushels per acre after the second year, eventually yielding more than 1,000 an acre after six years. He uses Integrated Pest Management to spot disease and pest issues before they start so his spraying regime is as efficient as possible.
Jon is gorwing several different varieties apples so that they can be harvested throughout the harvest season. Gala and Golden Delicious are picked in August, Fuji and Honeycrisp are ready in October, and Pink Lady and Granny Smith are harvested through early November. He plans to build a farm stand, offer pick-your-own and host other agritourism events.
Jon has raised pastured pork, broilers and egg layers since 2014, selling through Mill Spring Farm Store, Saluda Farmers Market, and directly to customers. TK Family Farm is endearingly named after his three children, the Three Knuckleheads, who have inspired his farming endeavors.
“We would like for our children to experience first hand the responsibility and hard work necessary to run a farm,” Jon said. “The goal is not to make more ‘farmers’ out of our children but to have them understand responsibility, honesty and integrity so that they can carry those ideals with them into adulthood.”