Sustainability at USM

USM Gorham Orchard


Members of the USM Environmental Science Dept, Sustainabilty Office, and Grounds Crew plant sapling during Earth Week 2011In partnership with the Environmental Science Dept, the USM Grounds Crew, and the USM Office of Sustainability, a small fruit orchard was replanted on the site of an historic orchard during Earth Week, April 2011.

Hardy apple rootstock was generously donated by the UMaine Cooperative Extension Service and planted on the Gorham campus in the spring of 2011 (photo at right). A year later scions were grafted onto the rootstock in April 2012 and some whole grafted trees were planted to replace rootstocks that had not survived the winter. 

Visit the orchard plan here for detailed information about the trees.

Gorham Orchard in front of Robie Andrews Hall, 1916

The intent of the orchard is partial restoration of an historical apple orchard downslope from Robie-Andrews Hall on USM's Gorham Campus. Historical sources indicate that apple orchards had been in existence for many years prior to the creation of the Gorham Normal School when the land was part of the McLellan Farm. Photographs from as early as 1916 (right) document the small apple orchard of interest, which, given the size of the trees, was in existence since the late 1800s. Four trees from this period or shortly after remain and one still bears apples!

Scion wood collected from trees around Maine in the fall of 2011, stored over winter, then grafted on to rootstock in the spring of 2012Apple varieties were chosen for grafting to represent hardy heirloom and regional apple types and have desirable characteristics ranging from taste and texture to keeping ability and disease resistance. Types of apples in the orchard include Black Oxford (A Maine Heritage Apple), Duchess, Fameuse, Wealthy, Pumpkin Sweet, Honeycrisp, Sweet 16, and Liberty. 

Check out the orchard plan to see where each variety is planted and the approximate size they may reach in adulthood. The trees are currently spaced close together in nursery. Those that thrive will be spaced appropriately for their mature size in a few years. [2014 Update: Trees have been moved to adult spacing. Updated map coming soon!]

Two apple saplings planted next to each other in nursery Photo at left: Two Sweet 16 scions grafted onto M111 semi-standard rootstock from Fedco

The varieties were grafted on to three different sized rootstocks and, as they mature, the trees will be three different sizes: semi-dwarf (8-12 feet tall), semi-standard (10-15 ft tall), and standard (up to 25 ft tall). Apples can be expected in five to ten years and the trees can live up to 50 years for the dwarf varieties and up to 100 years for the standards.

This orchard is to be used as a living learning laboratory for all members of the USM community and open to the public. No chemical pesticides, insecticides, or fertilizers will be used on these trees. 

Black Oxford saplings at the USM Gorham heirloom apple orchard, Gorham Maine

Summer 2012 Update: the trees are budding and most of the grafts have 'taken' and are thriving. When you visit, look for bandages on the trees where the scion of the heirloom apple variety was attached to the rootstock. Click here to see photos of the grafting process using the 'whip and tongue' method.

Spring 2013 Update: Many of the grafts did not survive the winter. Some of the saplings have been broken off at the ground including both pears. The good news is that at least half of the grafts did survive and budded last season and hopefully will thrive this summer. Grafted branches are marked with light green Velcro ties and in many cases the scar where the scion was grafted to the root stock can be seen below the Velcro. Photo at right: two black oxford saplings February 2013

Gorham Apple Orchard April 2014 complete with polyculture plantings

Spring 2014 Update: Because the trees are now two and three years old, this year we moved them out of their nursery (close together) planting and into their adult spacing. Some of them are still labeled but they no longer have their graft bandages or velcro markings. Stay tuned for a sign to be installed in May, a new map to be posted, and tags placed on all the trees. Thanks to the USM Grounds team for their help and thanks to Dave Homa of Post Carbon Designs for his permaculture lesson and skills planning and replanting the trees for Earth Week 2014. Photo above: April 2014 replanting of three-year old apple saplings to orchard spacing.

USM orchard plant guilds provide support for each other

Photo of the USM Gorham Apple Orchard with its sign

Fall 2014 Update: The teenager apple trees had a great summer and are thoroughly enjoying their new plant companions. We carefully created guilds of plants that benefit each other (through pollinator attraction, pest detraction, and/or altering the soil characteristics) by planting sorrel, comfrey, and mouse garlic with the apple saplings. Photos at right: Orchard signage; Plant guild with apple tree in center.