We planted our first 200 apple trees in 1990 and continued to plant a few more trees each spring. By 1995 we had over seven hundred apple trees planted. The winter of 1995/1996 took its toll on our young orchard; we lost close to 200 trees to a combination of snow and mouse damage.
One small block of 100 trees was completely covered with snow; we could not even see the tops! When the snow melted in the spring the heavy crusted snow completely crushed the trees. Because the snow started in early December and did not disappear until early May, there was a good snow cover for the mice to forage and propagate. Mice like the taste of apple bark and will make a meal of it if they can find it. Over fifty trees were lost because mice ate large sections of bark around the trunks.
The silver lining was that it is easier to manage (as a hobby) 500 trees than 750. We have lost a few more trees and planted a few new ones to keep us at around 500.
From the beginning, our goal was to grow apples organically. One thing we did right was to plant mostly disease-free varieties of apples. One of the biggest problems facing apple growers especially in eastern North America is apple scab. Apple scab is caused by a fungal spore (naturally occurring) that lands on fruit and leaves following wet rainy conditions. The fungus creates a black scab on the fruit and leaves. Although the fruit is still completely edible, it is not very marketable. If a bag of apples with black scab marks were on the shelf at the super market, they would probably still be there!
At the time, disease-free varieties were relatively new in the apple world; one of the few nurseries propagating and selling these varieties at the time was Cornhill Nursery in Peticodiac, New Brunswick. They are becoming more widely available and other new disease-free varieties are being released. For the home gardener, a disease-free variety is highly recommended. The varieties we chose were Redfree, NovaMac, Liberty and Freedom. I have since added a row of Pristine. I planted the Freedom at the very end of my orchard so I tell my customers to walk through the back orchard, go past the poplar tree line, through an open field, and when you see the last row of trees, you will find freedom! However, most have come back.