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A Guide for the
excerpt from Chapter Ten: The Sustainable Orchard
The Sustainable Orchard
Together we have examined numerous ways for balancing pest dynamics in the orchard. The complexities of growing fruit at any given farm will always be unique. Accordingly, no one formula for successful orcharding can be given; anyone doing so would only be oversimplifying the challenges. Each and every grower must individually think through orchard particulars.
The apple curculio has a rightful place in the Lost Nation ecosystem. We've come to an understanding, of sorts, through a series of "kaolin negotiations," that the surrounding wild trees (like this hawthorn) are their domain.
Photo by Alan Eaton
Growers seeking to rely entirely on natural advantages must account for orchard architecture in any planting plan. We influence insect and disease dynamics to varying degrees by the way we attune our orchards to the lay of the land. The direction and strength of the prevailing wind can help beneficial populations move about as well as dry leaves after a wetting period. Conversely, an everyday breeze (or lack thereof) can assist problematic moths immigrate or a vector load of ascospores pour in from unmanaged trees nearby. Larger blocks of trees have a diversity disadvantage in general, though shape and refugia within can help. Lush varieties preferred by curculio can be positioned with an integrated trapping strategy in mind. The habitat immediately adjacent to the apple orchard can be especially useful.
Dan Kelly in Missouri established a native prairie border around the 5 acres of his orchard specifically with plum curculio in mind. The brushy areas and woods where plum curculios overwinter lie beyond this buffer (varying in width from 100 to 300 feet) and provide a necessary windbreak. Dan maintains the native plants in this prairie ecosystem just as Nature has from time immemorial-only now the consuming wildfire is exquisitely timed for when the orchard comes into pink. A grass fire lit every two years or so at this moment in the orchard calendar coincides perfectly with a moderate curc emergence and migration at this particular site.
"I had noticed quite a lot of oviposition scars on the fruit early in the orchard's production," reports Dan. "Now I find that the prairie burn coupled with harder varieties crushing any late larvae has effected a reasonable balance with curculio." All these elements together allow this apple grower to not bother with Surround kaolin clay for an otherwise significant pest. "I would view a prairie burn as having a positive impact on cyclical comeback in those areas where plum curculio populations are more isolated," confirms Tracy Leskey at the Appalachian Fruit Research Station.
Narrow tree plantings enable Lou Lego in New York State to take a laissez-faire approach to pest management in general. He plants highly susceptible varieties (such as Gala, Empire, Fuji, and Cameo) between rows of scab-resistant varieties. The wind keeps the orchard floor clean and the foliage dry. Neither apple maggot nor apple sawfly move across the intervening production fields. "All the plantings on the farm influence the farm environment as a whole, "says Lou. "The fact that we plant the trees in five-row blocks, that there are quince in the orchard, has created an environment that is conducive to helping with pest problems. Strip that all away and you have a whole new management scenario."
Grow Organic Apples (.com)
On-farm fertility is far more important than many apple growers realize. True soil health has far more to do with biology than with mere mineral availability. A "synthesis of place" occurs when microorganisms, biomass, grazing animals, and plant influences both direct and join in the chorus of the land. This may sound far too esoteric to be of practical use, I know, but until you've seen farms where a "closed farm system" is in place, you really have no idea just how fertile good ground can be. Probably the most profound advice I came across in this regard was that for each 5 acres of apple orchard, you need to set aside 1 acre to run one cow. Compost and rumination are fundamental forces for achieving system health, and, truth be known, we now have a family cow. Sassy will be in charge of recycling organic matter back out to our orchard, gardens, and pastures from here on in. Can you think of a more essential component to "sustainable agriculture" than this?
The nutrient balance presented to a "natural apple tree" creates fruit that is tastier. Soil quality ratings go up when fungal compost and woodsy mulches are applied in the orchard regularly. A healthy soil community in turn addresses vexing problems such as disease susceptibility. Natural fertility begets everything good that happens above. This cannot be overstressed!
We've taken a gander at many homegrown medicines that can be used in the organic orchard. A willingness to ponder the ways by which fruit trees resist disease from within may guide you to inducing such resistance from without. The best herbal remedies build tree health rather than working solely on an allopathic level. Growers experimenting with compost teas hold a tool with legitimate potential. Biodynamic preparations made on the farm-and applied to that very same ground-demonstrate a far more energetic effect than preparations made elsewhere.
One all-too-familiar refrain this past century has been that natural predators of pests can never completely protect the fruit crop. A similar disdain for the pests themselves led crop scientists to espouse poisons and "clean-slate" fungicides as a philosophy unto itself. The orchardists of tomorrow will take an entirely different credo to heart. An attitude of honoring all species-aye, embracing even the pests as belonging on our farms as much as we do-means we go about our orcharding with a higher regard for allies as well as perceived enemies. This shift in mind-set invariably results in a favorable shift in insect dynamics.
Our belief system is always reflected back at us to some degree. Year after year, with less and less intervention, scab has become a gentle expression in my orchard rather than a dominating force to be feared. (God, I am going to get clobbered this year for speaking like this!) I understand the scab being, where it comes from, and what it requires. I can shape its expressed need to be, whether with a timely touch of sulfur or through vibrant tree mycology, but I'm alluding to something deeper here as well. If I anticipate more of a problem-and I spray this, then that, then this-often my expectations will be rewarded on the material plane. This phenomenon is all real and palpable to me, yet so very difficult to explain. It's far easier not to be aware that we have been gifted with abilities beyond our ken.
Improving regional cultivars through breeding work promises to be more straightforward. Polygenic resistance to disease can be brought to the fore to suit localized challenges. Selecting for ecological adaptiveness on any one farm will reflect soil type, microclimatic conditions, and pest perplexities in a way no distant breeding program can. Growers can cross modern disease-resistant cultivars with regional heirlooms and wilder strains exhibiting those additional tolerances absolutely required in a given locale. Preserving our apple heritage from the direct threat of gene manipulation is a "must-do" occupation, in my opinion.
Obviously, any grower who stakes his or her economic future on a successful fruit crop each and ever season cannot afford to risk that crop in its entirety. A product-based approach provides a sense of certitude that desirable results will happen. A systems-based approach, on the other hand, involves faith that ecodiverse forces at work in this year and at this place are going to give an equally deserving crop. We each advance toward the broader view at a pace that suits us, and that is perfectly understandable.
The Apple Grower: A Guide for the Organic Orchardist
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