A holistic orchard

Last year we had a gorgeous, plentiful crop of peaches for the first time; a nice crop of apples too. That is, until the rainy summer brought canker, fungus and mold, and turned all my darling little baby fruits, fuzzy and pink with promise, into dangling dark mummies withered with mold.

Mmmm, yummy.

Rather than begin a chemical onslaught, I asked for this book for Christmas:

The Holistic Orchard, by Michael Philips.

Thanks Grandpa Dave and Grandma Kathy uh, I mean Santa!

My blogging friend Diane turned me onto this book; and ooh boy does it ever tickle my inner soil geek.

It’s very well and engagingly written, with extraordinary attention to detail and very convincing science. It reads like a textbook, but is clearly written enough that even if you are new to organic gardening you will be able to understand. Anyone interested in soil science will find it fascinating. I devoured the thing cover to cover in about a week.

Now, that was back in December, so I’m probably due for a re-read. The basic premises, as far as I can remember them, are to attempt to replicate a forest ecology in your own orchard, focusing on promoting soil health so that your trees can better resist bacterial and fungal blights on their own. This is done through specific mulching practices and the introduction of plant “guilds” – comfrey, pungent herbs, yarrow etc all around the drip line of the tree.

The second half of this holistic tree orcharding system focuses on probiotics. (I know, I know, I was a sceptic at first too.) Philips conclusively shows, however, that commercial sprays (organic or not) tend to kill all bacteria & fungi, good or bad, leaving a tree more vulnerable to attack. His method uses probiotic sprays to thoroughly innoculate the trees with the good bacteria that can help them fight off canker, mold, etc. Yes, the bad bacteria will still exist; but hopefully they will be woefully outnumbered and will not be able to do much damage. Eventually, without being able to reproduce, populations of the harmful organisms will decrease and a healthful balance will be restored.

Will it work? I can only hope.

We’ve sprayed twice now, about two weeks apart; first at bud break and then at quarter-inch-green. Once blossoms are open we will wait for petal drop before we spray again. With apple and peach trees so different in their blooming and production times, we may have to juggle spray schedules a bit.

Each time we mix up two gallons of water with a teaspoon and a half of probiotics, a few tablespoons of molasses, seaweed extract, fish emulsion, and a bit of neem oil to deter chewing bugs. I spray it on our fruit trees, of course, but also on our blackberry and raspberry canes, our grapevines and our asparagus beds and rose bushes and even our herbs. Can’t hurt, and it’s way cheaper than commercial sprays.

The best part is that it’s so safe that SofĂ­a can be playing around me while I spray; if I were using chemicals I would have to do it when she was inside. As it is, she even gets her own spray bottle and comes out to “help”, squirting anything she likes. Here she’s standing amid the bags that our dozen new raspberry plants came in. They each get a liberal dose each time we’re out there.

At the very least, I’m hoping the mulching and the repeated applications seaweed and fish fertilizers will help render tastier berries this year. If it doesn’t work, we’re no worse off than we were last year. And if it does… maybe we’ll get our first homegrown peaches. After four years, it’s about time!

2 Responses to “A holistic orchard”

  1. Erin Says:

    Can I please borrow it:grin:

  2. Diana Guillermo Says:

    Once I’m done with my re-read!

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