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GrowOrganicApples.com is a Holistic Orchard Network: Together we can Grow Organic Apples as part of the local foods movement.
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Articles on Holistic Orcharding

Holistic Core Values

Edited by Michael Phillips

Philosophical approval of one's farming practices is indeed a tough nut to crack! What follows is absolutely a work-in-progress: Holistic growers, let your thoughts be known! We have no intention of launching yet another certification process here. On the other hand, giving orchardists a nudge to embrace radiant system health that results in the growing of nutrient-dense fruit on the local level is an honorable achievement. Orchard challenges are many - the work overwhelming at times. What follows are positive guidelines to keep us on track in managing orchards based on minimal off-farm inputs, living soil practices, and integrated ecosystem health.

Bringing Orchard Health to the Fore

  • The nutrition and vital health constituents provided within the fruit we grow nourishes families in our communities. Do not short change the nutrient density of fruit by using soluble chemical fertilizers. Invest in rock powders where mineral needs come up short.
  • Aged compost, ramial wood chips, and unpasteurized liquid fish sprays abet mycorrhizal fungi. These tree allies in turn assist the tree to be healthy. Holistic orchardists think about fungi.
  • Herbal medicine at its finest is really about deep nutrition. Fermented teas of horsetail, nettle, and comfrey are local brews with offer wide-ranging constituent bioavailability to both foliage and fruit. Kelp from the sea serves as a tree megavitamin in every spray tank. A homemade garlic extract works in synthesis with other spray materials. These are good things to provide our trees.
  • Orchard sprays that build health include unadulterated neem oil. Study up on this ancient Ayurvedic herb. Do trials. Realize the many purposes it serves in building health and assisting the tree to ward off disease as well as quell pest dynamics. Support a fair trade source of neem. Ponder bioregional alternatives to whole neem's ability to stimulate the immune response in the tree.
  • Understand the timing of orchard tasks relative to tree growth cycles and what holistic orchardists refer to as the Fungal Curve.
  • Abetting diversity in the orchard ecosystem is a must. Manage the fallows to encourage tap-rooted plants, plant comfrey as "living mulch" under full-size trees, cover crop strips of flowering plants like buckwheat and red clover for beneficials. Herbicides are not a part of abetting diversity.
  • Practice biological mowing as opposed to all-out grass warfare. Keep ongoing bloom in mind to support the bumbles!
Mycorrhizal Planet: How Fungi and Plants Work Together by Michael Phillips -- click for book summary. Image by Anne Stokes, www.annestokes.com Mycorrhizal Planet: How Fungi and Plants Work Together

Pest and Disease Management

  • Good sanitation practice limits fungal pathogen sources as well as soil-pupating insect pest populations.
  • Spray applications are generally essential for commercial orchardists. The OMRI List is one tool to gauge acceptable organic options. We share a goal to minimize off-farm inputs: wise discernment as how best to optimize a spray application is part of that process. Use monitoring traps, trap trees, feeding attractants (when appropriate), and ultraviolet inhibitors like fish oil to protect biological spray materials. Use kaolin clay to advantage to also help lessen sun degradation of sulfur. Think through tank mixes to limit the number of tractor passes through the orchard.
  • Fungicide use should be intelligently minimized. Keeping disease in check is very important but so is supporting the microorganism community in both the soil and the tree. Equally telling, far fewer fungicides (of any sort) allow higher levels of medicinal constituents in the fruit that are vital to human health.
  • We encourage every grower to forego the use of all chemicals. That said, we recognize orchard dynamics at any one site differ considerably. If limited use of a certain chemical in the short term makes it possible for you to sustain a community orchard effort, LOCAL takes credence over ORGANIC. But . . . please try your darndest to explore less allopathic options, give such methods a legitimate trial, and recognize that "breaking the habit" some years may indeed be plausible. Growers with a listing as a Community Orchard on this site deal with specific orcharding challenges in numerous ways. We are people who emphasize Health in our farming practices in order to bring our friends and neighbors Healthy Fruit. (Apple lovers -- please read more on this below.)
Grow your orchard library at our Bookshelf Grow your orchard library at our Bookshelf.

Community Mindedness

  • Educating people about what all goes into a "good apple" helps our customers understand the full value of holistically-grown fruit and increases aesthetic acceptance of minor pest and disease marking. Tell your customers what they want to know about your orchard management choices.
  • Honor reasonable grading standards and viable pricing.
  • Community orchardists serve local markets: the home farmstand, farmers' markets, food co-ops and bioregional CSA's are all wonderful!
  • Observe the teachings of the trees. Actively share what you discover with this network so other growers can "jump start" their own learning curves.
  • Remember that personal integrity matters. Always.
Support our Organic Apple Grower Network! Your involvement means we can do so much more!
Support our growers' network! Your involvement means we can do so much more!

A last word with Apple Lovers, if you please.

The term "organic" as now in the hands of the US Department of Agriculture has been convoluted. National certification standards for organic agriculture do indeed reflect good tenets but there are also dubious rules and outright hedging that miss the mark. One can meet the standards for organic fruit growing and yet be way out of touch with holistic understanding. The true goals of the grassroots organic movement have never changed: healthy food from healthy soil, local farms feeding local folks. Importing an "organic apple" from thousands of miles away is not environmental awareness in action - burning petroleum to get that piece of fruit to your door is as "earth allopathic" as organophosphate sprays are in the orchard ecosystem. Which isn't to say we don't make compromises in going about our daily lives.

This network deliberately uses the word "holistic" to describe health-building orchard practices that bring about wholesome fruit. We recognize that there are extremely well-intentioned growers who may not yet be in an economic position to forego a certain chemical application. These are growers who support the living soil, abate fungal problems with good sanitation practice, minimize the use of fungicides in favor of boosting tree immunity with deep nutrition, abet microorganism allies, and approach insect pest situations with life-cycle understanding and bold biodiversity. Very discerning chemical use may be a one-shot directed at overwhelming curculio pressure, or extended fruit rots due to high humidity in the Southeast, or organized borers lurking behind every tree trunk. And yet we need such folks to provide otherwise nutrient-dense food in the communities where we live. We encourage growers to trial holistic techniques that others have successfully employed and proven. This is a nudging process. We're getting here from there, to paraphrase an old New England adage.

Descartes -- click for Holistic Orchard Network Discussion Forum
Explore even more nuance in our grower discussion forum.

Get involved with your community orchardist, apple lovers: offer your sweat labor on orchard work days, do some word-of-mouth marketing, pay a fair price, share your thanks. The story behind any grower's decisions in this network are understood by other growers and an open book to you as well . . . all you have to do is ask!

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Organic Orcharding Articles


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