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Apple Grower Network Research
Holistic Orchard Research
'If a grower knows why, he or she will teach themselves how.'
L. H. Bailey, The Principles of Fruit Growing, 1897, 1926
Thoughts on Grassroots Research
Useful research for holistic orchardists will always depend on the integration of several factors. Tree health counts, air drainage counts, birds count, microbes count, beneficial insects count, and when it comes to inputs, synergy counts. The organic context is best seen as a holistic integration of everything we do. Nor will an organic solution necessarily seem worthy if we insist on the same standards of "chemical perfection". The mythical 95% packout ties into a cheap food system that requires large-scale growers, mega-packing houses, and WalGreed super stores to set out the syrupy and insipid results of the harvest. A sensible local economy that provides locally-grown food is one of the factors integral to the methods we seek to develop.
We always need to think "integration" in our research approaches even though combined effects are much harder to discern!
Ideas abound when we start considering insect balance, timing of sprays, synergy, holistic disease management approaches like compost tea, and especially living soil systems. Bioregional groups have the best opportunity to "loosely coordinate" the cutting edge ideas of its participating growers. Communicating through the Community Orchardist newsletter and these research pages is one way we can share solid results.
Comparing Apples to Oranges
Two tools in particular intrigue me for "putting numbers" on our methods from which we can begin to draw conclusions. BRIX readings have great relevance as to soil methods, observable pest resistance, and fruit nutritional content. Ergo, we all need to invest in refractometers! Soil life testing produces a biological profile of individual orchard soils that says way more than any nutrient-based soil test reveals. Bioassays are more costly but if we really want to explore which living soils approaches have the greatest health merit, we, the growers, need to do this. Both soilfoodweb.com (living soils) and woodsend.org (composts and compost teas) are reputable labs that offer vital knowledge.
Every fruit grower has an intuitive understanding of what needs to be better understood. The parameters for establishing a grower-managed trial are outlined in the revised Apple Grower (see page 58). Here we list just a few holistic possibilities to get the ol’ noggin turning:
Ideally, we can connect with other holistic growers to trial such ideas. Just as every sustainable orchard site has its quirks, so does every growing season. Methods are indicated for long-term success all the more when different growers observe similar results. Having the discipline to follow through on ideas begun in spring makes all the difference. Mutual trials coordinated with network funding (please help us, apple eaters!) will allow us to write up research results worthy of scientific approval as well as pay for soil life testing and expert assistance in the process. Community orchardists and backyard fruit growers ultimately need to invest as well (became a member now!) in meaningful holistic research if we’re to do amazing things as a growers’ network.
Be inspired and keep in touch.
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