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grower profile:

Lost Nation Orchard

Groveton, New Hampshire

Michael Phillips

Lost Nation Orchard
Michael Phillips
Tell us about your growing philosophy.

Recognizing a holistic paradigm for agriculture opened incredible doors for this kid. Producing nutrient-dense fruit begins with supporting a righteous biology in the soil. Up in the arboreal sphere, competitive colonization (with effective microbes) along with fatty acid nutrition provides plenty of oomph to overcome the bulk of disease pressures. Curculio, sawfly, and the northern moth complex are present, certainly, yet balance can readily be found. Pure neem oil plays a big role on all fronts. Serious attention to soil fertility ratios rounds out my integrated plan to orchard health.

Tell us about your place on Earth.

Our mountainside orchard in Lost Nation consists of 300 or so trees, spread across three blocks in an extremely diverse landscape. Most of the fruits are apple (of course!) with a smattering of euro pears, hybrid plums, pie cherries, and northern-hardy peaches for the family. Principle apple rootstocks are MM.111, Bud.118, and Antonovka, with a number of other dwarfing suspects(40% vigor and up) on trial. Ours is a glorious place with bioregional potential for surviving a rapidly changing climate. Now in Zone 4b. Tomorrow, who knows?

What draws you to growing fruit?

Trees are lifetime friends. My journey began when picking apples as part of a migrant crew in Vermont in the early 80s, with one off-season spent doing the same in New Zealand. Planting that very first apple tree along the way led to many revelations. My heart sings when I'm out with the trees and the pollinators and the birds and friend borer . . . whoa, there fella, let's not get that carried away by poetic fervor! But you all know what I mean. We are brothers and sisters under the sun, caring for this good earth, happily able to reach upward in picking those delicious fruits which keep our families and communities in ever good stead.

What holistic innovation keeps your trees rarin' to grow?

Trace mineral co-factors that underlie healthy plant metabolism are very cutting edge indeed. This ties to understanding about critical points of influence in the growing season, such as when the seed ovule receives pollen and blossom meristems initiate. Trace mineral products like MicroPak from AEA and Mikronite from Agri-Dynamics added to holistic applications at pink, petal fall, and 1st (or 2nd) cover improve the odds considerably that biosynthesis will run efficiently precisely when the confluence of pest and disease challenges peak. Repeat at least once again going into terminal bud set in mid-August. We are talking about some incredibly cool organic chemistry and plant physiology here.

How has an ecosystem approach changed your tree reality for the better?

Outrageous diversity brings many health connections to the fore. From beneficial insects above to the common root being below. Thinking of one's fruit trees in the context of a vast plant community is integral to making subtler production methods successful.


Share an “aha! moment” that made you a better grower.

Thinking this will be for the fungi! The new book, Mycorrhizal Planet, delves into the symbiotic ties between the microbe world and the roots of plants. All began when I asked a fundamental question as to where fruit trees really want to grow. The answer pivots on where the fungal biomass in the soil turns out to be greater than the bacterial biomass. And so began my journey with fungal duff management as defined by a forest edge soil ecosystem. Now the language shifts to speaking about pulsing the spring feeder root flush immediately following bloom and stirring the biological stew after harvest. A holistic orchardist stewards this very precious connection with mycorrhizal fungi in order to grow healthy fruit. 

What might you change if you could do one thing over again in your orchard?

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, eh? I have been to many wonderful places where it's been enticing to envision a new start on more extensive orchard ground. Yet I plug away, knowing that growing fruit here, tucked away as I am at the base of mountainous terrain, is a testament of sorts. Overcoming fungal challenges in Lost Nation provides many opportunities for proving that holistic methods work.

How do you go about marketing the good fruit?

We sell organic apples directly to preferred customers on our mailing list -- which just means folks who sign up to receive our weekly varietal update. Our barn is set up for retail sales every fall weekend through October. We have launched a Cider Press Share campaign with plans to open a membership cider club. (Do feel free to emulate this idea for your own farm efforts.) We sell fruit to buying clubs downstate, always contingent on a designated driver. And finally, local food stores in Lancaster and Colebrook offer our apples all the rest of the days of the week and into the holiday season.

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