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Organic Fruit Trees

1/26/2011 10:42:05 AM

Tags: organic, fruit, trees, pest control

Organic Fruit TreesI want to raise apple trees organically, and I’ve read that you can protect apples by enclosing them in sandwich bags. Does that really work? I’d love to harvest some bug-free, chemical-free fruit! 

I have personal experience with this technique and it does work, although not perfectly, and I’ve found an alternative I like better.

I have more than 20 heirloom apple, pear and quince trees on dwarf rootstock in my garden, and I’ve been fighting a long, drawn-out and — until recently — losing war against codling moths, the insects that cause worms in fruit with cores.

By luck, an organic orchardist visited me last year and he suggested I stop my annual angst and respond to the problem with something simple and practical — bagging the fruit at petal fall, thus protecting it from all sorts of attacking insects. His simple advice was to use Ziploc sandwich bags, which seemed like a good idea.

The practical problem with using sandwich bags for this purpose is that, while you can zip them tight around a cluster of fruit, you must also snip off the bottom corners so moisture doesn’t build up inside. However, the open corners don’t drain water quickly enough after a heavy rain, and I’ve found that if too much water remains in the bag, the fruit starts to cook in its own steam on hot July days. The holes in the bags also provide access for curculio beetles, another obnoxious fruit pest. (They leave brown, smile-shaped scars on your apples, which means the apples have been impregnated with beetle babies.) By using plastic bags, I had some perfect, unsteamed apples, yet I thought there must be a better way, and, indeed, I’ve found a strategy that I recommend to small orchardists.

I decided to make drawstring bags out of row cover fabric, which is sold by garden supply companies. I sized the bags at 6 by 6 inches, which allows room for fruit expansion. This plan is better than using plastic bags because the fabric exposes the fruit to natural light that ripens it; the bags dry out quickly after a rain so the fruit isn’t subject to a contained, humid environment; and there are no holes for insects to exploit.

The success of such a bagging operation must include the successful control of wildlife, because raccoons and squirrels are extremely adept at destroying both the bags and the fruit. I’ve solved this problem by using Tanglefoot, a sticky, gluelike substance you paint on the bark of your fruit trees. After the critters touch Tanglefoot or a similar product (there are several), they won’t attempt to go up the trees.

William Woys Weaver, contributing editor 

We’ve written about other effective methods for protecting fruit, including a technique using paper bags and one using nylon “footies.” — MOTHER 

Above: Harvest bug-free apples by covering the fruit with bags that keep insects out. Photo by Rob Cardillo. 



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Post a comment below.

 

Lorelle
8/26/2011 8:10:43 PM
I'm interested to know how the fabric bags worked out. Were they worth the time and expense?

WILLIAM Hathaway
4/23/2011 11:02:34 AM
I heard/read somewhere if you put pigs under the trees they will eat what falls and keep the bug population down?

Colleen Lageman
4/22/2011 7:34:02 PM
I am trying to plan ahead for the infestation of Japanese Beetles that wipe out my grapes and all of my fruit. What can I do? I have ducks that are under the trees, etc., but they don't get the ones that are eating the fruit.

Jan Steinman
4/22/2011 3:17:33 PM
Put chickens under your fruit trees! They not only eat a lot of pests, they'll dig up the grass that competes with the fruit tree's feeder roots, and the fruit trees protect the chickens from flying predators like hawks and owls.

Sherry
4/22/2011 1:42:23 PM
I live in Florida and started using the tulle and row cover fabric for all my tomato, cucumber and squash. While very time consuming (& I have a small family garden) - it has so far worked wonderful. I do leave room enough for growth in whatever method a use. On tomato's I put the tulle around each cluster of tomatos, not each individual one. I have used plastic bags with cucumbers and they do build up moisture, so I leave the bottom zippy part open and use a twistie tie to tighten the other part of the bag to the cucumber stem, I have never had anything get in from the open end. I am so happy I tried this, beats the aggrevation of coming out to find some worm ate 5 of the 6 tomato's in one cluster.

David Gaydos
4/22/2011 11:38:56 AM
Tulle is also great for keeping the birds off of your blueberry(etc.)bushes and the japanese beetles off of basil. Get black tulle, as it's hardly noticeable.

Kat Plummer
4/22/2011 9:30:53 AM
The term petal fall I believe refers to the flowers. If you look closely when the blooms die and fall they leave behind the newly forming fruit. Does anyone know if hot pepper spray will work on fruit trees? I know you can make your own spray and spray roses and tomatoes and it keeps the bugs away at least for a rain or two then you must redo it. Any thoughts on fruit trees or grapevines using this method?

Cindy Sue
3/9/2011 1:13:54 PM
This is really good information, but I am new to growing fruit trees and I do not know what you meant by "bagging the fruit at petal fall", can you please explain? Thank you

Jared Barnhart
3/4/2011 1:39:55 PM
Last year I experimented with using tulle fabric in place of row cover. My thoughts were that it would be more durable. It didn't work for frost protection but it did work well to keep bugs out. This might be another material you could make the bags out of. When I bought mine, I looked for a coupon and was able to get it cheaper than row cover. My two cents.







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