Chemical-Free Home Orchards

| 2/3/2017 10:47:00 AM

By planting our own fruit trees, most of us hope to have beautiful, nutritious and chemical-free fruit. But there are so many diseases and “bad bugs,” how can we grow organically and not end up with worm-infested fruit? I counted 26 viruses, eight bacteria, and 26 fungi that could damage our trees or fruit. And that wasn’t including the “pests:” maggots, moths, beetles, caterpillars, maggots and borers!

Before giving up or arming ourselves with dozens of chemicals, let me reassure you that it is possible to have healthy trees and beautiful fruit without poisoning our environment and our bodies. I’ll first explain why most “Integrated Pest Management” or even many “organics” won’t result in our chemical-free goal. I’ll then discuss two successful methods that work with nature to avoid chemicals; one method is reducing the level of disease and the other is boosting our fruit trees’ immunity.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

IPM is not an integral part of growing organically, but instead is used to reduce the amount of chemicals used. Commercial apples have 47 pesticide residues per USDA’s pesticide data program, (, so reducing chemicals remains a worthy goal for commercial fruit. But IPM doesn’t get us much closer to having chemical-free fruit.

An example of IPM is the use of phernome traps. These traps alert the orchardist when certain pests arrive so spraying can be done at that specific time instead of randomly. That reduces the amount of chemicals used and is an improvement for the environment, but not good enough for us and our families.

Growing disease-resistant cultivars of fruit trees should be helpful, but in the 15 years of growing both heirloom and disease-resistant fruit trees using methods listed below, I have not seen any advantage to the disease-resistant varieties.

Organic Insecticides

Just because something is labeled “organic” doesn’t mean it’s harmless. “Pyrethrum” is a chemical derived from chrysanthemums and can be used on certified-organic farms. It works by paralyzing insects. We keep beehives in our orchard as a constant reminder that honey bees are insects too, and we don’t want to kill them! Another chemical which is certified for organic orchards is copper sulfate. It is used for fungal and some bacterial infections, but is “highly lethal” to bees.

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