Chemical-Free Home Orchards, Part 2, Holistic Sprays

Reader Contribution by Mary Lou Shaw
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If we want healthy fruit trees and beautiful, abundant fruit—all without chemicals—then holistic sprays are the answer. Routinely using holistic sprays results in much less disease and way-more fruit.

My first experience with anything similar to “holistic sprays” was when making cheddar cheese from our Dutch Belted cows’ milk. After pressing the curds, there remains an abundance of whey which contains sugar (lactose) and live bacteria (lactobacilli). There are many uses for this healthy combination, but the summer I poured whey on tomato plants was the summer I woke up to the potential of holistic sprays. The tomatoes doubled in size and number and no longer were bothered by fungal disease.

Excited to see what this sugar and bacteria combination could do, I began making compost tea. Learn how to make your own here. Wow! Vegetables and flowers got much bigger and stayed healthy until the first heavy frost.

You could say I was a convert before ever reading Michael Phillips’ The Holistic Orchard book and his instructions for holistic fruit tree sprays. His book can be purchased here. After five years of using this mixture on our fruit trees, I was again amazed by the results. Without the use of any chemicals, we now have beautiful fruit and healthy trees. Our only problem now is what to do with all the fruit!

Holistic sprays work by boosting the immune response of trees and increasing the growth of both trees and their fruit. Let’s look at all their ingredients to better understand how they support fruit trees. After that, I’ll include Phillips’ recipe and spraying schedule for fruit trees. Phillips’ book is an excellent reference, but he’s quite the philosopher and I find it helpful to have the information in the following condensed form:

Ingredients for holistic spray:

Pure Neem Oil: (Dyna-Gro): 1) Deters pests and interrupts their life-cycle, 2) Stimulates trees’ immune system

Soap: any biodegradable soap will serve to emulsify neem oil

Fish Emulsion: (Organic Neptune’s Harvest): Feeds the soil and trees’ food -web

Liquid Seaweed, “kelp”: (Sea Crop): Promotes growth and helps fruit trees’ adoption to stress

Unsulfured Black Strap Molasses: 1) Provides nutrients for beneficial microbes, 2) Helps “stick” introduced microbes to leaf surfaces, 3) Increases the BRIX (sugar content) and thus nutrient level of fruit

Mother Culture: (SCD Probiotics or TeraGanix): Provides beneficial bacteria and fungi that work synergistically with trees to fight disease and promote fruit growth

Up to this past year I’ve ordered these ingredients in bulk and individually. They create quite cluttered corner in our sun-room!

As an attempt to have our farm more sustainable by not buying so much online, I began making compost tea instead of purchasing mother culture. This cuts cost and also assures me that I am using the microbes when they’re at their peak condition. Another recent option is purchasing ingredients as a single order from Fedco, which you can find here.

Basic Four-Gallon Recipe for Holistic Spray


5 oz. neem oil (double for first spray)
1 teaspoon soap (double for first spray)
10 oz. liquid fish (double for first spray)
3 to 4 tablespoons molasses
3 tablespoons mother culture
5 tablespoons liquid kelp or 0.5 oz of dry seaweed extract
Add enough water to create a four gallon mixture

Schedule for Holistic Sprays

Springtime Sprays

1. Week of quarter-inch green: (fruit buds are green from tip to ½-way down bud). Choose a warmer day and thoroughly wet branches, trunk and ground.

2. Week of “early pink”: (fruit buds first show pink—never spray on open flowers).

3. Petal fall: spray to point of run-off.

4. First cover: This occurs 7 to 10 days following third spray.

 Single Autumn Spray: When 40 percent to 60 percent of leaves have fallen. Liquid kelp can be omitted.

Spraying hints

• Springtime is a very busy time for all of us who have a garden or farm animals, so do the best you can with getting the four sprays completed. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t get all four done.
• Fruit trees and their buds are not in the same stage at the same time. At our farm, we have to “average” out their development and spray them at the same time, or we would never get done.
• Avoid windy or wet days. But if you do get caught downwind of the spray, you won’t be poisoned—just a bit sticky and smelling of fish!
• Liquefy the neem oil by placing its container in warm water shortly before mixing the spray.
• Always strain the mixture before putting it into sprayer. Not having to repeatedly unclog the nozzle is a great time-saver.
• Be generous with spraying the soil too. Remember that adding bacteria and fungi increases the health of your soil which transmits more nutrients to your fruit.

For those of you whose fruit trees have been slow to get growing and producing the fruit you hoped for, I think you’ll find the holistic sprays worth their bother and almost magical in their results. Enjoy!

Mary Lou Shaw is a retired family practitioner who is now homesteading with her husband in Ohio. Besides growing their own food, the pair helps preserve genetics and knowledge needed by others to foster rare breeds. Buy Mary Lou’s book, Growing Local Food, through Carlisle Press at 800-852-4482. Read all of Mary Lou’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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