The Holistic Approach to Orchard Health

Learn the holistic approach to better orchard health — from pure neem oil to liquid fish sprays.

| May 3, 2013

  • The Holistic Orchard
    "The Holistic Orchard," by Michael Phillips, provides readers with all the information needed to create and maintain a successful orchard.
    Cover Courtesy Chelsea Green Publishing
  • All fungal events can be correlated with root timing down below. Holistic disease management is facilitated by seeing this fungal curve as a guide to the timing of specific tasks.
    Illustration Courtesy Chelsea Green Publishing
  • All fungal events can be correlated with root timing down below. Holistic disease management is facilitated by seeing this fungal curve as a guide to the timing of specific tasks.
    Illustration Courtesy Chelsea Green Publishing
  • Pure neem oil requires a soap emulsifier to properly mix into water.
    Photo Courtesy Chelsea Green Publishing
  • silica levels in the "Equisetum arvense" plant — commonly known as horsetail — rise appreciably when the fronds spread apart.
    Photo Courtesy Chelsea Green Publishing
  • Stinging nettle in the seed stage has increasing levels of silica.
    Photo Courtesy Chelsea Green Publishing
  • Comfrey can be used as a homegrown foliar calcium source by simply brewing an herbal tea with its leaves and letting this ferment five to seven days.
    Photo Courtesy Chelsea Green Publishing
  • The process of brewing nutrient-rich teas for the holistic orchard requires little more than brewing buckets for each herb.
    Photo Courtesy Chelsea Green Publishing
  • The "Venturia" fungus that causes pear scab overwinters in twig lesions as well as on fallen leaves.
    Photo Courtesy Alan Jones
  • Peach leaf curl establishes at the end of a harvest in bud crevices.
    Photo Courtesy Alan Biggs
  • Bacterial spot launches right around budbreak.
    Photo Courtesy Megan Kennelly
  • The fungal duff zone finds its heyday when it comes time to stir the biological stew each fall.
    Photo Courtesy Chelsea Green Publishing
  • A modicum of lime sprinkled on the first fallen leaves ensures that a hefty majority of the current year's scab lesions will be unsuccessful at establishing pseudothecia (spore sacs)to spread disease anew nest spring.
    Photo Courtesy Chelsea Green Publishing

  • The Holistic Orchard

The Holistic Orchard (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011), by Michael Phillips, demystifies the basic skills everybody should know about the inner-workings of the orchard ecosystem, as well as orchard design, soil biology and organic health management. Detailed insights into the holistic approach on grafting, planting, pruning and choosing the right varieties for your climate are also included, along with a step-by-step instructional calendar to guide growers through the entire orchard year. The following excerpt comes from chapter 1, “The Orchard Ecosystem” and chapter 4, “Orchard Dynamics.”

You can buy this book in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store:
The Holistic Orchard.

The Four Holistic Sprays of Spring (Part One)

The heart of a holistic approach to disease comes down to four health-supporting sprays for our fruit trees early in the growing season. We forgo copper, sulfur, and lime sulfur by doing this. These are the long-standing mineral fungicides relied upon in certified organic operations to ward off potential disease . . . but at a cost to mycorrhizal health, fruit finish, yields, and return bloom. An overview of organic allopathy will be coming, along with an understanding of specific challenges when health-minded orchardists might nevertheless feel compelled to call upon traditional spray options. Weather that induces serious disease risk demands focused attention. Yet we can often ride through extenuating circumstances simply by emphasizing orchard health across the board. Which brings us to the four holistic sprays of spring.

These fixings of orchard health consist of pure neem oil, unpasteurized liquid fish, and a diverse complex of microbes. That last component of this holistic recipe can be served up as effective microbes or aerated compost tea. This is primarily a nutritional brew for beneficial fungi that also happens to stimulate tree immune function. A competitive arboreal environment will ward off pathogenic disease, and all the more so when fruit tree phytochemistry is activated. The primary infection period for most tree disease is effectively straddled by these sprays. Yet there’s more to this story. The nitrogen boost (from the fish) going into bloom will strengthen pollen viability. Insect pests will be impacted by azadirachtin compounds in the neem, which inhibit the progression from egg to larva to adult. These holistic spray applications serve as a biological replacement for petroleum-based dormant oil as well. Early-season moth cycles get disrupted, setting up “lesser generations” the rest of the season. That should be plenty to wet your whistle for now, methinks.

Biological Reinforcement

The interplay of microbe communities on the surface of the leaf and fruit is finally getting the attention it deserves. I am jump-starting orchardists (by way of this book) to the cutting edge of biological fruit growing . . . and trying to keep things relatively reasonable at the same time! This is a microscopic world where numerous species of fungi and bacteria consume and become food resources; leaf phytochemistry is stimulated by the presence of trillions of organisms; and disease-causing fungi and bacteria have to compete every step of the way.

Canopy colonization depends first of all on food resources being available, be this from leaf exudates, the bodies of fellow microbes, the food-generating capability of photosynthetic bacteria, atmospheric contributions, and whatever we supply additionally as growers. A number of other factors work against full colonization of competitive organisms on all surfaces of the fruit tree. Ultraviolet degradation, acid rain, ozone depletion, extreme heat, and dry spells have to do with natural decline. Additional impact comes from agricultural choices to use fungicides and high-nitrate fertilization to up yields. The upshot here is that maintaining a competitive arboreal environment calls for regular biological reinforcement provided with appropriate food resources.

Effective microbes


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