Growing Organic Apples Without Spraying

It is possible to raise organic fruit without spraying apple trees with potentially harmful chemicals.

| March/April 1974

  • Apple Trees
    Prune trees, defeat web worms and harvest delicious apples without the dangers of pesticides and herbicides.

  • Apple Trees

Successful orchardists, especially if they're friends and relations, are often super-squelchers of an organic gardener's enthusiasm . "Fiddle around in your vegetable patch if you must," they told me, "but fruit is serious business and chemicals are required." I was given spray schedules, preparation samples and the irrefutable proof of perfect apples. Who was I to argue? I couldn't even get my trees to grow to fruiting age. 

Then, when my husband took me to see the house he'd purchased for us in Iowa, the first thing I noticed was the apple trees. "Oh, yes, there's a Golden Delicious and a Jonathan," said the former owner's wife. "We haven't done much to them in years. Mr. K. can't spray anymore."

Mr. K., in fact, could no longer even go out in the fields without a face mask. As a typical Iowa farmer he'd used herbicides, insecticides and fungicides until his lungs rebelled. Now he was retiring and my chance had come to try for apples without poisons.

That first fall we pushed through the tall prairie grass to pick about a bushel of fruit . . . and pared around the worms to make applesauce. Clearly, I had my work cut out for me if I expected to get the trees in good shape for next season.

What my orchard needed first of all was nourishment, and I kept my eyes open for materials. When Mr. K.'s corn crop was shelled and his men set fire to the husks, I ran out shouting, "Don't burn them! I'll take 'em." So they stamped out the flames, and the corn husks-mixed with wheelbarrow loads of manure-became mulch under the apple trees (not spread within a foot of the trunk where rodents might feed, but from that point out to a circle even with the tips of the branches).

Soon it was late winter and time to prune. This is a shake and shiver chore for me, more from insecurity than the chilly weather. One comfort was that Mrs. K. had cleared out the trees somewhat when they were younger, so they weren't too tall and already had a fairly good basic shape.

8/20/2018 9:54:55 AM

My question has always been, how is anything technically organic when all soil is contaminated by pollution, air and water as well? Granted not using pesticides makes it better, but one would think the person spraying for mosquitoes all summer has at some point sprayed in the wind blowing toward ones organic garden. Just food for thought. (No pun intended)

8/13/2016 11:52:59 AM

Wonderful article. Encouraging!

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