"We’re talking about the artistry of what we each do here, based on observation and reasonable scientific speculation."
- Michael Phillips- Author of "The Apple Grower"
There are lots of terms out there today to try to describe how our food is grown. For those of us growing apples, "organic" is not the holy grail. Growing in a truly sustainable, holistic manner is, or at least should be; organic is just one part of this approach. Either way, it is a very challenging way to grow. We view our orchard management plan as part of our responsibility as stewards of this property, which also provides maple syrup, firewood, sheep pasture, grain, and vegetables from our gardens. In order to be good hosts for the creatures we share this property with, we choose management practices that will be compatible with the lifestyles of wildlife.
Thus, we encourage healthy trees with good pruning, a diverse understory, and healthy soil. We also use the least toxic pest and disease controls available; for example, to prevent insect damage early in the growing season we spray clay on the trees. This clay is irritating to insects, especially those trying to eat or lay eggs on the trees, but is not toxic even to the pests. We use very low amounts of sulfur a couple of times in the spring to fight off the apple scab fungus, which can prevent any edible apples from developing on susceptible trees if left unchecked. We try to pick up all drops, which might harbor next year’s pests if left on the ground. We also spray Bacillus thuringiensis for codling moth, which is a bacteria that is toxic only to caterpillars that eat it. All of these approaches require close attention to what is going on in the orchard, so that they can all be timed and deployed in a way to maximize their efficiency, and minimize the need for additional spraying. The safety of these management practices is evident in the astounding number of bird nests we see throughout the orchard, the diversity of insects, spiders, and other small inhabitants in the trees, and the frequent signs of larger visitors including deer, bear, coyotes and foxes.
The outcome of these wildlife-friendly management practices is an abundance of beautiful, healthy apples that are not all the perfect round orbs you see in the grocery store. We try to minimize but do not prevent pest insects and diseases in the orchard; some of our apples have scars that would make them unsalable in a mainstream commercial setting, but are unblemished inside. Also, trouble with specific diseases or pests vary across years, and as we gain a greater understanding of the diseases and pest problems we have, we will be able to develop and refine our orchard management and will likely have fewer blemished apples over time. Not to worry, we do in fact have thousands of apples that are perfect and waiting for you to eat them. And many of the less-than-perfect apples will make great cider.