For several years I’ve been absorbing holistic orcharding and gardening wisdom from Michael Phillips. I no longer recall how I came across the pied piper of organic, non-toxic fruit tree propagation, but it’s quite possible that my first introduction was an article in Mother Earth News titled, “Organic Apple Growing: Advice From Michael Phillips“.
If you’re uninitiated, Michael Phillips is the owner (along with his wife, Nancy, and their daughter, Gracie), steward, and chronicler of Lost Nation Orchard in New Hampshire. His book, The Holistic Orchard, is the bible for organic apple growers. Here’s a trailer for the companion DVD, Holistic Orcharding.
The book is outstanding. As is The Apple Grower: A Guide for the Organic Orchardist. And I’d also recommend this YouTube playlist of Michael Phillips’ organic orcharding videos.
Holistic Orcharding Tips
Whether or not “Organic Apple Growing: Advice From Michael Phillips“, the article in Mother Earth News, was my introduction to Michael Phillips’ ideas about holistic orcharding, there are some great takeaways that I’ll highlight here:
Q: How big of a hole do I need to dig for planting a tree?
A: The size of the tree hole needs to be large enough to accommodate the roots without bending them. A 3-foot diameter hole generally fits the bill. (Source: MOTHER EARTH NEWS)
Q: A friend told me I should buy a mycorrhizal product to boost the growth of my trees. Does such a product have any worth?
A: Plants have developed an incredible symbiotic relationship with certain fungi to help get nutrients from the soil, as well as to ward off pathogenic organisms. An apple tree has specific mycorrhizae that interact with its roots in the humus layer in these ways. You can inoculate your soil by finding a healthy wild tree and then bringing a few scoops of the soil beneath its branches back to your ground. Ecosystems adapt to the needs at hand without our necessarily having to buy a packaged product. (Source: MOTHER EARTH NEWS)
Q: Some bug is tunneling into a lot of my fruit when it’s just the size of a nickel. What’s up?
A: We deal with two “petal-fall pests” in the eastern half of the United States that easily could be your culprits. Plum curculio larvae get their start in a crescent-like scar the female weevil makes to prevent the growing fruitlet from crushing her egg; European apple sawfly larvae first scratch the surface of a pea-sized fruitlet, and then go on to eat the seeds in another three or four fruitlets. (Source: MOTHER EARTH NEWS)
Q: What’s up with the new kaolin clay spray?
A: Those petal-fall pests identified above can be held effectively in check with a nontoxic white clay covering applied over the entire surface of the tree. The kaolin clay panicles confuse the insect adults and prove incredibly irritating… Application begins as the blossoms start to fall and needs to be thorough. It takes two or three initial sprays to build up a thick enough base to repel these insects. Renew the clay weekly for the next month. (Source: MOTHER EARTH NEWS)
Q: Why did my grandparents hang open jugs of vinegar and molasses out in the orchard?
A: Such homegrown traps usually target adult fruit moths such as the codling moth. Unfortunately, all sons of bugs end up drowning in this brew, some of which might have been beneficial allies. I prefer to control codlings moths with well-timed sprays of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a biological pesticide stomach-specific to caterpillars. Others have had some success wrapping corrugated cardboard around the trunk of the tree, where the larvae crawl to continue their development. Then at the end of the summer, the cardboard is removed and burned. (Source: MOTHER EARTH NEWS)
Q: When do I hang those red sticky ball traps?
A: Apple maggot flies (AMF) are the culprits drawn to these effective traps. The new generation emerges from the soil beginning in late June, with females seeking fruit in which to lay eggs throughout July and August. The sticky balls mimic the best apple to be found in the orchard. The female alights on the trap and stays put because of a layer of sticky goo called “Tangletrap” covering the red sphere… Two to four traps per tree generally suffice to keep AMF larvae from ruining a good harvest. I set out traps on early maturing varieties by the first of July, then scrape off the dead flies and renew the sticky material when moving the traps to later-maturing varieties in early August. (Source: MOTHER EARTH NEWS)
Books by Michael Phillips