Same day delivery orders must be placed by 2pm.
Some people will tell you that you can’t grow fruit trees organically. Don’t listen to them. While it is true that organic orcharding is somewhat more difficult to do, it is by no means impossible. It just requires a little planning, dedication and diligence. First of all, bear in mind your reasons for orcharding organically. Consider this. A commercial grower is aiming for 12 bushels of apples of which 98% are first rate, picture perfect quality. That’s what he needs to make a living. You are growing fruit organically because you don’t want to use chemicals so that you will be gentle with your environment and control what goes into your body. You are not trying to make a financial profit from your venture.
So, if you get 8 bushels of apples and 50% are a little off grade – a bug hole here, a bit of black spot there – you still have 4 bushels of decent looking, fresh, chemical free delicious tasting fruit to eat. And the other 4 bushels of rough looking fruit still is very useable. When you make a pie, you cut up the apple anyway, so what’s the difference if you toss out some big bug holes and a chunk of brown flesh. You still have nice cut apples for a delicious pie or cobbler. And you can make apple sauce, apple butter, jelly, dried slices, cider, juice and vinegar -- all tasting better and fresher than anything you can buy in the store.
Organic fruit growing comes down to three things - Prevention, Beneficials, and Limited Intervention:
PREVENTION – An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. So follow these simple rules for getting your organic orchard off to a successful beginning:
1. Site Selection - The best preventative medicine for a fruit tree is to keep it in the sun, in an airy spot with good drainage. The vast majority of problems that you seek to avoid are fungal infections. Sunlight is a wonderful fungicide. Wind dries off the moisture that fungi need to thrive. So pick a spot where the breeze is not blocked from your fruit trees. And a well drained soil does the same thing.
2. Disease Resistant Varieties - Some fruits are more disease prone than others. Do yourself a big favor and pick varieties that lessen the battle. Overall, apples are easier to grow organically than anything. And within the apple category, some are more disease resistant than others. See our chart below for fruits which are more suited to organic growing.
3. Diversity - Don’t plant 5 trees of the same type. A diversified home orchard will be better able to ward off pests than a mono-culture. Besides, isn’t it more appealing to have all sorts of different fruit to eat all summer and fall?
4. Mowing & Mulching - Keep your orchard mowed down regularly. Bugs like hiding places and tall grass provides cover for them. Some organic growers use mulch in their orchard to control weeds as well as conserving moisture for the tree. As mulch breaks down, it also provides additional nutrients for your trees. However, mulch can also serve to provide cover for mice who might like to nibble on the base of your trees, so it is best to clear the mulch away from the base of the tree in the winter.
5. Pruning - Be sure to keep your fruit tree open. Prune and thin aggressively. This will allow sunlight and air to bathe your tree and will help reduce the pressure of many diseases.
6. Irrigation - When you irrigate your tree, do so with trickle irrigation. This puts the water right on roots where it is needed. Not on the leaves and fruit where it can aid and abet the fungi. A simple, inexpensive soaker hose does fine for this purpose.
7. Moth Balls - Putting a few moth balls at the base of the tree can deter most borers. Just put them down when the tree is dormant to ward off these pests. While some people do not consider use of moth balls consistent with organic farming, the choice is yours.
8. Dormant Oil - Spray dormant oil (available at your garden center) during the fall and winter to prevent scale and other pest problems. It works by smothering the eggs of the bad bugs. Just follow the instructions on the container.
9. Summer Oil - Oils for use in the growing season have been developed and their use serves to suppress mite populations.
10. Wettable Sulfur - Some people think sulfur is inconsistent with organic orcharding. But it is a naturally occurring substance and we feel that, used in a limited way, it is an acceptable preventative. Spray when your fruit blossoms are starting to bloom to reduce the chances of fruit rot (various fungi) in your mature fruit. This is when those fungi get into the fruit. Sulfur is not harmful to bees and other insects.
11. Sulfur and Oils Together - Do not use sulfur and oil sprays within two weeks of each other, as this will generally result in severe foliar damage.
BENEFICIALS - One of the reasons to grow organically is to be gentle on the environment. Over time, this promotes biodiversity in your orchard. Most of the bugs that are out to get your fruit have natural enemies themselves. In a sprayed orchard, broad spectrum chemical insecticides kill almost all pests, including the beneficial ones. Lady bugs are our best friend. Lady bugs love aphids. They also eat scale and spider mites. When you don’t spray, lady bugs prosper. Non-harmful mite species dine on harmful ones. Ants herd up flocks of aphids for dinner. There are hundreds of bugs who want to dine on those species that are trying to dine on your fruit. When you don’t spray, you spare the beneficials and they thrive. Think about it, the beneficials will thrive on the harmfuls pests because they are attracted to them. After all, if you are a Lady Bug, aphids are dinner. This is natures way of maintaining balance. And that is what organic farming is all about. A bug hole here or there on your fruit really doesn’t matter in the greater scheme of things.
INTERVENTION - It will sometimes be necessary to intervene with non chemical sprays. In addition to the use of dormant oil sprays and wettable sulfur, as mentioned above, you have several other tools in your tool box. All are available at your garden center.
There are a wide range of insecticidal soaps that are organic and can be used to push back insect populations. Use them according to the instructions on the container and use them sporadically and sparingly, so as to prevent unintended pressure on beneficial insects.
A mixture of copper sulphate and hydrated lime, it is very useful in preventing buildup of fungal problems. While it does negatively impact beneficial fungi, when used judiciously, it is relatively benign to insects and mammals. Neem oil, an extract from the neem tree which grows in India also provides good deterrence to many bugs including mealy bugs, aphids and Japanese beetles. It is not known to be harmful to mammals, birds and beneficials such as honeybees and Lady bugs. It works because its odor is extremely offensive to the bugs and they avoid eating anything on which it is sprayed.
Fireblight is a bacterial disease which affects pears and apples. It is very hard to prevent, especially during a very wet spring. The bacteria are present in most humid climates, which comprises all of the eastern part of the country. Early surgery is the answer. It is easy to spot. It starts on the tip of a branch and moves down the branch. It makes the branch turn black, so it looks like it was burned, hence the name. Cut off infected branches. Make the cut at least 12” in from the place where the black stops. Don’t be shy as the disease is fatal. If you make multiple cuts, dip your pruners into a diluted solution of household bleach to sterilize them. Otherwise you run the risk of inadvertently spreading the disease.
Apples and pears tolerate our heavy soils quite well while peaches, cherries and plums require a more well-drained soil. Mounds or raised gardens may be necessary in areas of heavy clay. Avoid moist or wet areas for your fruit trees.
Pruning should occur every year, in early spring, before leaves emerge.
Most fruit trees are available in standard/ large growing selections, semi-dwarf and dwarf varieties. Semi-dwarf are most popular.
Protect trees from deer browse (year-round), rutting (fall), bird foraging (in season) and rabbit damage (winter). Stakes, sprays and fencing may be necessary to protect your trees and harvest.
Provide compost and mycorrhiza when planting trees. Staking may be necessary but only temporarily.
Many fruit trees self-pollinate and others require a dancing partner. Apples, sweet cherries and plums often require pollinators while sour cherries, peaches and apricots are self-pollinating. Plant labels will most often provide the necessary information.
Bees, flies and other flying critters do our pollinating work… be careful in your decision to destroy bee nests and in your pesticide applications.
Lowe’s Greenhouses 16540 Chillicothe Rd. Chagrin Falls, Ohio 44023 440-543-5123 www.lowesgreenhouse.com