Organic Methods for your Orchard
The dream of growing fruit is one of the reasons many people decide to homestead. Who hasn’t imagined picking crisp apples from their own trees and turning them into fresh cider or mouth-watering pies? No mater if you are just thinking about establishing your own mini-orchard, or if you are hoping to rejuvenate an existing orchard, you probably have questions on how to care for your trees without dealing with toxic chemicals and their potential long-term health effects.
I want to encourage you by providing a summary of organic orchard care methods that you can use and adapt to your situation. If you are willing to make a small investment of money, time and attention you can be on your way to making your dreams a reality!
Organic Orchard Care for Diseases
Diseases: Fruit trees are susceptible to diseases caused by fungi, bacteria, viruses and microscopic creatures known as nematodes. High moisture overcast days and little air movement create the conditions needed for diseases to take hold. Use the following techniques to combat them:
- Choose trees that are resistant to common diseases such as scab, rust, rot, powdery mildew and blight. Check the with the nursery you are purchases your trees from about varieties of trees that have been developed with disease resistance.
- Plant your trees in an area that allows for enough sunlight, air movement and make a point of building and maintaining healthy soil. This means proper pH, nutrients and plenty of organic matter.
- Keep a clean orchard. Get rid of pruned branches, dead leaves and rotten fruit. These are often carriers of disease and should be fully composted or burned away from your orchard to eliminate their threat.
- Soap Spray: Commercially formulated or homemade soap sprays help control fungal diseases. Apply soap sprays only when conditions allow for slow drying, such as early mornings or overcast days. This allow the action of the soap to take effect. When making a homemade mix, never use detergents, only soaps such as castile or glycerin based soaps.
- Baking Soda: plain old sodium bicarbonate is effective against mildew, rot and molds in the orchard. Repeat every week until weather conditions are no longer favorable to diseases. Baking soda needs to be applied in a soap solution to be effective.
- Baking Soda Soap Spray Recipe: 1 gallon of water + 1 rounded tablespoon of baking soda + ½ tablespoon liquid castile or glycerin soap. Mix well and keep agitated when spraying.
- Neem Oil spray: follow directions on label for fungal control.
- Copper Sprays: controls both fungus and bacteria diseases such as leaf curl, blight and leaf spot. Best used as a preventative. Should be applied according the label and only as a last resort as it is the most damaging of the natural options.
- Sulfur: Use a commercially formulated mix and follow the directions carefully. Sulfur has been used for centuries to stop many diseases caused by fungus and mildew. Be careful not to use in conjunction with oil sprays!
Organic Orchard Care for Insects:
Insects: Insects come in all shapes and sizes in the orchard and can damage fruit, blossoms, buds, branches and trunks. Many insects are only active at certain stages in the growing season, so timing your control method is critical to effectiveness.
- Physically removing insects: A daily walk through the orchard to remove larger insects is an easy first step. Simply toss harmful bugs into a bucket of soapy water, or feed them to your chickens! Giving smaller trees a gentle tap with a cloth covered mallet will often knock numbers insects to the ground where they can be smashed underfoot, dropped in soapy water or allowed to become chicken prey.
- Neem Oil Spray: Applying a spray, following the manufacture’s instructions, every week or two is a safe, low-cost preventative and disrupter of many insects.
- Btk Spray: This bacterium based spray controls the caterpillar stage of many insects responsible for major tree and fruit damage like codling moth and oriental fruit moth.
- Spinosad Spray: Made from a unique soil microbe, this spray is effective against a variety of insects and caterpillars.
- Soap Spray: Soap sprays kill soft bodied insects with direct contact, so they are only effective once these insects are present. Overuse can harm plants and it is advised to rinse the tress with water several hours after application to prevent damage.
- Traps & Barriers:
- Pheromone traps can be hung in trees to prevent Codling Moth larva.
- Sticky wraps around the base of trees can catch Codling Moth larva as it climbs up the tree.
- Tangle-Traps can be hung in trees to catch Curculios bugs and Codling Moths.
Your mileage may vary:
What types of sprays and the methods you choose to utilize in your orchard will depend upon your location, types of trees, your budget, time commitment and what expectations you have for your harvest. There are a lot of variables that may make your situation different so it’s important to be observant, document what you did and record the results. This will help you establish an annual plan for your orchard, which will make things much less stressful and far more enjoyable.
In closing, let me leave you with a diagram I created to help give an overview of the entire process by season, month and stages of growth. Hopefully it will give you a “big picture” view of what organic orchard care looks like on the whole. You should customize your own based on your situation and keep it handy to guide your work. Remember to have fun and enjoy the process. Just save me a mug of cider if you don’t mind!