Beginning a holistic orchard
The first chapter of
Phillips' The Holistic Orchard introduces the author's
philosophy of creating a healthy ecosystem holistically rather than
fighting to mask the symptoms with allopathic treatments (such as using
organic, but still harmful, sprays). His goal, he writes is "not
so much to destroy problems as to create health."
So, how do you start an
orchard so healthy it can be maintained with simple mulching and foliar
sprays of fish oil? First, you need to realize that fruit trees
and berry bushes thrive in a forest edge habitat, where the soil is
dominated by fungi
over bacteria at a ratio of roughly 10:1.
To get there, Phillips first
tills, then plants a cover crop of red or crimson clover. These two species
have an affinity for mycorrhizal fungi, which will stand the trees in
good stead a year later when they finally grace the soil.
Phillips' cover crops go
into the ground in the fall, and they grow for a solid year before
being scythed and allowed to rot on the soil surface over the second
winter. Organic matter added to the earth from the top down is a
great way to promote beneficial soil fungi, so you definitely don't
want to till the clovers in.
Since clover is
perennial, you'll either need to fork out the roots come spring number
two, or lay down a kill mulch (cardboard topped by wood chips) the
autumn before. Either way, Phillips recommends preparing a circle
of vegetatation-free soil about four to six feet in diameter for each
future fruit tree.
Once the trees are in
place, mulch is key. Phillips swears by ramial wood chips, which
come from deciduous twigs and branches less than 2.5 inches in
diameter, meaning that the C:N ratio is quite low (30:1). For
those of us who can't be as discerning, I think it's nearly as good to
just let any kind of deciduous wood chips rot for a couple of years
mulching is handy to
keeping the diversity of soil life high, so Phillips lays down heavy
mulches on only one side of the tree each year, using spoiled hay and
straw in spots around producing trees for even more diversity.
Right up against the trunk, a three to four inch deep layer of pea
stone extending a foot or so out from the tree in all directions keeps
the young trees dry.
I'm ashamed to say that
I've never been able to think a year or two in advance to fully prepare
the soil for perennials using cover crops, but this first chapter of The
has inspired me to try prepping areas I want to house perennials in
2014. I think I'll tweak Phillips' technique a bit, though, since
I'm working on a backyard scale rather than running a commercial
orchard --- kill mulches always trump tilling in my book. But
since I'm starting in the fall, that means I won't be able to plant
until the spring, so I'll probably run back
to back buckwheat cover crops, then either put in my perennials in
fall of 2013 or plant clover then to give the soil another year of
I'm curious to hear from
others. How have you prepped the soil for fruit trees, and did
your technique bear fruit? Are you a believer in simply replacing
chemical sprays with organic alternatives that do the same thing, or do
you try to garden holistically?
We'll be discussing
chapter two next Wednesday, and I have to admit I've read ahead and
find that section equally inspiring. I hope you'll join the book
club and read along!
publicist tells me that preorder sales are quite good, so he's sent off
paperback to a
slew of potential reviewers. Maybe I'll get lucky and it'll be
reviewed in The New York Times. (I'm not holding my breath.)
to be notified when new comments are posted on this page? Click on the
RSS button after you add a comment to subscribe to the comment feed, or simply check the box beside "email replies to me" while writing your comment.