Managing fungi in the orchard
The fourth chapter of The
Holistic Orchard was
mostly about what can go wrong in the orchard and how to prevent bugs
and diseases from ruining your crop. I'm going to skip over the
insect information since it was pretty mainstream, and instead give you
a rundown on Phillips' more unique recommendations for managing fungal
Once the fungus has a
real foothold on your tree, holistic prevention
techniques have failed and you're stuck either throwing up your hands
and calling the year a loss (like I did with our peach brown
rot two years ago),
or using harmful chemicals. But it's also possible to plan ahead
and block pathogenic fungi from successfully overwintering and/or
infecting the tree in the first place. Techniques we can all get
behind include boosting the health of the tree with proper nutrition so
its immune system is able to fight off that initial infection, and
helping leaves decompose as quickly as possible in the fall so the
fungi can't survive until spring.
Phillips' sprays are a little
more controversial. He blasts his trees with storebought
beneficial microbe mixes and compost tea (to colonize leaf surfaces and
prevent pathogenic fungi from getting a foothold), molasses (to feed
the good fungi and bacteria), whey (to fight bad fungi), herbal teas
(to boost leaf silicon and calcium levels), liquid fish and seaweed
(for micronutrients), and neem
oil (to smother
insects and feed good microorganisms).
The last item on the
list --- neem oil --- is the one Phillips swears by the most, and the
one that I think is closest to an allopathic medicine. (In other
words, I think it's a bit harsh on the ecosystem to be used
preventatively.) Like other oils used to kill and deter pests,
neem oil is likely to harm untargeted insects, and can even damage the
tree itself if sprayed on too thickly at the wrong time of year.
I'd put neem oil at about the same level as Bt --- if you're
comfortable with using one, you probably won't mind using the other.
I'd be curious to hear how
you felt about this spray-based approach to tree health. There
was a lot of other fascinating information in this chapter too, like
how to mix fruit trees with grass without starving the tree roots, so
feel free to leave your comments on those tidbits as well.
Next Wednesday, we'll be
moving into the second half of the book, which profiles each type of
fruit tree in a mouth-watering but still educational way. Chapter
five covers apples and pears, and since I've written about disease-resistant
apple varieties (and a lot of other apple-related information)
lately, I'll be focusing in on the pears. I hope you'll read
along and chime in with your own pear experiences.
Finally, those new to
the club might want to check out
previous posts on beginning
a holistic orchard, techniques
for designing a holistic orchard, and orchard
soil health. Even though these summaries are long and
intense, I'm only barely skimming the highlights of this fascinating
book, so I highly recommend you hunt down a copy and join the club.
starts with basics so you don't become overwhelmed during your first
forays into self-sufficiency.
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