Community Orchardist February 2018

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A smattering of memories from the previous season to start as one year transitions to the next. Sitting under the Bethel tree on a hot day out scything, watching a toad try his luck at the curculio lottery. Garden Giant mushrooms coming up everywhere after spreading a huge pile of ramial chipped wood that had been inoculated several months prior. Seriously contemplating if one bizarre side effect of climate change will mean that warm fall weekends will actually serve to keep apple customers away. Spending requisite time on one’s knees in the nursery to protect a slew of beautiful trees from voles in the winter months ahead. Accepting that fifty bushels of organic fruit froze in the barn while I was off cavorting at the Acres Conference in December. Taunting deer on the driveway while I plow snow with the grader blade on my tractor.

     YES. It is indeed time to bring on the fun again!

Variations on a Theme

The ever-evolving strategies of disease pathogens on the ever-dynamic surface of plants leads to a constant game of give-and-take. The so-called “spotting fungi” such as scab, rusts, and frog-eye initiate pinpoint lesions on the cellular level. These in turn expand outboard as neighboring plant cells succumb to disease establishment. The odds of this happening hinge on enzymes and counter enzymes, effector proteins, and cultivar-specific roulette.


Certain plants counter disease with a genetic response that can best be described as cellular hypersensitivity. When the hypha of a particular pathogen punches into a single cell to access nutrient resources, that single infected cell dies in order to protect the rest of the plant. This is the mechanism by which disease-resistant cultivars (DRCs) like William’s Pride and Liberty give apple scab the runaround. Similarly, MacIntosh genetics give that lineage of apples an ability to counter cedar apple rust. The rub here is that pathogens over time can counter a singular resistance mechanism like the Vf gene on which so-called scab immune varieties depend. This never worked in Europe as the continental strains of Venturia inaequalis already knew how to turn off the hypersensitive response. The same is now becoming apparent with regional strains of scab here in North America.

Growers set up an evolutionary playground wherever DRC trees were viewed as not requiring fungicide treatment whereas nearby susceptible cultivars did. Scab worked its wiles by altering its signaling chemistry . . . the result of which is that proven varieties like Liberty now can experience scab in more and more places.

Scab intensity depends in part on the strains of the pathogen found in different bioregions.

There never really can be a lifetime guarantee when it comes to choosing “easy varieties” to grow. Resistance across the board will more often outsmart pathogens for far longer than a singular resistance mechanism like the Vf gene. All fruiting plants can bring into play a broader phytochemistry to counter pathogen strategies when we choose to grow healthy. Cellular disguises fall to the wayside. A multitude of resistance metabolites brought about by holistic methods and fungal connection gives chosen cultivars the leg up needed to face environmental reality at any site. Regional heirlooms more often than not were selected on the basis of showing true internal oomph in the face of disease challenges.


Keep all this in mind when selecting what to plant. First and foremost, choose those varieties whose flavor and texture and snap really rock your boat. Don’t limit your palate to “disease free” when deciding between an Enterprise and Pitmaston Pineapple. Sure, it helps to know that certain fights aren’t worth entertaining—most of the insipid varieties offered in supermarkets today have a very narrow genetic base and thus often prove problematic. Then again, what proves promising in one temperate zone may not show quite the same muster where you be. Different strains of scab and indeed fire blight change cultivar resistance ratings every time.


The regional face of disease pressure plays out as well whenever growers evaluate production methods. The variants of scab found here in Lost Nation seem to especially prevail on resumed shoot growth following bloom . . . thus it’s critical that I keep up with immune boosts and competitive colonization in the fruit sizing window. It’s also impressive how holistic sprays suppress the secondary scab cycle in my orchard. Your site experience will point to tweaking of its own.


Bottom line: Grow what you like. Support health. Have fun.

Where Do Minerals Come From?

A standard soil test provides information about the bulk soil and the mineral profile potentially available to plants. Lab reports will list plant-available nutrients (the soluble portion) and if requested, acid-extractable minerals misleadingly referred to as total nutrients.


Let’s keep the biology in mind in looking at phosphorus, for just one example. The plant-available levels of P are usually estimated using an Olsen, Bray 1, Bray 2, Mehlich 1, Mehlich 3 or Morgan P test. These tests provide information on the relatively small pools of phosphorus made available through the capillary action of ground water. A calculation for Total P refers only to the quantity of phosphorus that is acid-extractable, not the actual total amount of P in the soil. Much more P than meets the “lab eye” in the form of rock phosphates awaits the action of phosphorous-solubilizing bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi.


The insoluble, acid-resistant mineral fraction comprises 96-98% of the bulk soil. You get the idea, I’m sure. Reality contains far more minerals than are shown in a standard soil test. Specific groups of soil microbes have access to this mineral fraction, while others are able to fix atmospheric N, provided they receive carbon energy from plants in the form of root exudates.

Australian soil ecologist, Christine Jones, makes the point that it requires a functional “plant-microbe bridge” to access the majority of these nutrients. Read more of her words of wisdom at


Long-term mineral availability is very much a biological act. An overarching biology that encompasses plants and soil microbes together. Acting through Symbiosis. Collaboration. Perfection.


Team effort between ectomycorrhizal fungi and bacteria result in the “bacterial bore” by which the biology extracts minerals from bedrock.

Soil chemistry provides a framework from which to establish a healthy soil biota. Cation balance eventually addresses pH but mostly this work is about sufficient calcium not tied up by excess of other cations. More on this can be found in both Apple Grower and Holistic Orchard. The trace mineral piece—except in the case of an extreme regional deficiency—is better addressed by compost application of Azomite clay and kelp meal. Liberal application of rock dusts almost always does good. Taprooted plants bring minerals to the surface. You’ll be reading about foliar application just ahead. All of this supplements an active biology that in truth provides minerals to plants in unending fashion.

Reviewing the Language

Keeping up with holistic understanding is not limited to the pace of publication of Michael (moi). Devising better ways to describe orchard reality rates right up there with sharing the practical lessons being learned. The timeline construct being discussed here was first outlined as “Windows on the Season” in the February 2015 edition of the Community Orchardist newsletter. Read that again to better understand this next bit.


There’s a direct correlation to foliar mineralization benefits applied at distinct points in the growing cycle of fruiting plants. These so-called critical points of influence are at the cutting edge of holistic growing, in my opinion, so here’s a quick summary of spray tank additions included in the spray framework used with my consultation clients. I indeed rate the results as magical.

Spring2, Spring3, and Spring 4 include trace minerals. (MicroPak or SeaCrop)

Comp1, Comp2, Comp3 include both calcium and silica plant extracts.

Less frequent summer sprays include calcium plant extracts (but no fish).

All calcium applications are made with a chelated form of manganese.

Final spray of summer (mid-August) can include trace minerals as well.


A deeper perspective on foliar feeding will account for biological activity in the availability and intake of nutrients on the surface of the plant. The basics of mineralization and assimilation apply in the arboreal food web just as is the case in the soil. The upshot here is that these mineral contributions made at critical points are systemic by virtue of microbe uptake and thus prove ongoing over the week ahead. I picture that leaf surface with its wildly-textured cuticle when I spray, how fatty acids help hold other ingredients to the surface as microbes and nutrients alike settle into cell crevices and waxy nooks. Microbe-mediated foliar feeding is far more complex than the stomata slurp point of view would suggest.

Sap Analysis

An important network research project on tap for this coming summer is to work with Advancing EcoAg in Ohio to evaluate the results of plant sap analysis for two selected cultivars at three distinct points in the growing season. John Kempf and team have been able to gain unexpected insights from the use of sap analysis. Nutrient deficiencies of crops are likely not caused by nutrient deficiencies in the soil. Rather, most imbalances are created by applied excesses, which in turn block the uptake of other elements. Cation balance plays in here as does the tonic application of foliar trace minerals. We’ll be sharing what plant sap analysis has to reveal about a holistic approach as translated through the michael filter. Stay tuned!

Ramial Shrooms

Steering decomposition fungi towards ever greater diversity in the orchard can be both colourful and downright tasty.


Being out on the conference trail these winter months brings me in touch with many folks doing lots of interesting things. Mark Jones of Sharondale Mushroom Farm in Keswick, Virginia, has helped me address a critical fungal duff question. What’s the best way to introduce new species spawn into ramial chipped wood zones? And what might be a couple of select mushrooms with which a fun guy (much like myself) might start?


Sawdust spawn is best utilized to colonize untapped organic matter of the right sort. Decomposition fungi collectively known as white rots thrive on the dual lignins found in wood of deciduous trees. The key is to launch introduced spores into virgin territory so that the subsequent mycelial outreach can be far more successful in elbowing its way into strata already home (perhaps) to other fungi. Piles of ramial chipped wood may or may not know other players, depending on the freshness of the chips. Those chips already distributed beneath fruit trees very likely have a fungal thing well underway. Mark suggested a nursery approach. Gather fresh cut branches of alder, one to two inches in diameter, cut to one-foot lengths or so. Pack spawn around these branch stubs, wrap in corrugated cardboard, moisten thoroughly, and incubate for a period of 8 to 10 weeks in a perforated plastic bag. These bundles in turn will be debagged when placed within extant wood chip piles in the orchard. Are we excited or what?


Pholiota Adiposa

The fatty pholiota usually forms large clusters during the autumn, on the trunks of trees, stumps, etc. These can sometimes be of large size, measuring up to 15 cm. high and the pileus (cap) up to 17 cm. broad. More typical for the “chestnut mushroom” are measurements along the lines of 8‒10 cm. high and 4‒8 cm. broad. The bases of the stems tend to be closely crowded and loosely joined. This wild species is starting to find its way onto the shelves of markets. Fruiting bodies are edible, reported to have a chestnut-like flavor that pairs well with red meats.

Agrocybe cylindracea

This mushroom in the genus Cyclocybe is commonly known in the old country as velvet pioppini and just as often as the “poplar mushroom” here in North America where it grows on fallen poplar logs. These look like button mushrooms when young, only darker. The fruiting body is medium sized and has an open and convex shaped cap. Underneath the cap are numerous radial plates that are white in color, later turning brownish grey. The caps will flatten out to a diameter of 3‒10 cm. Stems toughen up rather quickly. Many medicinal benefits in this strong tasting mushroom.


Off the Deep End

The Illustrated History of Apples in the United States and Canada is now available. This hardcover set of seven volumes (each 500-600 pages, 8½ x 11”) documents all apple varieties that appear in publications in the United States and Canada through the year 2000. The 16,350 varietal listings include descriptions, origins, alternative names, and very satisfying lore.

Dan Bussey, orchardist and author

This unprecedented compendium is the result of a collaborative effort between Dan Bussey and Kent Whealy. For thirty years, whenever time allowed, that guy in the picture has searched countless libraries in an attempt to locate everything published about apples during the last two centuries in North America. Kent in turn made professional publishing possible, including the reproduction of 1,400 life-size watercolors from the USDA.


More about the book, including sample artwork, along with details to order online can be found at (or call 844-567-5888). Cost is $350 per seven-volume set throughout the continental US; $380 throughout Canada. These prices include shipping by UPS Ground.

Training Parasitic Fungi

Beauveria bassiana grows naturally in soils and acts as a fungal parasite on various arthropod species, causing white muscardine disease. Spray formulations like Mycotrol, Naturalis, and BotaniGard can be applied to foliage surfaces in hit or miss fashion . . . meaning that while some of the fungi hit pay dirt, many of the infective conidia (spores) do not. Growers can train this fungus by rearing “focused conidia” on specific insect fodder. Commercial products are multiplied out on a grain substrate thereby reducing recognition on the part of Beauveria bassiana for insects in general. Far greater efficacy results when these fungi are reared to respond to the cues emanating from pest cuticles.


What might you do with fall raspberries infested with larvae of Spotted Wing Drosophila? Bake a pie? Rather, put those berries in a container with air holes, let the hatch take place, introduce the fungi, and witness an inescapable kill. Now rear the fungi again, utilizing grain along with more of the cuticle of your desire to raise suitable amounts of parasitic fungi. All the better to discover a mummified insect in the wild, and run with those already localized conidia. This could well be the answer to an invasive foe like Emerald Ash Tree Borer.



"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."

        ~Albert Einstein

Question of the Month

I have a small backyard orchard, twenty-one trees, that I just inherited in a relocation. I'm going to follow your spraying schedule this year, but since the trees didn't receive a "holistic fall spray" last season, would you suggest I do that now [in late winter] or spray the trees with dormant oil or wait until quarter-inch green to do the spraying?


No worries on missing the fall holistic, Tim, since that’s the way things played out. Early spring sprays are aimed in part at rekindling decomposition forces on the soil surface. Unless you have a particular foliage infestation, like mites (and I doubt you do unless these trees have been managed with a heavy chemical hand) then I would skip dormant oil. There’s no nutritional benefit to petroleum-based applications. The one exception to that general rule is significant presence of scale insects, and those are somewhat obvious if you look at interior twig bark. On the other hand, if you are in a place with significant codling moth pressure, you could potentially benefit from an additional 1% neem spray made at budswell in lieu of dormant oil. Direct this at trunks where larvae wait behind curling bark. Thoroughly saturate this zone again when applying the “first spray of spring” on a warm day in the week that sees quarter inch green progress to half-inch green. What’s called Spring1 encompasses the entirety of the tree and the fungal duff zone as well. I hope you pick up in these words that such decisions to do any catch-up sprays are all about specific reality at a given site.


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Stay in touch, think deeply, and treasure those venerable trees!

Michael  Phillips



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