Community Orchardist January 2023

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Winter 2022-3 Community Orcharding masthead

In February, 2007, Michael Phillips started the online edition of this newsletter with these words:

Lord knows I wish I could write you all more often about orcharding. But that’s what we have winter for, eh? To communicate, to reflect, to plain ol’ think about the year ahead. Here you will find a mix of observation and intriguing possibilities on what I have deemed “Organic’s Final Frontier”. This sporadic newsletter is written for commercial orchardists who ponder the healthiest ways to grow good fruit for their local community. It’s cool that over five hundred folks are now reading these words . . . methinks this calls for an opening blessing.


Help us recognize how incredibly connected we are
to these giving trees, and to understand
the clear messages that come through
when we humbly observe Nature at work.
Thank you for this joyous gift of fruit growing
and fruit growing friends!


The 33rd Berkshire Roundtable

We will be meeting March 1st and 2nd this year, commencing after lunch Wed. and ending after lunch on Thurs. Our max is 45 participants. $135 for 1 night's lodging, 4 meals and use of facilities (meeting room, sauna, nordic ski trails, fresh air). $115 for attending and meals but without lodging. Bring bedding and towels. Please make checks payable to Stump Sprouts and mailed to me at the below address. 

Our annual cider tasting will take place before supper Wed. night. Please bring some of your finest ciders to share with the rest of us. We ask that you behave responsibility around Covid prior to our gathering. We are all friends and responsible to each other. 


Alan Surprenant   947 Apple Valley Road,

Ashfield MA    01330




Borers Amongus!

This past year was the worst I’ve seen for borers, ever. Dogwood, roundheaded, flatheaded, blackstemmed, you name it, they were out there and they were fierce. As we all struggle to contend with these vicious pests, information, and especially new information, about managing them is few and far between. But that hasn’t stopped us from investigating novel and innovative approaches to preventing and treating infestations, as well as ways to revive trees that have suffered significant damage over the years. So stay tuned as this problem isn’t likely to simply go away.



Miserable Marssi    

Marssonina coronaria. The latest insult to the holistic apple grower. To those unfamiliar with this one, it is the pathogen responsible for Marssonina leaf blotch, a fungal disease that can wreak havoc in the orchard. Similar to scab as a disease complex it overwinters on the orchard floor and releases spores during wet spring weather. Unlike scab it is more likely to be present in the canopy during the dormant season, creating a potentially greater release. Although presence of the disease was recorded as long ago as 1907 (in Japan) it is only recently that apple growers are seeing outbreaks in the US. Under some management plans the scourge can be kept at a manageable level, however organic, low, and no spray protocols make control far more difficult. In a worst case scenario it can cause complete defoliation by midsummer. There is, despite the alarm, some research and reports that show promise in controlling this disease. In this article (coming in our next issue) we investigate the biology of this interloper, discuss some remedies and interview some folks working on the problem.

Taking a Fresh Look at Hard Cider Varieties

The best approach to producing exceptional hard cider is to use long established, specific use cultivars in the European tradition. Or is it? In a recent study we performed at Walden Heights Orchard and through the University of Vermont Food Lab, data displayed a possible alternative path. Some highlights of the work include dessert varieties that outperformed some traditional bitters in tannin levels, crabapples with very impressive TA and sugar levels, and all types that ran the sweetness gammet from 6 to 19 brix. It wasn’t all that one might suspect. What does this all mean? Perhaps it shows there is a lot more latitude for experimentation with varieties that are already out there, with formerly discarded crabs and those so called feral apples. It suggests we can be a whole lot more creative with the lot. Utilizing a pool of 317 distinct cultivars we set out to see what the raw numbers would disclose. Polyphenol levels, TA, pH, and brix levels were recorded for every sample in an effort to inform growers and cidermakers of the more difficult to obtain data. This created an opportunity to discuss alternative paths and possibilities. We will run the full article and include related links to the full study in the next issue of the Community Orchardist


The Right Neem

Not all of our favored oil is built the same. Most neem products on the market only have limited efficacy in the holistic orchard. For my part, I have always purchased from Neem Resource, a wee company that always marketed the real stuff. As a bonus I get to support Usha and her family who have supported this network, without fail from day one. Read on for details.  -Todd Parlo

'Pure neem oil pressed is from the seeds of the Azadirachta indica tree. Most of neem's insect control properties are attributed solely to the action of azadirachtin, a nortiterpinoid that exhibits antifeedant, insect repellent, and insect sterilization properties. The azadirachtin content in unadulterated neem oil should average 1800 parts per million when tested. 


Careful attention to quality every step of the way results in the best product possible. The ripe fruit is gathered from beneath the neem trees by village cooperatives in India. The flesh fruit is covering the seeds gets washed away. The seed kernels are dried in the sun, then bagged. Oil extracted by steam and high pressure loses much of its medicinal worth, making a cold press process the only way to go. The kernels should only be pressed to obtain 'virgin neem oil'. Luckily, orchardists on this side of the planet can count on Neem Resource to import reputable neem oil from India at a fair trade price.' 

-Michael Phillips 

What's in the Network's Future?

Michael Phillips started the Holistic Orchard Network nearly 20 years ago. It stands a testament to the success of his books, workshops, enthusiasm, and a rising interest in holistic orcharding and simply growing good apples. Over those nearly 20 years, the HON grew from a handful of folks to several thousand subscribers and contributors - YOU! You all donated financially and contributed your personal pomological insights and experiences for the benefit of everyone and to keep the network alive.

Sadly, we lost Michael in February 2022. The past year has been one of regrouping and understanding where the network is and where it wants to go. Much of this 'new' vision is embedded in the numerous forum articles and conversations. It is part of the Community Orchardist newsletters that Michael published over the years. And it is in our hearts and minds. Where do we go from here?



Far from picking up the pieces, we have 20 years of valuable insights and information, your support, and engagement to build on. In all senses, this network stands on the shoulders of giants - and one that stands out above all: Michael Phillips.  While we plan on continuing the Forum and web site with few external changes, internally we are already planning to grow the research and educational outreach aspects of what this network is about. In order for this network to not just survive but thrive we need your financial support and online engagement now more than ever.

None of us know what the future holds, but we do know this network is strong and replete with a wealth of information and good hearts that ensures we'll all grow good apples this next year.

- Mike Biltonen

Preserving the Network

Our organization currently benefits from countless pages of data and discussion on the forum. That same forum allows folks to continually engage to grow their knowledge, offer help, and ask questions. It provides this periodic newsletter with updates and new ideas. There are growing aids, fact sheets, and other pages and avenues to help we apple growers make a good go of it. 

Michael Phillips, our tireless organizer, along with a core group of busy bodies helped to make the network what it is today. Financially,  HON has sauntered on through the generous donations of a handful of people in our community. It has allowed us to carry on, even after the loss of its founder and driving force. It too allowed the apple curious unbridled access to the HON forum, timely newsletters and various adjuncts of the website and fellowship. 

In an effort to preserve and grow the Holistic Orchard Network there will be some important and exciting changes:

 To make support of the Network fair, we are asking the wider group to join as subscribers at a level they feel comfortable with. This structure will spread the support of the community to all those who find value in its existence instead of continually relying on the kindness of a few patrons. I am certain we will all embrace this idea of fairness.


Growing the Network

The strength of the organization as a whole, as conceived by Michael, was to allow the apple grower with experience, commercial level involvement, or a particular skill set to communicate with each other. It set the bar higher than most organizations, vetted the participants, and kept discourse at a professional level. This, as the core of HON, will be preserved. The only changes will be that those at this level help fund its preservation with an annual fee. In order to grow this arm of the network and to ensure its professionalism we will be continuing to vet those participants on the forum. The benefits that patrons already enjoy will be preserved. In the future we hope to include an enhanced research component to the network. This would allow those participating at this level to be involved in and have access to novel studies that directly address the needs of the HON community. Great opportunities like this will be dependent on the generosity and interest of the group. 

We also will be including an underserved population of growers. Since everyone reading this newsletter has an interest in holistic growing, it makes sense that you should all have an opportunity to become involved. Since the current structure only allows more experience growers to join, the Holistic Orchard Network is creating a place for new folks to begin their journey. This may be one of you who has little experience but great curiosity or ambition.  At this first tier you will have the opportunity to participate in a distinct forum and enjoy a sampling of other benefits. You will also get feedback from more experienced growers. The great hope is that the less confident growers will be aided by the community and attain that higher level of skill and knowledge.

– Todd Parlo


HON Apprentice Level

  • Access to the Apprentice’s forum for viewing
  • Access to the Apprentice’s forum for unlimited posting
  • Limited viewing of Advanced Level forum
  • Periodic Community Orchardist Newsletter
  • General perks of the HON website
  • Full year subscription $20


The Holistic Orchard Network will continue to reach out to current subscribers with a more simplified version of the current newsletter. The Community Orchardist, as a more robust publication, will be reserved for those who decide to join as subscribers. 

Full access to the current HON forum, formerly viewable to all 8 billion inhabitants of mother earth, will be now be limited to those who find value in supporting the network.

A reminder. The information contained in the pages of our forum, the array of benefits of the organization, and the intimate connection with fellow growers are invaluable. Making sure it is still here tomorrow has (sadly) associated costs. Let us know it has value to you.

HON Advanced Level

  • Full access to Advanced Level (current) forum and all past posts
  • Allows full participation (unlimited posting to the forum)
  • Secret tattoo benefits (including spray plans, pricing aids, and more)
  • Continue to enjoy the other perks (library, events calendar, classifieds, etc.)
  • Periodic Community Orchardist Newsletter
  • Full year subscription $100


cover: Mycorrhizal Planet

Nine months later, we're still stunned by the loss of our Founder, Michael Phillips. His light touch with complex material informed this Network, and we struggle to achieve his voice and grasp. 

Luckily, he left us with a large body of guiding work. His most recent book, Mycorrhizal Planet, brings cutting edge knowledge about a heretofore ignored underground kingdom to our orchardists' world. While others are reading books just beginning to explore this fascinating and crucial field -- Suzanne Simard's Finding the Mother Tree, Merlin Sheldrake's Entangled Life, and Paul Stamets'  Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World among many others (it's a hot new topic) -- Michael gives us practical answers that we can put to work with our own fruit trees.

Here's an extract from the book's Introduction (reprinted with permission from Michael's literary executrix.)




Proceeds go to support
Michael & Nancy's
Lost Nation Orchard

Our collective future pivots on many people coming to understand that soil fungi matter. That plant ecosystems must be respected. That soil stewardship is our highest calling. Such has been said before, but now the jig is truly up. We either recognize the urgency involved at this critical juncture or the next century won’t necessarily include the human race. Take these as fatalistic statements if you wish . . . or come on over to the other side.

The Nearings called it “the good life” and laid out a trail that Nancy and I picked up not long after college. Plant trees. Make compost. Sow cover crops. Harvest healing herbs. Build stone foundations. Chop wood. Let the chickens roam about. We share such pursuits with many of you. All sorts of amazing farmers, ranchers, gardeners, herbalists, orchardists, landscape professionals, and foresters are leading the charge. People are integrating livestock, market gardens, I native plantings, and perennial crops into multifaceted systems. Goodbye monocultures, tillage, and bare dirt. Goodbye clear-cuts and monster skidder ruts. Rebuilding soil and increasing diversity go hand in hand with making a living doing authentic work that can be enjoyed. Equally important are the communities that support these efforts. From making local agriculture viable to ‘organizing guided mushroom tours through community forests; from gardening up high on urban rooftops to remediating desperately hurting ground—we ourselves become healthier through every direct connection made with the soil that sustains us all.

Discovering the miraculous in the common would be the fungal slant on all this. The everyday ways of very small critters hold lessons for our species as far as planetary commitment goes. Honing one’s ability to intuitively see the interaction between fungi and roots in the microscopic realm is how fungal consciousness takes hold. That we have things to learn from fungi isn’t such a very big stretch to make. Hyphae reach out to nourish and communicate. Our neighborhoods would thrive if only people reflected the same sense of provision as found in any mycorrhizal network. Spores become the dreams we give our children. Life truly wants to go on.

Yes? Was that a question in the back? Who am I to expound on the ways of mycorrhizzal fungi and healthy plants, you ask? No doctorate, no master’s, no bachelor’s degree in any such subjects. But for a found love of the soil—and more than a few fruit trees —I very well might never have ventured below. Days that began as a civil engineer on municipal construction projects inside the Beltway of this nation’s capital shifted radically when I up and retired at age twenty-three to seek a more heartfelt path. Leafing through Thoreau, a rucksack of berries, and a classified ad in a homesteading magazine soon brought me to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Long story short, I got my hands in the earth.

You become a “plant person” by discovering a passion within yourself for growing, well, just about everything. A “tree person” happens to go a bit further out along the limb, that’s all. Enter the whims of microbe eating microbe, that very first dipping of bare roots into mycorrhizal inoculum, and the dawning realization that orchard trees want to grow in a fungal duff ecosystem. Root tips proceed behind a vanguard delving into soil aggregates and rock crevices where little other than the finest hyphae can go. Ever notice how the universe only grows bigger as you zoom in on minutiae? I was hooked on learning more about the soil food web and what makes for long-lasting soil fertility. Back on the receiving end, plants prove healthier when you honor that Nature knows best. Put another way, those apple trees of mine proved to be the very best teachers. Nancy’s Work with medicinal plants opened my eyes to the marvel of healing synthesis, only for me in the context of what a guy needs to get by. Plants and fungi become that much more resilient by looking out for the other. The resulting phytochemical cascade in turn serves both the farmer and the herbalist. Worlds merged yet again as fascination led the way.

Are you getting a feel for how this works? Thinking fungally, exploring fungally, intuiting fungally. We’re each quite capable of taking what’s been gifted to us and going further still.

Trusting that journey makes it possible for me to share practical teachings about mycorrhizal fungi and real-time plant health. The two are intimately linked in ways that make a holistic approach all the more spot-on. I always liked what Liberty Hyde Bailey of Cornell had to say, slightly paraphrased: If a grower knows why, he or she will teach themselves how. You’re about to get a good dose of plant wisdom interspersed with some guy humor to keep things hopping. Jump around; take what’s useful; have fun. Every growing season is a renewed opportunity to let the green world astound.


Why we aren't a Membership Organization

For years, the Holistic Orchard Network's founder, Michael Phillips, ran it as a non-organization. That is, an organization without a formal or legal structure but instead as a project within his own business. As the current manager's of this legacy site, Michael, Todd and myself made the decision to formalize the organization for legal and tax purposes. In September 2022 the Holistic Orchard Network was officially registered as Holistic Orchard Network LLC in the state of New York. Why not a 501(c)3 non-profit? Well, it was discussed but ultimately decided that the cost and time it takes to achieve that status was time and money this organization didn't have. 



Non-profit status may come in future years with your continued financial support and engagement. Neither are we are a membership organization. Instead we consider each of you, our ardent supporters, as subscribers and contributors, as well as friends and family. The changes you see in the network or Forum because of the LLC status will be few and far between. This status gives HON a new starting point, formalizes the network's legal structure, and provides a firm foundation from which to grow and carry on the legacy created by Michael Phillips.


This site is generously supported by people like you. Your subscriptions and donations help support the holistic orcharding community. Please consider subscribing to the Holistic Orchard Network!

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