Community Orchardist June 2018

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Our garden outhouse holds all sorts of postcards with social messages, eco inspiration, and native truth. One such shows a young girl studiously reading her history book, with the words "I'm not skeptical – I'm just taking notes." The point being we always need to read between the lines to get at the full story. Same goes with orcharding books where the art and practice of healthy fruit growing continues to ever evolve. No time like the present to share a series of thoughts that came my way while on the tractor seat this spring. Yet another postcard from the outhouse provides equally important perspective: "Always look on the bright side of life!"


Spray Nuance

Ever evolving indeed. Holistic Orchard (the book) came into being seven years ago. That's a lot of time to observe, consult, take into account regional quirks, and especially give important emphasis to underlying nuance every time we spray. Our work is to build system health and thereby grow healthy fruit. Incredible amounts of tasty, nutrient-dense, mouth-watering fruit. The sprayer is merely the tool that allows us to apply nutrients and microbes for the greater good. May we all find better understanding in this latest rendition of the holistic approach to orcharding.


We begin with an esoteric bit. I often sing as I cruise through the orchard, mindfully applying thorough coverage to the trees. I see with my inner eye the interaction of microbes and nutrients on the leaf surface. Just as biodynamic growers stir the preparations to invoke the powers of the vortex, this total immersion of the self into healthy plant metabolism and microbial collaboration allows intention to manifest. Every being, every molecule joins in the chorus. Together we create the green leaf, the embracing mycelium, the seed, the good rain, the warm sun, and eventually the ripened fruit. All is one in the vortex.


Affirmation empowers the physical realm. And I trust some of you know this.

Start Me Up

Long ago and faraway (so it seems) the plan for the Four Sprays of Spring was laid out for all. The very first of those applications was to be made in the week of quarter-inch green, just as the good book says. Nuance insists this be bumped till slightly later in general so as to reserve holistic oomph closer to the bloom period. Enhanced applications made at budswell through first showing of green tissue are still apropos, provided your orchard reasoning fits any parameter below. Ergo, the Start Me Up spray options aren't for every site or necessarily every year. Got that?

  • Known bud pathogens like leaf curl, bacterial spot, and endemic fire blight can be addressed in early spring. Twig lesions of brown rot as well. Growers either use the Fatty Acid Knockdown (FAK) strategy or mineral fungicides, especially copper.
  • Warmer places may be subject to scab conidia overwintering in buds following a wet fall. Thus green tissue is endangered from the get go. Play it safe with a FAK or lime sulfur to clean up for opening day.
  • Old-fashioned dormant oil (petroleum-based) serves primarily for rampant scale incursions.
  • Decomposition renewal will be strongly advised in scenarios where the Fall Holistic App was missed. Double up the microbe, fish, and even neem rates. No need for seaweed. Apply to ground as well as full tree structure.


Tight cluster to open cluster

5 to 9 days prior to Spring2

The overall tree canopy is sparse at this point. Late varieties may only be at quarter-inch green, in fact. The soil is a sleepy place coming out of the dormant season, even after sap flow has begun in the tree. This first application of the holistic core recipe works in part as a catalyst to get both soil and arboreal food webs engaged. Thoroughly wet down the branch structure and trunk as well as all green tissue. Dripping adds to the decomposition crescendo on the ground.


Pink, delayed as long as possible

Allot up to 7 days before a bloom time rain demands subsequent action.

Leaf tissue has filled out considerably at the base of blossoms, with a smile of pink revealing itself in apple fruit buds across the orchard. Early varieties may already have king blossoms opening, if that helps be closer in sync with weather reality. The scab dance begins in earnest now for spore release in consequential chunks. Add Bt to spray tank to confront obvious budworm damage. Add trace minerals to holistic core recipe to help strengthen pollen tubes.

Competitive Colonization Boost (CCB)

Bloom, only if weather conditions warrant.

Good for 2 if not 3 days as flowers continue to open.

The bloom time recipe for a Competitive Colonization Boost addresses a means of keeping full-rate neem and fish oils off delicate flower petals. See the May 2015 edition of the Community Orchardist newsletter. A warm rain predicates fire blight risk in a big, big way. Focus is almost entirely on competitive benefits of microbe communities on opening flower surfaces. Conversely, in a cooler spring, a significant wetting event may occur after pink coverage dissipates thus necessitating a CCB for entirely different disease scenarios like scab and rust.

Now a few key points to further drive this conversation:

  • Think of the petal fall spray (Spring3) on a mid-season apple as the pink spray (Spring2) on a late blooming bittersweet. In essence, those late bloomers get an extra round of holistic love, just like stone fruit may require.
  • I do allot use of neem on the early bloom end and again on the late bloom end when averaging out the timing of things. The likelihood that this is going to do bee larvae harm back in the hive is extremely slim. And yes, this is what the bees "tell" me! Bumble and solitary bee populations here are strong.
  • A holistic app has effectiveness on the order of 7 to 10 days in terms of immune stimulation and biological reinforcement. Playing it safer is reflected in timing recommendations whenever pathogen pressure is higher. That effectiveness range can be used to delay the next app somewhat when spore maturity builds up massively in dry spells within the primary infection window.


Petal Fall, asap

5 to 9 days prior to Spring4

Spraying to the point of runoff continues to be the name of the game, with lots of leaf and fledgling fruitlets to cover thoroughly. This is an important renewal spray as the bloom period may have been extended by cool weather. You will need to average what marks “orchard-wide petal fall” between early varieties that finish blooming well before later varieties. Weather plays a big role in this interpretation as rain tickles the fancy of pathogenic fungi especially at this moment in the season. Add trace minerals to holistic core recipe to help with seed development.



First Cover (beyond bud stage lingo)

Better to err on side of sooner rather than later!

Fruitlets on apple just starting to reveal if effectively pollinated and thus still small by curculio standards. This application often comes in the midst of major wetting events so don't be tentative about keeping BRIX amplified in the plant sap. Risk of primary scab is about to end but rust diseases and powdery mildew are now running full bore. Add trace minerals to holistic core recipe to help launch meristems for next year's bloom.

Comps 1,2,3

30 day period beyond confirmed fruit set

7 to 10 days between these three apps, regardless of weather.

Keeping up the pace through the fruit sizing window often brings growers in any bioregion to harvest in reasonable shape. I'm including serious home orchardists in this statement as well as community orchardists. Fire blight risk at this juncture remains intense on rapidly growing shoots subject to wind damage and insect chewing. Growers dealing with cedar apple rust and frog eye leaf spot want good coverage on underside of leaves as competitive colonization there will stand guard over stomata openings. Begin to beef up cuticle defense with calcium and silica in every comprehensive app.

Insect Variations

Holistic sprays do not address a specific outbreak of major insect pests. More often than not, applications for pests are a separate affair entirely. The bulk of such sprays are made in the fruit sizing window for that's when fruitlets are at pea size or greater. Intelligent use of Surround kaolin clay, spinosad, traps, and so forth is a vast subject in its own right. Often a specific insect action from the organic tool box needs to be applied separately from core holistic mix because of tank pH or the fact that clay particles need to flake off for that strategy to work. Sustained use of pure neem oil certainly has impact of moth generations, and it has antifeedant qualities that might detour Japanese beetle and stink bugs. Each grower needs to address major insect challenges with the right strategy within the context of building overall ecosystem health. And please be diligent about trunk applications of neem for borers if that's your site karma.

Summer Cruising

Up to 4 summer holistic apps count for extra credit

Typically made at 14 days intervals

We no longer include liquid fish in the core recipe as nitrogen might delay hardening off. July and August come with great rot potential if it’s a wet summer. Stone fruit growers especially need to be thinking of calcium continuance because brown rot is even more insidious than apple rots. Microbe colonization of the waxy cuticle are important for lessening summer diseases like sooty blotch and fly speck. Add trace minerals to the first August app to abet terminal bud set. Late varieties can benefit from a fourth summer app when fruit harvest has already begun on earlier varieties (which no longer would get sprayed).

Fall Holistic Spray

Double up on fish and microbes, and maybe even neem.

Timing follows the harvest as leaves start to drop.

Late fall is an important moment to set up the next season. All these considerations have so much relevance!

  1. Buttering the leaves with fats to enhance decomposition, both what’s on the ground and especially what’s still hanging on the tree. Nitrogen from the fish contributes here as well. Fewer extant leaves come spring means less scab pseudothecia (spore sacs) to start the disease cycle anew.
  2. Introducing competitive microbes into bud crevices where certain pathogens may overwinter. This can have positive impact on challenges like scab conidia and peach leaf curl, and possibly even twig lesions of brown rot. The full-blown Fatty Acid Knockdown addresses this all the better come early spring.
  3. The azadirachtin compounds in pure neem oil will affect larvae seeking to overwinter behind scaly bark. Very specifically talking about codling moth now. Saturate the trunk zone thoroughly and some of those potential moths will never realize any potential whatsoever.
  4. The effective microbes add to the decomposition crescendo at ground level (helping to limit scab carryover) while at the same time freeing nutrients for fall feeder root uptake. And yes, both aerobic and anaerobic compost teas can serve here as well.
  5. Let's roll additional aspects to do with tree nutrition together. Feeding the fungal dynamic in the soil with fatty acids. Bark absorption of same also gets nutrients into cambium. And indeed that nitrogen from the fish will help make buds more robust come spring.


Holistic applications will number from 4 to 7 to as many as 14 when all is said and done. Much depends on market aspirations, how the weather plays out each new season, and your holistic tenacity. Insect pressures compound all this yet again. Fruit trees face a very long growing season and a multitude of challenges. So be. IPM growers and conventional organic growers may even spray more …. it's just the way it is.

Fruitlet Cracking

Certain apple cultivars tend to crack open in the fruit sizing window, depending on the season. Here it's Saint Edmunds Russet that goes bonzo in this respect. The skin splits open across the fruitlet surface. Absorption of rain water through the skin, combined with the uptake of water from the roots, results in rapid enlargement of cells within the fruit. The internal pressure from the enlarged cells creates a strain that cracks the skin. Severe cracking often occurs when heavy rains follow a period of drought. Does anyone have nutritional insights? I thin away all that cracked potential, which hurts all the more in a light crop year.

The Samurai Wasp Cometh

A samurai wasp emerging as a new adult from an egg of a BMSB.

Photo by Chris Hedstrom, Oregon Dept. of Agriculture.

USDA entomologists have been conducting studies of the samurai wasp over the past ten years with the hope that it could be introduced for control of Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. A significant event occurred in 2014, when the samurai wasp was detected outdoors in Maryland, where it apparently showed up on its own, probably via a parasitized BMSB egg mass present in cargo shipped from Asia. In 2015, the samurai wasp was also detected in Virginia, Delaware, and Washington State. In 2016, it was detected in New Jersey, New York, and Oregon. In 2017, it was detected in Pennsylvania. The deed is done.

2018 Berkshire Meeting

The circle of growers that gets together every March in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts has been meeting for some twenty-five years. We have grown in number since the early days to as many as forty today. What follows are paraphrased notes worth sharing from this year's meeting along with a tad of the banter that makes this annual get-together so much fun:

  • Three weeks dry going into harvest: apples start to drop, fruit does not taste as good. Drought stress is the cause more so than summer heat.
  • Heirlooms that ripen in August are impossible to sell!
  • Provide ramial chipped wood every year and trees will grow. Best soil on farm found where woodsy matter has broken down. Too much vigor can be problematic for annual production however so must cut back application.
  • Sulfur formulations seem to be weaker. What happened to Kumulus? [German formulation with bentonite clay] Microthiol Disperss not as effective.
  • Used no sulfur last year; program was Trilogy [oily portion of neem extract] and Regalia. Very expensive way to get horrific scab! Added one sulfur spray in other block with same program at post-pink, hit it just right, very little scab.
  • Armicarb [potassium bicarbonate] works as a blossom thinner under specific conditions. Must be over 70°F and the trees dry for the next 24 hours. Otherwise use lime sulfur. Thinning by hand is very costly.
  • Methodology of high density trellis: Cut every new shoot to 4" long while dormant will set fruit buds plus also grow replacement shoot. Repeat every season.
  • Pruning late (post dormant) sets up the spread of black rot in orchards.
  • Glossy buckthorn and honeysuckle are first hosts of season for Spotted Wing Drosophila. Numbers build prior to seeing SWD on late summer berry crops.
  • Michigan cherry growers using a white sugar spray, fairly dilute, to repel birds. Birds can't digest sucrose, spit out, stop coming back.
  • Soil and growing technique heavily influence cider. Every location, every season is different. Presents opportunity for small-scale cidermaker versus standardized product available in cans in supermarket. Search is on for wild bittersweets.
  • When people ask which is the "best one" of the apple varieties available at the farmer's market, I tell them it's the apple I have the most of that week.
  • Effective microbe skeptic but … young trees covered with light dose of powdery mildew that should get scab and rust did not … mildew had occupied the niche.
  • Biodynamic tree paste is magic stuff for all trunk bark issues, including sunscald.

Question of the Month

Is it worth spraying (holistically) if you know it’s going to rain the next day? Similarly, if temperatures are high, isn't the risk of a phytotoxic response to fat compounds in neem and fish countered by the need to make that application as soon as possible?


The goal with a holistic spray composed of nutrients and biology is to have up to a full day of sunshine before a serious wetting period begins. Photosynthesis drives immune function, thus the plant can further phytochemical pathways best by first utilizing a spray stimulus while the sun is shining. This isn't always doable but definitely the ideal. The microbe aspect is all about microorganisms lodging in deeply-creviced places and then secured in place with a fatty acid feed. Tree surfaces provide plenty of infinitesimal habitats for microorganisms to grab hold but even good colonization appreciates a few hours to engage deeply before rain begins in earnest. Those immune stimulants and a renewed arboreal food web are in essence systemic (taken within) and thus not going to wash away in the same way that organic mineral fungicides can. Surface materials are more subject to UV degradation as well. Holistic apps work in entirely different ways.


Temps in the 80s and up give reason to pause, especially if pools of fatty acids wind up exposed on leaf surfaces in the bright noon sun. You find opportunities as you must. Wait a day or two if the spray interval allows some latitude. If not, get out in the orchard as early as possible in the morning. Sometimes I even wait till the twilight hour to finish up orchard-wide. Cut the neem/karanja rates in half (0.25% concentration) if shoot blight conditions threaten in moist heat and it's absolutely imperative to renew friendly microbe colonization on growing tips. We do a similar thing to protect opening flowers when making a Competitive Colonization Boost during bloom. Holistic coverage stands strong for 7 to 10 days, and still has immune relevance as much as 14 days out. All these factors provide more leeway in a heat spell than you might have thought.


Push comes to shove often in the midst of it all, eh? Our job as growers is to make sure we have revved up system health when significant disease opportunity presents itself. If this means you are still spraying as first rain drops fall, that's often better than missing the boat entirely. And in a prolonged rainy period you must find that "misty downtime" to get on coverage of whatever persuasion when infection parameters demand it.



Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible god and slaughters a visible Nature … without realizing that this Nature he slaughters is this invisible God he worships.

—Hubert Reeves



Joseph Martinez - RENEWAL

Szilárd Zicska

Hal Palmer - RENEWAL

Brian Caldwell – RENEWAL

Linda Hoffman - RENEWAL

Anton Elbers

Graham Savio - NEW MEMBER

Peter Drevniok - RENEWAL

Trevon Unruh - RENEWAL

Steve Dagger - RENEWAL

Wendy Martin - NEW MEMBER

Stephen Ray - NEW MEMBER

Valerie Temple

Mary Katherine Lee - NEW MEMBER

Nancy Roehl - NEW MEMBER

Bill Mittelman

Bruce Rosen

Garret Miller - NEW MEMBER

Chris Negronida & Alexis Self


Elly Vaughn

Mike Biltonen - RENEWAL

Brett Budde

Ed Anthes - RENEWAL

Marsha Lindner - RENEWAL


Robert Lautze

Tom Moore - RENEWAL

Jacki Katzman

Liz Griffith - RENEWAL

Tom Rosenfeld - RENEWAL

Paul Gerrish - RENEWAL

Diane Emerson

Eric Alletzhauser

Dramm Fish

Bryan Farley


Gerald Bartle - NEW MEMBER

Carol Gudz




Network Support

Hearty thanks to the growers -- and those friends who want more good fruit grown – listed here. These are the folks who have stepped to the plate with financial support for this network since the last newsletter.


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

Michael  Phillips


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