Community Orchardist Spring 2020

Unable to locate Global Block : 115

Spring brings new ideas to the fore as well as blossoms. I love that about healthy orcharding, this ever-evolving dance between art and science. It takes some daring to go with intuitive insight, apply reasonable parameters, and then boldly move ahead. The need for replicated proof to the nth degree by others holds back far too many growers, to be honest. Innovation lets us dip our toes in the waters of biological truth and timely nutrient support. And then, wow, what a powerful wave to catch. Surfs up!


Effective Cider Microbes

Many reading this newsletter are familiar with effective microorganism (EM) cultures and its use in a holistic spray program to abet competitive colonization of plant surfaces. Lactobacilli and assorted yeasts are the backbone of the original facultative microbe mix developed by Dr. Higa in Japan. Mother cultures of EM are available from SCD Probiotics and TeraGanix, while regional suppliers with a biological emphasis offer activated culture. Growers following Korean Natural Farming methods generate indigenous cultures as well.


Working with homegrown microbes for arboreal application has my attention. I wrote about Quantum Total in the winter newsletter as a surer way of introducing the photosynthetic (phototrophic) component, always assuming I would utilize this broader array of beneficial microbes with activated EM brewed in the cellar of our farmhouse. A question posed by Steve Selin of South Hill Cider at this year's Berkshire Meeting really hit home for me however:

Could we use cider lees as our mother culture?

Certainly those cidermakers working with natural yeasts already at play in their orchards could resurrect that part of the holistic plan from lees. Not all those yeast bodies at the bottom of the carboy have given up the ghost by any means. The next question was to confirm the complete makeup of cider lees.


That led to finding this paper, Cider Lees: An Interesting Resource from the Cidermaking Industry, the abstract of which promised exactly the confirmation needed. Cider lees are a rich source of lactic acid bacteria as well as living yeasts, with a generous supply of fatty acids to boot. Visions of the farm as its own organism danced in my head.


Save those cider lees for orchard use!

Another insightful thing shared at this year's Berkshire Meeting is a bootstrap method of accessing scientific papers. Thanks to our undercover agent . . . I got to read this paper in its entirety without having to pay the excessive fee otherwise asked for research access. It was important to learn that failed lees - fermented ciders skewing towards vinegar - might have appreciable acetobacter populations instead.


I now have a first batch of what I am dubbing Effective Cider Microbes (ECM) brewing in a blue plastic drum. The method to my madness is fairly straightforward. Collect lees in a bucket after siphoning off ciders to mix and bottle. Try for a greater proportion of settled solids as opposed to cloudy cider as alcohol will not be helpful when culturing lactobacilli. An excessive supply of    'the drink' could further acetobacter potential and thereby shift the species profile away from what's desired. The lees culture in turn needs to be fed and expanded, just as is done with EM mother culture. I added two plus gallons of concentrated lees to forty gallons of well water. (Or use rainwater off the roof; just be sure to avoid chlorinated water.) Carbon energy to propel microbe numbers follow the usual recommendation for two gallons blackstrap molasses. I also added a gallon of whole milk just because that seems a very lacto sort of thing to do. A pound of dried whey would have similar value. An electric heat belt snugged around the drum holds temperatures steady at around 90°F. I will be monitoring pH to see if and when the brew turns more acidic, which would indicate food resources have been utilized and thus facultative microbe numbers have peaked. I expect ECM to smell much like EM so the sniff test has relevance as well. Add humic acid to stabilize at this point.


I intend to have the resulting ECM culture analyzed for species composition, just have to figure out by which lab. Meanwhile, effective cider microbes will be joining quantum microbes in the spray tank, along with the rest of the holistic core recipe and site-specific nutrients in chelated form. Stay tuned to hear how the fruit trees respond to this homegrown arboreal thrust!

Microbe Surprise

Is an apple merely an apple? Turns out the microbes have a thing to say about our conceptions here as well. That apple you've just bitten into has more unseen companions than you would ever imagine. Regardless of how it's been grown . . . though that aspect has profound consequences as to who's on first.




More than anything, the graphic above - taken from An Apple a Day: Which Bacteria Do We Eat With Organic and Conventional Apples? - reflects where microbes are found in that apple. Or any produce, for that matter. You'd expect such on the skin, the outer surface of the fruit, identified here as the peel. Perhaps the fruit pulp itself is a surprise but maybe not so much as the calyx was once the open blossom end. But the seeds? Everywhere within is telling.


The Austrian researchers who wrote this paper suggest that we consume about 100 million bacterial cells with one apple. There's a mind-blowing fact to impress your friends. Although this amount was the same whatever the apple, the bacterial composition was significantly different in conventionally and organically produced apples. Species diversity was higher in all organically grown tissues (except for the calyx end) as well. The good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of which microbes in which apples is beyond our immediate ken but it will certainly be interesting to learn more about who interacts best with a healthy gut fauna.


Here's some referenced speculation:

Lactobacillus, which is frequently used within probiotics (Derrien and van Hylckama Vlieg, 2015), was one of the core taxa of organic apples. The highly diverse microbiome of organically managed apples might probably limit or hamper the abundance of human pathogens, simply by outcompeting them; negative correlations between human pathogen abundance and the natural microbiome of fresh produce has already been described (Cooley et al., 2006). The described microbial patterns in organic apples resemble the impact of apple polyphenols on human health, which have not only been shown to alleviate allergic symptoms (Zuercher et al., 2010), but also to promote growth of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium in the human gut and to reduce abundance of food-borne pathogens (Taguri et al., 2004; Bialonska et al., 2010). Considering that specific microbial signatures have potential to reduce food allergies (Kalliomäki et al., 2010), the native microbiome of organic and unprocessed apples could be an advantageous tool to manage and prevent allergic diseases. Methylobacterium, identified to enhance the biosynthesis of strawberry flavor compounds (Verginer et al., 2010), was significantly higher abundant in organic apples; here especially on peel and fruit pulp samples. In contrast, Ralstonia and Erwinia, frequently described for adverse impact on plant health (Denny, 2007; Pirhonen et al., 2018), prevailed in conventional apples. Our results are in significant accordance to a recent study on the apple fruit-associated fungal community (Abdelfattah et al., 2016), where the authors observed specificity of the fungal microbiota to different tissues and management practices. Concordantly, the management practice is suggested to be accountable for the different bacterial and fungal community composition. The lowest effect was observed on seed microbiota, which is mainly cultivar-driven (Berg and Raaijmakers, 2018).


Lastly, from this same paper: "Here it has to be mentioned that seeds of conventionally managed apples contained on average only half as many seeds as organically managed ones." That's a powerful statement as to how chemicals negatively affect reproductive systems, methinks.

Brown Rot Unmasked

A quick review to drive home key points about not losing stone fruit to brown rot:


Any tree fruit disease starts with a 'launching pad' to carry over to the next season. Rot spores do this by means of mummified fruit and twig lesions. Dormant copper can be used to reduce inoculum load on the tree itself. Mummies can be removed when pruning.


Blossoms must become infected first to enable the fruit rot cycle. Those holistic sprays in early spring - prior to bloom! - will boost flavonoid levels to help limit hyphal penetration of flower tissue. Competitive colonization by friendly microbes is equally important.


Protecting the developing fruit requires a three-pronged approach to strengthening the 'cuticle defense'. Robust photosynthesis leads to robust lipid synthesis and thus a thicker cuticle on the fruit surface. Availability of trace minerals in chelated form helps drive this healthy plant metabolism. Good calcium levels are critical for beefing up epidermal cell walls. Silica seals the deal by forming' phytolith blockades' between those epidermal cells. These two nutrients can be derived from fermented plant extracts or purchased as commercial products, then applied with the holistic core recipe throughout the fruit sizing window and even into summer if growing later ripening varieties.


Summer rains will undoubtedly come. Competent pruning allows trees to dry out quicker. Biting into a tree-ripened peach is essentially a package deal.

Canopy Regeneration

Generating fruiting laterals back within the intended radius of the tree can be hit or miss. Canopies reach ever outward while branch shading limits vegetative response to a few vertical watersprouts closer to the trunk. Bending this vigorous growth by tucking a longer watersprout beneath an older limb (training in situ) gains new productive wood further back. Another means is to head that sucker and then utilize a limited crow's foot response to advantage. Stubbing a one-year-old shoot at a 'several buds high' often results in the basal bud developing a lateral shoot. Let this growth response do its thing for a season: Don't pinch back the more apical shoots (as is done with a newly planted whip) but rather allow that growth to help push the desired shoot outboard. Prune away the resulting bush above the next year.
2020 Berkshire Meeting

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


  • Resistance to disease and flavor take a backseat to other criteria in modern breeding programs.
  • Pollen from early blooming varieties can be frozen to pollinate a desirable 'mother tree' that blooms considerably later.
  • I'm going to be happy making cider with 90% of crosses resulting from open-pollinated Porter Perfection.
  • It's okay being useless. [editor's note: referring to males in general]
  • Triploids tend to be disease resistant.
  • Researchers often will share their published papers if you write them directly and ask.
  • Copper is a weak fungicide but a great bactericide.
  • Regalia seems to be gently supportive of the trees.
  • Acid clay being used in Europe is basically bentonite used as a desiccant.
  • Micronized sulfur products have lost efficacy so now applying at 15 pounds per acre to compensate.
  • Warren Stiles [at Cornell] said a good spring tonic for apple trees is zinc and boron applied at tight cluster.
  • Magnesium and iron are essential for good photosynthesis.
  • Having lots of willow nearby is good for solitary pollinators.
  • Blackberry leaves are high in manganese. [therefore including blackberry leaves in a fermented plant extract should up levels of that trace mineral]
  • Tying a half-hitch in a vigorous watersprout will result in lots of laterals to select from the next year when pruning.
  • Fifty-seven species of birds eat scale.
  • I have nothing good or bad to report after two years of applying nematodes for plum curculio.
  • PTO-driven tree shaker knocks curculio loose into the umbrella cart positioned tight to trunk where the PC then tumble into collecting baskets for disposal. [such contraptions are apparently still made in Spain]
  • Alfalfa harvest throughout the Mid-Atlantic sends adult leafhoppers into the sky and then onto our orchards in midsummer.
  • Painting straight neem on nursery trunks for borer works great but does damage adventitious growth on MM.111 rootstock.
  • My biggest scare with apple maggot fly is grading paranoia.
  • Pouring a couple inches of pea gravel into mesh-type vole guard closes the door on voles getting to trunk at ground level.
  • We're having to reframe our idea of what a test winter is for bud survival.


Q&A with the Orchard Consultant

Apparently I'm dealing with two moth species that destroy my fruit. Can you spell out the options for mating disruption of codling moth and associates? My orchard is one acre in size so any tips for successful implementation would be appreciated.


Second generation CM damage

Growers living where peaches thrive face Oriental Fruit Moth (OFM) as well. Further north, Lesser Apple Worm (LAW) is far more likely to tag team with Codling Moth (CM). Mating disruption lures for these internal feeders work by flooding the air with synthesized pheromones so males cannot find the females. Lures addressing both CM and OFM simultaneously require 200 to 400 units to be put out per acre, depending on formulation strength. New lures manufactured by Trece, called CideTrak CMDA +OFM Meso, are deployed at 32 dispensers per acre for moderate populations. Misting emitters simplify labor requirements even more.

That minimal acreage recommendation is about maintaining a contiguous cloud of pheromone so as to limit the mating success of migrant moths. Lay of the land may work in your favor with an acre of trees, depending how the wind blows. Additional dispensers applied in hedge rows can be used to address wild apple vectors. Keep in mind that use of granulosis virus in high pressure years may be just the ticket to keep numbers of both CM and OFM down so mating disruption can shine in the growing seasons between.


Sulfuric Acid Clay

Hearing about "acid clay" for the first time this year made me want to learn more about these disease suppression products available on the European market.


Myco-Sin®VIN is a powdery formulated product containing 75 % sulfuric acid clay (acid-treated bentonite), deactivated yeast components, extracts from plants (horsetail and sage), and organic wetting and sticking components. The product prevents fungal pathogen penetration by causing a hardening of the leaf surface. Germination of spores is further inhibited by a more acidic pH on the cuticle surface. The herb extracts help stimulate production of phenolic (immune) compounds in treated plants.


Familiar threads are woven throughout these acid clay products. The acidity angle is precisely what micronized sulfur helps achieve by inhibiting enzymes needed for hyphal development. The Kumulus formulation of sulfur includes bentonite clay but unfortunately is no longer available in the US (see Berkshire note) and thus the higher rates when applying other micronized sulfurs. Microbes and herbs always play an efficacy role. Growers are capable of devising effective mixes when we think these sorts of things through.


If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.

—Edward O. Wilson


Doug Doetsch – NEW MEMBER

Ike Kerschner – RENEWAL

Ben Applegate – NEW MEMBER

Laura Sieger

David Hirsch

Christine Bohannan – NEW MEMBER

Liz Griffith – RENEWAL

Karen Brindle – RENEWAL

Paul Bloomfield

BioOrganics – SPONSOR

Peter Drevniok – RENEWAL

Trevon Unruh – RENEWAL

Richard Jeffries – RENEWAL

Lisa Rettinger – RENEWAL

Jack Mastrianni – RENEWAL

Brain Caldwell – RENEWAL

Jim O'Laughlin – RENEWAL

Philip Dutton

Chuck Shelton – RENEWAL

Steve Dagger – RENEWAL

Joe&Sandee Orlowski – NEW MEMBER

Melissa Madden – RENEWAL

St. Lawrence Nursery – SPONSOR

Sue Haynie – NEW MEMBER











Network Support

Hearty thanks to the growers -- and those friends who want more good fruit grown – listed here. These are the folks who have contributed financial support for these efforts since the last newsletter.


Generally speaking, it takes twenty or so names on this list to finance the efforts required for a next newsletter.


If this content matters to you, please consider doing your bit right now, live and inspired.



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

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!

Support HON