Community Orchardist Summer 2021

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That sweet transition from the busyness of spring to summertime cruising has arrived. I've been in the tractor seat a good dozen times so far to apply everything from early season copper to the holistic core recipe and nutrients to kaolin clay and targeted biologicals. Most growers attend to the spring sprays in timely fashion but then there's a general tendency to let up once fruit has set and primary pests like curculio have seemingly been rebuffed. Getting on the three Comp applications on a weekly basis after all that is what truly brings us to summer in fine shape. Balanced tree nutrition cannot be overemphasized in this cell division period when fruitlets start to size!  I'm envisioning four holistic sprays to go before the apple harvest begins, now to be made at biweekly intervals. Summertime is all about keeping photosynthesis humming and watching good fruit come into its own.

Calcium Doings

All nutrients are important yet calcium is surely the kingpin. A deficit of Ca in the fruit leads to storage rots, breakdown, bitter pit, early ripening, and an overall poor appearance. Calcium translocates to the fruit via the plant sap. This supply of Ca either comes up through the xylem from soil sources or can be absorbed by means of the biotic community on the leaf surface. Essentially this can be thought of as an 80-20 split if indeed all avenues are fully utilized. Packing in an organic calcium supply begins in fall with investment in next year's buds and hits full stride with respect to fruit capacity in the cell division phase. Its right after fruit set that Ca is most readily incorporated into the cell wall.


Chemical growers primarily rely on blunt insertion of calcium nitrate or calcium chloride to "foliar feed" the developing fruit. It's an entirely different mindset of plant reality and we're done with that now. Instead, let's run through an essential checklist of the things we should be doing to boost Ca in our trees.


Work done during the soil prep phase often centers on pH as this measure of acidity/alkalinity is brought into the 6.3 to 6.7 range for broadest availability of nutrients. The right choice of lime (based on cation balance) achieves this yet either way we're taking advantage of the buffering capacity of calcium carbonate.


Upping the base saturation ratio of Ca once the pH has been adjusted is done with gypsum. The advantage of spreading gypsum in early spring at a tonic rate of ~400 pounds per acre (two quart yogurt containers' worth per free-standing tree) is time-dependent. Application made 45–60 days prior to bloom gives the biology a chance to digest this calcium sulfate bonanza so as to deliver complexed calcium to the roots just as cell uptake begins in earnest. This action will be further enhanced with a ground spray around green tip that includes raw milk. The fully-natured whey proteins in raw milk will enliven certain bacteria which play a key role in the calcium uptake to come.


Foliar application of a quality calcium formulation begins with Spring2 and will continue through the three Comp holistic applications without let up. The two commercial formulations used here to date are HoloCal (7% Ca) from Advancing Eco-Agriculture and Cal-Essentials (10% Ca) from Agri-Dynamics but there are other respectable choices as well. This year the "bionutrient ferment" made at the farm with coral powder favorably compared with these purchased products on a plant sap analysis. I'm learning the ropes of working with specific organisms to unlock nutrient potential and the role different organic acids play in this process so hang onto your hats, okay? An overlooked part of the story concerning biologically-enhanced "foliar nourishment" is that not only are more complex molecules absorbed into leaf tissue (and bark!) but this surface prompt reminds microbes down below to heed what the plant needs and deliver accordingly. We've arrived in wowser territory.


Switching to fermented plant extracts during the actual cell division phase relies on nettle and comfrey (primarily) to infuse green brews with herbal calcium. Or you can continue with the formulations talked about above. Holistic sprays are being made weekly in this month-plus from petal fall on and that is paramount. Calcium in additional summer sprays may feel good but the true gains have been made by this point, leaving a final Ca boost to spur potential for the following season in a post-harvest application made while leaves are still on the trees.


Coral powder offers a somewhat soluble source of calcium carbonate. This ocean-deposited material can be used directly in the spray tank but will primarily wind up on the ground where raw CaCO3 does the most good. Served up as a bionutrient ferment, however, and sap results show coral to be an ample foliar.

Sunburn Reduction

High heat can cause extreme sunburn on fruit with little vestige of leaf shading throughout the day. And we're all seeing more and more heat!


It may surprise eastern growers (who use Surround for curculio and other specific beastie challenges) to learn that western growers actually use more of this kaolin clay product to prevent sunburn. The white overcoat of the refined kaolin keeps fruit cooler which in turn leads to additional horticultural advantages. Growth activity in the fruit shuts down when flesh temperatures get too high, this before actually observing sunburn on the skin surface.


Infrared photography makes the results of overheating clear: Growth stops in that red zone. Clay mitigation makes all the difference. Image courtesy of Mike Glenn, Appalachian Fruit Research Station, Kearneysville, West Virginia.

There are growers in the Pacific Northwest wishing they knew this after the recent heat wave in June. Temps over a 100°F and bright sunshine decimated developing apples and pears alike on the sunny side up.

Leafhopper Vectors

Potato leafhoppers blown into orchards in early summer attack tender shoot leaves. Several developing leaves can be decimated until shoots regain the upper hand. Younger trees often call for an assist from the puncturing/sucking damage caused by leafhoppers. Growers may apply azadirachtin-concentrated neem products, sugar esters or insecticidal soaps that dehydrate soft-bodied insects, or a biological insecticide like Grandevo. Should this invasion occur in hot humid weather, however, it is worth noting that random shoot blight may result. The Erwinia amylovora bacterium that causes fire blight is still in the orchard after bloom and suddenly here's the vector – leafhopper punctures in unfurling terminal leaves – that provides an opening to the tree's vascular system. The Xylella fastidiosa bacterium that causes bacterial leaf scorch take avail of the leafhopper vector as well. Any sudden browning of leaves not long after the summer solstice… and this is what you need to understand!

Volcanic Investment

I've started making use of soluble basalt in holistic sprays from fruit set on, foremost to provide a haven for arboreal microbes. This idea goes back to hearing about research using kaolin clay to help microbes in compost tea get established. Flash forward some twenty years and I recently heard that Multikraft in Austria promotes the basalt angle for activated effective microbes. None of this is a stretch when recognizing that basalt rock dust better emulates an earthen ecosystem for what are primarily soil-derived organisms.


There's much more to this storyline when we account for a righteous "trickle down" theory. The trace minerals and particularly the silica in basalt dust may be absorbed into the leaf, all the more so if acted upon by biology, whether in a bionutrient ferment prior to application or by the microbe community on the leaf itself. The clincher comes in realizing whatever drips to the orchard floor is still in the game for a later day. Similarly, the paramagnetic energies of volcanic rock wind up nicely distributed around the fruit trees. Never has a 2# rate of basalt per 100 per acre gone so far! Learn more from Rock Dust Local about their Microfine Basalt, currently offering a 32# box for $60 with shipping included.

Extrapolate This!

There are many parallels between human health and plant health. Start with balanced nutrition, build strong terrain… and now ponder what it all means from either perspective. We could talk late into the night, my friends.


Inspired Fruit Breeding

In the German language, “. . . the word ‘etter’ means a small, irregular patch of cultivated land situated in a wilderness, the same cultivated area being fenced by a low, broad unhewn stone wall – a veritable emblem of primitiveness. Here is found the originator [sic] a man who had little schooling in schools and books, yet exceptional opportunity and aptness in the study of Nature first handed, until he has learned to read Nature as the average man reads a book.” Harold Ellis wrote these lines about famed Humboldt County horticulturist Albert Etter in his 1923 article for California Country Life. A true California pioneer in every sense of the word, Etter was a self-taught and self-made man whose contributions to horticulture have persevered and blossomed in the decades since his death.


So begins an absolutely smashing article by Tom Hart (co-founder of Humboldt Cider Company) in the Winter 2021 issue of Eden, the Journal of the California Garden & Landscape History Society. Complete with numerous photos that bring Etter's work with trees and homestead alive. Go there. Now.


Today we all know Albert Etter through his apples. Red-flesh varieties like Pink Pearl. Cider classics like Wickson Crab. The Waltana, a regional favorite in northern California. Etter's Gold, a late aromatic apple with distinctive flavor.


The other inspiration I wish to point all of us is our own potential to develop new varieties. The opportunity to cross genetic lines between apples with desirable traits (or the plum or the persimmon or the you-name-it nut) is rich and noble work. We have a category in the network's discussion forum called Breeding Flavorful Fruit just begging for more action. If you're already launched on this path, share the hope, share those stories, find new friends.


Etter worked at his passion and craft for half a century. That's the timeline for successful breeding work, truly. This bit caught my eye, evidence that tenacious apple growers will never slow down:

“Your letter of October 17 arrived, but I was so busy picking apples that I just couldn’t write to you then. I am seventy-two years old now and I never worked harder in my life than I did last year…"


War on Nettle

Here in North America we can enjoy a satisfying relationship with medicinal plants for both our own health and to boost crop nutrition. Nettle is a key ingredient in the fermented plant extracts for calcium and silica. Oh contraire if we lived elsewhere… as you will read in this much redacted news clip from permaculture circles in France. Then again, we've certainly had a plant conspiracy going for decades around hemp for similar reasons of protecting a narrow sector's profits. Lessons are to be noted here!


A legal war against nettle is underway in France and other European countries. A trivial plant, Urtica dioica has become the mortal enemy of multinational pesticide producers around the world. Thousands of lawsuits between multinational corporations and peasants are underway everywhere and are filed in order to scare people from using nettle in the form of a maceration for fertilizer, fungicide against diseases, as a repulsive against insects, regenerating, stimulating etc.


The simplicity of making nettle purin – 20 kg nettle left for a week in a 200 litre water barrel – and the multitude of possible applications disturbs the world chemical industry which in response has created enormous pressure on governments to adopt legislation restricting the use of herbal preparations.


The Agricultural Orientation Law of 2006 in France prohibited the promotion and sale of plant protection products not already approved for organic agro cultural methods. The aim no less was to control or eliminate all empirical preparations developed by generations and generations of gardeners. The law prohibits not only the marketing, but also the transmission of knowledge related to non-approved biological products. In other words, if you write an article about chamomile tea for damping off disease, you are liable for two years in prison and a juicy fine. Nettle has become the emblem of the struggle to preserve agricultural memory.


All this has generated a national movement of protesters in France fighting to preserve the historical right to use plants from their own farm or garden for agricultural purposes.


What bothers the plant protection industry so much? Obviously the fact that growers will use plant remedies rather than buy chemical pesticides!

Q&A with the Orchard Consultant

We are experiencing a serious drought. No rain and temps over 100 degrees. Just had a cool spell last few days in the mid 90's. Sad huh? It's a miracle our five-year-old trees look as good as they do. We water about twice per week, all 135 trees, with approximately 2–3 gallons per tree. The new ones planted this spring get a tad more. Do I continue to spray with the neem, liquid fish, effective microbes, and seaweed with these conditions? My husband wonders why a friend of ours who has same trees (we ordered together so same rootstock) yet NEVER WATERS has trees that look just as good as ours. And we are busting our behinds watering! What is up with that? Could those trees suddenly take a turn for the worst if he continues with no water or care? Are trees that get stressed like his "stronger" because of it? Is there a fine line here for stressing for strength and stressing to death? How do you know where that is?


It’s considerable work to haul water to individual trees. A goal of one inch per week gets daunting when you think in terms of expanding tree root reach. I consider watering a must for first-year trees but then tend to be less consistent about getting to established trees. I utilize my Pak-Tank sprayer to haul a hundred gallons at a time out to the orchard, raising the tank on the three point hitch so I can use the drain tap to fill buckets. Another friend has rigged a short hose to the drain tap that he moves from tree to tree. Any dwarf planting is going to need irrigation for the long haul regardless. You’ve avoided that by going with semi-standard rootstocks that can better deal with drought stress. Mycorrhizae especially contribute in that fungal hyphae can deliver water to roots, keeping in mind a diverse plant community makes these fungal dynamics all the more robust. Any sort of mulch also helps in conserving soil moisture, and I would count "less mowing" as helpful in this regard.


Yet when things turn this dire even a heavier clay soil isn’t going to prove a buffer. Your efforts are paying dividends that you can’t see, despite your friend’s non-watering approach appearing to deliver similar results. Annual shoot elongation, root reach, and stronger buds in general are not as obvious as vibrant green leaf. Your question about stressing the trees to strengthen them in the long run has validity. While a modest water delivery twice a week gets your trees beyond the death knell, I’d recommend providing 10 gallons per tree once a week as the better course. That way moisture will go deeper in the immediate circle around each tree where the water is being delivered. That moisture stream will radiate slightly outboard as well as the water soaks into the earth. Root systems that receive a shallower wetting twice a week don't reach down quite as far as they otherwise might. Keep saying to yourself that this investment is for the long haul.


Your dedication in delivering deep nutrition by spraying the holistic core recipe every other week in the summer months certainly has merit too. Continuing with the nitrogen component of fish becomes more important in summer sprays during a drought in order to keep photosynthesis engaged. Biology shuts down when things dry up and that means less nitrogen from soil activity. Wait till terminal bud set in mid-August to take the fish out of the mix. This won't interfere with the hardening off process, given such dry conditions. Holistic sprays offer vital nutritional support whatever curveballs the weather offers up in a particular growing season.


Ideal soil should have the following composition: 65 percent organic material,   25 percent edaphic organisms, 15 percent mineral substances. But this kind of abundance of organic material exists hardly anywhere on the planet any more, the highest concentrations being in untrodden corners of topical jungles, but never in our growing soil. But it is possible to restore the organic-inorganic balance in growing soil within a practical timespan through systematically employed humus management.

Annie Francé-Harrar (1957)


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

Michael Phillips

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