Thursday, March 17, 2011

Spraying Apple Trees and the Organic Way

I have a gorgeous dwarf apple tree 'Honeycrisp'. The first year it bore fruit, it produced 44 perfect incredible apples. I did nothing but water it when the fruit grew heavy and the rain scarce.

I thought, "This is great! These new varieties really are pest and disease free!"

The next year-- ugh! Wormy, icky apples.

So I figured, okay. Organic controls. I read about the pests. Identified mine. And went about controlling this pest with red sticky balls. I planted garlic under my tree. I limbed it up a bit, less splash from the soil. I opened up the branching structure, better airflow. I studied the growth cycle of the icky coddling moth. I patrolled my tree for apples showing they had been infected, picking up any windfall, picking off any on the tree, trying to stymie the 40-day life cycle of the moth. I raked up the leaves and plastic bagged them along with any infected apple.

You are probably thinking, okay, she's going to have some beautiful apples, and some she will be able to use, but which will have some blemishing.

I really ended up with squat, zip, zilch, nada.

So I talked to UW-Extension agents. They pretty much told me to try all these things I had already done. Have I mentioned my grandfather was an orchardist in the 1960s? I know just a bit about growing apples. I could identify a couple dozen apples you have probably never seen, let alone eaten before I was 10. I just don't want to use arsenic, lead, and DDT to get beautiful apples.

To be completely honest, there is one organic method I have not tried. Bagging the "king" apple. in this one, you literally seal up the biggest apple, or king apple, in each cluster in a zip lock bag right on the tree, and pick off the other apples in the cluster. Does this sound crazy to anyone other than me?

So last year, I decided I'm going to spray. I thought dormant oil is the least toxic of my options. I read up how to do it and did it. No good. I decided I must have missed the first emergence of the coddling moth.

So, yesterday, with over a foot of snow still on the ground, I got out my sprayer to spray my apple tree with dormant oil. Did I mention I saw a mosquito yesterday? (I killed it; I figure it is worth 10,000 kills this time of year.) I didn't stop there. I sprayed everything in the rosacae family. See, the only other thought is that these coddling moths may have over-wintered on some other host plant. I want apples!

Some of you are thinking, dormant oil? That IS approved for organic use. Yes. I have read that, too.

So here is the kicker, the cautionary tale. I figured, timing is important, but also I need to be much more exacting on the ratio of dormant oil to water. Hunting a measuring device (I don't want to use my kitchen measures for dormant oil.) is always problematic. But, aha! I have one of those little plastic cup measures enclosed with liquid cough medicine. Yippee, a good, well-labeled easy to use measure, at my fingertips!

So I clean my sprayer. Measure out the water. Use my hand measure to add the dormant oil. I wade through a foot of snow and spray my trees. Even though there is a foot of snow, it got up to 50 degrees yesterday and is still above 40 degrees. I need to refill. I get the water and go to add the required measure of dormant oil, only to find the dormant oil has eaten through and dissolved the plastic measuring cup!

Dormant oil is an approved organic? It can dissolve plastics?

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