Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Some New Best Practices for Organic Apples

Michael Phillips picking apples at his Lost Nation Orchard (Photo: Frank Siteman).

Organic apples are supposedly the last frontier for organics. As you may be aware, I am the granddaughter of a small apple orchardist. At one time when apples were supplied locally, it was my grandfather's apples that everyone in the area ate. In the fall it was not unusual to see one of my grandfather's apples on the dessert section of my school lunch tray. These weren't the cute little section Delicious apples with a gloppy faux caramel dipping sauce, but 'Cortlands' and 'Macintosh'.

Once in a while I would see my grandfather in the school hallway talking to the principal; talking business, how many apples did the school want next week? It was the same school my grandfather graduated from, I think in the second or third class to ever graduate there. My grandfather also raised potatoes, and had a few hundred laying hens. I remember learning to candle eggs as a girl. I'm sure now that my school was once a large customer of many of the local farmers.

I also know that those eggs were being candled to look for blood spots or fertilized eggs, and those apples were sprayed with DDT and lead arsenics to make them marketable.

My grandfather and his farm are long gone. Only a few of the trees in the orchard remain, producing no better than "deer-apples" along the edge of a feed lot where a dairy farmer milking 1,000 head of cows with numbers instead of names, raises out his young replacement stock.

My love for a good fresh apple remains. Apples were a treat. As a gradeschooler, I could name and identify a couple dozen apple varieties. I remember my grandfather bringing me a yearly "Halloween" apple as big a my head, it seemed, and so perfect, I would gaze at it for days before attempting to eat it. (This apple was probably the locally discovered apple 'Wolf River'.)

I recently came across the blog and an interview with an organic apple farmer from New Hampshire. He espoused his philosophy on organic apples in a podcast. His goal, a 70% grade A product, and his aim to make local orchards common place once more.

I urge you to follow these links. He has written a book on the subject, as well.

Summarizing it, he is using a fine particle (that's very important) kaolin clay called Surround WP. Unfortunately, it is only sold in 25 pound bags, probably enough to do a 300-tree orchard all season, certainly more than I need with my one 'Honeycrisp'. The other takeaway, though, is he covered the soil around his tree with a paper or plastic mulch to prevent the codling moth burrowing into the earth during one phase of its life cycle. Phillips understand his enemy. This is something I will be doing this growing season. Unlike the tradition orchard of my grandfather's day with tall grass growing up around the trees that was mown down once a year before harvest, my tree grows in a composted garden with ample soil to provide protection during this one phase of the codling moths destructive life cycle.

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