My first impression of Michael Phillips was a memorable one. Our Sandow Farm shirt logo instantly caught his attention. Many people have commented on our attractive logo but he was the first to instantly ask if we grow Sandow apples. I was chuffed that our farm namesake (named after our main apple variety) was instantly recognized by such a famous and accomplished orchardist.
Since we started out on our organic orchard adventures we have relied on The Apple Grower by Michael Phillips. His orchard is in New Hampshire but his principles relate directly to the realities here in New Brunswick. To prove the similarities, for the weekend of June 21st he even came to NB. The Orcharding Workshop that he led was held in Cocagne and organized by ACORN (Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network). It proved to be an incredible experience and one that will motivate and inspire us in the years to come.
As many orchardists and home gardeners will attest, growing apples organically is a challenge. This truth is evidenced in our province as there are only two organic orchards: Hutlo Acres and our very own Sandow Farm. I truly appreciate Micheals’ holistic view and his focus on overall species diversity at all levels. A healthy orchard is one where diverse soil biota, insects, plant and animals can prosper. A healthy orchard has healthy trees: one of the ways to promote tree health is by mimicking the conditions at the edge of a deciduous forest.
Everyone who gardens knows crops grow better when the soil fertility is improved; the same principle applies in the orchard. Some people have the misconception that because apple trees are perennials they have built-in fertility but this is not the case. Consider that each autumn all the apples are picked and all the apple tree leaves blow off leaving the orchard with little to show for all its hard work. To compound this effect, when the trees are dormant in the late winter they get pruned and even more biomass (plant food) is removed. Caring holistically for the orchard means restoring these levels of plant food that are “lost” and improving soil fertility.
Higher levels of mycorrhizal soil fungi will lead to a healthier orchard. These soil fungi are fed by wood-based fertility. That makes sense, given the fact that fruit trees have so much in common with other deciduous trees. One of the ways of promoting higher levels of soil fertility is with orchard compost. To make an orchard compost the same process is followed as with a garden compost which includes adding manure. The manure that is sourced should be from animals that are fed GMO-free grain, and preferable organic grain. In addition wood chips from small deciduous trees are added to make an orchard compost. The orchard compost is aged for 6-12 months prior to being spread in the orchard. It should be noted that anyone farming organically should check their certification standards to determine what they can use for their manure source.
To learn more about Michael Phillips, please read his books, or visit his website with the Holistic Orchard Network at GrowOrganicApples.com