Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
September, 2009
Regional Report

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Peaches, apples, and pears from an orchard using integrated pest management.

More Pheromones, Fewer Pesticides

It was nearly 1 p.m. I'd skipped breakfast to drive north to Adams County for a nursery tour. The "Honeycrisp" sign made my stomach grumble for the warm, cinnamony, brown-sugar topping on apple crisp.

Anticipating a yummy dessert, I turned right. Onto a road surrounded by orchard -- 80 acres of trees colorful with apples, peaches, pears. Past the "Pick Your Own" driveway to the busy Weaver's Orchard Farm Market in Morgantown, PA.

Well, 'Honeycrisp' is actually a juicy, sweet, crisp apple, I soon learned. The best seller at Weaver's, said Kathy as she tidied an outdoor fruit display and talked with customers. "By far the best eating apple," she added. "Like biting into cider."

The 'Ginger Gold', 'Gala', and 'MacIntosh' apples; nectarines; and white, yellow, and freestone peaches looked luscious. Huge fruits piled high in cardboard boxes. I wanted a bite -- of them all.

IPM and Pheromones
What about spraying? I asked, admiring yet wondering about the nearly perfect produce. Good news. They use beneficial insects and more in their IPM (Integrated Pest Management) program that includes limited, early season spraying, Kathy said.

And pheromones, she added, so male insects can't find female insects to mate with.

Pheromones are chemicals that animals (including insects and mammals) emit in relation to mating, territoriality, and other behavior. The chemicals act as messengers to attract a mate, repel a predator, call others to food, or alert them to danger. (Blame pheromones when you're chased by hoards of hornets or yellow jackets.)

IPM is a scientifically based, environmentally sensitive, common-sense approach to control pests. It involves monitoring and managing pests economically with the least possible harm to people, property, and the environment.

"Our goal with IPM is to use nonchemical methods to control insects and diseases as much as possible," explained orchard owner and manager Ed Weaver. "We use traps to monitor insects -- Oriental fruit moth and codling moth that directly damage fruit and peach tree borer, lesser peach tree borer, and dogwood borer that affect trees." The moths lay eggs that hatch into caterpillars that burrow into the fruit. Borer larvae feed on a tree's sapwood, lower trunk, and large roots.

The orchard, which also produces cherries, plums, pears, and berries, is in the Pennsylvania State University's "Whole Farm/Area-Wide Mating Disruption." "We're working with Penn State scientists by feeding direct research to Penn State's Fruit Research and Extension Center," Weaver said. That research will eventually help the home gardener, he added.

Is there an overall shift in the fruit tree production industry away from pesticides and toward more environmentally sound practices? "Absolutely," said Weaver. Health and economics are driving the change. "Growers are concerned about the use of pesticides and we're also concerned about the cost of pesticides."

Unfortunately peach leaf curl (fungus) on peaches, pear psylla (insect), and fire blight (bacteria) on apples and pears are nearly impossible to control without chemicals, Weaver said.

In the last two years, consumers have become more attuned to food safety, Weaver added. "People are more concerned about what they're eating, who's growing it, and how they are growing it. They like to build a relationship with the grower."

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