Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
January, 2010
Regional Report

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These apples were left on the tree because of codling moth damage. Time for clean-up!

Grow Organic Fruit

I saw a cluster of forlorn, snow-covered apples hanging in the tree while I was in my yard on New Year's Day. Shaking off the doldrums of the depth of winter, I resolved to have a better orchard this year. So, I will park myself by the fire and plan my pest control program.

By choice, I want to grow my fruits and vegetables organically, so I'm constantly on the lookout for effective methods. I've discovered several key aspects to growing organic fruits that I'd like to share (and hope to put into use in my own orchard).

The first and foremost practice that all orchardists should adhere to is clean-up. Fallen fruits and "mummies" that remain hanging in trees are prime spots for overwintering fungi and insect pupae. Those few musty-red apples hanging on my trees as well as the ones on the ground need to be discarded before there's even a hint of spring in the air.

Composting Windfalls
I've gotten mixed signals about composting these leftover fruits, and logic tells me that if the compost pile is hot, then it is okay. If the compost is just so-so like most home compost piles, then the fruits are better discarded elsewhere. My compost pile is near the orchard, so my solution to be absolutely sure is to dig a hole and bury the fruit far from the orchard.

Kaolin Clay
I've used kaolin clay in the past but with marginal success because I didn't apply it appropriately. The clay is highly refined to mix with water and go through a sprayer for complete coverage of the developing fruits. The recommendation to prevent infestation by coddling moths and plum curculios is to spray the emerging fruits three times and keep spraying if necessary to have control for at least four weeks. Kaolin clay repels the insects. Curculios don't like the feeling of the clay on their bodies, and flying moths simply find other spots to lay eggs, making them less destructive. Some orchardists leave a trap tree to take care of the pests, although there is a risk that trap tree can simply become a breeding ground instead of reducing populations.

Neem Oil
Neem oil is a newer pesticide that works on an insect's hormonal system to prevent larvae and pupae from molting. Spraying neem acts on existing insects, so will work to reduce populations but may not protect the current crop.

Immune-Boosting Sprays
There are several methods of protection that actually work to enhance a tree's immune system to work against diseases such as apple scab and cedar apple rust. Many orchardists have had luck with horsetail spray, potent garlic spray, citrus extract, nettle tea, and perhaps the most exciting of all, compost tea, which is probably the easiest to prepare.

Good Bacteria
One last method, still in the development stages, to keep posted about is the application of bacteria to orchard trees. These are good bacteria that function to keep bad bacteria and fungi at bay. I plan to keep watching to see how this method develops for practical use.

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