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Articles on Holistic Orcharding

Holistic Spray Ingredients

by Michael Phillips

Every orchard site faces its own array of challenges. Disease cycles need to be understood in determining which holistic mix best boosts plant defenses at a given point in the season. Together, we are discovering how to grow healthy fruit without chemical inputs and overdone mineral fungicides. Prevailing over disease from within is what Nature always intended!

Core Holistic Recipe

The "active ingredients" found in the core recipe for maintaining orchard health are green immune stimulants and competitive colonization. The use of pure neem oil, unpasteurized liquid fish, seaweed, and a diverse complex of microbes (be it a probiotic culture or aerated compost tea) achieves many things. This is primarily a nutritional brew for surface microbes and foliar uptake that also happens to stimulate the production of phytochemicals used by plants to ward off disease. Maintaining a competitive arboreal environment seals the deal: Pathogenic organisms have little chance when there's no room at the inn.

It takes anywhere from 100-250 gallons of spray to cover an acre of fruit trees to the point of runoff. The size of one's trees and canopy phase determines how far a given volume will go. The numbers given here are based on recommended "acreage rates" for each product. The pivotal requirement in working with higher spray volumes is to maintain the pure neem oil concentration at 0.5% (or slightly less for sensitive pear varieties) accordingly.

Community orchard rates. Half a gallon of pure neem oil stirred with a quarter cup (plus) of soap emulsifier then mixed into 100 gallons of water achieves a 0.5 percent neem concentration, for instance. Seaweed extract at 8 ounces (dry weight), 2 gallons of liquid fish, and 1-2 gallons of activated effective microbes completes the core recipe per acre.
Home orchard rates. This assumes a 4-gallon backpack sprayer is used to cover so many trees to the point of runoff. Mix 2.5 ounces of pure neem oil with a generous teaspoonful of soap emulsifier to achieve a 0.5 percent neem concentration. Add 10 ounces of liquid fish and 6 ounces of mother culture of effective microbes to the water filling the spray tank. Dissolve as much as a half cup of blackstrap molasses in warm water to launch those hungry critters. Backpack applications should also include 5 tablespoons of liquid kelp or half an ounce (dry weight) of the seaweed extract.
All potential ingredients in a nutritionally-based spray program are foods for surface microbes and foliar uptake.
All potential ingredients in a
nutritionally-based spray program
are foods for surface microbes
and foliar uptake.

Holistic Exploration

A number of options can be included with the core holistic recipe. You would do this in addressing particular situations or because it simply makes sense to use a locally-derived resource.

Upping the effective microbe rate

Recommended rates for effective microbe application range from 1 to as much as 4 gallons per acre. Activation of purchased mother culture through brewing makes for outstanding economics, allowing a savvy grower to go with more generous rates. I now use 2 gallons of activated em in my foliar sprays as a matter of course. A peach grower facing severe brown rot challenges might double this yet again for foliar applications made at split shuck and a week later.

Click for Grower Links and Resources by Michael Phillips -- click for links
Click Grower Resources for listings of holistic suppliers.

Sea minerals

The balanced abundance of trace minerals found in evaporated seawater cannot be overlooked. Application rate for Sea90 is 2.5 pounds per acre (2 ounces per backpack volume). Some growers add this to the core recipe for the pink and petal fall applications; others add a micronutrient nudge to the tank in the fruit sizing window, being those first 30 days after fruit set. Better yet, Sea Crop reduces the sodium chloride content of sea water by 95% . . . thereby delivering core minerals in a more effective liquid formulation.

Product nuance matters. Unpasteurized liquid fish (hydrolysate) is not the same as fish emulsion.
Product nuance matters.
Unpasteurized liquid fish
(hydrolysate) is not the
same as fish emulsion.

The coconut protocol

Give heed to fatty acids as these are what fuel biological connection. Both pure neem oil and liquid fish are loaded with oily fats like linoleic acid, palmitic acid, and oleic acid. The medium-chain fatty acids found in coconut milk are a reasonable substitute for the fish portion of the core holistic recipe for those wanting a vegan alternative.

Bloom time coverage

Open bloom can last for a considerable spell. A holistic spray made at pink was five days prior, say, and it's been sunny and warm since. Now a significant rain event is expected. Scab spores have been maturing all that time, meaning the coming wetting period brings a significant probability of infection. Fire blight is of major concern as well. Innovation suggests a spray consisting of effective microbes, seaweed, and molasses. Such will bring competitive colonization to open blossoms, kindle resistance mechanisms in the leaf, and up Brix levels thereby attracting pollinators.

An overlooked tree remedy

Karanja oil works synergistically with neem oil (substitute 1/3 by volume) by enhancing immune phytochemistry in the mix. Similarly, if desired during a rainy bloom, karanja will not adversely impact pollinators the way neem's azadiractin content might.

Not surprisingly, grass-fed milk has higher-quality fatty acids than confinement dairy.

Show me the whey

Calcium has been shown to inhibit fungal spore germination. Foliar sprays of milk, diluted 1:10 with water, reduce powdery mildew on grapes. Whey can be used instead if more economical. A protein in whey (ferroglobulin) produces an oxygen radical in the presence of sunlight that is extraordinarily toxic to fungal spores. Stone fruit growers can add milk to the core holistic recipe to prevent brown rot establishing on sizing fruit.


Not surprisingly, grass-fed milk
has higher-quality fatty acids
than confinement dairy.
The Holistic Orchard: Growing Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way -- click for book summary
The Holistic Orchard: Growing Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way by Michael Phillips

DVD: Holistic Orcharding with Michael Phillips
Michael's Holistic Orcharding DVD guides you through the orchard year.
Fermented herbal teas are as homegrown as it gets!
Fermented herbal teas are as
homegrown as it gets!

Fermented herbal teas

The cuticle defense of both the leaf and fruitlet surface must be overcome by enzymes put out by rot organisms and summer disease fungi. Strengthening that cuticle can be achieved by boosting foliar levels of silica and calcium. Fermented teas of horsetail and nettle are premium sources of bioavailable silica when applied with the core recipe in the fruit sizing window. Similarly, foliar calcium can be gotten from a fermented tea of comfrey. Adding a handful of garlic scapes to any of these brews enhances absorption.

Fatty acid knockdown

Applications of fatty acid constituents at high concentrations can be used to shift microbe populations. Pure neem oil can safely be upped to a 2 percent concentration and fish applied at the full ground rate of 4 gallons per acre once trees have shed the majority of their leaves. This works against pathogens like peach curl fungi and Xanthomonas spot bacteria overwintering in bark and bud crevices. Biological reinforcement in the form of effective microbes and/or compost tea then has a leg up in colonizing the surfaces under contention when applied 12-24 hours later. A molasses feed of 1 to 2 pints per acre with this competitive colonization application will help the "new guys" establish. This same approach gets repeated in early spring where these diseases prove ornery.

Homegrown biology

Aerated compost tea can be substituted for effective microbes. The ideal may actually be to use both in order to maximize species diversity. In a similar vein, some growers ferment nutrient-rich herbs with ingredients like raw milk and worm castings (and molasses and seaweed and humic acid) to create a delightful indigenous brew. Biological reinforcement really can't be overdone!


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Organic Orcharding Articles


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