Organic Apple Grower’s Hour: Apr 24 Summary

Yesterday was our first conference call with organic orchard consultant Michael Phillips and IPM consultant John Aue. What follows is a summary of the call. You can also download a summary of the call below.
Note: My apologies… I neglected to exit the call for a moment to begin the recording this morning. Because there is no call recording this week, I have made a summary that is more detailed than they usually will be. -Lisa
Participants (13 total):
Jim Lindemann, McFarland, WI
Ron Schaeffer, Chippewa Falls, WI
Dierdre Birmingham, Mineral Point, WI
Harry Hoch, La Crescent, MN
Tom Galazen, Bayfield, WI
Doug Waples, Soldier, IA
Bob Willard, Rochester, WI
Peter Johnson, Waupaca, WI
Linda Hezel, Kearney, MO
Bill Wright, Green Bay, WI
John Aue, Richland Center, WI
Lisa DiPietro, Madison, WI
Michael Phillips, Groveton, NH
Discussion Topics:
Determining whether participants’ orchards are at similar points in the season: Growers reported on the stage of growth of their apples, how many degree days they had accumulated, and how much precipitation they had recently recorded. From the reports, we learned that callers’ orchards were generally at similar points, with one orchard in cool Northern WI being behind the others.
Call Orientation: Michael emphasized that he considers himself to be one voice in a circle of very knowledgeable people; he invited growers to share their insights during the hour. He also mentioned that since participants have widely varying philosophies on apple growing, he hopes that everyone will be willing to listen to different perspectives.
Michel requested that growers tell him of any site that they might use to track their degree days. This will help him to stay informed about the what growers in the Midwest are experiencing.
Reducing the need to spray sulfur by promoting leaf decomposition and supporting the soil biology: Michael noted that sulfur based disease programs can vary greatly; from 2-4 sprays to 24 sprays. Using many sulfur sprays can damage the health of the orchard ecosystem. He pointed growers to his website for more information on managing disease and for a graph of the “fungal curve.” The graph can be found within the orcharding article entitled “Honoring the Orchard Ecosystem.”
Michael explained that as we rapidly go into spring, it is the time to complete the orchard sanitation effort. Flail mowing, compost spreading, and liquid fish sprays will encourage leaf decomposition. Compost and liquid fish help to activate beneficial soil organisms, including a fungus that decomposes scab. Michael recommends liquid fish over fish emulsion as it has more beneficial components. The February newsletter found on details fish products and provides source links.
Michael has also introduced neem oil to help him reduce sulfur sprays. He uses raw neem oil because it has important components that neem formulations lack. Because raw neem oil solidifies when cool, the oil must be warmed before using it in cool spring weather, and the spray water must be somewhat warm as well.
When Michael does use sulfur (about 2-4 times a season) he uses micronized sulfur. He uses about 10 lbs micronized sulfur per acre. For those who may be anticipating a major release of spores at one time (60-70% spore release) he recommends up to the 15 lb rate. Michael does not recommend lime sulfur or copper — except in certain extenuating circumstances — because he considers these to be too damaging to beneficials in the soil.
Michael mentioned that due to consistent snow cover this past winter, ascospores will probably be maturing more quickly this year. John Aue concurred, and emphasized that this condition highlights the need to get the scab ascospore dose down.
The need for more research of unconventional methods: Michael noted that he is having success with his holistic approach, but that there is a frustrating lack of research to support and confirm the work of holistic orchardists. John Aue suggested that growers conduct experiments on their own orchards to see if they can observe any benefits to trying a more holistic approach. The research pages at offer some ideas and initial results that Michael hopes to see considerably expanded in the years ahead as more growers become aware of this effort.
Reducing deer damage. If one wishes to stay in the orchard business for the long term, Michael asserts that one must get a deer fence. One grower reported having success with a 10-12 foot, very thick hedgerow as a barrier to deer.

Download the call summary