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Rotten Fruit Orchard

 
Julie Helms
Posts: 110
Location: SC Pennsylvania, Zone 6b
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The more I read here and watch videos the more I realize that my little farmette is not very healthy. By way of background, I live on 8 acres. About 6 is pasture and 2 is lawn. We raise sheep, goats and chickens. Before we lived here the property was primarily a cornfield. So we only have a handful of shade trees around the house.

My problem: the previous owners planted a small orchard in the lawn section. 2 golden delicious apples, 2 red delicious apples, 2 pears, 2 peaches. In the 9 years I have lived here I have only ever gotten edible fruit from the pears. The apples are unrecognizable between the apple maggot flies and the coddling moths. The peaches ooze clear gel that I haven't identified. And last year, my pest-free pears got fire blight and probably should be chopped down. I use no pesticides. Fake apples with tanglefoot got me apples just barely good enough one year for applesauce, but the following year-one tree was horrible and the other 3 barren of fruit. I have despaired over this orchard. I have wondered if I should just chop it all down? I've never used pesticides, but I've never fertilized either. We just mow it. Now I'm wondering if the ground itself is dead from many years as a corn/soy field.

Should I get rid of it and try planting more appropriate varieties for my area. Should I let it grow wild, so that an understory develops? Any suggestions at all? I hate to get rid of them because they are mature--maybe too old (about 20 years old)?

Julie

Edit: I forgot, we have 2 English Walnuts also, that have had anthracnose since we moved in. I did treat them with something one year a nursery gave me but it did no good. I don't know why they are still alive as they lose their leaves way too early every year. Our only healthy trees are the maples around the house.
 
Seren Manda
Posts: 62
Location: Northern Cali, USA -zone 9-
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20 is fairly young in the life of a tree. But if they aren't healthy and you want to get new trees, go for it. That said, if you had the inclination, you could cut them down, do hugul beds with the wood (except the walnut) and plant new saplings into them. berries, too... develop your own undercanopy.
 
David Miller
Posts: 280
Location: Harrisonburg, VA
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Don't chop anything down yet. I would strongly suggest starting a new orchard elsewhere, meanwhile plant a mix of legumes, comfrey and wildflowers in and around your diseased trees. If you stop cutting the grasses around the trees, allow the new plants to thrive in the shade of the orchard and most of all give the system time to re-balance itself you might be amazed at the resulting awesomeness. Try to remember to approach your new orchard in a completely different manner, try to integrate the trees into a widely diverse ecosystem where no one bug or disease can get out of control due to imbalance. Try to foster as much diverse life as possible and balance will return. Give this a read, it may give you hope http://imaginepeace.com/miracleapples/
 
Leila Rich
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Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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Bear in mind that I'm in a completely different climate, with some different fruit tree issues... I'm not familiar with fireblight or apple maggot fly but similar rules generally apply.
The trees are young, that's not an issue.
First off, where are you? I'm pretty sure the apples you mention are best in warmer climates.
Secondly, do you like golden and red delicious apples? If so, great and it's worth looking after the trees, if not so much, I'd have no problems starting again.
In some areas it's very difficult growing fruit organically, but choosing disease-restant cultivars is a good start.
I suggest you have a great resource in your animals.
If they're in the orchard in autumn, chickens will clean up all sorts of insect larvae, including codlin moth and apple maggot and sheep will eat fallen leaves and fruit. Fertilisation, free feed and pest/disease control. Just don't leave sheep in till they're hungry or they'll damage the trees.
Appropriate sticky traps for apple maggot fly and pheromone traps for codlin moth. Timing and regularity is really important: you need to know when they're mating and make a seasonal plan. We're talking a few seasons to take the insect population down. Are there othe unmanaged orchards around? If so, there''' always be a pest reservoir and it's a matter of management, since elimination's impossible.
My biggest suggestion is to try getting rid of the grass in the orchard. Grass is a greedy water and nutrient hog. Do you have access to free chipped-tree mulch? Plant things that support tree growth, attract beneficial insects and make the orchard a beautiful place.
Here's some ideas:
Phacelia
buckwheat
legumes, especially all the clovers. Dutch clover's low-growing and easy to walk on
Comfrey
borage
Alliums like perennial onions, garlic chives...
spring bulbs
umbelliferae. The insects go nuts for them
Pretty much anything really.
I wouldn't plant anytrhing around a tree that I planned to dig up, so parsnips are there for the insects, not me and I wouldn't grow potatoes...
My other big suggestion is getting a professional lab soil test. Nutrient deficiencies that affect trees often affect people and struggling plants are also more pest/disease prone. Is the garden healthy? Maybe test that too.
 
eric firpo
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i'd also get rid of the grass around the fruit trees. it secretes some hormone that stunts tree growth. try guilds under your trees and see what happens. also, there's biodynamic recipe you can make use of with the livestock you've got. 20 percent grass fed cow manure (did you say you have cows?), 80 percent clay soil. add water, make a paint and slather it on your fruit trees. prevents borers. also, instead of water, why not try a tea made of equisetum or nettles or both. equisetum has anti-fungal properties that could help prevent blight or other fungal diseases, though it might also hamper fungal growth in soil...not sure. i'm going to give it a shot later this winter for my trees.
 
David Good
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Those trees are a resource - they've got some growing time in them I wouldn't be willing to sacrifice if I were in your shoes.

Also... on grass and trees, Eric is dead right. http://www.sustland.umn.edu/implement/trees_turf.html

One friend of mine who has dealt with disease issues has recommended running poultry beneath orchard trees. Chickens and guineas in particular will eat pests and break the cycle, as geoff lawton puts it in his Food Forest video.

As for fire blight, trim off the diseased portions and burn them. If that stuff reaches into the main trunk, your tree is done for. It's a bacterial infection that spreads rapidly via pollinators and splattering about in rainstorms. I beat it back over a few years on some pear trees at a previous property.
 
Julie Helms
Posts: 110
Location: SC Pennsylvania, Zone 6b
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Thank you all for the wonderful suggestions. I am writing everything down and will formulate a plan.



Leila: We are in SC Pennsylvania which is 6b zone. I think it was dumb that the previous owners planted Delicious apples since those were developed for hardy transport for supermarkets, but it's what's here. I would have chosen differently.

Off to look up the links y'all provided.
Thanks again, I feel a sense of hope for the first time EVER with this orchard!

Julie

 
eric firpo
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You can always graft more varieties of apples onto your trees, keep in mind. You can get fruit that ripens throughout the season from a single tree, and it's fun!
 
                                      
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Yes, you should graft different varieties. You can extend your season that way. You can graft apple scions onto pears and vice versa. If you are cutting the pear back hard because of blight it would be great to graft some varieties you might like onto the tree.
 
David Good
gardener
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I agree with you on "Delicious." They're not my favorite either. However, they're good dried and for cider... at least they can redeem themselves that way, even if they're not the best fresh.

Of course, I've never had one right from the tree. Reaching full ripeness should still make for a better apple than one you'd buy at the supermarket.

I'm not in good apple country, so I admit a certain jealousy. We're limited to a small handful of so-so tasting low-chill cultivars here. I make up for the loss with citrus.

I wish you all the best of luck. Press on! Strike out in hope and may good things follow. You're in the right place for good ideas.
 
Leila Rich
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Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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jovialgent Hatfield wrote:Yes, you should graft different varieties. You can extend your season that way. You can graft apple scions onto pears and vice versa. If you are cutting the pear back hard because of blight it would be great to graft some varieties you might like onto the tree.

While this is technically true, you'd have to graft one of the rare compatible apples like Winter Banana as an interstem or the final graft.
I wouldn't bother when there's the same species there already.
If you graft other apples onto existing trees, be aware whether they flower early, mid or late season. If they don't overlap with another apple, pollination will be poor to nonexistant. By the way, the Delicious trees you have are both 'flowering group' 4 (late season) so that's not one of your problems
Most of my favourite apples (ok, not Delicious!) are late, and all the good keepers are.
New grafts can be, say, early (although I wouldn't recommend very early apples), but keep in mind there needs to be another flowering-compatible apple around, but if there's lots of fruit trees around your area, you're probably ok.
If that's confusing, this is a good website: http://www.orangepippinshop.com/articles/pollination-of-fruit-trees
Also, since you have two of each apple, I'd be inclined to drop one of each and put in a couple of compatible plums, if you like them and they grow in your area. Hmm, I see there's something called 'plum pox virus' in PA.
 
Julie Helms
Posts: 110
Location: SC Pennsylvania, Zone 6b
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Leila Rich wrote:
Also, since you have two of each apple, I'd be inclined to drop one of each and put in a couple of compatible plums, if you like them and they grow in your area. Hmm, I see there's something called 'plum pox virus' in PA.


Yes, we have plum pox virus. I live in an area with tons of commercial orchards and the cherries and plums have been decimated. So we residential people are not permitted any new plantings of Prunus species (which includes ornamentals like weeping cherry and almond). Some government organization comes and tests a flowering cherry and an ornamental almond I have every year. If it comes up positive I will have to destroy them.

Thanks for all the grafting info!
 
Cj Sloane
pollinator
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I'm a little surprised no one has mentioned pruning. It's the main reason people's trees stop producing. Also, 20 years is young for a standard sized tree but not for a dwarf.

Where are the walnuts in relation to the the fruit trees? They secrete a substance which inhibits growth in other plants.

A well placed swale may help tons.
 
Julie Helms
Posts: 110
Location: SC Pennsylvania, Zone 6b
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CJin VT wrote:I'm a little surprised no one has mentioned pruning. It's the main reason people's trees stop producing. Also, 20 years is young for a standard sized tree but not for a dwarf.

Where are the walnuts in relation to the the fruit trees? They secrete a substance which inhibits growth in other plants.

A well placed swale may help tons.



Loss of production isn't so much the problem as a load of crappy, inedible fruit. I figured they were all dwarfs but the two red delicious trees are at least 20 feet high, twice the height of the rest. I looked back to verify the age of the trees and they are 16 years old-- not quite as old as I thought.

I don't think the Walnuts are interfering. They are 50 yards away with a vast lawn and driveway separating them. But they are English Walnuts, not Black Walnuts so I'm not sure they inhibit the same.

I will add pruning to my plan. That's a good thought in just aiding the overall health of the trees!
 
Mike Dayton
Posts: 149
Location: sw pa zone 5
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I live in SW Pa just west of the Mountains, between zones 5 and 6. I have 18 fruit trees and several english walnut. Two of my pears died of the fire blight, 2 were resistive. I beleive the ones that lived were Moon Globe. If you prune off the effected branches, take the time to wipe your saw with alcohol between each cut so that you do not spread the fire blight. I have mulched my trees very heavily with leaves each year, I have alot of large Maples in the yard. I read [ I think in Organic Gardening years ago ] that if the trees are mulched well it will keep the soil cooler in spring and delay the bud swell and blossum by a week, maybe even 2 weeks. Around here a week can be the diff between getting apples and having none. It also keeps the grass away so it does not compete with the tree, as well as feed the tree roots over time. My trees are about 25 years old. I do not spray, and I really don't prune much except for mowing. A friend of mine told me years ago that I could spray, and prune, and fuss, and I would get apples. Or I could do Nothing, and that tree still wanted to make apples and it was going to do it. My apples are some what like yours, smaller, damaged by moths etc. Good for picking off the tree while you mow, good for the Grandkids to find and eat on their walks and good for apple sauce or cider. Not so good to keep or to show off the friends and neighbors. If you want to plant other trees go ahead and get them started this spring, but let the mature tree live. Get rid of the grass, try to prune a bit, maybe use a dormant oil spray in the spring just befor bud swell to kill the moths. Good luck.
 
Mike Dayton
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Location: sw pa zone 5
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I live in SW Pa just west of the Mountains, between zones 5 and 6. I have 18 fruit trees and several english walnut. Two of my pears died of the fire blight, 2 were resistive. I beleive the ones that lived were Moon Globe. If you prune off the effected branches, take the time to wipe your saw with alcohol between each cut so that you do not spread the fire blight. I have mulched my trees very heavily with leaves each year, I have alot of large Maples in the yard. I read [ I think in Organic Gardening years ago ] that if the trees are mulched well it will keep the soil cooler in spring and delay the bud swell and blossum by a week, maybe even 2 weeks. Around here a week can be the diff between getting apples and having none. It also keeps the grass away so it does not compete with the tree, as well as feed the tree roots over time. My trees are about 25 years old. I do not spray, and I really don't prune much except for mowing. A friend of mine told me years ago that I could spray, and prune, and fuss, and I would get apples. Or I could do Nothing, and that tree still wanted to make apples and it was going to do it. My apples are some what like yours, smaller, damaged by moths etc. Good for picking off the tree while you mow, good for the Grandkids to find and eat on their walks and good for apple sauce or cider. Not so good to keep or to show off the friends and neighbors. If you want to plant other trees go ahead and get them started this spring, but let the mature tree live. Get rid of the grass, try to prune a bit, maybe use a dormant oil spray in the spring just befor bud swell to kill the moths. Good luck.
 
Nicolai Barca
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millerdavidpatrick McCoy wrote:Don't chop anything down yet. I would strongly suggest starting a new orchard elsewhere, meanwhile plant a mix of legumes, comfrey and wildflowers in and around your diseased trees. If you stop cutting the grasses around the trees, allow the new plants to thrive in the shade of the orchard and most of all give the system time to re-balance itself you might be amazed at the resulting awesomeness. Try to remember to approach your new orchard in a completely different manner, try to integrate the trees into a widely diverse ecosystem where no one bug or disease can get out of control due to imbalance. Try to foster as much diverse life as possible and balance will return. Give this a read, it may give you hope http://imaginepeace.com/miracleapples/


I agree. Stop mowing and let it grow in and balance out. Vegetation might foster more and healthier vegetation, conserve moisture, create and cycle nutrients, etc. Get a good humus layer going and feed them manure as often as possible. If spreading manure around the whole orchard seems like too much work, try just one or two trees and see if they improve. This is the complete opposite end of the country from me, but it reminds me of a friend's yard where they have a bunch of unhealthy fruit trees growing out in the lawn in ex-sugar cane land, without any fertilizer or water, many damaged from weed whackers. Most of the trees are doing very poor. I recommended them berms around each tree for which to toss chopped up yard waste into but they preferred the look of grass...

Number one thing I would do: feed'em something like a liquid fertilizer. Do it on some regular basis and it might be just what they need to boost their immune system.
 
Julie Helms
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Location: SC Pennsylvania, Zone 6b
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Thank you all for the recommendations. And just think--no mowing is less of my energy and less gas, so this seems like win-win-win all around. Even my husband took it pretty well when I told him we have to stop mowing around the fruit trees, though I had to allow him that he could mow some paths. Unfortunately, the orchard part of the lawn is between our house and the road, so it is highly visible--not as easy to let it go scruffy for appearance sake but I am totally excited about the potential here.

Nicolai, any recommendations on the liquid fertilizer? We have tons of compost (sheep and chicken manure, and straw); I could make a tea out of it? Or is there a specific fruit-loving formula.
 
Cj Sloane
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Julie Helms wrote: Unfortunately, the orchard part of the lawn is between our house and the road, so it is highly visible--not as easy to let it go scruffy for appearance sake but I am totally excited about the potential here.

Nicolai, any recommendations on the liquid fertilizer? We have tons of compost (sheep and chicken manure, and straw); I could make a tea out of it? Or is there a specific fruit-loving formula.


How about a hedge on top of a swale by the road? Keep the water on your property and prying eyes out. Also, the sheep do a great job of naturally mowing/fertilizing.
 
Julie Helms
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CJin VT wrote:

How about a hedge on top of a swale by the road? Keep the water on your property and prying eyes out. Also, the sheep do a great job of naturally mowing/fertilizing.


The swale is not a bad idea. I'll have to take a look at the lay of the land with that in mind. The sheep are in the fenced-in pasture, not the lawn. In the old days it was a sign of wealth to have a big lawn because it meant you could afford to have a lot of sheep to graze it! Now it just means you need a big mower. When we moved in the previous owners had the house sitting on 4 acres of pristine lawn, with another 4 in (mono) crops. It was crazy to maintain that lawn. We fenced in as much as made sense, for the sheep and goats, giving them 6 acres, still leaving us with a rather large 2-acre lawn.

Here is a picture of our front lawn. It shows half of it (the orchard is in the other half to the right not showing) and this is AFTER we cut it in half from the previous owners. It's like a blank canvas for a permaculture future!
I just ran outside and quick took the second picture. It's hard to see what is going on but that is the other half of our lawn. Behind it is part of the pasture and behind that you can see the neighbors buildings. EDIT: (The pictures showed up in reverse order)
Front Yard_800x455.JPG
[Thumbnail for Front Yard_800x455.JPG]
orchard 003_800x242.JPG
[Thumbnail for orchard 003_800x242.JPG]
 
Nicolai Barca
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Tea would be great!
 
Terri Matthews
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Learn about the pests and what to do about them, of course! The local extension office could probably give very good advice.

Since the trees are fruiting, it has probably been quite a few years since the land was in corn, which helps some. They use an awfull lot of chemicals in corn and the residue takes years to break down.

I have never tried it, but I have heard of clay being sprayed on to the young fruit. Again, I have never tried it.

Lastly many trees, including golden delidious, want to bear every other year. The way to avoid this is to thin very well, which will also give you larger fruit. By doing this the tree does not wear itself out by bearing a large crop of apples, and then taking a year off to regain strength.
 
John Alabarr
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Julie, I am having the same problems you are having, lots of insect damage, diseased fruit. I don't use insecticides, fungicides, or fertilizers either.
 
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