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Help with apple trees!!!  RSS feed

 
Elisabeth Mm
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The history of this site is it has been sprayed with all the recommend sprays for years. Now in the last 3-4 years we have been tapering off to now we spray nothing. Last season there was a lot of apples that were really deformed bumps, scabs, cracks ect. This year they started out looking a lot better and then this tiny apples, scabs, cracks, worms, and the horrible Japanese Beetles. This is the worst I have ever seen. Almost nothing is edible and am to the point of tearing out and starting over. We do not want to spray again and starting over with new trees isn't fool proof and would set us back years. I think the problems would still be there so what do we do? Here are some photos. If I cant put them all here will add in comments. Thanks in advance
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Bryant RedHawk
gardener
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Things like that will happen as you make the shift to better than organic growing.
The problem is that the trees are used to being sprayed and have not had to bother building up defenses in part the other part is that the soil probably doesn't have all the things the trees need to build those defenses.

Now that you have removed the fast food (sprays and artificial fertilizers) it's time to get to the business of building the soil with the right minerals and biology so these trees have the best chance possible.

For the next few years you need to rake up everything from under the trees, add fungi and bacteria, increase the mineral content with the correct, needed trace minerals.
It might take 3 to 4 years to get close to ideal but you can get there.

Redhawk
 
Elisabeth Mm
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How do I know what kind of trace minerals and what kind of fungi and bacteria do I need and where do I find them? The only fertilizer they have ever gotten was composted cow manure from our beef cows. We are also dealing with an overload of Japanese Beatles and a worm that makes a nest at the end of the leaves. This year the tent caterpillars are out too
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Bryant RedHawk
gardener
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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For an overall mineral infusion I personally use the product Sea-90 simply because in a one year trial it worked the best out of the four products that I tested for mineral additions.
You just sprinkle a cup per tree, spread it all around the tree near the drip line (you will have trouble seeing it on the soil if you used just enough).

Japanese beetles are a bother but they do have some predators; praying mantis, walking stick, parasitic wasp, all will come to feast.
Some of the leaf damage looks to be normal trip damage, some Neem spray is a great organic, harmless item to use, it will also discourage the J.B..

If you have been composting, that is super, your PKN will be up as well as the soil biota. If you like you can get a micorrhizal fungi and inoculate around each tree with that, it will help the trees beef up their defenses.

Redhawk

When it comes to trees, it is difficult to get things exact, the needs will vary tree to tree.
If you decide to get a soil test, take individual samples of groups of 4 trees.
 
Genevieve Higgs
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Is the area just apple trees and grass?  Could the addition of other species help?

Things that occur to me would be habitat for beneficial insects and insect eating birds,  maybe nitrogen fixers, maybe something to eat the fallen apples, maybe something to increase pollinator visits?

What is your climate?
 
Elisabeth Mm
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It is apple trees and grass. We are in Northern Wisconsin.
 
Genevieve Higgs
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Do you have any possibility of adding hedge or brush piles for habitat?

Sea buckthorn, siberian pea shrub, autumn olive, and eastern redbud seem to be listed as nitrogen fixers for your area.  Perhaps a neighbor or local nursery could tell you if any of those would be appropriate.

It could be that if you planted a few hedge bits with nitrogen fixers and flowering shrubs then let a brush pile or two develop you could provide habitat and food for things that might eat some of what's eating your apples.     If you put in things gathered from cuttings or shared seeds it might not be a big financial drain.  If you put in things you like it might make you happy, and if some of them could contribute to the orchards products it might pay a dividend long term.  And at the worst you just pull it out if it's a flop.

I have also read comments around here that pigs or chickens do well at gleaning the bits that fall off the trees.
 
Scott Foster
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Location: 6a
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Apples can be frustrating, there is no doubt.  I have a problem with Cedar Rust and there is really nothing you can do but improve the soil.  I only have 4 apple trees.   I knew absolutely nothing about apple trees when I planted them.  I plan on moving forward with more resistant varieties of apples but I'm hearing even that isn't always a fix.

Last year my blueberries, wild roses, and several other plants were skeletonized by Japanese Beetles.   This winter I used Neems oil and I also let areas around my plants go wild with weeds or whatever wanted to come up.  I noticed that the Japanese Beetles really like a specific weed, they were all over the things.   

Not sure if it was the Neems or the weeds.  I can tell you that the wilder my yard gets the fewer pest problems I have.  I'm seeing more birds, predator bugs, tiny wasps etc., all a natural defense against the eaters.  The eaters won't go away they just come into balance.

You have to let the natural ecosystem build a bit and it takes a while.   For instance, if you spray for aphids you kill the predator bugs like "lady bugs" too.  The problem is Aphids are very resilient and return much quicker than the lady bug so the next year your aphids will be rampant.   I see this kind of cycle a lot, sometimes if I just leave something alone it will work itself out.
 
Jim Fry
Posts: 141
Location: Stone Garden Farm Richfield Twp., Ohio
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A couple things I do with my trees might help. It looks like I prune a bit more than you, it lets the air through better which helps with disease control. Every so often, in early Spring I scrape the lower truck to remove any loose bark which eliminates hiding places for bugs that were over wintering. Then I put a ring of Tangle-foot around the trunk to stop any bugs from climbing up the truck who were wintering in the ground/mulch under the tree. When I get tent worms (actually haven't had any in 20 years) I pull down the "tents", or cut off the branch, or burn them out before the worms can do much damage. If you don't let them grow to maturity there's fewer next year. Depending on your point of view you could also hang a couple beetle traps if you have an over infestation of beetles. Disrupt the "bad" bugs life cycle and things get better. Another thing I do in Fall is collect any praying mantis cocoons I happen across and move them into the gardens or closer to the fruit trees. I don't see any reason to remove your trees (yet), I think you just need to get the bugs under control and help the trees nutritionally. ...One other thing I might do now is research the most bug resistant best tasting tree you can find and plant a couple. Then if you do end up removing some of your present trees you'll have new ones coming on line.
 
Jane Southall
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Location: Limestone, TN
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I agree on spraying.  It is an adjustment for them.  There is a lot of good info on a post I made a few days ago.  Under apple trees.  Old sick apple trees is the heading.  Someone spoke on minerals.  Good luck.  I am kinda in same boat, with mine
 
C Dart
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Location: PA
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Not sure if you have stumbled upon this website. Has quite a bit of good info, some of which has been mentioned here.
https://www.groworganicapples.com
 
david fischer
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Your Apple trees have been addicted to spray for years so like a junkie the return to normal is going to be ugly.

Tear out all foliage out to the drip line. Poke 3' deep holes into the soil with a 1/2" landscape water jet, add soil conditioner, add Azomite, get end rolls from your local newspaper and roll out blank newspaper, cover with more soil and let the worms and bacteria fix your soil.

Planting alfalfa will support your fruit trees. The roots go deep and bring up trace minerals. Is also a nitrogen fixer. Alfalfa can be mowed like grass and thrown into your compost pile. Alfalfa gets your compost pile cooking. It will also attract deer and elk for another meat source.

If you create a favorable environment, bacteria will be supportive. If you create an unfavorable environment, bacteria do weird things.
 
Henry Jabel
pollinator
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Location: Worcestershire, England
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I think there are some really good suggestions so far but for the short term I remember reading in Michael Philllip's 'The Apple Grower' book for scab he mentions spraying a nitrogen rich spray (like liquid fish) or liming leaves soon after leaf fall to help reduce the scab causing fungus. Also putting some compost down at this time will help.

His books are very informative and I think well worth buying.
 
Patrick Mann
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Location: Seattle, WA, USA
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I don't see anything wrong with these trees. Scab, tent caterpillars, beetles ... those are all environmental issues that can be fixed.

For scab: remove fallen leaves and fruit promptly from under the trees; or cover with compost. This will prevent spores from re-infecting. A grower here in the PNW recommends not mowing the grass understory in spring - high grass inhibits splashback and dispersal of spores.
 
trinda storey
Posts: 128
Location: kent, washington
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I'm experimenting with trench composting around my fruit trees. They have been over taking by grass for years
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O. Donnelly
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Location: Hudson Valley Zone 5b
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It looks like you still have some very beautiful apples on those trees?  What percent are completely inedible vs slightly blemished vs nearly perfect?  How much perfect fruit do you need? Why do the trees have to be completely free of insect / disease damage?  Can you bend your mind, instead of the spoon?

The apples severely impacted by scab can be used for cider. I've read some interesting pieces recently about how scab is actually beneficial to ciders ( https://elizapples.com/2015/07/01/stress-the-new-bittersweet-a-radical-orchardist-part-2/ )
 
Marco Banks
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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All is not lost!  Do not despair.

The leaves don't look so bad.  If those pictures were taken this week --- end of August, that's how leaves start to look after a long hot summer of doing their job as little solar panels.  Yes, the apples are looking pretty tough, but apple sauce or dried apples are always great, or you could use them for cider. 

When you say you've been slowly tapering off from sprays, it still means that even a little bit of spray still is spray.  It hardly takes any insecticide at all to kill spiders, ladybugs, praying mantas's and all the other garden friends that will take care of the bad bugs for you.  For years, I "just sprayed a little" to deal with the aphids on my citrus trees -- not realizing that I was killing all the good insects as I did that.

So you've got to go 100% no spray, and do so for a couple of years.  You can't be MOSTLY organic.  It's like saying "I'm only a little bit pregnant."  Either you are or you're not.

As others have suggested, you'll want to grow a multi-species understory of other plants that the good insects enjoy.  I don't do this with too much intentionality, but I just plant a lot of veggies and flowers around and that seems to do the trick.  Two weeks ago, I noticed aphids on the okra.  Last week, I noticed a lady bug working them over.  This week, no aphids and about 5 lady bugs doing their thing.  Had I sprayed, even a little, the problem would not have taken care of itself.  Plant carrots, dill, beets, basil, herbs . . . just get some stuff growing around the base of the trees.  It will only take a year to bring in the good bugs.  And at the end of the season, don't clean it all up perfectly, as the good bugs need a place to over-winter.

Clean up any fallen fruit (or have a couple of sheep do it for you) at the end of the season.  That'll keep coddling moths from going crazy. 

Those trees are perfectly healthy.  If you have to write-off this season, it's not all a waste.  You've given your orchard a chance to detox.  But don't start spraying again, as it takes time for all those toxins to disappear and for your spiders to make a comeback.  Thin them out aggressively this winter -- they could stand a good pruning.  And keep feeding the soil.  A good 6-inch layer of mulch (wood chips) would be great for them as they prepare to do dormant for the winter.

Hang in there -- those are beautiful trees and they'll provide you beautiful apples.  Soon.
 
Patrick Mann
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Location: Seattle, WA, USA
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What do you mean by "trench composting"? Fruit trees have very shallow roots that extend well beyond the drip line. If you're digging a trench within that area you might end up cutting a large volume of roots.
 
trinda storey
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I dug a trench around the drip line and filled with food sccraps. Being careful of roots
 
Patrick Mann
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Here's a good discussion of roots:
https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/1992/4-1-1992/treeroot.html

In particular:
"There are many misconceptions about root growth in trees. Horizontal root spread is one of the more important. It is often said that the majority of feeder roots are concentrated at the dripline of the tree. Roots extend to that distance and much farther. Studies have shown root spread to be 4 to 7 times the dripline distance (radius) of the tree. This is an important fact to remember when applying herbicides, fertilizers, insecticides, and other soil treatments around trees. Careful consideration can prevent serious injury to your trees."
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
243
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The drip line is usually where roots start to pickup the majority of their nutrients.
As Patrick stated, the roots that matter are often far beyond that drip line, especially if there isn't another tree of the same species nearby.
For the feeding roots, the environment is 18 inches deep and four times the height of the tree away from the trunk, this is the zone that you can expect to find the roots that are actively taking up nutrients for the tree.

Redhawk
 
trinda storey
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That is why I thought it would be a good idea to feed it with compost or did I do more harm than good
 
Patrick Mann
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Compost is good. But I would simply spread it broadly on the surface and not try to work it into the soil.
 
Marco Banks
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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If grass is a problem, black plastic mulch is a quick and easy way to deal with it.  Stefan Sobkowiak uses this on his Miracle Farm --- the contrast between rows he uses it on and those he doesn't is night and day.  There was a great thread on this here on Permies:

https://permies.com/t/36586/Permie-Orchard-talk-plastic-mulch

If you don't want to keep the plastic on the ground forever, you could certainly roll it out and kill the grass, and then remove it after 2 months.  A thick layer of wood chips would keep the grass down considerably, and make it much easier to weed it out when it sprouts through the chips.  Once the grass is totally gone, its really easy to keep it clean.  I don't have to week my orchard at all --- just new wood chips once or twice a year.
 
john case
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Close to half of your issues would be greatly minimized if you top worked disease resistant scions or buds onto your existing trees.  There are several scab-immune varieties out there that also have good resistance to cedar apple rust and powdery mildew.  This site has great descriptions of a good chunk of the disease resistant varieties out there: https://www.orangepippintrees.com/search.aspx?ps=35 Then you can go to the fedco,  burnt ridge, or other websites to buy scion wood for your chosen variety.  It will set you back 2-3 years of production but it would also disrupt the life cycle of a lot of pests and pathogens without fruit to support them.

Are you willing to spray kaolin clay spray onto the apples a few times after petal fall?  It's organic and it's a huge help for codling moth.  I would understand if your not spraying in part because of the hassle factor.

I know absolutely zero when it comes to Japanese beetles.
 
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