Holistic Orchard Conversion

Back in October of last year, I wrote another chapter in the seemingly never ending saga of trying to get it right in the orchard.  Since 2010, we haven’t been comfortable with the monoculture nature of the orchard.  We tried a permaculture type guild approach but that brought all kinds of thistles, quack grass, etc into the enriched soil.  We saw a glimmer of a solution in wildflower meadows.  But it was an all day seminar by Michael Phillips, author of The Holistic Orchard,

Holistic Orchard

at the 33rd Annual Guelph Organic Conference that got us to that right place. Fruit tree culture has been stuck in allopathic mode for far too long, solely seeking out short-term fungicides and antibiotics to destroy disease-causing organisms from without. We never understood that the tree’s own immune ability could be coupled with the stimulation of friendly microbes to defeat disease from within. Looking at fungal progression and bacterial opportunism in the light of competitive microbes, balanced tree nutrition, and primed immune function changes everything.

Michael Phillips Orchard Guild

What this picture shows is a fruit tree surrounded by plants that attract beneficial insects, both pollinators and predatory insects; plants that mine mineral nutrients deeper in the soil than the tree’s feeder roots reach; and nitrogen fixers such as clovers. What you can’t easily see in the picture is the mulch of ramial wood chips.  Ramial wood chips are from tree branches less than 2 inches in diameter.  As they decay into humus, they create fungal activity which increases soil life.  You create relationships that benefit the trees.  For example, comfrey leaves fall to the ground as it starts to go to seed creating a living mulch and enriching the soil.  But comfrey needs nitrogen which is provided by the clover.  The rich soil life will convert the nitrogen to ammonium which can be used by comfrey and other plants.  And bumblebees love comfrey.  Here’s Michael’s Buzz on Biodiversity which explains how this works in more detail. Basically, it’s selectively mimicking Nature to achieve a desired outcome.

Does it work? From another convert: The holistic approach certainly works. This summer’s crop was 100% codling moth free while trees under a km away were full of the bugs. I use comfrey but don’t worry about having grass in the orchard.

Richard's Holistic Orchard

We already have praying mantis cocoons but I’ve never seen a praying mantis in the orchard.  I think that’s about to change.

praying mantis

I’ll post details of the conversion in a later post.

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5 Responses to Holistic Orchard Conversion

  1. Nicolas M. says:

    This guy seems very interesting,
    i’m just beginning his books, and it is quite promising, but it seems that his health programm for his trees is based on non local (at least for me) resources like seaweeds and neem oil …

    • MikeH says:

      Hi Nicolas

      It’s the same for us. Seaweed isn’t local and neem oil is banned in Canada. Nonetheless, the rest of what he describes can be done in any orchard anywhere – build the soil by mulching with ramial wood chips and plant vegetation that is beneficial to the soil, other plants, the trees and to insects. It’s a matter of turning an orchard from a lawn with fruit & nut trees in it into a purpose-built meadow with fruit & nut trees in it.


      • Nicolas M. says:

        Yup, i hope to learn a lot of things from him.

        Ramial woodships are “widely” know in France, more than permaculture for example. I’m happy that this concept will develop thank to this book.
        I’m eager to read what you have to said about holistic orchad management 🙂

  2. Richard says:

    I enjoyed the Michael Phillips video on your site and am incorporating his holistic practices into my orchard. I am curious since I use neem oil effectively for different purposes (including mites on my chicken), why is it banned in Canada?

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