Organic orchard report

No, we don't have frogs on our apples but thought you'd enjoy this photo!
Earlier this season, I wrote how my husband Bill and I have been growing our tree fruits organically for several years. And how each year, it's been a learning process.

While plums are quite trouble-free, apples, pears and cherries are a whole different matter! Apples and pears -- which belong to the same family -- are susceptible to both insect damage and many diseases. Cherries primarily have one problem that requires action: those pesky little worms that burrow through the fruits. Yuck!

Let's look at cherries first. Cherry fruit flies are the parents of those horrid white worms. Bill hangs cherry fruit fly traps in the trees once the cherries start turning light green. The traps are used as an indicator of when the cherry fruit flies are active in the area.

Bill sprays an organic product called Spinosad every 10 days. It kills the fruit flies before they can lay eggs. This worked really well for us and we had a wonderful, worm-free harvest.

Now let's look at apples. Note that our pear trees are quite young so we haven't had to go through the full routine that I'm about to detail for apples, but the method for both types of trees will be identical starting next year.

When it comes to growing apples, our main nemesis is the apple codling moth. The adults lay eggs on the surface of the young fruits; the resulting larvae burrow into the apples to feed. They later drop from the apples to the ground to pupate, then later emerge as adults to begin the cycle all over again. Most adults overwinter in the bark of the trees.

Nylon footies
Each year, we  thin the fruits so the trees won't have too much to support and mature throughout the season. And each spring, we dutifully cover the young apples with little nylon "footies" to confuse the adults so they will hopefully not lay their eggs on them. Yes, it's tedious work but it has been worth the effort. However, there's more that has to be done to thwart the moths.

At regular intervals, Bill sprays our trees with a solution of kaolin clay (a natural substance) and water, which puts a powdery coating on the leaves and fruit. This also seems to confuse the moths into thinking they haven't landed on an actual leaf or apple.

With the combination of the nylon footies and kaolin clay mixture, we usually have about an 80% success rate (no worms).

Last season, in addition to the nylon footies and kaolin clay, Bill was occasionally using Bt. He found that it worked really well.

So this season, he decided to conduct an experiment by just using the Bt and kaolin clay, and not using the footies. For a while, it was looking really promising and we were excited to think that we wouldn't need to go to the time and expense of using footies.

It turns out we were wrong! But not only was that in regards to the codling moths, we also encountered two unforeseen problems.

We had more worms in our apples than we usually get so it appears the footies were really helping more than we thought. Apparently they really do confuse those moths.

The first unforeseen problem: if you live in the Inland Northwest, you know we are in the middle of a drought and also had extended periods of high temperatures this summer. We broke all sorts of weather records.

This is what stink bugs look like.
Because of things being so hot and dry -- and unbeknownst to us, I might add -- birds were flying into our little orchard and pecking the apples. Sometimes it was just a small hole but often there were quite large holes pecked into the fruit. When I picked our Jonagold apples last week, I was dismayed to get a much smaller harvest due to this problem.

The second unforeseen problem: Bill discovered stink bugs were piercing the skins of our McIntosh apples and sucking some of the juices out of them. These apples have thin skins so it was easy for the bugs to do that. This caused a lot of problems for us.

The bottom line: If we had used the footies, we believe they would have thwarted the codling moths, kept the birds from pecking the apples, and made it much more difficult for stink bugs to do their thing.

I wish I could've told you our experiment was a resounding success because that would mean much less work for all of us who are trying to grow our tree fruits organically! Unfortunately, that's not the case. Our plan is to go back to using the footies next spring, as well as to continue with the kaolin spray and occasional use of Bt.

Like I said earlier, it's always a learning process!