It’s been pretty cool for spring time, so our stone fruit bloom—and its beauty—has been spectacularly prolonged; man, it’s pretty! Hard to work too, you just want to get a blanket, a picnic basket, and your sweetie and go enjoy the orchards, watch the bees, and the white fluffy clouds floating over.
Lacking synthetic fungicides, bloom-time is the most precarious time to be an organic stone-fruit grower because the little flowers are so vulnerable to infection from decay spores. Those decay spores need free moisture, which occurs obviously from rain, but also from the heavy dew and lingering fog we have this time of year.
Once you get your orchard through bloom, and the fruit swells out of its jacket, decay isn’t a problem here in Kingsburg again until after harvest because dew and fog give way to warm and dry making this Central Valley locale for stone fruit what the Napa Valley is for wine grapes. In fact, the only other area cold enough in winter and dry enough in summer to compete with us and actually produce decent organic is Eastern Washington and since they’re 3 weeks behind us, they don’t even try until mid-July.
When we were in France a few years ago, we talked about organic. They certainly have the consumer demand for “BIO” but their production region is right off the Mediterranean and humidity is just too high.
So how do you keep decay out of your orchard during bloom when you don’t have synthetic fungicides Uncle Vern?
Well, first it takes a change of mindset. Conventional agriculture uses chemistry to kill whatever the problem is. When we first started with organic, our mentality was to replace conventional inputs with organic. You can for instance use organic copper, sulfur and lime to kill the decay spores. We got our tail handed to us. One orchard was so badly infected we had to push it out and start over. When tuition is high like that, one seldom forgets the lesson.
By the next year, our thinking had evolved on several fronts, and regarding decay control, we switched to using biology instead of chemistry, life instead of death.
I know it sounds counter intuitive—there are these decay organisms floating around your orchard, how can a good farmer just sit there and not try to kill ‘em? Well, (aside from the fact that that didn’t work) to be an organic farmer, you’ve just got to work with life. We actually purchase and reproduce healthy microorganisms and spray these on our flowers. We use different kinds in rotation and actually spray them on our flowers like a conventional grower would a fungicide. We have to do it more frequently, it costs a lot more, but it works; we can grow excellent organic peaches, plums, apricots, and nectarines. (By the way, we’ll have apricots for you in a couple months Lord willin’.) When you focus on killing the bad guys, you also kill the good guys, and without the good biology, death wins. But when you cover your blooms with good biology, the destructive can’t compete; life wins.
I think there’s a lot here for people too, not just peaches; because all life is interconnected. I take a probiotic every morning, just to make sure my friends outnumber my enemies.
Focus on life, encourage the success of your friends, and your enemies won’t have a chance on any level.