Observation, Creativity, and Passion - How to be an Organic Peach Farmer
Niagara: We hope you enjoyed the last run of the Wiecha's peaches last week. We know we certainly did. Joel and I may have sampled a few while picking on Tuesday morning. It was an early start to the day to get down there, but certainly a worthwhile trip. We learned a lot about the skill, creativity and attention to detail that is required of small scale organic fruit farmers. The Niagara Peninsula’s gentle climate makes it perfect for the softer stone fruits and grapes that we all enjoy and there certainly are multitude of orchards and vineyards, large and small, in the region. However, as with any farming, monocultures (large areas with a single crop) are particularly prone to pests and diseases. Think of it as the equivalent of an all you can eat buffet for insects and pathogens.
We were curious about how Debbie managed to protect her small organic orchard without the use of toxic sprays relied upon in conventional orchards. Her strategy is multipronged. For pests, it’s keep them occupied, confused, repelled or frustrated. The orchard itself is substantial but not enormous. It surrounded by diversity. There are chestnut blackberries, blueberries, at least three varieties or raspberries and haskups. Diversity helps keep pest populations from ballooning. On one side of the orchard is a large field of lavender that repels some nasty critters. On the side is a thicket of elderberry bushes that keep the birds occupied, which in terms repels some other critters.
Spread throughout the orchard are little plastic twist ties that have been injected with the female pheromone for pests that make frequent appearances in peach orchards. It seems a little counterintuitive, but by attracting male pests who are busy hunting for a mate to the orchard (where there is no mate awaiting, but only a plastic twist tie) it actually helps keep the pests in check. The males are too tired from the journey and frustrated about not being able to find a mate, that they fail to reproduce and the pest problem is short-lived. Debbie mentions that this strategy requires careful attention in the spring. The pheromones are only active for so long and you need to get them out into the orchard at just the right time. Too early and they lose their effectiveness, too late, and you already have female pests present.
For the fungal problems that fruit trees can be prone too, is careful pruning in early spring, removing dead or diseased limbs, carving out soft spots and covering them up, allowing the tree to heal over the wound. Second, is painting the trunks with old fashioned lime whitewash (from natural sources), that protects the sunny side of the tree from sunburn and the shady side from excessive moisture.
The whole practice is certainly a lot of work, and requires meticulous attention to detail, but the result is a healthy orchard and healthy, delicious peaches that we have all enjoyed. We’ll certainly be looking forward to their return next August!