Forewarning- I am beginning this post with a rant and a call to action for using critical thinking skills and applying science-based observations in your fruit growing techniques. I expect this post will challenge some long held beliefs and baseline systems and strategies. I encourage anyone feeling shaken by that disruption to take a moment to consider whether an adjustment might be warranted and beneficial to their fruit growing approach.
There has been an ongoing (heated) debate over organic (spray with approved materials) versus natural (no spray, use biological controls) versus synthetic (throw the book at it) versus laissez-faire (hands off approach). I’m not trying to say any of them are the correct/best answer and only you can decide what the best approach is for yourself. I personally struggle with the implication of the terminology ‘Organic’ and ‘Natural’ being applied to any form of human intervention, as by being involved in the process it is inherently no longer ‘Natural’ or ‘Organic’, in the true and literal sense of either word.
That said, if you want a true nature based approach and one that is as ‘organic and natural as possible’ it is unlikely in my opinion that you will actually be able to subsist off of the food that you produce in that kind of system without external inputs from a grocery store which defeats the purpose of the organic and natural based approaches in the first place. By using sprays, even if they are organic approved sprays, it is far more likely that a person could achieve a diet that does not include fruit and vegetables from a grocery store versus a ‘natural’ approach. Obviously if you had enough land you could grow enough to make up for that difference but most of us do not. Also, there are very few areas where the government artificially limits pest pressure through intervention, giving the perception that a ‘natural’ approach can be possible for certain crops (I’m looking at you, California citrus industry).
I am betting there are very very few people who are not just virtue signaling and fabricating an idealized vision of the world which is not realistic with the way that they would like to approach growing their own food. The only way that I can think of to achieve something like that would be a nut crop like acorns as a base for a diet. By harvesting acorns and storing them throughout the year you would be able to potentially keep enough food for a society. But even then some trees are biennially bearing or triennially bearing and collapse of society based upon that approach is inevitable. Having varied nut crops and fruit crops resistant to environmental factors would be a better approach than a monoculture like acorns. Plus, humans of the past used fire as a tool to manage the forests of those societies, so the idea of an egalitarian society based on truly ‘natural’ systems is a farce. They’re always has been and always will be interference from humans to bend and mailed nature to our needs in a very basic sense. Native Americans were, and are, ecological engineers.
Unless you are hunting deer by self-bow, crunching on sour crabapples, and digging up tubers munching berries and acorns to survive, there is nothing “natural” about the the way any of us consume food.
"But wait! Hold on a second! " you say. “Humans are a part of the environment too! We are also natural!”
Ah… But if humans are also ‘natural’ by being a part of the environment, then by definition anything we create should also be considered natural, just as the intentional management of forest land by native Americans was an inherently ‘natural’ but intentional act. By that thought process, synthetic lab fabricated chemicals are just a natural progression of optimizing crop management.
I don’t personally subscribe to that particular argument, I’m just putting it out there to develop a baseline understanding of the points I’m trying to review. I do personally draw a line between human intervention (and existince in nature), the things ‘we’ affect and impact, and the rest of the organisms and processes on the planet which would probably be better off without us.
Which leads us to- ‘Nature Based Solutions’
I was first exposed to the terminology “Nature Based Solutions” by Dr Robert Nairn at an American Society for Reclamation Sciences meeting a couple years ago in a presentation which also included the terminology ‘ecological engineering’. The general idea is that we should first be observers of how the natural world around us addresses particular challenges, and then find ways to incorporate those processes in our systems, sometimes enhancing them for our benefit when possible. His work deals with a myriad of ecological challenges including erosion, siltation in municipal water supplies, and legacy challenges related to the Picher lead zinc mines which helped Americans win World War One.
While we are not engineering water treatment systems for mine contaminants deemed irreparable by the EPA (although the company I work for is helping with it), I do feel that the concept of ‘Nature Based Solutions’ can be applied to fruit growing. I know that many of us are already using a ‘natural’ approach which aligns with a ‘Nature Based Solutions’ approach. By including the scientific method of observation, development of a hypothesis, testing that hypothesis, and documentation and analysis of the results, we may be able to provide information for each other and our future selves so we don’t have to keep “re-inventing the wheel”.
I guess what I’m trying to get to is that it’s all about perspective. Science is hard, taking good notes is time consuming and hard, but it might just be what we need.