Everything is place specific. Thanks for sharing your experience, Scott. Regarding beneficials, biodiversity is key. Not just one or two species of plants that may (temporarily) attract beneficials but a food chain lasting an extended period and don’t forget to provide overwintering habitat. Despite the fact that I live in the middle of a giant field of corn and soy (Iowa) our property has ~60 acres of timber and thousands of trees, and hundreds of flowering shrubs have been planted on the field and pasture acreage by my MIL over the last 20+ years. I’ve seen more insect life here than anywhere else I’ve lived. And I’ve only identified a small portion. I feel fortunate for that (and I hope it works in my favor - I read a good article about how much more successful organic orchards were that were bordered by native forest, will try to find link). Iowa was the second to sixth largest producer of apples until the Armistace Blizzard of 1940 and I don’t think there were many chemical sprays back then (besides Bordeaux mixture probably being used for scab). The local landscape was obviously more diverse then when farms had crops and livestock and hedgerows and more trees. Standard rootstocks may have had a significant benefit as well (there’s a 30’+ wild apple tree in a fencerow about 1/2 a mile from our place that produces decent, sweet apples that are unblemished and tree seems disease-free). Despite my lack of orchard experience in this climate I remain hopeful and will keep you guys posted. However, I’ve got a 13 year old orchard in SE Texas (near Houston) and I highly recommend citrus, figs, persimmons, pomegranates, black mulberries, blackberries for low-maintenance, no-spray harvests, though low-chill temperate fruits do fairly well too. That orchard hasn’t had any irrigation or maintenance in 11 years except mulching with ramial wood chips about every other year and some minor pruning when I’m back for Christmas.
Thanks for everyone sharing their thoughts and experience. It is very valuable.