Non traditional Orchard methods


Yes, I didn’t intend to refute your claims of benefit at all. I’m just throwing in a few more cents to help create a larger picture of information. I believe your benefits are more likely real than coincidence but only my own anecdotes bring me the comfort of certainty.:wink:


I did a preliminary census of my orchard yesterday morning (we had our first snow so I was going by memory). I counted 18 plant families between the orchard trees, support plants around the trees and windbreak shrubs. I’m only counting what I planted (starting spring 2015) and not the pasture plants between rows. Orchard trees are all Rosaceae and Annonaceae (a couple of Pawpaws).

@scottfsmith The “ramial wood chips” get dropped off free for my dad by the city that trims around power lines every couple of years in his neighborhood. Very leafy and mostly small diameter. Big piles. I use them fresh when they are, but they compost fairly quickly and get used in various states of decomposition. Dad’s got a sweet chipper now that runs on the PTO of his small tractor and is slowly working through a decade of woody debris on his wooded 2.5 acre property. That’ll keep him busy!

Though I’m not sure its necessary for all the benefits, my feeling is that ramial wood chips with leaves are they best since they’ll likely have a better C:N ratio and still be full of the sugars that microorganisms use for food. They’re certainly an abundant, underused resource in urban areas and are normally free for the asking!


I agree, adding any nutrient-rich organic matter will do about as well. Last weekend my trees got fed all the ground-up leaves that were in my yard. I am going to winter prune and leave small stuff in place, and then will put down a wood chip mulch over it in the spring.

I still am skeptical this will have a major impact on pest resistance, I have various stands in very different soil types from trees growing in rock (a few inches of soil only) to many feet thick of organic matter. While I feel there is some difference its not enough to let me change my spray program for the better-off trees.


I’ve used Fedco/Bunker’s alternate formula anti-borer paint for six
years with success (no borers). I lost many young trees to borers previous. I
substituted what I had on hand (dry milk instead of fresh, potters clay
instead of Surround) and it stays on the trees well. I like the
color – more gray than white. It’s fairly inexpensive, too. I’m in quite a different zone than you though, and with quite a few less trees, maybe a dozen young ones to paint.


Sue, I am wondering if there is not a difference between apple and peach borer deterrents. I assume you are having apple borers only since you are in zone 3. I found some old articles describing various treatments like the Fedco ones for peach borer and they were not working well. I don’t have apple borer problems so don’t know much about them. Hopefully someone here will try one of the Fedco treatments on peachtree borer and we will see how it works.


Oh, yes, apples (and plums) not peaches.


What are your overwintering habitat methods?!


I haven’t done much research but I try to provide abundant and diverse habitat. My trees are deep mulched (mostly spent hay cuz that’s what I got, and pasture growth is cut several times a season with a high-wheel mower and raked into the rows), lots of bags of leaves (from other areas) are dumped in piles to augment the diversity of mulch, some brush piles, several rock piles scattered around, and I leave all herbaceous perennials (and annuals) standing through winter and don’t cut back until spring. There’s a fair bit of standing pasture in the “yet to be planted” section of the orchard. I probably ought to keep some patches of bare ground for the ground nesters. I’d love to hear more ideas on what else one could do in this regard.



Actually pesticides were used extensively back then. It’s been discussed quite a bit on the forum, but lead arsenic was the main one. In 1929, 30 million pounds of lead arsenate were sprayed on fields and orchards annually. By 1941, 60 million pounds were sprayed annually.

I couldn’t find any figures for Iowa specifically, but here is an example of a booklet put out by the Iowa Dept. of Agriculture recommending lead arsenate sprays (below is a link of a conglomeration of these annual booklets). These booklets were common for many states of that era. The booklet I reference starts on page 493, titled “Spraying Tree Fruits”

You may notice they mention sprayed apple trees produced 2.8 times more apples than unsprayed trees. Many people wonder how pesticides could be pushed so hard back then (I’ve read old materials which suggested it was poor managers who didn’t spray) but it’s easy to understand in the context of that era, where harvest losses were substantial and food was not plentiful.

In 1935, the FDA actually did a radio program where they suggested the old “A is for Apple” school rhyme be changed to “A is for Arsenate/ Lead if you please/ Protector of apples/ Against archenemies.”

I think what you are trying to do with your orchard is great and hopefully you will be able to find organic techniques which work for you (as Scott and others have done) but just wanted to clarify that old orchards were sprayed with pesticides, even in Iowa.


I thought wrong! Sorry to hear it but thanks for setting me straight. The wiki page on Lead Arsenate also states:

The search for a substitute was commenced in 1919, when it was found that its residues remain in the products despite washing their surfaces. Alternatives were found to be less effective or more toxic to plants and animals, until 1947 when DDT was found. The use of lead arsenate in the US continued until the mid-1960s. It was officially banned as an insecticide on August 1, 1988.

Morel mushrooms growing in old apple orchards that had been treated with lead arsenate may accumulate levels of toxic lead and arsenic that are unhealthy for human consumption.


Old apple orchards often become housing developments where the heavy use of lead and arsenic in the past has created concerns and sometimes produced very unsafe levels of soil contamination. At least one of these old orchards sites became a “superfund” cleanup site.

From what I understand the unsafe contamination levels often occur in the areas where the chemicals were made or mixed in huge vats and pumped to other parts of the orchard with underground pipes which often leaked.

A publication from VPI discusses the history and the problem:


An orchard walk from this morning. A mixture of things blooming and fruiting. Much of my crop was damaged by late freeze this year but plenty was left over. Many of these are grown spray free here.


Do you spray your pears? I see what looks curculio feeding bites on that last picture.

I got away without spraying pears for several years then the curculio and stinkbugs showed up too densely. I wonder if it was not the stone fruit in the next row that pumped up their numbers. Curculio normally will not reproduce in pome fruits as the growing fruit will crush the egg/worm. The only exception I have seen is in very soft fleshed apples including some crabs.


I didn’t spray pesticide on the pears. Yes the PC mark them up and get crushed in the process. I’m hitting the pears with mancozeb for rust later this week since it allows 3 sprays per year and at least 57 days prior to harvest. Rust has not been a problem so far.


If I leave this tomato worm alive will all of those eggs make a new wasp for next year?


Yes that is the hornworm you don’t want to kill. I would put him on the grapes where he is alive and happy but doing less damage than on tomatoes. When those hatch all the horn worms will be dead soon afterwards!


I saw the exact same thing yesterday. I left him to suffer.


Going to be a bad year to be a horn worm at your house this year!


I sure hope so, parasitic wasps every where, lol


I have some that fly around looking for Japanese beetle grubs, which I have tons of! I love those darned wasps :slight_smile: