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Just Picked! | Winter 2019

Updated: May 20, 2019

Monty’s Surprise apples, destined to double in size and redden in the hot New Zealand summer sun before harvest mid-April.

From the Coordinator

Featured Fruit: Monty's Surprise Apple

Greetings from the Southern Hemisphere! I’m writing to you from the town of Wanganui, New Zealand, where I’ve just had the opportunity to tour the site of the

Heritage Food Crops Research Trust, directed by Mark Christensen. I contacted Mark because I was interested in learning more about the research the Trust has been

doing on a unique New Zealand apple, named Monty’s Surprise.

Monty’s Surprise was discovered serendipitously by Mark while taking a pit stop along a dusty back road. Mark’s passionate search for foods that can act as

medicine led him to test the apples he found on the roadside tree. The findings were beyond hope or expectation. Tested in a lab with 250 other varieties of apples, Monty’s Surprise was found to contain the highest amount of procyanidins (cancer cell antiproliferatives), making it “the best apple in the world for human health, and able to be eaten as a preventative measure to reduce the incidence of disease in the human body.” Although the discovery of this apple could lead to great commercial potential and profit, Mark is interested in distributing Monty’s Surprise seedlings to anyone who has space to plant a tree, for free. Starting locally, the Trust received funding that allowed them to grow and distribute 5,000 Monty’s Surprise seedlings in the Wanganui area. As momentum has grown the reach of Monty’s Surprise apple trees has spread into neighboring communities, and even around

Mark shows the uniquely large and rounded leaf of Monty’s Surprise.

the world. Burnt Ridge Nursery & Orchards of Onalaska, WA is now growing Monty’s Surprise seedlings in hopes of making them available in the United States within the next couple of years.

Mark’s passion and generosity are not limited to apples, as I quickly learned during my tour of the Trust’s main growing plot and research site. Heritage wheat varieties are being grown in hopes that those with gluten-intolerance will be able to eat bread made from their grain. Tomatoes are being researched intensively, with incredible findings being made in the cancer-inhibiting properties of orange tomatoes. Plums are currently in season and I found myself with a bag in hand, harvesting and eating the most delicious, nutritious plums I’d ever tasted (Sultan plums were my favorite!). Anyone who’s interested in growing the well-researched fruits and vegetables simply has to send a self-addressed envelope to the Trust’s office, where every Monday a group of volunteers fills the envelope with seeds and sends it back.

The Trust’s continued research will undoubtedly yield invaluable information for the future of disease prevention through consumption of foods we can grow right in our own backyard. Mark believes that not only is it important to eat nutritious foods, but to grow them ourselves, caring for them and developing a connection with the natural

world that will inevitably lead to a healthier society and a better planet.

The full background story on Monty’s Surprise, including Mark’s finding of the original tree and much more technical information relating to the science

behind its health benefits is available on the Trust’s website, here: https://www.heritagefoodcrops.org.nz/montys-surprise

As my time in New Zealand comes to an end I am looking forward to OFGA’s upcoming winter events. I can hardly wait for the learning and networking opportunities at the winter retreat, the outlook for 2019 at our annual meeting, and the excitement of the grafting workshop and scionwood exchange! As always, don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions or comments you have regarding our newsletter, website and events. I look forward to hearing from you! Jenna Pollard

OFGA Coordinator

Two newly dug Grimes Golden Trees in December.

Organic Methods:

Growing Feathered Apple Trees in a Nursery

Chris McGuire, Two Onion Farm

In high-density orchards of dwarf apple trees,

growers generally prefer to plant “feathered” trees with numerous small branches, because feathered trees bear fruit more quickly and provide a faster return on investment. Large conventional nurseries

produce feathered trees using synthethic plant growth regulators such as Maxcel, Promalin, and Tiberon.

National organic standards require organic growers to use organically grown planting stock when available. In practice, organic planting stock of apples and other fruits is hard to find and most growers plant conventionally grown stock or raise their own organic trees in on-farm nurseries.

How can organic apple growers raise feathered trees in their on-farm nurseries? With help

from a USDA-SARE Farmer Rancher grant in 2018, we compared two organic methods of

raising feathered trees. One method is manual leaf removal: repeatedly tearing off the

youngest developing leaves from the growing point of the tree. Young leaves produce auxin,

the plant hormone which suppresses axillary buds from developing into branches, and by

removing young leaves we can release axillary buds along the leader and allow them to

develop into branches. The second method is to spray an organic seaweed extract high in

cytokinins. Cytokinins generally counteract the effects of auxins and allow axillary buds to


In our experiment, we bench-grafted 60 trees each of nine varieties (Pristine, Williams Pride,

CrimsonCrisp, Ashmead’s Kernal, Golden Russet, Egremont Russet, Macoun, Grimes

Golden, and Hudson’s Golden Gem) onto G.41 rootstock in March. In April, we planted the

grafts in an unheated 34′ x 102′ high tunnel. Prior to planting we applied 2 inches of finished

compost over the soil surface in the entire tunnel and afterwards we applied 4 inches of

hardwood bark to the entire tunnel as a mulch for weed control. Spacing between trees was

10.75″ within row, 3′ or 8.5′ between rows. As trees grew, we thinned down to a single shoot

per scion and we manually removed all branches below 22” above the graft union. We

irrigated trees as needed with drip tape throughout the season. We ventilated the tunnel by raising rollup sides and opening end wall doors constantly except during severe storms and

cool spring weather.

Each tree received one of three treatments: (1) untreated control; (2) manual leaf removal –

tear off 3 young developing leaves near growing tip three times, two weeks apart, starting

when leader reached 22” above graft union; (3) spray Sea Crop 16 three times, two weeks

apart, starting when leader reached 22” above graft union, at maximum label rate (2 cups/

gallon water) to 8-10” at the top of tree. (Sea Crop 16 is an OMRI-listed plant growth

regulator made from seaweed. It has the highest cytokinin concentration of any organically approved plant growth regulator we are aware of. However our Sea Crop 16 sprays

contained only 50 ppm cytokinin, which is 10-20% of the concentration typically used when

Maxcel is sprayed to promote branching in conventional nurseries).

Major pest problems were potato leafhoppers and spider mites. Both were controlled well by

sprays (Pyganic for potato leafhopper, oil for spider mites). Other pests were Japanese

Beetle and various caterpillars. We saw no disease symptoms.

Grafting success was mixed. Only 3% of Egremont Russet were alive at the end of the year,

presumably due to poor quality of purchased scionwood for this variety. Other varieties

ranged from 60%-98%. On several grafts, scions began growth in spring but then flagged

and died during extremely hot weather in June. This was particularly true in the center of

the tunnel (the hottest area).

At the end of the season we collected data on tree growth and branching. Statistical analysis

showed these trends (we define a feather here as a branch greater than 4″ in length):

• Taller trees had more feathers. Each increase in tree height by 6” resulted in one

more feather.

• Varieties differed in branching. Macoun had the fewest feathers; then Hudson’s

Golden Gem, Pristine, Grimes Golden, Williams Pride, Ashmead’s Kernal, Golden

Russet, and CrimsonCrisp. Hudson’s Golden Gem and Macoun averaged less than 1

feather per tree; the most feathered varieties had almost 5 per tree.

• Treatment had a significant but modest effect on branching. Leaf removal promoted

branching, and the Sea Crop 16 spray actually reduced branching. Leaf removal

increased the number of feathers per tree by 0.9, and spraying decreased the number

by 0.7. So the magnitude of the effect was relatively small. I am not sure why the

seaweed spray decreased branching. It is a complex, naturally-derived substance

which may contain chemicals other than cytokinins which actually suppress

branching or cause phytoxocity.

Tip of a leader four days after leaf removal treatment was applied. Notice the petiole stubs where leaves were removed.

•Treatment did not affect average feather length. Taller trees had longer feathers. Ashmead’s Kernal and Pristine had significantly shorter feathers than other


•Treatment did not affect the height of the lowest feather.

•There was wide variation in tree growth above the graft union, from 2.5’ to 8’. In general, grafts grew much more than is typical in outdoor nurseries in our experience, and many trees were ready for planting in the orchard after a single season of growth. Treatment did not affect the height of trees. Pristine trees were

tallest (about 6.5’ above the graft on average), followed by Macoun, Williams Pride, Golden Russet, CrimsonCrisp, Hudsons Golden Gem, Grimes Golden, and Ashmead’s Kernal (about 4.5’ on average)

Published reports state that 10-15 feathers >4” in length are desirable for the tall spindle training system. Only 18 of 379 live trees in our study achieved this! However, many leading commercial nurseries do not produce trees that meet these standards: e.g., Schlabach ‘s and Adams County

Nursery consider a tree with 4 branches at least 8” in length to be feathered. 23% of our

trees met that standard; ranging from 40% of trees in varieties that branch readily (Williams

Pride, Golden Russet, CrimsonCrisp) down to <5% for Macoun and Hudson’s Golden Gem.

We tracked all expenses, including labor time, associated with our nursery. Assuming a

labor cost of $20/hour, it cost about $12 per tree produced to graft, grow for one year, and

dig up the trees in our nursery, excluding overhead costs of running our farm and excluding

the cost of the high tunnel where we grew the trees. Raising trees ourselves may not be costeffective!

The different treatments (leaf removal and seaweed sprays) were quick to apply

and only added pennies to this cost. Good grafting success will reduce this cost substantially,

since some of the costs incurred (costs of rootstocks, grafting and planting the trees) are

incurred regardless of whether the graft succeeds. We calculated that if all grafts were

successful, this would have reduced the cost per tree produced to under $9 per tree.

Almost none of the nursery trees set terminal buds on the leader (we have observed this in

young trees grown outdoors as well, but it was particularly common in the high tunnel).

Vegetative growth continued until early-mid October. We noted that some nursery trees

formed many short axillary branches along the leader which did not elongate significantly

and were not counted as branches in this study.

Chris McGuire has grown organic produce with his wife Juli at Two Onion Farm in Belmont WI since 2004. They currently raise over an acre of scab-resistant apple varieties on dwarf rootstocks. They sell their apples through a community-supported agriculture program and to grocery stores in Madison WI, Dubuque IA, and Platteville WI.

In conclusion, we’d recommend the manual leaf removal technique to growers who’d like to grow feathered trees. The effect of this technique was small but noticeable. It might be possible to increase branching further by removing leaves more often during the season. When practicing leaf removal, be careful not to accidentally break off the growing tip itself by trying to remove very

tiny leaves. If you do, the tree will produce a

dense cluster of vigorous, competing, upright

branches – just as if you had made a heading cut. To prevent this, we learned to only remove leaves which are large enough to be clearly distinguishable.

A complete report of our research is available on our farm’s website, www.twoonionfarm.com.

This article was developed with support from the

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education

(SARE) Program, which is funded by the U.S.

Department of Agriculture – National Institute

of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA). Any

opinions, findings, conclusions, or

recommendations expressed within do not

necessarily reflect the view of the SARE program

or the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA is

an equal opportunity provider and employer.

The Opportunity for IPM to Build Resiliency in Organic Systems

Peter Werts, project manager, IPM Institute of North America, Inc.

Note to reader: A portion of this article has been reprinted and adapted with permission from the Organic and IPM Working Group factsheet, “Organic Agriculture and IPM, Working together for Sustainability”. The Group is facilitated by the IPM Institute of North America, Inc. and supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, North Central IPM Center projects AG 2012-51120-20252 and AG 2014-70006-22486.

figure 1 • The IPM continuum, ranging from heavy reliance on pesticides with little use of other tactics (no IPM) to reduced pesticide use and more reliance on biologically based and cultural tactics (biointensive IPM) (modified after Philips et al., 2014).

Growing organic fruit in the upper Midwest remains tricky business. A capacity for timely

management, savvy marketing and a clear understanding of your farm’s pest complex are

essential skills for small and midsize fruit farmers. A lot has happened in our region in the

last ten years. Apple producers have shifted to high-density production and demand for

challenging varieties such as Honeycrisp are on the rise and a devastating invasion of spotted

wing drosophila has hindered the berry industry. Despite these production challenges,

the opportunities to grow and market organic fruit are endless as consumer demand for

organics grow by the double digits each year.

To keep pace in these dynamic times, producers can look to a longstanding resource in

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to build resiliency in their organic systems. During this year’s OFGA winter retreat we will discuss how to manage the changing pest complex of fruit production in the upper Midwest. This will include new pests of concern and the common pests that return each year.

Of most importance, we will discuss what has been learned about spotted wing drosophila

(SWD) and brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) in the last five years.

Using the growing-knowledge base of SWD and BMSB biology and behavior, we will examine which exclusionary and sanitation practices are most effective and which organic pesticides are worth the investment.

The first official detection of BMSB in a Wisconsin orchard was in 2016, though it has been

in the upper Midwest for several years. In 2017 the first reports of isolated-economic injury

in orchards were in Dane County, Wisconsin, with additional reports increasing in 2018. If

you have not yet put a trap out for BMSB, 2019 will be the year.

figure 2 • Pest management in organic systems and IPM share common foundations rooted in ecology and concerns about human, environmental, and economic health. While both focus on managing pests, in organic systems the use of synthetic inputs (e.g., pesticides) is prohibited. The sustainable soil and nutrient management required for organic systems can enhance the success of organic pest management. IPM can be practiced in organic as well as in non-organic farming systems.

Our old pests have not gone away!

Apple maggot, codling moth, plum curculio, apple scab and others, continue to challenge organic producers. Pesticides approved by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) remain

limited, but more products from several biopesticide companies are now available and

registered for fruit production. We will discuss the available efficacy data and how to apply

different insect models or scouting thresholds to determine the best timing of these products

and their role in managing pests common to tree fruits and small fruits.

What is Integrated Pest Management?

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a science-based, decision-making process that

identifies and reduces risks from pests and pest management related strategies. IPM

coordinates the use of pest biology, environmental information, and available

technology to prevent unacceptable levels of pest damage by the most economical means,

while minimizing risk to people, property, and the environment. IPM provides an effective

strategy for managing pests in all arenas including agricultural, residential, and natural

areas. It can be used within all production systems, including organic production. As

described by Phillips et al. (2014), IPM adoption in any system is on a continuum that ranges

from optimizing the timing and selection of pesticides plus limited use of other tactics (Lowlevel

IPM) to the use of biologically based and cultural pest management tactics leading to

greatly reduced reliance on pesticides (Biointensive IPM) (Fig. 1). Pesticide options include

both naturally derived and synthetic substances that have been approved for their use by the

US Environmental Protection Agency and/or other relevant authorities. In short, IPM is a

framework for sustainably managing pests wherever they occur while minimizing

environmental, human health, and economic risks.

How are IPM and organic systems similar?

IPM and organic agriculture share many of the same goals including a focus on eliminating

the reasons pests are present, such as preventing pests from accessing food, moisture, and

protection from unfavorable weather while increasing natural enemy populations. Both IPM

and organic methods for pest management address environmental and human health

concerns (Fig. 2). Further, both emphasize pest management based on preventive tactics.

Organic agriculture places strict limits on the types of pesticides used and prohibits

genetically-modified organisms.

IPM is the foundation of organic pest management.

The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) Final Rule (USDA, 2000) requires the use of

preventive and cultural practices that enhance crop health, such as crop rotation, cover

cropping, sanitation measures, cultural and biological controls, which are also tactics used in

IPM. Certified organic farmers must develop or update an Organic System Plan as part of

their annual certification application. It outlines planned production and pest management

practices for crops being certified. Only when preventive practices have failed to prevent or

control pests may an organic farm manager apply a pesticide allowed for organic production.

The practice of organic agriculture and IPM are site-specific in nature, with individual tactics

determined by the particular crop/pest/environment scenario.

During the workshop we will keep a close focus on how the individual management

strategies are implemented using an IPM framework, to guide our discussion on organicpest

management. I am also looking forward to meeting everyone at the winter retreat and

learning from you about some of the practices being implemented on your farms. Please

bring your questions and notes. Questions may be submitted ahead of time and will be

discussed during the workshop. For those who have pesticide-application records, bring a

copy so you can reference exact spray intervals or materials applied during the last growing



Philips, C.R., Kuhar, T.P., Hoffmann, M.P., Zalom, F.G., Hallberg, R.,Herbert, D.A.,

Gonzales, C., Elliott, S. 2014. Integrated Pest Management. I In: Encyclopedia of Life

Sciences. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd: Chichester. DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0003248.pub2.

Peter Werts, project manager, IPM Institute of North America, has a B.S. in Environmental Studies from Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin. Peter has been working with commercial orchards to implement IPM and conservation practices since 2008. His goal is to help growers of all sizes reach their peak IPM performance.

Peter also manages several eco labels for tree-fruit production; AppleTalk, a weekly IPM conference call for IPM and organic growers and has served a two-year term on the North Central IPM Center Stakeholder Panel, a USDA-funded center which supports IPM programing in the Midwest. To learn more about the IPM Institute visit, www.ipminstitute.org.

OFGA in Search of Board Members

Greetings to all friends of OFGA. My trees are covered in hoar frost (still) and the orchard is

sleepy. The woods are quiet - free of the small 6 and 8 legged residents of the growing season

and my chainsaw seeks some time out of the box to cut some firewood. There have been a

couple restful days now that our animals are in the freezer save for the layers, but all the

planning of the coming year and things to fix are already swimming in my mind. Some of

those are related to OFGA, and this is the reason I write.

As some may know, I’ve served on the board for what is nearly my two-term limit as

Treasurer. I have been honored to have been a part of the transition from OTFA to OFGA,

adding the focus on other fruit to the scope of the group and to obtain non-profit status. Our

tax filings are now up to date and with a lucky donation early in the year from the now

disbanded Wisconsin Natural Food Association, we have a little more of a cushion to be able

to carry out the mission of OFGA in the coming years.

This leads me into my main reason I’m plunking away at my keyboard right now, which is to

ask folks in our organic fruit growing community to consider being a part of the OFGA board

of directors. We have a few seats available as well as the officer position of Treasurer. We are

in need of some motivated individuals with a couple extra hours a month to put in some

effort to guide the organization in the next several years. Any of our current board members

or our coordinator would be happy to talk with you about specific duties, time requirements,

needs, future plans, ins and outs, etc. I’d invite you to please consider being an active part of

this valuable resource for organic fruit growers in the upper Midwest and beyond.

I know I just said you can contact us for more info but I’m going to jump the gun a little just

to give the basics and get the ball rolling. The term would begin in February 2019 around the

time of the annual meeting (stay tuned for specific details). Terms are for 3 years and board

members can serve up to two consecutive terms. There are generally quarterly board

meetings held by conference call. Sometimes additional calls are scheduled as needed in

preparation for special events or to deal with specific issues that arise between regular board

meetings. The board members help guide the scope of work for the organization; planning

events such as the retreats and field days, managing finances, and working with the

coordinator to enable OFGA to pursue its mission.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to say goodbye to my fellow OFGA board members as it

has been a rewarding experience working with you all over the past several years and I wish

you all the best as you help OFGA support more organic fruit growers in the coming years. I

will continue to be an active member in years to come and look forward to still being

involved in the organization . . . but I do hope that now I have a couple more hours to devote

to my farm as that is very much needed!

Anton Ptak

Treasurer, OFGA

Upcoming Events

OFGA Winter Retreat

February 20th - 21st, 2019

The Historic Trempealeau Hotel

Trempealeau, WI

Our main event! At our winter retreat you will have the opportunity to learn about organic

pest and disease management from our guest speaker, Peter Werts, of IPM Institute of

North America, as well as network with other growers and engage in small group

discussion on focused topics. Whether you’re a seasoned grower or new to the scene, we

would love for you to join us!

OFGA Annual Meeting

8:00 - 9:00am Thursday, February 21st, 2019

The Historic Trempealeau Hotel

Trempealeau, WI

Our organization is in a time of transition with board member turnover and focused

planning for the future. We’d love to have your input and ideas as we prepare to grow and

expand our support for organic fruit growers in 2019. It’s an excellent time to renew your

membership or become a new member and receive the discounted rate at the retreat. We

encourage all members and interested parties to attend! Coffee and treats included.

Grafting Workshop and Scionwood Exchange

6:00pm - 8:00pm, Friday, February 22nd, 2019

Room B, La Crosse Center, La Crosse, WI

Join us for our most popular event of the year! At the grafting workshop and scionwood

exchange we welcome you to learn the art of grafting fruit trees and practice with supervision

from experienced growers. If you have scionwood to bring, please do! Attendance is free,

with several ready-to-graft rootstock varieties available for purchase. You will leave the

workshop with grafted trees and the knowledge of how to graft fruit trees on your own!

Homesteading Weekend Workshop

March 9th - 10th, 2019

Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center

Lanesboro, MN

Here’s a great opportunity to learn from a pro. Dan Bussey will be instructing on fruit tree

grafting and orchard care.