From the Coordinator New Growth in 2019
Greetings & Happy Spring!
As winter gives way to spring and new growth buds from dormant fruit trees, so too is OFGA experiencing new growth. With two new board members, a new logo, a new event, a new collaboration and a new website, we are excited to grow with our members this season!
At our annual meeting in February, Sam Kedem and Dan Shield were unanimously elected to the OFGA board to fill positions made available after two board members resigned. Anton Ptak, board member and treasurer for six years, completed his two terms on the board and isn’t having difficulty filling up his free time at Mary Dirty Face Farm. Andy Cotter, board member for two years, left OFGA after he sold York Farm and embarked on a life of travel and adventure with his wife and four year old daughter. Both Andy and Anton will be greatly missed, and we deeply appreciate the contributions they made to OFGA in their time on the board.
OFGA is also looking forward to a collaboration opportunity with Annie Klodd, Extension Educator on Fruit & Vegetable Production for the University of Minnesota. In an effort to expand our community and be a greater resource to growers, OFGA is looking forward to supporting Annie in promoting educational workshops on growing apples and grapes in a northern climate. In addition to the workshops, video tutorials and a plethora of resources for growers will be made available online. This collaboration is in its beginning stages. Annie would greatly appreciate your input on what topics fruit growers need help with the most; what formats of info you're most interested in, and what complexity of information is best at this time. To share your thoughts, please contact Annie directly: email@example.com
I’ve been in the position of coordinator for OFGA for just over six months, and the energy I took away from our winter retreat, annual meeting and grafting workshop have propelled me into spring. With support from the board and many months of planning, we have finally launched our new website! Thanks to the passion and creative skill of Stephanie Zetah (New Story Designs & Farm), OFGA now has a beautiful website with increased resources and functionality. My favorite aspect of the site is our new Membership Map, which pins our members and provides farm descriptions for those searching for an organic fruit farmer on the site. The map will allow our members to gain perspective on the reach of the organization, and allow visitors to the site to locate a fruit farmer near them.
I invite you to grow with OFGA this season; attend one of our events, sign up as a member, contribute articles or ideas to our resources page, or donate to support our work in educating and connecting organic fruit growers. We’re thrilled to have such a passionate and supportive membership base, and look forward to a fruitful season together!
Welcome to our New Board Members!
Sam & Rachel Kedem
Kedem Garden & Nursery
Sam and his wife Rachel have joined OFGA as a dynamic duo, with Rachel taking on the role of OFGA treasurer. Her background in accounting and her passionate support of the organization are unmatched!
Certified organic since 2006 and actively growing since 1996, Sam and Rachel bring years of experience to the OFGA board. Their operation offers an extended season of Pick Your Own (PYO) & picked strawberries, raspberries & blueberries, gooseberries, currant, apples, plums, cherries, pears & vegetables.
"We strive to bring nutritious food & value you deserve, using ecological & sustainable farming methods."
Not afraid to break new ground, Sam and Rachel are hosting our first member social at their garden and nursery on June 9th (see our Events page for details).
Stone Creek Farm
Dan's vision of growing organically with future generations in mind is an inspiration and wonderful addition to the OFGA board: "The two research projects I have going on are both still in the mix. Two years ago I had great success with growing peaches in zone 4a. This winter we experienced -35° here. If the trees flower and fruit that would be quite a landmark! The second project I have which is ongoing is finding viable dwarfing rootstock for pears. I partnered with York Farm at the beginning of this venture and now this summer I’m getting a different type of rootstock called A-15. I'm getting them in small plant form which will take at least two years to graft, but in time I look forward to sharing the results."
by Dan Kelly
Every year, for the last twenty years or so, I pull out my favorite puzzle. My orchard. If you are in the business of growing food for the rest of us, or yourself, you begin pulling down that box, dumping out the contents, and begin flipping up the pieces.
Susan Futrell in her book Good Apples: Behind Every Bite has looked inside those boxes and added a few ‘pieces’ of her own, to bring us inside of what historically constitutes an orchard.
Futrell Chronicles the whole migration of apples with generous slices of its history from Almaty in Kazakhstan, Vavilov’s discovery of the apple’s origins and his efforts to preserve them for our future. She cites us into America with John Bunker’s book Not Farm from the Tree: A Brief History of Apples and Orchards of Palermo, Maine 1804- 2004, with the arrival and planting apples by Scandinavians in 1550.
Good Apples picks up from her home base in Iowa with amazing accounts of early pioneers establishing fruiting industries in the state long before the soybean, and characters like Henderson Leulling, moving his established nursery, in wagons, west to the Willemette River Valley.
Contemporaneously, from Iowa she goes both east and west. The book visits diverse operations, some just like her readers may have, holding them up to the light, the day in and day out of planning, running, succeeding, and sometimes failing. Futrell’s many aspects found inside include; labor, markets, pesticides and trends now that growers face, sometimes before and sometimes after the fact.
From Good Apples:
“They thrive in backyards, farmyards, urban orchards, commercial orchards, nurseries, parks. Whether abandoned, haphazard, or well intended, all of them are immigrants.”
Find your favorite bookseller: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781609384821
Trials in Orchard Understory Plantings and Management
by John Knisley
Since 2010 we have been experimenting with various plantings and non-mechanical means to keep fruit tree rows free from being encroached upon by grass or other potential tree-resource competitors. Through these different trials we have found some real “winners” and a few that I would not try again. Generally speaking, we have been planting higher density tree rows with spacing anywhere from 4-8’ between trees and on dwarfing and semi-dwarfing rootstock (B9, G11, and some M7, and G935). The really dwarfing rootstocks have been known not to compete well with grasses and therefore we have taken efforts to keep the base of the trees free from extra competition. The results are as follows:
Bocking #4 Comfrey: This variety does NOT self-seed and has worked amazingly well under both larger and smaller trees! It should be understood that when you are planting root cuttings from comfrey you will not achieve full growth until the 2nd or 3rd years, and therefore must put some extra effort in the first year to keep grass out. Ideally you are planting the comfrey in the tree rows when you are planting the trees, keeping the growth of the comfrey in-line with the growth of the tree. Consider spacing the comfrey plants anywhere from 12-20” from the base of the tree and on both sides of the tree. In a year or two the comfrey plant will have matured and will smother out grass very well around the base. Comfrey produces a taproot and does not tend to be rhizomatous (unless you cut the root) and forms a nice, neat clump. When fully grown a mature plant will easily cover a 3’x3’ space or more, with multiple growth periods during the warm season. In addition to the re-growth, the plants produce beautiful purple flowers, of which you will find many different pollinators, especially bumblebees. We have been practicing cutting the growth, after flowers have fallen, to force new growth more quickly – this creates more biomass under the tree and seems to keep the grass at bay the best. Comfrey cuttings can get rather expensive if you are planting 2 cuttings per tree in a long tree row, so consider starting your own comfrey bed in another location, let it grow for a few years, and you will have all the comfrey cuttings you want for a long time. We started our bed five years ago and continue to harvest hundreds of cuttings each spring, all started from the original 20 cuttings we purchased. Comfrey is both a medicinal plant and a nutrient miner, because its long tap-root brings up nutrients from deep in the ground and can make it available to your new tree. Lastly, a friend has recently told me that comfrey is a good indicator of soil moisture levels; if the comfrey wilts, it's too dry for your tree; if its moist enough, the comfrey will be green and rigid.
Rhubarb: We all know we enjoy fresh rhubarb in the spring time from our little secret patches, so why not expand that patch and bring it into the orchard. Rhubarb has nearly all of the same features as comfrey (deep tap root, multiple leaf flushings in a season, and flowers that pollinators and parasitic wasps like) but has a slightly less dense canopy. Rhubarb can spread its leaves fairly wide so I would suggest planting no closer than 16-24” from the base of the tree. Like comfrey, you can cut the leaves to force new growth and increase biomass, but there is a point in the summer where you no longer want to continue to cut the leaves so it can restore itself before winter. Typically we stop cutting our rhubarb around July. The roots of rhubarb can also be divided and re-planted in the spring time around new trees in your orchard. On top of all of this, it’s a potential value-added crop that can also save you time in weeding around trees.
Cover Crops (Buckwheat, Chicory, Oats, Radish, Crimson Clover, etc.): Cover crops can be a good choice for smothering grass if you are preparing your tree row a year or more ahead of planting. The density of the cover crop depends on the density of your seeding; the key here would be to go heavier on the seeding. The cover crops noted above winter-kill and will needed to be re-planted annually. We have struggled with cover crops after the trees are planted as they can actually act somewhat like grasses and take away from the trees because of their root density. These are definitely an affordable pre-tree planting option for most orchards.
Wood Mulch: We have been using wood mulch in trellised rows for a number of years and there are positives and negatives.
Positives: provides good grass suppression if mulch is deep enough (6” or more) and holds moisture very well. We have not watered a tree in any of the rows with wood mulch after planting. Placing wood mulch also starts you on your journey towards a healthy forest ecology in your orchard. Lastly, as the mulch breaks down, it provides a perfect planting medium for your other herbaceous perennials or herbs.
Negatives: the wood mulch tends to break down rather quickly and needs to be re-applied annually in our case, which can be a labor intensive. If you do not get the mulch thick enough you will have grass invading your row, so this needs to be monitored and weeded. I suggest using wood mulch for the first year and at the same time planting your herbaceous perennials – the mulch keeps the row free of grass and allows your perennials some time to grow without competition.
Various Herbs (Chives, Walking Onions, Oregano, Sage): Of all the herbs we have planted around the trees, those in the onion family seem to do the best with grass competition and annual growth. Chives clumps nice and be planted right next to the tree; walking onions will form a nice little colony around your tree, but may not suppress grass like you want. Sage and oregano are perennials that are fairly low-spreading, but again do not compete well with grasses. So, I suggest planting a mix of herbs with comfrey or rhubarb to get the maximum benefit in the tree row.
The goal at our farm is to create a healthy ecosystem for both the trees and other creatures that live here – AND to reduce the extra steps needed to keep a farm running. Often, we see the benefits from these various management techniques in a year, but sometimes it takes more years before you truly see the end-game. We hope this article can give you some food for thought when considering your own orchard or that new plot you were thinking of planting.
Feel free to contact us with any questions or feedback: Alternative Roots Farm
Ideal Planting Conditions for Fruit Trees
by Don Albrecht
You get one shot. One shot to get your planting conditions just right before you plant a tree in the ground. After that, it can be a slow process to adjust soil conditions, especially if you need to raise your soil pH (lime moves very slowly). Haphazard approaches to planting when you need to bring in an income from this planting will set you back to such an extreme one might argue you that you deserve it for such carelessness. I would argue that one doesn’t know what one doesn’t know. I was one of those…
Location and Preparing The Soil
A good location has slopes, where there is land that is elevated and land that is lower than where you would plant. It is on these slopes that you can avoid harsh winter winds on the hill tops and blossom killing frosts in the bottoms. There is an area that is between our orchard and our nursery (which are about 22 miles from each other). It is a huge, low-lying area with no escape for the cold air that settles there. I have a customer that lives right in the middle of this and has planted some of our trees there. He has not had an apple yet. Cold air needs to be able to clear the area where the trees are, especially when in bloom. Late blossom-killing frosts happen somewhere every year, and some of this is preventable based on the location of the trees.
On south-facing slopes, if you have a choice; you could plant later-blooming varieties because the sun will warm this up first, causing the trees to bloom earlier than when you would like them to. North-facing slopes could be where you would plant earlier-blooming varieties, causing them to bloom a little later than normal. One of my orchards is planted mostly on the northern slope. I have a south-facing slope across the creek that will eventually be planted with later blooming trees.
When planting on north-facing slopes, consideration of tree hardiness and/or protection from northwest prevailing winter weather comes into play. Not much protection is available for my north-facing trees, and I’ve learned which ones are failures because of it.
Caution is needed if slopes are a little too much. Driving around with a tractor and trailer can be tricky, especially in rainy weather. I will never forget…late 80’s, during apple picking season in late fall: there were three of us. One was on the tractor, one was standing along the hay wagon that we used to put the picked bushels on, and I was walking behind the wagon. The tractor took a right and went between two trees and the wagon all but pinched the person standing there up against a tree. I saw the whole thing and of course being late in our teenage years, we all laughed about it. I can still imagine what the headline would’ve been; ‘Local High School Student Killed While Picking Apples.’ That was a close one.
What is Available Below Ground is Also Very Relevant
Texture of the soil, how deep it is, and how it drains are all very important. In my experience, plums are usually put to death when in wet soils. They grow fast for a bit then tip over with what seems to be rotted roots. Apples seem to take it a little better (not much though), and pears, they say, can take a somewhat wetter soil than most.
Texture of the soil can determine what rootstocks you want to use. While some have a wide range of soil types they are ok in, some can be very specific and you can fine tune your selection.
How deep the soil should be is a spacious argument. I’ve not seen three feet of good soil very often in my life. A foot and a half sure, but not three feet like some say there should be, though wouldn’t it be nice? That’s why it is good to choose the correct rootstock for your location.
Taking soil samples to be tested in a lab (did I mention lab and not a do-it-yourself kit?), will provide you with information on where your soil is at. It is then that you can work on the soil to get it where it should be for the crop you are wanting to plant there. Again, that is your one shot to get it done before or at the least, right in the planting hole or trench.
When I first started paying more attention to the soil results I looked at the ph. Then I discovered that the pH by itself can be overrated so I started looking at the rest of the test report. I now look to see what the text(ure) code is, which will let you know if it is sandy, clay or somewhere in between. The texture will determine what the cation exchange is, that will show up as the CEC (your soil's retention of and ability to release specific nutrients). This number doesn’t generally change much. It helps to know this number when adjusting the pH with a lime that is high in magnesium or one that is low in magnesium (for example: carefully consider when you have a low pH in clay soil, and you may look at using a Calcitic lime which is lower in magnesium. Magnesium brings soil particles together. You don’t need any more of that in clay, though you may in sand). Pay attention to the CEC number, as clay will be 15 or more.
Next I will look at the pH. It can get a little tricky here. An example here would be if the pH is low, one's first thoughts are to get liming. However, if the pH is low, I need to also pay attention to the Ca (Calcium) and Mg (Magnesium). That can guide me to a Dolomitic Lime or Calcitic Lime based off the CEC number. It sounds complicated at first, but it comes around being obvious sooner or later.
Organic Matter OM is looked at as being important to the CEC. Organic matter is defined as decomposed and decomposing plant and animal parts. The higher a percentage you can get, the better. A soil test result that happens to be on my desk right now is from Elk Mound, Wisconsin. His Organic Matter is at 1.3%. We need to work on that one and bring it up. One way to do this is to plant cover crops such as Sorghum Sudangrass, that quickly create large amounts of biomass. Managing such cover crops is also crucial to what it can do.
According to the SARE website, This Sudangrass, if mowed at 3-4 feet tall will create a massive root system that penetrates the subsoil and can improve drainage. But, on the other hand, mowing down and incorporating it into the soil immediately (like within hours), to my understanding will begin the release of nematicidals to not favor some pests and nematodes. I’m stretched real thin here so I’d better get back on track to what I’ve experienced. I’m still struggling with the good nematode, bad nematode.
It’s hard to come up with the ideal conditions for planting. For the most part we know what the trees need to produce what we want them to. We just need to learn what we are dealing with to provide for such conditions. I will be learning about this until I no longer have the interest, but every year there is something new to look at. Some new situation that might need a solution!
Winter Injury in 2019
by Thaddeus McCamant
The winter of 2018-19 was tough on apple orchards. Deep snow gave perfect cover for voles to girdle trees and gave rabbits a platform to gnaw on branches. While deer, rabbit and vole damage can be detected on the first walk through the orchard in the spring, winter injury often remains hidden for months.
Many growers take the attitude of “wait and see” when it comes to winter injury. I prefer to assess injury in late spring to help growers plan their work. Branch death and tree death from winter injury often don’t show up until the middle of summer. Following the winter of 2013- 2014, some branches didn’t die until the spring of 2015. If nothing else, you can assess winter injury to put your mind at rest. From what I have seen so far, there is not a great deal to worry about.
Winter injury can be assessed by slicing spurs to look at the extent of internal browning. In apples, winter injury occurs across a gradient. Trees can be uninjured, dead or something in between. I rate spurs on a scale of 0 to 3. If a spur completely green, it is a 0 or no injury. A little brown is given a 1. Moderate browning is a 2, and if the spur is dead, it receives a 3. In 2014, I was able to show that orchards rated with a 1 had no crop loss and fully recovered.
Trees are most susceptible to winter injury during the first winter after being planted. Injury to young trees isn’t as easy to detect as cutting spurs, because the tips of the branches dry up and never sprout. The bark remains green until it dries up. As soon as the trees leaf out in the next two weeks, you will be able to see if the trees are alive or dead. In most cases, the new trees die down to snow level, and as long as there is living tissue above the graft union, the tree can be revived from buds. Shoots that sprout from a tree that has died down to snow level often grow 4 feet the first summer.
So far, I have examined a dozen orchards from Faribault to Duluth, along with my rootstock trial in Staples and the few trees at my home near Detroit Lakes. Overall, Honeycrisp, Haralson, Minnieska (SweeTango) and Zestar vary from 0 to 1. There was about the same amount of winter injury south of the Metro area as in northern Minnesota. The glaring exception was in Staples, where Zestar and Honeycrisp averaged 2.5. Honeygold averaged 2.0 in most orchards. First Kiss had the most variability with spurs ranging from 0 to 2. Many new and experimental varieties like Estival, Golden Delicious and Ginger Gold were at a 3.
Here are my conclusions with possible explanations:
Winter injury was worse than 2014 in southern Minnesota and much less than 2014 in northern Minnesota. In 2014, there was a sharp gradient in temperature between southern and northern Minnesota. While temperatures fell to -38 in Staples in December 2013, temperatures in the southern part of the state hovered in the -20’s. This year, every orchard had temperatures below -30. Winter injury was less than expected, considering the temperature. The cold snap at the end of January in 2019 was preceded by a very long period of below-freezing weather. The plants were at their maximum level of hardiness when the temperatures fell in the -30’s. In 2019, Honeycrisp was damaged much less than in 2014, even in orchards where the temperature was lower. In 2014, I suspected that the high amount of injury was because Honeycrisp trees held onto some leaves very late in the fall in 2013. Trees will always be hardiest if their leaves senesce normally. The fact that Honeycrisp is doing better this year supports my original hypothesis. My test plot in Staples is not representative of the rest of the state. The temperature in Staples was -39, which was the same as my house and similar to other orchards. The rootstock trial is the only orchard inspected so far that is exposed to the north wind. Apple trees do not experience wind chill, so scientists who study winter hardiness do not include wind speed in their research. Cold winds can desiccate trees, and every professional I have talked to in this state would never plant an apple orchard exposed to the north winds.
The role of rootstocks: So far, I have not seen any dramatic rootstock effects. In Staples, I have Honeycrisp and Zestar on B9, B118 and Antonovka, and they all look bad. That might change when the trees leaf out. The role of rootstocks in increasing or decreasing the hardiness of an apple variety is still debated. There is no evidence that trees on a hardy dwarfing rootstock like B9 or G 41 are more sensitive to winter injury than trees on a standard rootstock.
Using the information: I am not pruning the rootstock trial in Staples until the trees leaf out. I want to see how many branches died before deciding whether to prune the trees or take the block out. One grower had a Winecrisp tree girdled by mice. I suggested bridge grafting, until I looked at the spurs. He is probably better off cutting the tree below the girdled section. The rootstock trial in Staples and the odd varieties are the exception. The vast majority of the trees in the state look excellent, and some growers will have a snowball bloom and worry about thinning.
Advances in Farming
Netting, an innovative concept in farming and its implications for organic farming.
by Sam Kedem
While visiting in Israel you notice peculiar phenomenon in the landscape, all around: swaths of farmland with permanent net structures in all directions & altitudes. What started as a way to protect crops from weather-related events over 20 years ago, has advanced both in scope & magnitude, to include multiple aspects: mitigation of weather extremes, pest management, water & nutrient conservation, higher productivity & improved quality.
Recent research focuses on manipulation of specific wavelengths for enhanced production.
It’s hard to overstate the advantages that this revolutionary concept lends to organic producers: significant reduction in nutrients, protection from vertebrates, invertebrates & diseases, air & water pollution, and elevated productivity. As important, it lessens the dependency on outsourcing produce for communities, thereby reducing the carbon footprint and increasing the diversity of crops (netted high tunnels). Current research focuses on light manipulation for improving production in specific crops (i.e. fruit, nursery, cut flowers, annual & permanent crops).
Israeli farmers & related industries are notoriously adept at new technologies in farming, working alongside scientists to push the envelope in research & applicability. Much of the research is performed on commercial plots & transferred to growers summarily. This way of cooperation is decades old, as exemplified in the adaptation of water conservation via drip irrigation in the 60’s & hydroponic systems in the 70’s. As the proverbial saying goes: ‘Necessity is mother of invention’ (innovation).
Those advances are apparent on displays at groceries & street vendors around the country: high quality, abundant produce & flowers, available year round, at lower prices compared to same commodities in US, despite land scarcity & high price of water.
The budding technology, as well as further research, is catching up in other parts of the world, especially southern Europe & Australia. It is destined to establish elsewhere, including the USA, hopefully sooner than later. However, adaptation to various environments & climates is necessary.
Summer Field Day
Saturday, August 10th
Grandview Orchard, Antigo, WI
Join OFGA at the orchard of Lisa Rettinger; holistic fruit grower who has jumped head first into the world of organics by taking over Grandview Orchard in 2015. Lisa is bold, passionate and experimental in her management techniques and eager to discuss her methods with other growers. In addition to touring Lisa's operation we will have facilitated small-group discussion, the chance to visit two neighboring farms and a meal included!
Click HERE to attend!
Sunday, June 9th
Kedem Nursery & Garden, Hastings, MN
Join us for an informal networking event at the Garden & Nursery of Sam and Rachel Kedem! Our goal with member socials is to allow growers to network, share ideas and catch up informally while exploring another member’s fruit farm. Snacks, refreshments and the opportunity to learn something new are guaranteed!
Click HERE to attend!
Interested in hosting an event?
We encourage members to take advantage of the resources OFGA has to increase research, education and connection in the organic fruit growing.
Email our coordinator if you have an event in mind!
Fruit Field Day
Honeyberry USA, Bagley, MN
MOSES Fruit Field Day
Blue Fruit Farm, Winona, MN
NAFEX Annual Meeting & Conference
Iowa City, IA
July 28 - 31
OFGA will be represented at this conference and is looking for members interested in attending and co-presenting! For more information, contact our board member Dan Shield, who will be coordinating presentations with NAFEX staff.