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Sweet alyssumWashington State University researchers grew sweet alyssum in lanes between rows of apple trees to attract syrphids (also known as flower flies or hoverflies), a predator of woolly apple aphids.

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As the days grow longer and the sun climbs higher, we are slowly rolling into the month of March, and it’s time to prune your fruit trees and maintain the structural framework that will support bushels of beautiful, organically grown fruit. Remember to keep your tools sharp and your cuts clean, and a healthy tree will heal its wounds and respond with growth that improves fruit quality and overall tree vigor. Once pruning is finished and March slips into April, dust off the shovel, fill your wheelbarrow with compost and mulch, and head to the orchard to plant a few more fruit trees.

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Apple limb spreadersGrowing organic tree fruit can be a bit of a challenge, considering the various insects and diseases that like to call your fruit tree home and the relatively short efficacy window of organic control materials; so being attentive to stages of fruit development and biological cycles of pests in your orchard is critical.

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Driving by a fruit tree orchard or walking through a local pick-your-own operation, we typically see long rows of evenly spaced trees, where the undergrowth is regularly mowed to reduce competition for vital nutrients and the overall look is one of uniformity. This design focuses on labor efficiency, where long rows facilitate the mechanical chores of mowing, spraying, irrigating and harvesting, helping reduce costs and improve profits. In the home orchard and garden, we tend to follow the same patterns for similar reasons, but here, the random can be righteous and the haphazard can be helpful.

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Pietree OrchardMaine Apple Day at Pietree Orchard in Sweden was a lively celebration of apples. Shelves were lined with crisp, just-picked apples, and trees were loaded with ripe pick-your-own fruit. Visitors enjoyed freshly pressed apple cider, apple cider donuts and apple pizza – with caramelized apples and ricotta cheese for the more adventurous, or traditional pepperoni for others.

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ApplesAs spring rolls into summer, I hope you’ve had a beautifully blooming, successfully pollinated orchard and avoided those late spring frosts that can kill blossoms and ruin your hopes for a satisfying harvest come fall. A temperature of 28 F is cold enough to kill an estimated 10 percent of apple blossoms, while 25 F will kill 90 percent of blossoms.

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European apple sawfly larva damageAs winter draws to a close, the days continue to lengthen and we approach early March, it is time to prune the orchard (see The MOF&G, Dec. 2010-Feb. 2011), collect scionwood for grafting, prepare to plant young trees and patiently await the brilliant bloom of the orchard, marking spring’s arrival. This article focuses on reducing overwintered fungal inoculum, applying sprays that awaken orchard biology and boost tree health, and preparing for two insect pests that emerge around bloom time, ready to attack young fruitlets and planning to mass reproduce in your orchard.

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Branch collarAs the ground freezes and winter takes hold, our fruit trees become dormant and settle in for their own winter’s nap. The trees may be dormant and we may spend more time indoors, but some pests are still active – specifically deer and meadow voles, emphasizing the importance of winter preparations.

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Apple scab
Autumn is an exciting time in the orchard, because you get to taste the fruits of your labors and share the harvest with your family and community. Autumn is also the time to clean up the orchard, prepare trees for winter and start thinking about next year’s bloom!

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This new MOF&G column will focus on home-scale organic orcharding, using MOFGA’s educational orchards as an example and beginning at the ground level.

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A plan to restore apple diversity, compiled and edited by Gary Paul Nabhan.

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Androscoggin Apple Company BoothWhen I first met Allen Smith at the end of the 2007 Common Ground Country Fair, he had the tired look of someone who had dished out hundreds of apple cider-sweetened snow-cones for three days; but Isabel, Smith’s 11-year old daughter, was still energetic despite a three-day stint as the booth’s banker.

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I read with interest the apple cider article in the June-Aug. MOF&G but saw no mention of the possibility of bottling apple juice.

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Grafts, genetic material and rootstocks collected during the 1990s from wild apple trees in central Asia may revolutionize the U.S. apple industry. This material shows potential for helping breed trees that bear popular, domestic apples while standing up to destructive diseases and fungi, according to Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists.

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At www.HerbsAndApples.com you can read the latest and best ways to grow apples organically, thanks to Michael Phillips of Lost Nation Orchard in Groveton, New Hampshire.

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Eating more fiber- and phytonutrient-rich fruits and vegetables – including flavonoids found most abundantly in apples – may significantly reduce the risk of developing digestive cancers.

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Francis FentonMOFGA’s 2004 Organic Orcharding series concluded with a visit to Francis Fenton’s Sandy River Orchard in Mercer, Maine, on Saturday, October 9, 2004. Sandy River Orchard is known for its diverse collection of varieties, featuring a number of apples Fenton has collected from old family orchards around Franklin and Somerset counties over more than 30 years. John Bunker from FEDCO Trees and Michael Phillips, author of The Apple Grower, also presented.

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John Bunker“It’s always worth planting trees,” maintains John Bunker, vice president (and president as of 2005) of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) and coordinator of Fedco Trees. “Look at the trees at the Arnold Arboretum [in Jamaica Plain, Mass.] that people planted a hundred years ago. There are oaks that are 3 or 4 feet in diameter … Someone who’s dead now took the time to plant trees for us.”

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Apple picker drawing by Toki OshimaFirst, pick a sunny fall day when the smell of falling leaves is in the air. It must be a day when summer almost feels like a distant memory, a day when the air is crisp in its coldness, like an apple fresh from the tree. Pick a day when the trees scatter all colors of red and orange and yellow, when branches become increasingly naked, and when you can kick the dried leaves into a pile in front of you while walking.

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American apple growers in the Northeast can thank a European import for helping them battle the tarnished plant bug, one of the fiercest crop pests in North America. Agricultural Research Service entomologist William H. Day, with the agency’s Beneficial Insects Introduction Research Laboratory in Newark, Del., began releasing the parasitic wasp, Peristenus digoneutis, as a biological control for the pest in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

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Russell LibbyAs coordinator of Fedco’s nursery sales, I am regularly asked many unanswerable questions, such as, “What is your favorite apple?” Or, “What apples should I grow in my yard?” Of the several thousand varieties out there today, I confess that I have tasted only a few hundred at best, and I’m fairly sure my taste buds are different from yours. Still my strategy has been to continue to taste varieties “out of hand” (fresh) and to cook with them whenever I get the chance.

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Apple treeWho can resist the beauty of a crabapple tree in full bloom? Or the scent so strong that you stop what you are doing and go to the tree, inhaling deeply amid the buzz of bees? I certainly cannot. Many an otherwise bare yard will have a crabapple tree. On my farm I have a 400-yard-long fencerow with dozens of birdhouses, chokecherries, viburnum, buckthorn and hawthorn. My fantasy is to interplant it with flowering crabapple trees.

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Great Maine Apple DayDid you join us on November 10th for the GREAT MAINE APPLE DAY? Any and all possibly interested parties seem to have made an appearance that Saturday. They enjoyed lectures, tasting a wide variety of apples, and pie judging (and devouring!). Everyone was surprised with the enthusiasm that a simple four hours contained.

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Take the Apple: Essays-Poems-Recipes from Apple Annie
Joan C. Pratt/ Poems by Charles W. Pratt

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John Bunker with 200-year-old Black Oxford apple tree“Core and slice thickly, with skin. Fry in pork fat. Add water as necessary till soft. Then add ‘a few dollops’ of molasses. Serve with biscuits.” So goes the Fedco Trees catalog description of Kavanagh, an apple “not for fresh eating but good for cooking and drying.” It was brought to Damariscotta Mills from Ireland in 1790 by renowned shipbuilder James Kavanagh. Like many of John Bunker’s intriguing catalog listings, this one opens up a new perspective on the lives of Maine’s early settlers.

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