Dear America (part 1)…

Like a distant uncle that sends weird postcards from afar, we’ve grown up with you in our lives but never really known you.

After travelling for 5 weeks, 12 states, and 4,000+ miles, we still barely know you at all, but at least have had the chance to make some first-hand observations.

There were so many things we found to love:

  • Amazing landscapes, beautiful deserts, incredible plants … we spent as much time as possible visiting national parks, floating on rivers, hiking, and camping, and ran out of superlatives to describe the stunning vistas.
Arches National Park in Utah
Arches National Park in Utah
  • Warm, kind and hospitable people. Apart from family and friends (who we already loved), we met many new friends who welcomed us into their homes with open arms, fed us, and went out of their way to help us get the most out of our trip.
Anne and Ralph showing us how to get around on the New York subway
Ann and Ralph showing us how to get around on the New York subway
  • Generous farmers who were willing to share their precious time with us to help us understand their growing conditions, pests, diseases, and production issues. Fruit trees grow in a wide range of climates
Enjoying a tour of Michael Phillips' (author of The Holistic Orchard) 
orchard in New Hampshire
Enjoying a tour of Michael Phillips’ (author of The Holistic Orchard)
orchard in New Hampshire
  • Nongendered toilets – the rest of the world take note – it’s this easy to resolve an issue that’s uncomfortable, awkward and even dangerous for a significant proportion of society (and if you think you don’t know anyone for whom this is an issue, you’re probably wrong).
Gender neutral toilets in New York
Gender-neutral toilets in New York
  • Fabulous farmers markets! We visited farmers markets in various parts of the country, and were generally impressed with the authenticity (good accreditation programs making sure that the stallholders are actual farmers and not re-sellers), and the range and quality of produce. On the downside, despite the greater number of farmers markets they’re still only providing a tiny proportion of food, and probably 95% of the food that most people are eating comes from large-scale factory farms, or in other words the type of farming that is contributing to climate change (as opposed to the small-scale farmers that sell through farmers markets and CSAs, who tend to use more regenerative farming practices that mitigate against climate change).
An organic vegetable stall at Union Square Farmers Market in Manhattan
An organic vegetable stall at Union Square Farmers Market in Manhattan
  • The amount of people that are interested in growing their own fruit. From enthusiastic home growers to small-scale organic and regenerative farmers, we met loads of people that are either interested in or already growing their own food. One of the things we were researching on the trip was whether the teaching work that we’ve been doing with our Australian members of the Grow Great Fruit program since 2013 has application in American conditions and for an American audience, and the answer was a resounding yes! It seems that people are just as interested in learning how to use organic principles to grow their own food, but finding it just as difficult as they do in Australia to find a reliable “system” to guide them.
Enthusiastic fruit growers on a field trip at the Maine Heritage Orchard
Enthusiastic fruit growers on a field trip at the Maine Heritage Orchard

There’s certainly a lot to enjoy about America, and we’re keen to visit again and see more of this vast country, but we also experienced some aspects of life there that dismayed – and even alarmed – us. But more of that in another blog…

What’s worse than finding a worm in your apple?

Worms in apples are scary and revolting – particularly if you only find half a worm, right?

A classic grub in the apple ... aka Codling Moth larvae
A classic grub in the apple … aka Codling Moth larvae

Apart from the visceral disgust of biting into an apple and finding that something beat you to it and is already living inside, it also downgrades the quality of the fruit.

Apples that have been infected with Codling moth are much less usable, and less valuable for all these reasons:

  • the apples don’t keep as well;
  • infected apples aren’t suitable for long term storage;
  • they’re more likely to be attacked by diseases (e.g. rots) and even other pests;
  • they can’t be sold commercially if infected;
  • they look bad so you don’t want to share them friends and family;
  • having to cut the affected part out before cooking or eating is very wasteful.
Apples riddled with the evidence of Codling moth infestation
Apples riddled with the evidence of Codling moth infestation

If the grubs have left the apple this can be even worse, as it tells you that the grubs were able to complete their life cycle and go on to breed again, perpetuating your Codling moth problem and increasing their population.

So, what to do?

Codling moth is one of the more challenging pests that fruit growers have to deal with, but don’t despair, there is a way! Here’s our 6-step plan for getting on top of them:

  1. First, find out whether Codling moth are a problem in your area. If you already have them in your apples, this one’s a no-brainer, but if you’re new to fruit growing you may need to ask around other fruit growers in your area to find out if it’s something you need to be prepared for.
  2. Learn how to identify them.
  3. Understand their life cycle. Good organic pest management depends on knowing your enemy! Every pest (and every disease for that matter) has at least one weak point in their life-cycle when it’s easy (or at least possible) to intervention that will interrupt them to reduce or prevent the damage they do, and over time to hopefully eradicate the problem.
  4. Familiarise yourself with the many tools you can use against Codling moth – including trapping, banding, pheromone ties, chickens, predator insects, etc.
  5. Decide which one will work best for you, and write your own Codling moth plan.
  6. Conquer the Codling moth!
Codling moth pupae and larve in a trap
Codling moth pupae and larve in a trap

These steps are covered in more detail in the Conquer Codling Moth short course, which also includes a step-by-step process for writing your own plan.

If you already have Codling moth in your apples and are not taking active steps to control them, they’re likely to get worse. Because they complete most of their life cycle inside the apple or hidden in the soil or the bark, they’re not easy for predators to find.

Unless you intervene to stack the odds against them, in un-managed apple trees the problem tends to grow.

Ignore them at your peril!

What does healthy blossom look like?

At this time of year the fruit trees look absolutely gorgeous, with many of the apricots, peaches, nectarines, and plums in flower. The early pears and some very early apple varieties have also started to show what we call ‘green tip’, which is the equivalent of budswell in stone fruit.

Because of the huge number of different types and varieties of fruit we grow, some trees are at full bloom, some haven’t started flowering at all, and others have now got tiny fruit – which is one of the most exciting (and slightly scary) times of the year!

The early apricot varieties (our early ones are called Earlicot, Poppicot and Katy) have almost finished flowering and look like this. 

Healthy apricot flowers with petals falling
Healthy apricot flowers with petals falling

This stage of flowering is called shuck-fall, when the petals have fallen off, then the last bit of the flower (the shuck) dries up and falls off, revealing….

A baby apricot emerging from the shuck
A baby apricot emerging from the shuck

…a baby piece of fruit! It’s the same process for all deciduous fruit, and it’s a very exciting transition from blossom to the beginning of the fruit season.

It’s also a good time to start diagnosing some of the common diseases like Blossom blight (common in apricots, but also seen in peaches and nectarines). Healthy flowers look like this when the petals are falling off:

Normal shuck fall
Normal shuck fall

Diseased flowers however will shrivel up, and the petals go brown, like the photo below (despite the best intentions to get all the sprays on at the right time, it’s often the case that there’s still a bit of disease in the orchard when there’s been rain around).

Blossom blight not shuck fall
Blossom blight not shuck fall

It can be hard to tell the difference, but you’ll soon know for sure, when you see if you get any fruit!

The photo below shows another disease symptom you might see, where the flowers have completely died back, and the twig has died back as well. The tree will usually prevent the disease from travelling back any further by producing a blob of gum to isolate the diseased patch (this is one of the causes for the condition called ‘gummosis’).

A bad case of Blossom blight - rotten flowers, and a dead lateral
A bad case of Blossom blight – rotten flowers, and a dead lateral

It’s a good idea to prune these diseased patches out of your fruit trees when you see them (when you’re doing your fruit thinning is a good time), as long as you can do so without sacrificing too much healthy wood or flowers.

Apricots are one of the hardest stone fruits to grow successfully, not just because of diseases like Blossom blight and the many other fungal diseases they are prone to, but also because they flower early and so are very susceptible to early frosts.

But they’re also one of the most rewarding crops for home growers because they’re so versatile and they’re so delicious! With that in mind, we created the Ample Apricots short course to show you how to encourage and nurture your apricot tree to actually bear fruit!