Volume 7, Week 25, February 14-15, 2014
It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring. Fresh air, you can see a tiny bit of green starting in the foothills and some snow in the Sierras. Carol’s daffodils and China lilies are outdoing themselves; exulting in the sprinkles and showing off their latest spring wardrobe, featuring the most brilliant colors everyone else wishes they were wearing this year, bejeweled with glistening raindrops. Fashionistas, eat your hearts out!
Orchards are starting to bloom as well. Even though it’s way too early, we had plenty of chilling because December was so cold, so the bloom looks really good. When the winter isn’t cold enough, the trees don’t get enough rest and what happens is some of your flowers just don’t open, or they come out too late to do any good. Kinda like us when we don’t get enough sleep; it’s hard to get up and be productive.While this is the earliest spring of my career, it’s the first early spring with adequate chilling. Keep living and paying attention, there’s no end to the wonder!
So, it’s bloom time, the most vulnerable time in the life of our fruit—like a fawn at birth—and the most challenging part of organic stone fruit production. Just like antibiotics are excluded from organic livestock, synthetic fungicides are excluded from organic fruit. A rancher who knows he can’t use antibiotics will see to it that all other conditions are perfect so his critters don’t get sick in the first place. We do what we can to enhance the natural immune systems of our chickens for instance, and I’m sure cattlemen do the same. “Take care of the gut and the gut will take care of the bird,” is a common saying and probiotics (good micro-organisms) are a core foundational tool.
With blooming fruit trees, we also use various probiotic formulations in rotation. Some we ferment with compost tea, others come to us ready to go as liquids and powders, but the concept is the same: competitive exclusion. It took us a few years after we started farming organically to figure it out. Conventionally, the idea is to kill the rot spores and there’s a whole arsenal of fungicides to do this. One application will protect your bloom for 10 days to 2 weeks depending on weather.
A new organic farmer will try to find an organic alternative to the conventional protocol he was used to. In our case, we tried lime-sulfur and got our heads handed to us on a plate. We lost a lot of nectarines and peaches to blossom blight and it took a few years to get that out of the wood. It really makes you question your commitment to organic production.
The next year, we were scared to death but committed to figuring it out, and that started with a mental click—had you been standing close by, you would have heard it—that said: “If we can’t kill the spores, how could we stop them from infecting our fruit?”
That’s where we got the principle of competitive exclusion, and the rest is history. Plant enough wild flowers, they will compete effectively with your weeds and you’ll enjoy beauty. Put healthful probiotics in your gut, they will exclude unhealthy ones and your immune system fights for you. Spray positive probiotic cultures on your fruit blossoms, blight spores are excluded and your fruit grows happy.Fill your mind and meditate on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling and gracious and there’s no room for icky stuff.
Hear Vernon tell more of the tale of his farm’s transition to organic production in Episode 2 of the Abundant Harvest Podcast.