The Right Stuff

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The Right Stuff

If you think that there are no options available to you for posts or fencing in order to have your orchard certified as organic, you are in for a pleasant surprise. There are actually quite a few practices you can implement, and they are neither expensive nor complicated.

For example, posts manufactured from plastic or cast iron are allowed. Chemicals used commonly to treat wood posts might leach into the soil, so wood posts used in the orchard rows may not be treated. However, there is a simple solution for this dilemma: Use rot-resistant wood for trellis posts. The type of wood used varies from region to region, depending on the rot-resistant varieties available in that particular area (such as black locust in the Midwest, or cedar in the West).

Go With The Flow

In the event that rot-resistant wood is not readily available in your region, a little bit of flexibility goes a long way. One example of a successful open-minded attitude in this situation is presented in an article that ran in the January 2006 issue of “Just Picked,” the quarterly newsletter of the Midwest Organic Tree Fruit Growers Network (MOTFGN). Tree fruit growers Maury Wills of Wills Family Orchard in Iowa and Jim Koan of Al-Mar Orchard in Michigan were featured in the story,  which talks about how, while Wills did not have access to any types of wood ideal for decay resistance, he did have a plentiful supply of white oak.

Getting An Education

Deirdre Birmingham, who is hoping to have her first crop of cider apples certified organic in 2009, established the Midwest Organic Tree Fruit Growers Network with 18 other growers four years ago because of the confusion that often accompanies organic practices. They felt that Midwest fruit tree growers were missing a resource for information on producing organic tree fruit. Their goal is to provide this information through the organization’s Web site, which can be accessed at www.mosesorganic.org/treefruit/intro.htm. The Web site offers growers many useful features including:

- An organic resource directory with a section that lists organic certifiers. 
- Information that novice organic growers may not consider initially. For example, in an organic orchard, as in a conventional orchard, it is crucial to prune fruit in order to maximize light penetration and enhance air drainage.
- Tips for effective disease resistance strategies. When choosing varieties to grow in an organic orchard, there is a general consensus among researchers in the organic field that disease resistance is key, since the use of chemicals to ward off diseases and pests is not permitted. Though no one variety is resistant to every disease, you can pick and choose according to which diseases threaten fruit tree crops in your region.
- Information on research projects that may be helpful to organic tree fruit producers.

According to Koan, using untreated wood that may not necessarily be rot-resistant can actually be viewed as advantageous because more rapid decaying of the posts will encourage growers to renovate their orchards with new and improved varieties. “You have made your money, new varieties and technology will motivate you to replant, and the decaying support structure will force you to do so. That is why I like this system!” he is quoted as saying.

Furthermore, the entire undertaking left a relatively small dent in Wills’ wallet. Since he chopped the wood and shaved the posts himself, he did not need to pay anyone for labor. Wills’ only substantial cost was the $80 he spent on high tensile wire, which he bought from the local farm supply store.   

Fenced In

The rules are usually more lenient for deer fences. Because these fences are usually placed around the perimeter of the orchard, the wood used to build them can often be treated. It is important to note, though, that you cannot use the same wood within the tree row as a trellis.
Depending on its proximity to the trees, the vegetation growing under electric fences must be maintained by means other than synthetic herbicides. The use of herbicides may be permitted if the fence is located a safe distance from the orchard being certified, but the distance must be approved by an organic certifier. “Growers should always speak to their certification agency. That is where I obtained my information,” Deirdre Birmingham, coordinator for the Network, says.

To simplify the idea of what an organic orchard should represent, Birmingham suggests approaching it as an integrated system. “You need to keep in mind that in an organic orchard, everything interrelates. What you do to one part of the orchard affects the other parts,” she says.

Oster is a former Meister Media Worldwide editor.

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