I’ll soon be moving to a new home where I’m planning to begin an orchard as part of my homestead. I understand that many types of fruit trees won’t start producing for at least a couple of years so I’m eager to get them in the ground as soon as possible. I was interested in reading “The Holistic Orchard” by Michael Phillips to find out what makes his methods “holistic” and how they differ from organic and traditional orchards.
With his family, Phillips runs Heartsong Farm in northern New Hampshire where they primarily grow apples and medicinal herbs. He leads a community orchard movement at www.GrowOrganicApples.com. Phillips also wrote “The Apple Grower,” which was published in 2005. “The Holistic Orchard” was published six years later in 2011 and provides updated and more detailed information about apples as well as several other types of fruit.
At first I was overwhelmed by the size of this book and therefore was intimidated by the idea of starting an orchard. But early on, Phillips assures the reader to have the confidence to give it a try and explains that the book should be used as a guidebook which you can refer back to as you learn more and more about your orchard.
So, what does he mean by “holistic orchard”?
The focus of this book is to explain how to manage your orchard “holistically.” And no, it turns out this isn’t the same as “organically.” Phillips argues that soil health as well as the health of beneficial fungi, flowers and herbs near your orchard, bees, and butterflies are all critical to growing fruit holistically. I particularly liked that Phillips explained how these techniques can be employed simply and cost effectively. For example, he included recipes for homemade holistic sprays and fermented teas/brews to apply to your trees, and explained how these differ from the usual mineral fungicides, which are typically used on certified organic orchards. Much more detailed explanations of holistic orchard techniques are described in the first four chapters.
Pome Fruits, Stone Fruits, and Berries
About a third of the book is specific to particular fruits. There are chapters on pome fruits (apples, pears, Asian pears, and quince), stone fruits (cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots, and plums), and berries (bramble, bush, and shrub fruits). Each of these covers varieties to consider, pruning and harvesting tips, pollination, pests, diseases, and holistic solutions. In the last chapter in the book, “The Orchard Year,” Phillips shares step-by-step guidance for how to manage your orchard throughout the year.
The appendices are also full of helpful information, including orchard, nursery, and pollination resources, heritage orchards to visit and organic suppliers across the country as well as helpful websites, other books, and fruit networks. Lastly, an extensive glossary will help to build your orchard terminology. If you’re planning to start your own orchard or are looking for ways to improve your techniques, the methods covered in The Holistic Orchard definitely deserve consideration. This is a book which I expect to use over and over again for many years to come.
Janie Hynson is an aspiring homesteader in North Carolina. She recently moved back to her hometown after living in Boston for six years and then traveling across the U.S. working on organic farms. Janie works in public health and sustainable agriculture and is interested in how health can be improved through homesteading.
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