‘Accept some damage and embrace ugly fruit.’ Guy K. Ames’ statement about growing fruit organically grabbed my attention and brought a smile to my face. In the session, ‘The Key to Growing Fruit Organically in the South’ at the 2016 SSAWG conference, Ames got right to the point with organic fruit growing in zones 6, 7, 8 – the hotter parts of the country. Fruit production is no stranger in our area, as there are orchards and vineyards dotting the landscape, but most, if not all of them rely on chemical cocktails to produce good-looking fruit. For those that would like to have their fruit without chemicals, there is a way.
Growing fruit organically in our region is possible, but according to Ames we must first accept that some fruits are just not going to work as well as others. Most apples, pears, peaches, plums, sweet cherries and raspberries are going to present problems with production. Sure, you might get some fruit, but it’s going to be ugly, not fit for market or grocery store sales. Ames went on to list fruit we should grow, fruit that works better with organic applications: persimmons, strawberries, blueberries, elderberries, blackberries, pawpaws, service berries, gooseberries, hardy figs and Chinese mulberry. Some apples and pears can produce wonderful fruit, but check the rootstock: MM 111 rootstock and pears with Pyrus calleryana rootstock will be better at resisting common fruit tree diseases like apple cedar rust.
Starting with a good foundation is also key to better fruit. Ames went through a list of good practices dealing with pests and diseases. The list includes selecting the right varieties, the right sight, modifying the soil to create active soil (wood chips are best for mulching!), diversifying the crops and preventing plant stress. More active approaches after planting involve pruning, keeping the area clean and fostering beneficial insects. Also being patient as not every year will be great for every fruit (diversify!). Ames pointedly reminded us to ‘accept some damage.’
So with this damage, what to do with the fruit? Value-added products! Have great tasting apples with too much fly speck? Applesauce! Apple pies! Apple cider! You get the idea. It’s quite possible to grow and produce wonderful, healthy fruit in our region, organically using no chemicals, but we might want to think outside of the box.
Ames’ approach to growing fruit organically is three fold: 1) Choose the right variety, right plant for our hot & humid region – check the rootstock. 2) Good foundation: soil, sight and diverse plantings. 3) ACCEPT SOME DAMAGE and carry on! Guy K. Ames shared a similar presentation on slideplayer.com, with more information and variety names: http://slideplayer.com/slide/4271034/