Springtime Update: Beneficial Nematodes

NematodesSpring brings rain and warmer temperatures. It also brings pests. So, it’s time to break out the organic measures for controlling tick populations and apple pests. One of our not-so-secret weapons that we use for the orchard is beneficial nematodes. Insects with a pupating or larval stage in the soil become susceptible to the insect-parasitic nematodes. The microscopic worm-like organisms seek out insects to host them as they mature and reproduce, killing the pests in the process. There are several species of nematodes that are parasitic to a variety of pests. We employ a triple threat to broaden the impact on pests such as curculio, apple sawfly, Japanese beetles, ants, and ticks. Timing is of importance when putting them down, however. Soil temperatures need to be above 45 degrees and should be wet since nematodes live in the water-filled pores within the soil. Drought conditions such as last year, could not sustain the nematodes. Thankfully, the abundance of snow this winter and recent rain has aided our efforts.

Bryan felt as though he was spraying magic pixie dust, so he added a brew of nitrogen and other nutrient fixing microbes to the nematode mixture for increasing soil fertility. It’s particularly interesting to note the 1960’s “discovery” of the effective microbes and philosophy of their founder, Dr. Teruo Higa. Dr. Higa’s research focused on combining microbial strains that were not believed to live together in the wild to see which ones could co-exist. All the microorganisms in the formula Dr. Higa created and used at Eden Acres Family Farm co-exist, co-prosper, exchange information, are sustainable, are safe, are efficient, are effective, and service each other. Dr. Higa believed that humans needed to learn from these microbes. We think so too!

What can we learn from beneficial microorganisms?

Symbiotic relationships are essential to our growing and changing world; a balance that can only be achieved by working together. What contributions are you currently making, or can offer to your community, to co-create a more prosperous culture?

One Love,

Ali

 

References:

http://articles.extension.org/pages/24726/soil-nematodes-in-organic-farming-systems

http://www.teraganix.com/Effective-Microorganisms-History-and-Availability-s/194.htm

 

Our First Year in Review

IMG_0859Entering our second season, we have much to look forward to!  At the same time, I think it’s important to also look back and review our past season.  What a whirlwind adventure this first year has been!  I call it our “learning year.” To think where we started: having no idea what varieties of apples we had, where they were, and when they would ripen.  We called it “Apple Clue.”  My kids love playing my old board game, Clue, and this has been much the same process… I believe it was Miss Paula Red, in the front orchard, with the red skinned flesh that made the applesauce turn pink!  We had a partial list of the varieties from old advertising on the internet, but finding which trees (or parts of a tree!) belongs to what variety has been quite a discovery process.  We’re still learning, but that’s part of the fun and excitement.

My favorite part in discovering all the apples was when we started our tastings in the farm store.  Cutting into the apples, seeing what they looked like on the inside, and tasting them is a large part of the identification process.  Having tasted not more than a handful of varieties before we moved to our orchard, I was in awe of all the different flavors and textures, along with learning their heritage.  Moving our apples into the farm store was a big change for us, transitioning mid year from pick-your-own.  The orchard had been PYO before us and without a good farm plan for picking, storing, and selling apples, we headed in the same direction.  However, we quickly realized that the orchard was not established to be PYO friendly.  It was designed with permaculture in mind, alternating varieties so as to disrupt the spreading of disease from one tree to another.  Good for our trees, but not so good for people trying to figure out which trees to pick from.  P.S. An unripe apple sucks the spit off your tongue!  There were many more reasons to bring the apples inside the farm store, but the decision was made when I got a call one Friday afternoon when I was at Common Ground Fair volunteering with my boys.  It was a stressful day for Farmer B to handle the orchard by himself, but a bus load of kids under 7 with very little supervision was enough to end PYO decisively.  One thing to note: we have poison ivy on the perimeter of the property and if you’re not sure if you are allergic to it, I do NOT suggest you deliberately rub it all over you to find out!

The word to describe last year is ABUNDANCE.  We walked into a bumper crop year with apples literally dripping from the trees.  We were not in any way prepared for the abundance of apples we got.  Watching apples hit the ground only creates very costly compost.  In order to grow a healthy business, we need to be efficient and utilize our whole crop.  That is where we are starting off this year, preparing to move forward into more processing.  Organic raw cider, cider vinegar and small batch hard cider is where we are focusing our efforts with the investment in renovating an existing barn into a cider processing facility and new high yielding cider equipment.  In addition, we developed an apple CSA that we will continue to offer each year before the start of the season.  New this year, the farm store will feature tea, coffee, baked goods, soaps, herbal preparations and other items from local vendors, and the loft will be opened as a lounge area to further enjoy your visit.  As the season progresses, we look forward to holding seminars and workshops at the farm as well.  

With more news sure to come, please sign up for future blog posts on our website or FaceBook page so you don’t miss out!

With gratitude,

Ali & Family 🙂      

All In: Restoring a Neglected Orchard, Part 2

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Last week I shared the first part of our story that we told at Pecha Kucha in Biddeford and Kennebunkport this winter.  In case you were wondering what happens in the second part of our story, here it is…

Eden 11Blossoms gave way to fruitless and this is when it was game on. The year prior, we were told, there were not very many edible apples at the orchard. Holistic sprays that include neem oil, fish and seaweed emulsions aim at carefully balancing the microbiology of the soil while disrupting habitat for pests.

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Another piece of equipment on the farm is this 1962 Massey Ferguson tractor that’s loaded up in the back with a 100 gallon Pak tank sprayer. It’s used to go through the orchard to apply the holistic feeds to the trees… And it makes for a pretty impressive morning commute!

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At the heart of the holistic approach are the variety of wild flowers that feed and provide habitat for bees. The best part about the orchard being left neglected was the wild, natural permaculture that was left intact. Things like Clover, Milkweed, Black Eyed Susan, and Queens Anne Lace fix vital nutrients, like nitrogen back into the soil.

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And from healthy soil, comes healthy fruit. In our first year, we stepped into a bumper crop year where apples were abundant everywhere. The trees were literally dripping with apples. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the flavors, our apples had so much flavor infused from the holistic feeding regimen. It was amazing.

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The kids were so excited too. They wanted nothing more than to be a part of the action. Lifting them up with the neighbors’ kids to reach the tallest of the apples made their hearts soar. They were involved with picking, sorting and a little taste testing the different varieties of all the apples.

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At the back of the barn we have a quaint farm store where we sort the fresh apples. Inside we hold tastings for people to become familiar with heirloom varieties such as Zabergau Reinette, Hudson’s Golden Gem, Black Oxford and two of my favorites, Vartanian Lightning and Golden Russet.

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One of the best parts of apples is cider. We started making cider with an old fashioned press that we hooked up to a bicycle to turned the crusher. Once squeezed, pure liquid gold comes out. Natural, unfiltered and unpasteurized raw cider that is only available at the farm.

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We had a hot beginning to the fall last year, but ended with a cold snap in October that caused us to bring in as many of our late season varieties that we could with some volunteer help before the prolonged frost affected them. Late season varieties, like Keepksakes, are among the best keeping apples for storing through the winter and into the spring.

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Before winter, a final clean up of the orchard included going through with a scythe to cut down all the underbrush around the trees that would otherwise provide habitat for voles. Instead, we want to expose them as much as possible to their natural predators and keep the ecosystem in balance and our trees healthy.

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This is the staff here at Eden Acres Family Farm. We feel truly blessed to be here and tasked with restoring one of the very few organic orchards in Maine or even in the country. We are looking to grow our orchard by offering an apple CSA this year and building a cider barn with high yielding equipment. Please come out and visit us this fall in East Waterboro.