Want high quality, organic fruit without spraying? Bagging works. Simple as that.
To the left, is a peach, just pulled from a "wedding favor" bag (which you can see to the left) flawless and beautiful. Never once sprayed with anything. Let me tell you, it was delicious as it looks.
To the right, a fruit that looks just like my buddy Jerry. Heh heh, just kiddin' Jerry. From the same branch on the same tree, but not bagged. It's almost impossible to find a piece that hasn't been burrowed through or bitten into. No good for anything but scaring small children.
For us, one of the big restrictions to growing fruit at home is that we will not spray poison in our living space. To us, it goes without saying that spraying POISON where you live is insanity.
"But what about "organic" sprays?"
Well, even "organic" sprays were out of the question in our Permaculture garden. First of all, even organic sprays are mostly biocides. That means they are poisons designed to harm living things. The risks may be considered "minimal," but there are risks. "Risk" isn't something I'm eager to put on my food.
Those that aren't biocides, such as copper and clay, are far from sustainable. Sprays, even the "green" ones made of betonite clay are highly processed and require energy-intensive mining, processessing and shipping. They leave the gardener reliant on distant, out of state, corporations for their food and add phantom "food miles" to our supposedly "local" produce. These sprays also come with "phantom costs" or "deferred costs" of environmental and social harm that aren't figured into the price of a bottle of chemicals or powders.
In this way, we are LITERALLY, and I mean LITERALLY, forcing our descendants to pay for our food for us.
On top of that, organic spray schedules can be very complicated and time consuming. While "conventional" toxic sprays are simple, they kill anything and everything that would harm your fruit, "organic" sprays tend to be specific interruptions to the lifecycle of specific pests. Because of this, organic orchardists often spray multiple things at multiple times that are all different for each fruit they grow. Usually, these are dependant on careful observation in the orchard, and might require re-arranging our schedules to accomodate a "spraying window." Adding such a complicated task to the work of my household does not seem to be a good way to "care" for my family.
In other words, to me organic sprays simply fail the test of my Permaculture ethics: they do not "care" for the earth or people.
Beyond that, those tradeoffs wouldn't be worth the benefit. Even well-done organic care can have yields that are 1/4 of conventional, according to extension research.
I suspect that these poor results are due to a basic flaw in the "spraying" strategy: sprays kill the allies that would help do our work for us. Research is just beginning to demonstrate what ecological and organic gardeners have been saying for generations: diversity is the most important tool we have in controlling pests and disease. A diverse, healthy soil ecology has been demonstrated to confer increased disease and pest resistance to plants, even allowing potatoes to grow successfully in soils contaminated by the devastating potato blight!
But studies also show that as soon as you spray biocides, even organic ones, or chemical fertilizers in the garden, you cause a massive collapse of soil diversity. So when we begin to spray, we abandon our most important natural tool. (Sprays like "compost tea" which work by actually increasing biodiversity are an exception. We sometimes use "teas" including compost, comfrey, vermicompost, garlic, pepper, nettles, yarrow, chicory and a variety of other plants and herbs.)
This is why at Lillie House most of our plantings are "wild" fruit, that require no spraying or protection. They are naturally disease and pest resistant, like paw paws, blackberries, and raspberries. Such fruit should be the "backbone" of any home orchard or garden.
But everyone loves a perfect beautiful peach.
Just look at it. Even we can't resist that. So, with a little extra work, we can have "conventional" fruit too, without ever spraying. Best of both worlds.
The solution that has worked best for us is bagging. For the home grower, I recommend bagging for grapes, apples, european pears, plums, apricots, peaches and any of their relatives.
In addition to yielding beautiful fruit, bagging nets the home-grower some additional harvests as well:
--Bagging saves time over a complicated spraying regimen.
--It preserves the biodiversity of the garden.
--It's more sustainable, since bags can be reused and repurposed.
The last couple of years, we used brown paper sandwich bags on a limited scale, stapled closed around the fruit. It seems like these would quickly turn to mush in the weather, but that was not the case. The results were good, though it looked a little like somebody threw a bunch of sandwiches at our garden. This year, we switched to Organza drawstring bags, the kind commonly called "wedding favor bags." These are reusable, much easier to use and much more attractive. For small fruit such as apricots, plums, and small apples, I recommend these:
Larger fruit require larger bags. These should work for most tree fruit and even small grape clusters. :
They're even available in a multi-color set, for the festive garden:
With Organza bags, bagging the fruit is easy. The main important thing is to get the bags on the fruit as early as possible after the fruit begins to form. This year, we waited about 3 weeks after fruit set to begin bagging our apricots, and we sure missed the apricot boat. Plum curculios had already laid their eggs on the forming fruit. We had to watch as hundreds of bagged fruit dropped from the tree, rotten and filled with weavils. The dozen that made it were still beautiful and blemish free, though, thanks to their bags.
To bag, simply identify the young fruit, slip the bag over the stem or branch tip and pull the drawstrings closed as tightly as possible without "popping" the fruit off the tree. Occasionally, a fruit will have a stem or branch arrangement that makes it difficult to bag. This makes bagging a good time to also thin the fruit. Fruit that won't bag well can simply be removed from the tree, to put energy into the fruit that's bagged.
So, how many fruit can you bag in a season? That's a good question. I'd guess I'd stop at several hundred, assuming they were spread out over a long window of time. We used this number as the "upper limit" for how many "intensive," or "needy" fruit trees we would plant.
Beyond this, we planted those "wild" fruits in very "extensive" systems similar to the ones they grow in naturally. For information on that, check out:
A Food Forest Case Study http://lilliehouse.blogspot.com/2015/08/low-maintenance-resilient-forest-case.html
Designing an edible hedgerow:
(This post is part of a multi-post series on No-Spray home orcharding. More to come soon...)