Help Offered for Wisconsin's Organic Apple Growers
BLANCHARDVILLE, Wis. – The organic apple crop in Wisconsin next fall will depend on a lot of things that will happen this spring.
Michael Fields Agricultural Institute is offering a March 16 workshop on organic apple management to help owners of a few individual apple trees, those who grow apples as part of school gardens, and others.
Registration is open now. A key presenter is Deirdre Birmingham, a nationally-known organic apple grower. Birmingham said she and her husband overcame a lot of challenges in establishing their operation, The Cider Farm.
"And since it's in March, that's the time of year that one is pruning their trees, and we'll talk about how pruning can help with disease management and insect pests and your apple crop load," she explained. "And we'll be doing some actual grafting, and that's where you have the opportunity to make your own tree."
Birmingham said when she and her husband were setting up their operation several years ago, the apple varieties they wanted to grow were not commercially available, so they had to create their orchard by grafting their stock with varieties from France and England.
She sees the underpinning of organic agriculture as building up soil health and soil organic matter.
"That also applies to growing apple trees organically," she said. "Having a diverse, rich soil-microbe community helps the trees build their own resistance and also helps them get everything out of the soil that they can to be strong, vibrant trees."
She noted that people often think of an organic apple orchard as a no-spray or low-spray operation for pesticides, but there have been major developments in that area.
"With the growth of organic farming and consumers driving that, an increasing number of products are being developed that growers can use to stimulate tree health and to more naturally fight against some of the diseases and insect pests that are common in our kind of conditions," she said.
Birmingham's orchard produces high-end dry cider and apple brandy.