Mar/19/2013 02:03 PM Filed in: orchard
On this snowy day, when pruning is not an option, I have been thinking about the orchard as a component of our local habitat. The Northeast Organic Farming Association spring publication focused on the role of organic farms in supporting the biodiversity of our local communities, noting that one goal of the organic standards is to promote biodiversity and ecosystem health beyond the farm.
The notion that our farm is part of the local ecosystem is one of our prime directives as orchard managers. We foster elements of the ecosystem within and around our orchard to integrate our non-native fruit trees into their ecological community, both to gain benefits from that community, and to provide resources in return. For instance, we encourage a healthy soil ecosystem by maintaining a diverse understory, feeding the creatures in the soil with compost and tree trimmings, and avoiding use of materials that might harm those soil inhabitants. Those creatures in turn make nutrients available to our trees, aerate the soil, and keep conditions such as water retention and pH in balance. We also are thrilled to host predators of all shapes and sizes, from the mind-boggling diversity of spiders in and around the orchard, to the mink that spent much of this winter hunting little mammals on our property, to the hundreds of birds that feed their babies with insects from our orchard each spring and summer. Without these helpers we would be overrun with pests that would kill our trees and damage our fruit. And while our property is just a small piece within a large area of forest and other open land, the mix of pasture, orchard, forest, wetlands, and gardens offer resources to a broader range of creatures than one habitat could provide. So, we hope our management strategy is mutually beneficial, to us and every other creature we share space with.
This strategy does sometimes come with costs. That mink killed a chicken before we tightened up the coop. Rodent populations can spike, leaving us with girdled, dead trees. Various insect pests have gotten out of balance, damaging substantial numbers of apples. An orchard is not an intact ecosystem, after all, so we do need to intervene to a degree. But we hope to always improve our capacity to manage the orchard in a way that will improve the health of our trees, the quality of our apples, and the value of our property to everyone else living here.