The Natural Farming of Orchards – Part Three

Transplanting

The question of whether to seed or transplant fruit trees is not as simple as modern agriculture supposes. It is quite true that transplanted trees will give a return of fruit more quickly than those grown from seed. Yet, by transplanting trees, the conditions have already been met that the orchardist will then need to take care of the tree in some way. The time and expense of this care severely effects the actual financial viability of the orchard. Seen from a broader perspective the need for irrigation, fertilisation and spraying to maintain the health and vigour of transplanted fruit trees actually reverses the supposed early profits. This is because it is far more difficult to plant saplings than it is to place a seed in the ground; because some form of irrigation is indispensable for these weakened trees in regions with hot, dry summers, whose roots will take some time to explore deep into the ground and because they will never become truly autonomous. Because the usually weakened root system will need to be supported by fertilisers in the initial years in order to feed the unbalanced aerial parts and to ensure good fruit set and growth; and because the weakened state of the tree, the lush growth that fertiliser engenders, the incompatibility that a graft always creates, means the tree will be very susceptible to pest and disease.

Too many home and small growers look to the trees of a plant nursery and select those with the most vegetative growth, equating the green with health, but ignoring the roots that have been damaged by transplanting. The popular fashion of planting bare root fruit trees also easily ignores the terrible state of the roots of these trees, where there are often no smaller, feeder roots to be found, only the main root structure itself. No wonder growers are so often dissatisfied with the vigour of their trees when they get them home and plant them. It should always be remembered that for every centimetre of trunk diameter, there will be a year that the tree will need just to return to its former vigour. Although this says nothing of the pruning, feeding and spraying that will need to be done in order to develop a balance between the root and aerial parts, to provide the tree with the nutrients its roots are too weak or attenuated to provide themselves and to control the pests and diseases to which the weakened tree now becomes prone. And, perhaps it is also worth adding, that the poor transplanted tree, which had attempted to form itself to the natural conditions where it was originally grown, no longer knows which is South; its branch scaffolding becomes confused and the sap that normally runs to the North-West of the trunk, may now very well be directed straight at the sun!

In drier areas especially, fruit and nut trees must be seeded, only when treated as a tree and not as some a crop plant which we must care for, will the tree flourish and ultimately prosper just as in any woodland. If we transplant trees because we demand their particular fruit as quickly as possible we end up damaging the tree and thus damaging the fruit which is what we planted it for in the first place.

There is a truly magnificent cherry tree in France, self-seeded on the banks of a dry stream, in deep, alluvial soil, that has formed the most beautiful windswept form, harried by the Tramontane that sweeps in from the North-West. It produces a wonderful crop every year, is pest and disease free and I know that if it had been under the guidance of the local farmers, viticulteurs to a man, it would have been severely pruned, as are the vines, and never come to the perfection of form to which nature intended. This is again not wishful thinking but is revealed in a small viticulteurs orchard nearby. In this orchard are several cherry trees that are cared for by the viticulteur and the trees are sick, they run with sap, are infested with insects, have dying branches and although they produce a crop, so many of the cherries have insect and worm damage that they do not make good, natural food. The soil in the orchard is ploughed several times a year, each tree is blue from the copper sulphate sprayed on them. There is a sickly air to the orchard and none of the trees are healthy. There is an apple tree, seemingly healthy, laden with the most perfect red fruit that taste of absolutely nothing. Between the natural cherry tree and this ‘perfect’ apple tree the chasm between natural and conventional farming is revealed.

The only problem I have found with the natural cherry tree is that I must compete with the blackbirds and thrushes to harvest the cherries, for the moment they are ripe we all descend to enjoy this abundant feast and, if I miss the moment by a single day, the feast has gone!

Rule of Thumb: Seeded trees are always more healthy and vigorous than transplants

However, NF while suggesting to work with nature does not prescribe or proscribe any particular technique, everything is left to the NFer themselves, once they have come to realise the total interconnectedness of all things. Therefore, if for any ‘reason’ it seems necessary to transplant young fruit trees then that’s just what we must do. But, it must always be remembered to take extreme care in the process of transplanting; water the tree thoroughly the day before transplanting, take as much soil around the tree so as to not disturb the roots, replant it into its final place as soon as possible, ensure that the tree has the same direction toward the south as in its original position and most importantly, always transplant trees when they are as young as possible.

Grafting

There is no reason to graft fruit trees if we don’t want to. To let nature ‘sport’ is part of the joy of NF. However, there is also no need to keep fruit and nut trees that produce inedible or unusuable produce. Therefore, grafting can have its place like any other technique in NF as long as we never accept it as an automatic technique of orcharding. Unfortunately, it has become the technique of choice for modern conventional orchards. The reasons for this tendency to graft are numerous, but, as in all agriculture, there seems to be the desire to create a uniformity in nature and orchardists prefer to graft for no other reason than that they think grafting will produce more uniform trees. Yet, this is only now being discovered to not be true at all. There are many alternative growers who are finding that it is the tree itself that leads toward uniformity, where uniform planting material will produce uniform trees, whether on rootstocks or from seeded trees. From my experiences and from others using fruit trees on their own roots, there is growing evidence that many species actually bear better and more consistant fruit on their own roots.

It has long since been known and for just as long been ignored that degrees of incompatibility exist between between scions and rootstocks, and this is especially the case with dwarfing rootstocks, which have become the fashion of modern orcharding. Indeed, there have probably been many excellent varieties that have been discarded because they gave a poor performance on dwarfing rootstocks and it is becoming apparent that the biggest difference in fruit quality and flavour occurs between seeded and trees on dwarfing rootstocks. It is shocking to imagine just what we have lost through the automatic grafting of fruit and nut trees onto rootstocks to test their flavour. Left on the trees which produced their buds, these buds could have flowered and set fruit under the full, natural forces of nature and come to fulfil their potential as fruit. And it must be our desire to taste these natural fruit that is our great motivator for growing fruit trees on their own roots. Ultimately, it is better to keep trees on their own roots, despite them taking longer to come into production and taking up more space.

Rule of Thumb: Incompatability always exists in grafts and this always weakens the tree

In grafting, as in all NF, it also worthwhile to intervene as early as possible. Therefore, grafting should take place when the tree is as young as possible, it is best done when the rootstock is not much more than a year old and the diameter of the trunk is no more than that of a pencil. It is also important that we use a tree that has not been tranplanted.

Rule of Thumb: Better graft than transplant as roots support leaves, never vice versa

A non-grafted tree is always more vigorous and lives longer than a grafted tree – thus the ultimate effect of grafting is always negative. All grafts create a measure of incompatibility and therefore weaken the plant leaving it open to pest and disease attack; if you graft English or Persian Walnut, Juglans regia, onto Black Walnut, J. nigra, it is true the tree will come into production earlier, but the tree will also die after about 30 years or so. If we just seed an English Walnut it will take time to begin production but it will then produce walnuts for four hundred years and a produce a prized wood too. If a pear, Pyrus communis, is grafted onto quince, Cydona oblonga, then the resulting tree will be dwarfed, creating an imbalance between roots and aerial parts ensuring the extra work of pruning becomes necessary. But if this pruning is too radical the aerial parts grow too quickly at the expense of the fruits and they become small and malformed.

If grafted trees are left to themselves they will acquire an unnatural form that will result in years of unending labour for the grower. Therefore, it is necessary to intervene in some way to help the grafted tree come to find its natural form. Pinching back to correct the arrangement of the branches is always better than to take a saw to the tree because the tree will have wasted its energy producing these ‘unwanted’ branches and because such cuts leave the tree open to disease, especially in the early period where it is trying to develop a natural balance.

Rule of Thumb: Apply the minimum of intervention at the earliest stage possible

If these grafted trees show normal, steady growth right from the start and assume a nearly natural form, they can be left alone. However, it is all too easy to assume that a tree grown in a natural state will more easily acquire a natural form anyway. Yet it is not through abandonment that a cultivated tree takes on a natural form, but only through the most careful attention and protection. Once we have interfered in some way with the growing tree, we must then take on the responsibility for the continuing health of this tree throughout its life.

Pruning

Why do we prune fruit and nut trees? Do we really know better than nature how to grow a tree?

We should not prune, just as we should not graft, just as we should not transplant, if we don’t want to. So, perhaps, we should look at just what makes us want to do any of these techniques. When we look at the wants that drive us forward we quickly open up a Pandora’s Box of desires that seem to quickly begin to expand out of control! NF is not about the growing of crops but the perfection and cultivation of human being because NF turns the light of reason back upon the creator of reason himself and this reversal, although it begins to make us uncomfortable, is the very necessary first step of the leap into NF.

If we seed fruit and nut trees there is really very little left for us to do. Is it this not doing that makes us uncomfortable? When the discomfort becomes too great do we pick up the pruning saw and loppers and stride out into the orchard to impose ourselves on the trees, to make them our trees and thus our fruit so we can come to possess the produce of the orchard? But all pruning weakens the tree, has the potential to allow pests and diseases to enter, strips the tree of the energy it has put into growing the branches and leaves the tree confused as to how to send out new branches to keep a healthy and natural form. Do we really do all this because we are uncomfortable being with ourselves with nothing to do, because we must feel that it is us who make the tree fruit?

Do trees, left to themselves, have a natural form to which we should leave them? Is there a form to which each tree relates, so that when we must transplant or graft, we can then learn how to bring the tree to this natural form? Attending to nature can we really learn to tend?

Gerald Manley Hopkins seems to have been somehow alive to nature in a way so few of us are, although nature is always simple and close to hand, we seem to always pass it over as if we already understand it, as if its meaning and form were obvious. Here is his feeling of oak trees, their wonder and form of growth;

Oaks: the organisation of this tree is difficult. Speaking generally no doubt the determining

planes are concentric, a system of brief contiguous and continuous tangents, whereas those

of the cedar would roughly be called horizontals and those of the beech radiating but

modified by droop and screw-set towards jutting points. But beyond this since the normal

growth of the boughs is radiating and the leaves grow some way in there is of course a

system of spoke-wise clubs of green, sleeve-pieces. And since the end shoots curl and carry

young and scanty leaf-stars, these clubs are tapered.

(From GMH Notebooks, p108, Poems and Prose, Penguin Classics, 1985)

While we can wander in nature and see trees that have not felt a human hand and follow their shape as they grow, fruit and nut trees, because of their ability to provide food that humans prize, have been removed from their natural setting into one in which human knowledge dictates their growth patterns. It is only very rarely now that we find such trees growing wild and therefore giving us a glimpse into the natural form.

But when we look at natural trees it is very rare to find primary branches that impede each other, or grow branches that never reach the sun. It would seem, therefore, appropriate to believe that fruit and nut trees grown naturally would also not grow in any haphazard way but follow their own form. Such natural form even has a scientific name, phyllotaxy, yet I have never come across the linking of phyllotaxy with the pruning of orchards? But it is obvious we must forget about the growing of fruit and nut trees under agricultural rules and return again to nature to try to understand anew.

If we are fortunate to find examples of mature trees that have never been transplanted, pruned or damaged in any way, then we have a very rare resource indeed, one well worth observing deeply. But we must not allow ourselves to be confused by the many fruit trees that have been abandoned, as their form will have been confused by transplanting, grafting, pruning or all three together and even though the tree might have been able to have the health to grow into adulthood and produce fruit, its structure will tell us nothing about the species natural form.

Each tree, every leaf, every shoot and every branch grows out from the stalk or trunk in a regular fashion that is not haphazard, but follows some natural order. That trees grow upward toward the sky is too obvious perhaps to be mentioned, but this orientation is a necessity for the rest of the plants development. For each bud, leaf and eventual branch takes this vertical orientation and then either develops alternately or oppositely and its angle of incidence to the sun then always remains the same on any single tree. Masanobu Fukuoka was a man as deeply imbued with nature as Gerard Manley Hopkins, but where Hopkins sought to capture God in the forms of nature, Fukuoka took the rivers, mountains and the great Earth not as filled with God, but literally as God. He wanted to let the naturing of nature, the simple ineffability of what is to be his only guide. Here he describes clearly his insight, his deeply religious yet eminently practical approach, expressed in the form of the growth of fruit and nut trees on his farm;

Thus, the sixth leaf on the branches of peach, persimmon, mandarin orange, orange,

and cherry trees is always located directly above the first leaf, and the eleventh leaf is

always directly above the sixth leaf. When the distance along the branch between two

consecutive buds is one inch, then the distance from one leaf to the next leaf directly

above it is always five inches. Two leaves will not overlap, or two branches emerge,

within any five-inch length along the branch. The direction, angle, and divergence of

a shoot or branch is regular and orderly. Never does one branch cross over another;

lower and upper branches maintain the same distance over their entire length, never

overlapping. This is why the branches and leaves of natural plants all receive equal

ventilation and sunlight. Not a single wasted leaf, not a single branch lacking—that is

the true form of a plant. (NWF p???)

That there is a regular unfolding of everything to which we must pay attention there is no doubt. Yet, to experience this unfolding we must first come to no-mind, where our preconceived ideas are let go and we are open to the expression of what is. Only by being open can we begin to understand just how to farm naturally. All pruning must only ever be done from out of this openness, where the natural form of each tree has become deeply imprinted upon us and only ever when the tree itself, for whatever reason, has lost its natural form.

Rule of Thumb: The greatest skill in pruning is knowing when not to prune

If I am forced to say anything about pruning I think all I would say is that if trees are transplanted or grafted, then the best means of pruning is not the cutting of wood but the rubbing off of new buds that if they grew and developed would unbalance the tree. This minimal interference reduces the impact of pruning on the tree, ensuring that its energies are not lost but conserved and directed toward its natural form. Yet, even the rubbing off of a single bud requires we know what this form should be, because otherwise we might leave the tree confused by even this seemingly insignificant act.

What does this poor attempt at a system of pruning reveal? That only by letting the seeded tree grow itself is the whole rationale of pruning attained and that without any effort. No book has ever been written on the natural form of individual fruit trees, but it is a book I await with great interest.

But, a word of caution. There is no fundamental or absolute form that each individual fruit or nut tree must take. Conditions always takes precedence over every ‘things’ innate unfolding. The wind-sculpted cherry tree I mention above does not have a form anywhere near the tall, stately cherry trees I’ve seen growing in the forests in the hills close to Florence, Italy. Nor does the huge olive tree growing in a ruin near my land in the Corbiéres have the same form as the extraordinarily small, wind-sculpted, ‘bonsai’ tree on the Mediterranean coast of the Corbiéres Maritime. To search for and then impose a ‘true’ form upon a tree is to once more return to the world of reason, which as an intellectual exercise will always miss the Earth.

Orchardists have never concerned themselves with the natural form of fruit and nut trees because they have been intent upon maximising yield and the form that fits best into the orchard’s management. Perhaps this is why dwarfing rootstocks are so popular, it makes harvesting so much easier. Or, perhaps, the pruner takes into his mind one particular factor, such as light intensity and then removes the central leader because this is the form best suited to peaches or olives. But can such simplistic reduction of the form of the tree actually be in step with the natural form? When all factors and their interrelationships are taken into account, any pretence to understanding is soon lost amidst the exponentially multiplying factors that must be taken into account. The one abiding factor that we do know about pruning is that if we begin then we can never stop! Once a single bud is removed, let alone a whole branch or leader, the tree has lost its equilibrium and growth begins to be irregular and confused.

Pruning is the single most complicated part of traditional orchard management, but in NF such knowledge is dangerous as it leads us to believe we know better than the tree how to grow. The work in a natural orchard is simplified to the point where only if some natural damage is caused to the tree must any pruning. Therefore, it is worthwhile taking measures to reduce possible damage to these trees, especially when they are small and more vulnerable. Perhaps the simplest things to do are to fence the land to avoid the young trees being damaged by rabbits deer or other creatures and to plant a windbreak around the orchard in order to reduce the damage high winds can effect.

It is often thought that allowing a natural tree to grow will use up far more space than those on some kind of rootstock, thus requiring more surface area to produce the same yield of fruit or nuts. However, most fruit trees form an erect central trunk, which means it is does not actually spread as widely as feared. And the extra height allows for more fruit to be produced vertically, thereby avoiding the worry about reduced fruit yield per unit area. The open-centre management of some fruit trees spread the branches that would otherwise, in nature, grow upward and evenly distribute the light through the branches. The pruned form also has the unfortunate result of reducing the sunlight on lower branches, causing branches to die and leaving the tree more exposed to pests and diseases.

A modern concern, especially prevalent in the olive industry, is the need for insurance for fruit pickers and the real fear of a law suit being brought should their be an accident. There is a strong move to reducing the height of the olive trees in order for the fruit to be picked from the ground. Now, with an olive tree, which, however one abuses it with overzealous pruning, will remain relatively disease and pest free and live for many, many centuries this is not necessarily a problem, but this is not true for the vast majority of our common fruit and nut trees. However foolish it may sound, allowing trees to grow naturally, also allows them to produce regular, scaffold branches that work the way up and round the tree, making picking quite easy. Primary scaffold branches should emerge from the central trunk at an angle of 40 degrees to the horizontal and extend outward at an angle of about 20 degrees. And, when about 3 metres high, five or six secondary scaffold branches extend out in a spiral pattern. NF is also an activity that is based around family or small or village communities and in such groups, the need for insurance and the likelihood of being sued should be far less. Such insurance and legal headaches are for an agriculture that has become divorced from the land and its people and has become instead, like the rest of our modern world, industrialised.

Hard pruning of vigorous trees, which is often undertaken to keep them in their allotted space, only encourages the tree to grow more vigorously and become unfruitful. It has unfortunately been the case that this discovery has lead orchardists to imagine the vigorous trees grown from seed will likewise be unfruitful. If treated in this same way seeded fruit trees will indeed become unfruitful, however, if pruning were never attempted, these trees would develop their own particular fruitfulness according to their own nature; for some this will mean poor or only moderate fruitfulness, but for others this will mean good or even excellent fruitfulness.

Orchard Ground Cover

The moment the fruit and nut trees begin to start controlling the soil of the orchard is the moment to give a hand to the orchard ground cover. This occurs when the shading the trees provide inhibits the natural growth of grasses and opens the soil to a variety of other plants

A good orchard ground cover is important in all temperate regions and must be adapted to particular types of soil and climate. When done well, the combination of the trees and ground cover draw nutrients deep from the ground and cycle them in the leaves and wood of the trees, bushes, vines and ground cover. A well maintained orchard ensures a diverse and active soil life which, again, ensures that all nutrients are kept in the active, surface layer of the soil, available to the plants as they need them and then as they die or the leaves are shed the micro-organisms feed on this dead material making it available once again.

For ground cover in these young orchards it is best to collect the seeds from the many varieties of leguminous plants that grow locally. This can include alfalfa (Medicago sativa) that has escaped from the fields and become naturalised, black medic (Medicago lupulina) which produces many seeds in the summer and is easy to collect, but there is also rest harrow (Ononis spinosa) in the drier areas, and many types of clover (Trifolium spp), especially those with white flowers (T. repens) and pink flowers (T. ????) (aren’t there some with yellow flowers too) and what about bur clover/woolly clover???, there are certainly some of these) that covers a wide range of soil conditions. All these allow the collection of seeds in the summer and therefore can be broadcast (I would recommend seedballing such seeds to avoid unnecessary loss to predation) as the first rains of autumn appear (this can be anywhere from Mid-August to the end of September). Grasses should be kept to a minimum in the early stages of a Natural Orchard, because these dryland grasses are very hardy, grow quite high to block out the sun to the seedlings and they, like most grasses have an allelopathic effect on the plants that grow around them, thus they will inhibit the growth of the trees in their early years. Grasses are far less of a concern in later years and once the trees have grown to spread a canopy over the ground, the grasses will become less of a problem.

By introducing these leguminous plants as the soil begins to transform beneath the trees as they become established, annual weeds are soon replaced, followed by biennial weeds and within a few years nearly all weeds have vanished leaving a dense sward of different legumes all contributing to the growing fertility of the soil; although it is necessary to cut the grasses and weeds at flowering to ensure they do not add there seed to the soil.

It is perfectly appropriate to sow clover, alfalfa or other leguminous plants in orchards as soil improvers, despite much advice to the contrary from conventional farmers. There is much talk of these plants competing with trees for resources and, while this is true when trees are too closely planted, it should not be the case on a natural farm where each tree is given its own space. Although it is wise to be careful of having the extremely deep-rooted alfalfa too close to the trees and in too dense stands. Alfalfa also, once established, provides much nitrogen-rich biomass that can be scythed and mulched when drought strikes, helping to protect the soil from the sun, retain moisture and therefore help the micro-organisms at the surface continue their worl of breaking down the nitrogenous matter for the hungry tree roots.

In Normandy, France, where drought is less prevalent, they have developed different meadow mixes that can be applied to any maritime climates, where, away from trees, perennial ryegrass and white clover predominates, mixes optimal from the point of view of the quality of the grazing for sheep, whereas, under the trees, less exacting grasses are grown that are less good quality as fodder.

However, ultimately, as in all things to do with NF, what should or should not be used as a ground cover depends on local conditions. If the soil is deep and good then leguminous plants are not as critical and a natural cover of weeds can probably provide more for the trees, as long as they can be scythed easily so that they do not come to interfere with the trees. These weeds appear for a reason and if we can work with them, rather than against them, then we approach that much closer to NF. The ground cover never remains the same across time anyway, some plants fade away and others appear for the first time as the soil comes to favour their growth. In well developed soils it is even possible to start sowing some of the hardiest plants that we use as vegetables. Although we should keep a cool head and not expect to simply scatter the seeds of whichever vegetable we fancy and expect to return a few months later and make a salad!

It can take a long time to improve poor soils by natural methods, yet it does so in a way that is in keeping with the natural rhythms of life. It is quite possible to do the work in a far shorter time with heavy machinery and large amounts of organic matter – and the work of Permaculture has begun to show exactly how to do this without the catastrophic loss of topsoil. Yet, in the true accounting, these machines, the materials from which they’re made, its extraction and transport to the factory, the fuels and oil to run them and the work needed to keep them in good repair and similarly, the growth and extraction of the organic material, its transportation, all add an immense cost that has never properly been accounted. Some interesting work on the true ‘energy’ accounting of our wasteful society, has even taken consideration of the energy used by the workers driving to the factories to build these immense machines!

When everything is considered, it is never quite so simple to decide these things as we first imagine. Therefore, it is always better to favour what happens by itself, because, when properly understood this then requires no effort at all. The improvement of soil through Nitrogen-fixing trees and an appropriate ground cover, the seeding of the fruit and nut trees and their growth, all work in a single direction, coherently, as one. Whereas the use of machinery, the physical forcing of organic material into the soil, the planting of young trees and their accompanying grafts, act in multiple directions, incoherently, sometimes divisively. I do not know whether this is a ‘truth’ that must be followed as dogma, but if we open ourselves to nature, when we look free from conceptualisations of fertility, quality and yield, we can begin to perceive that trees that require no inputs from elsewhere, very little maintenance, reduce and even turn back the tide of desertification and live 3-10 times longer than modern, grafted varieties, there arises something that has been passed over in silence, a suggestion, a suggestivity, of another way than that with which we currently impose on the world, something so simple that in our constant hurry we seem to have long ago passed over as if unworthy of notice.

I cannot make any boasts about the long term fertility, quality and yield of the small natural orchards I have seeded in France or in Spain, as I am too young to have seen them grow, mature and settle into full productivity across many decades. I never shall, for unless we seed such orchards at our births, none of us are blessed with lives long enough to see the full production of such orchards, and no one can see out the complete lifetime of natural orchards. And, perhaps, that is the very reason why it is that the NF of fruit and nut trees has never been attempted. When we set out consciously with the goal of producing a high yielding orchard we create the present to future, cause to effect dualism that seems to be at the root of so much human behaviour. We plant the young trees, we graft on high yielding or high quality cultivars and we irrigate, prune, fertilise and spray so that we achieve our goal. In this type of thinking the possession of the desired end is the end itself, not the the health of the trees, the health of the orchard, the health of the Earth – we, the person who created the orchard, demand that it is we who receive its benefits. Perhaps it is for this reason that the average age of orchards has tumbled over the last centuries with some apple and pear orchards on dwarfing rootstock now living only 15 years, allowing us to have 3 or maybe even four orchards within our own lifetime – just another sign of high modern consumption perhaps?

A natural orchard cannot be possessed, it passes beyond our short lives and on into the next generation and the generation after that. We seed a natural orchard for our children and our grand children. A natural orchard is a natural orchard not because it is labelled so, but because we allow nature to grow it as nature will and at nature’s pace. This natural way of farming is beyond the goals and the theories we create to achieve our desires, it is beyond our reason. A natural orchard grows because it grows, it blooms because it blooms.

However, there is one man who experienced a natural orchard for 50 years and he concludes;

Because it is convenient and for no other reason, we compare the merits of soil obtained through scientific farming with the soil of a natural orchard by looking at the amount of tree growth, the quantity and quality of harvested fruit, and whether the trees bear a full crop every year or only in alternate years. Even under such criteria, …natural farming compares favourably with scientific farming in every respect. In fact, such comparison leaves the strong impression that scientific farming is more labour intensive and less efficient than natural farming.

(NWF p???)

A natural tree within a natural orchard allows for the best use of all the resources available and therefore the highest natural yield. It can sometimes seem that by doing this or that to the tree as part of orchard management practice we might raise these yields. But this is simply an mirage projected by the intellect. For the lifetime of the orchard there is no higher yield possible but that provided by the full forces of nature. Only by means of the input of expensive amendments or irrigation can this basic equation be changed. But we have now reached a moment when we have to ask ourselves, in all seriousness, do we still have the water resources with which to meet this extra need? Do we have the material resources and the right to continue taking them? Do we have the energy freely to hand to put all these resources into motion? It is right now, in this moment that we must start our own NF orchards, otherwise what will we eat when it is no longer ‘economically’ possible to ship them in from the four corners of the world?

Pests and Disease

The discussion of pest and disease management in natural orchards has been lacking so far and it will remain that way. The best method of control is no control at all. In nature disease and pest damage do not exist. If we do not plough, weed, fertilise, prune, spray then the there is no more reason for diseases and pests to appear in a natural orchard than in a normal wood. This does not mean that there will be no pests or diseases but that their appearance or not makes no difference to the way we work in the orchard. Just as in a natural wood there will be those trees that, for whatever reason, are weak and grow poorly and are attacked and killed by whatever pest or disease, so there will be trees in the natural orchard that will grow poorly and will eventually be killed. That is just what happens and all we need do is seed more trees to take the place of those that do not flourish. In NF, as in nature itself, everything begins and ends in seeds and then begins again.

Canopy Medium Small Acid Base Humid Dry Deep Shallow N-Fix Uses
Alder x x x x
Italian Alder x x x x
Chestnut x x x Nut
Honey Locust x x Forage
Beech x x x Nut
Cherry(Merrisier) x x x Fruit &Wood
Walnut x x x x Nut
Plane x x x x
Poplar Lombardy x x x x
Lime x x Tea
Strawberry Tree x x x Fruit
Cypress x x x
Maple x x x Sap
Ash x x x x Wood
Willow x x x Crafts
Mimosa x x x x x Flowers
Black Locust x x x Flowers
Bay Tree x x x Culinary
Apricot x x x x Fruit
Almond x x x Nut
Judas Tree x x x Flowers
Cherry(small) x x x Fruit
Quince x x x x Fruit
Hazel x x x Nut
Olive x x x x Fruit
Plum x x x Fruit
Elder x x x Fruit
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About Jamie Nicol

Living in the forested hills of Catalonia, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Zen teacher, recovering philosopher, small-scale natural farmer. Writing just what comes.
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