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Do we Spray? Are We Organic?

From Diary of an English Orchard
Stephen Hayes, MD
These notes first appeared in the Botley parish magazine. They attempt to be a frank and candid account of our doings in the orchard and were to some extent inspired by a similar column written by David Macer-Wright in the Countryman magazine several decades ago.
We were really keen to be organic, to the extent that we tried to control weeds by hoeing and did no spraying at all. We spent many an hour working up the rows squashing the caterpillars that were eating our trees, between finger and thumb. It took us about 3 years to accept the fact that this approach was totally unrealistic and it wasn't working. We had severe infestations of winter moth caterpillars, apple scab, mildew, apple sawfly, rosy apple aphid, twig cutter weevil, capsid bug, codling moth and what not. Many trees died, others were stunted. The "Organically" managed apple trees looked as if someone had fired a couple of shotgun rounds through them and then thrown a bucket of dilute slurry over them. I wept. When in the third year we had our first crop, 19 out of 20 Apples had one or more Codling moth maggots in it. There was clearly no future in this so we decided to start spraying. The trees were overjoyed at this decision and shot ahead, relieved of their heavy load of pests and diseases.

Of course we would strongly prefer not to spray, but even "organic" growers spray with total killer poisons like nicotine which is OK by them as it comes from a plant. The customer will not accept a scabby, maggoty apple, let alone pay a premium price necessary for it since the crop yield is reduced by the pest load. Sorry about that. Of course we use an absolute minimum of pesticide, not least because it costs money and it's very uncomfortable to trudge up and down the orchard rows on a dry summer's day in protective clothing with a 15 litre knapsack sprayer on your back. Believe me, I would rather be writing poetry or making daisy chains. But don't be put off by this frankness, anything you eat from the shops is sprayed, and safety rules are stringent and enforced. We are the canaries, as not only do we eat massive amounts of our own fruit, to say nothing of the cider, but we are spraying them for hours, if anyone was going to have a problem it would be us. The last spray goes on by midsummer, so the dew, the wind and the rain has been on the fruit for 2 months after the last application before it gets to you.

In 1999, the Guardian published some research on pesticide residues in supermarket bought fruit. 75% of samples had no detectable pesticide residue at all, most of the rest were within legal limits of residue, only about 4% had significant levels of pesticide residues, and these were all imported. We are confident that no pesticides will be found in our fruit, although it will be found to contain vitamins, antioxidants with their health benefits, and plenty of flavour.

Remember, and I speak as a medical man, that all the research (and there is a lot of it) that shows the health benefits of eating fruit (reduced cancers, less heart disease, improved lung function etc) as opposed to not eating it, was done with sprayed fruit-there is no other kind in the shops. No spray=very little fruit.

Stephen Hayes is a medical doctor and fruit grower in Botley, England

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 King Orchards Copyright 2003, 2004 Apple Journal
updated - March 18th, 2004
 Apple Journal
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