"So, let's get cracking, shall we?" writes Michael Phillips in the introduction to his latest book: The Holistic Orchard: Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way, and it is in this charming voice that he delivers a comprehensive prescription for healthy trees and good fruit. Grounded in science, extensive research, and his own experience, Phillips compiles an orcharding primer that challenges, engages, and entices. Home growers and small-scale producers alike will find information to spark their imagination and ideas to put into action.
Phillips begins not with the trees, but with the soil. System health is his mantra, and the first four chapters on orchard ecosystems, horticulture, design, and dynamics map a living system of which the trees are a part and fruit is the product. Chemicals, even those accepted by organic standards, only do harm. He makes the case that a healthy ecosystem supported by an observant orchardist fosters resilient trees that produce fruit of higher nutritional quality. Orcharding basics such as pruning, grafting, and mowing are integrated into a list of chores that includes creating orchard compost to promote beneficial fungi (the feeder roots' best friends); applying sprays (recipes included) to bolster immune systems or bar invaders; and planting a diverse array of plants and berries to create a welcoming understory for beneficials. Equipment lists and a seasonal calendar based on tree activity above and below ground are also part of the practical advice found here.
Finally, the fruits themselves are featured, and the descriptions of heirloom and modern varieties conjure images of sun-warmed cherries, blueberry pie, and homemade apple cider. These are accompanied by suggestions for rootstock, disease and pest control, and tailored harvest instructions. An extensive appendix lists a variety of resources for further research.
Phillips' is technical at times, and readers may find a dictionary and a soil text such as Teaming with Microbes helpful. Experienced orchardists will discover plenty of food for thought while new growers will obtain all they need to begin planning and perhaps even planting. Both will gather a satisfying harvest at the end of the season.