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Early Spring Farm Walk Provides Innovation and Inspiration

Posted by struscott | April 11, 2008

They came to learn about managing fruit trees organically, innovative grafting techniques and running an on-site seasonal fruit stand. Over 30 people heard from seasoned experts and took part in a grafting demonstration at the first Farm Walk of the year at Nicholson Orchards in Peshastin.

Orchardist Dennis Nicholson (in blue sweatshirt) describes his organic tree fruit production system
Orchardist Dennis Nicholson (in blue sweatshirt) describes his organic tree fruit production system

“To farm organically you must constantly seek ways to improve your skills,” said third generation orchard owner Dennis Nicholson who discussed marketing strategies along with his organic pest management practices, soil fertility, and pruning. Of the 50 acres at Nicholson Orchards, ten are certified organic, another ten are transitioning from conventional to organic and the rest are under consideration.

“It’s more of a challenge to grow organically. You need to get your sprays on in a much more timely way,” added Nicholson.

Organic pest control practices such as Kaolin clay applications and mating disruption were discussed in detail. Kaolin clay, processed in Georgia and sold under the brand name Surround, is the very same non-toxic clay used in toothpaste and antacids. Pear psylla do not like it, so they lay fewer eggs in it, and other pest eggs are smothered with an early spring application.

In mating disruption, pheromone dispensers placed throughout the orchard effect codling moth mating behavior so that that damage to trees is greatly reduced. “This technique has had a huge impact on the way people manage codling moth in fruit trees, whether conventional or organic,” said Michel Wiman, research associate for the WSU Small Farms Program and Farm Walk Coordinator.

Growers, community members and researchers also watched professional grafters Michael Hampel and Liz Eggers as they explained their method for joining older root stocks with new varieties, and the importance of properly preparing tree surfaces and aftercare. They participated in cutting, taping and painting woody surfaces in order to graft new Gala shoots onto Red Delicious trunks.

Professional grafter Michael Hampel demonstrates grafting on fruit trees
Professional grafter Michael Hampel demonstrates grafting on fruit trees

“An advantage to grafting is that you can utilize the stored energy held in the roots to grow a new tree quicker than if you were to cut the tree down and plant a new one,” explained Hampel. “Depending on the size of the tree, it will then produce fruit within two to four years,” he added.

Nicholson Orchards features pears, apples, cherries, peaches, raspberries and grapes. Their fruit, along with some of their neighbors, is available at their fruit stand from June through October. To learn more about their farm go to ourorchard.com. The Farm Walk was co-sponsored by Tilth Producers of Washington and the WSU Small Farms Team.

By Betsy Fradd
WSU Extension

Professional grafter Liz Eggers explains grafting techniques
Professional grafter Liz Eggers explains grafting techniques