Lehman's Orchard LLC :: Our Growing Practices
Sustainable Fruit Production, Horticultural Practices at Lehman's Orchard LLC
As growers, our work is never complete: We are always looking for the next best practice. We strive to visit other orchards, wineries, fruit processing plants and cideries both in the United States and abroad to learn what others are doing better and more successfully with less impact on our environment. In addition, we attend seminars and classes as well as read everything we can get our hands on to further our sustainability practices.
High Tunnel Practices:
We grow one acre of raspberries, sweet cherries, and apricots under high tunnels not using chemicals. The purpose of the covered tunnels is to keep the crops inside dry, free from insect and fungus damage. Drip irrigation is used only along the crop rows minimizing pressure from weeds. The high tunnels protect the fruit crops from wind, hail, rain, frost, dew, and keep the inside temperatures more moderate allowing the plants and trees inside to reach their full potential. The crops from the high tunnels are sold at our farmers markets stands as, "no spray."
Our cultural practices making IPM application possible:
We farm a smaller acreage so that we can meticulously care for our healthy crops thereby limiting disease pressure. We keep the orchards clean and free of disease by constantly mowing and pruning. Our farm has two 5 inch wells and is fully trickle irrigated. Our orchards are planted in styles, (i.e., high density slender spindle in apples, vsp in grapes, open center in peaches and cherries, which encourage early fruit ripening and discourage disease and overproduction). We have over 100 different varieties of fruits which are carefully chosen for our climate and for their disease resistance, (i.e., Gold Rush Apple). During the season, we constantly hand-pick ripe fruit to eliminate disease risk.
Our cultural practice of high density planting of all crops (early fruit production and canopy establishment) minimizes the need for additional herbicides within the row. Consequently, a lot of our weeding is done by hand. We only weed for the first half of the year. Having weeds in the row for the last half of the year encourages soil fertility and keeps the underlying layers of soil loose.
Rotate the crop and begin anew:
For the last 15 years, we have typically planted annual rye through the winter, then incorporate it into the soil and plant the next fruit crop. Last year, we added another step to this process and it is called biofumigation. By adding summer covers to the ground like Sorghum Sudan grass, the underlying layers of soil are broken up (the sorghum roots go deeper than rye) and the biomass adds nutrition to the soil and cuts down the Nematode populations. Because of the high cost of oil, we are gladly raising our own nitrogen in the row middles rotations of rye, grain and oats.
We use modern Integrated Pest Management techniques to reduce the amount of spray needed… usually by 50 percent per application (We recognize the disease quickly, time the spray to prevent the disease before it can ruin the crop). We do not adhere to a conventional weekly spray schedule, instead we carefully time sprays to just before and after a moisture event, which allows us to only spray when necessary, reducing the number of sprays from a regular spray program. It takes more time and work, but we feel it is worth it.
Insects: We monitor and treat pest populations of apple maggot (sticky trap for recognition and apple maggot traps control), plum curculio (degree days), cherry fruit fly (yellow sticky trap and usually does not arrive until after harvest), peach tree borer (degree days and look for larvae and treat with pheromone strips), codling moth (Isomate pheromone strips last through the season), oriental fruit moth (pheromone strips last through the season), encouraging predator populations (rose bushes on perimeter, no mow strips of weeds and flowers, rotation of insecticide sprays). The new bat houses installed in 2009 will be extra insurance keeping insect populations low.
Fungicides: Prevention is the key. We time sprays and prevent cherry leaf spot (copper early and sulfur when warm weather hits), bacterial canker in peach (mechanical hedging, copper sprays late/early in year, mechanical removal and burning of trimmings), fire blight in apples and pears (timing of antibiotic sprays critical in region, mechanical removal and burning of infected branches only in dormant season, copper sprays in early season), scab in apples, pears (ebdc fungicides at 1/3 rate prevent most disease timed just before and after weather event), peach scab (sulfur sprays at 50 percent rate timed just before and after weather event).
Ralph Lehman, my school teacher grandfather, grew 50 acres of U-Pick tart cherries in a sod system of weekly mowing throughout the growing season. This constant mowing of grass built the soil. We keep this in mind when we add fertilizer of manure or calcium nitrate and only apply lesser rates when the plants are actively growing. We apply 100 tons of hay mulch to different sections of the orchard per year. This typically covers 7-8 acres and 15-18 percent of the acreage is rotated every 6 years.
Organizations we participate with/Subscribe to:
Great Lakes Cider & Perry International Association
Good Fruit Grower
Great Lakes Fruit
International Fruit Tree Association
Michigan Grape Society
Minnesota Grape Growers Association
Taster's Guild International
University of Michigan Agriculture Extension
University of Minnesota