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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Bay Buzz on apples

Which would you rather eat… A soft, bland dull-coloured apple or a crunchy, sweet, bright-skinned apple with light-up-your-tongue flavour?

Roger Curtis

Roger Curtis of Shiloh Orchards in Hastings knows how to produce the second type of apple and he’s convinced it all starts in the soil. He’s into his fifth season of using biological approaches to apple growing and after 30 years of orcharding experience he’s convinced he’s on to the secret to true fruit quality.

He relates how he started experimenting with a bit of this and that – some seaweed spray, a different spray for colour – but he says it wasn’t until he went to an Arden Andersen biological soils course that he was able to ‘connect the dots’ and then he was in boots and all.

For him that means an Abron microbe-active, composted calcium blend, biology-friendly phosphorous in the form of guano, sodium, sulphur and other key trace elements. He applies foliar nutrition sprays throughout the growing season to boost photosynthesis and nourish the important beneficial microbes on the leaf surfaces.

His fertiliser bill is half what it was before and his fruit quality is stunning.

He notes other changes as well. His orchard sward used to be rough ‘Tryffid’ weeds that climbed up into the fruit zone and needed double strength herbicide to control them. There were few worms and no sign of soil fungal activity. Four years on, he has lower growing, soft weeds and grasses, with practically no mallow.

When he stopped using glyphosate he stopped having signs of manganese deficiency in his apple leaves. “If you get your soil minerals in balance, especially good levels of calcium, the weeds change and aren’t really an issue. The biological activity in the soil goes way up when you stop herbicides.” Roger knows his orchard soils are doing a good job of nutrient recycling because his green drop apples disappear quickly and become food for the tree and the crop. He can go to a conventional orchard and still see tiny apples undigested on the surface for weeks.

Roger’s wife Rachel consistently samples throughout the season to chart the Brix levels in the apple leaves. Brix levels record the percentage of sugars and minerals in fruit or leaf sap and are powerful indicators of flavour as well. Rachel’s four years of sampling has resulted in a chart that documents how Brix levels at the beginning of the season have been higher each year. This means the trees are getting healthier and the leaves are better nourished from the balanced mineral applications and from contented soil microbes.

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