It’s a challenge, every year, to get tree care tailored to the orchard’s needs. Our trees were selected for early, mid, and late season harvest–with some overlapping pollinators. Unlike a larger scale orchard, these all bud, leaf, and blossom at different times. Spring care is a crapshoot, in any event, doubly so for our motley collection.

We do spray–but we use organics. For early season care, we do two dormant sprays–the first is just a food-grade mineral oil, and the second is food grade mineral oil and garlic. Timing the first is easier; it can be done anytime when the tree is dormant. (Though, preferably not when things are freezing, or wet, or…. or.) It’s also helpful if you can nab a two-day window following, without precipitation. And, of course you want to avoid spraying in a high wind. Even with organics where overspray is not a toxic issue, spraying in the wind is just a waste.

This year we had weird weather–a rolling month of warm days and freezing nights. It confuses the poor trees. They’re inclined to bloom (and some did), only to lose the blossoms to the freeze. This won’t be a heavy fruiting year. And, you need to watch that those freeze damaged blooms don’t become a pathway to disease–like fire blight. You have to be ready to prune off branch tips that wither or turn black. I’m especially keeping an eagle eye on the pear trees, as they can quickly succumb to neglected fire blight damage. It appears that freezing is no longer a risk. But warm weather, and its attendant bug-load has come on fast, nearly tripping over itself to invade the orchard.

The mineral oil acts as a barrier, smothering eggs left on the tree from the last season and then killing and dissuading the early spring pests. The challenge each year is to time the second spray. Too early and you’ve wasted the effort. Too late and the bugs get a foothold. This year, the leaf-rollers have got ahead of me on two of the trees. Leaf-roller is a generic term for those little caterpillar larvae that hatch early and then make tiny tents out of the emerging leaves. I have at least three different varieties. I don’t have a window of weather opportunity for my second spray until Thursday. In the meantime, I’m taking attendance and squishing them when I see them. And I go out every other day or so, hunting them down, gently opening up their tents, to avoid damaging the tender leaves, and killing them. You can spot them easily enough by the bent-over foliage.

A real farmer, with an orchard full of trees, couldn’t possibly babysit like I do. I understand why they spray poisons. We laugh about how the local cherry farmers are always whining about the weather. I can afford the time to avert the worst of the infestations, and I don’t need market-perfect fruit. Even with the weird weather, things don’t look too bad so far. Maintaining an orchard is just like comedy, it’s all in the timing.

My biggest challenge is the rose chafers. We lost a plum tree to their damage last year, but this year, we’re ready. We bought bug-netting, and we’re going to wrap them like lollipops. So there!