If I could give this book 10 stars, I would.
This is the BEST book on holistic orcharding out there. While it's accessible, Phillips isn't afraid to get down in the dirt and go for technical biological details. A huge amount of information, but this didn't leave me wondering where to begin- he takes care of that by stepping you through the timeline and process. As soon as I'd finished reading, I started over and read it again. We all have areas that are more difficult for us than others, and some chapters will require me to study them carefully before I master the detail. I know I'll be referring to it frequently, and as my knowledge and understanding builds, I'm certain that I'll continue to gain insights from it through the years to come. This book has heft and value!
Apples are listed as one of the dirtiest conventionally produced crops. When I started researching how to care for fruit trees it was a tough slog. I respect organic farmers deeply, but for many the basic bias is the same as conventional ag, just using less toxic chemicals. The problem is that if it were as simple as substituting less toxic chemicals EVERYONE would be doing it - no farmer really wants that crap around his home and family. Spraying isn't only a chore, but a hated one. When you need to wear protective clothing it's hard to feel good about you're doing, instead it encourages a war zone mentality. We war against insects, we war against disease.
After studying organic, permaculture and biodynamic farming for 5 years, I finally stumbled across Elaine Ingham's work on soil microbiology, and became convinced that the key is maximizing the health of the biological critters in the soil, and finding ways to support them correctly so that they can support my apple trees. But this is all pretty new, cutting edge science, and figuring out how to progress from that understanding to an actual maintenance and treatment program was beyond me. I had bits and pieces of the puzzle.
I renamed my sprayer the "Lunch Wagon" and began spraying enhanced compost teas and raw milk, preferentially feeding the "good guys" to allow them to get the upper hand.
This book goes way beyond that. Michael Phillips pulls all of the disciplines together in a comprehensive approach. He's a real farmer who needs results, not an academic or an acolyte limited by a biased preference for one system or the other. An organic farmer for many years, he's willing and able to pull from biodynamic and permaculture principals to promote the biological content of the soil. Best, he does it with an orchardists' wisdom and understanding. Most of the materials/articles/books I've seen are focused on row crops, and the needs of an orchard are very different.
We all want to understand our trees, the essential understory and the microflora and fauna that make up the ecology of the orchard; but practical advice for dealing with real life problems is critical. Phillips supplies both the understanding and the practical steps to take to achieve results.
If you're committed to farming sustainably or if you just want a few fruit trees without poisoning your kids and pets with spray residues, take time to give this a thoughtful read!