SweetSong Groves is in the process of obtaining organic certification, but our growing practices are well beyond the certification requirements. We call our approach ecological.
Ecological horticulture involves many ideas, but it is based on the principle that we enrich the ecology at every level. We work with Nature, not against her.
We incorporate some ideas from permaculture: Heavy wall-to-wall mulching turns the problem of tree pruners’ waste into the solution to many horticultural problems: soil fertility, weed control, moisture and temperature stabilization, and erosion prevention. Waste piles become habitat for predator insects, lizards, and non-venomous snakes. Native plants support pollinators and provide beauty.
Most of the fertility needed by our fruiting plants is provided by the mulch, slowly breaking down and moving through the ecology to reach plant roots. We use modest amounts of organic applications such as Fertrell, kelp, fish emulsion, azomite, langbeinite, and potash, but we do not push our plants to grow— they know just what to do and how fast to do it. Soil quality and ecology are supported with biochar, crushed crabshell, and humic acids. We irrigate with rainwater and contaminant-free well water.
We give our trees a good start by proper planting, using mycorrhizal inoculation, and providing optimal fertility and moisture in living soil. We prune aggressively to control tree size, improve branch architecture, and increase wind tolerance.
We avoid toxic agents, which spread through the entire system, pushing it out of balance and often leading to effects worse than the original problem. Our integrated pest management starts with selection of well-adapted, disease-resistant species and varieties. We interrupt pest and disease cycles by collecting fallen fruit, heavy mulching, and proper pruning. For infestations, we start by doing nothing and watching to see whether the ecology will solve the problem. Manual removal of pests is the next step, and finally, non-toxic sprays. If this isn’t enough, pull out the tree and grow something different.
We are often asked about raccoon, squirrels, and other four-legged competitors for our fruit. It is an unpleasant fact that these excessive populations must be controlled by humans, since our ancestors long ago killed off the larger predators that would do so. We capture invading raccoons, possums, and squirrels in harm-free traps. It is illegal as well as very bad practice to relocate wild animals, so the only option is to euthanize them humanely. If this troubles you, we ask whether you have ever bought food in a grocery store, and if so, why you think that wild animals did not eat it first…