We are often asked by customers if our trees are "organic". This is a more complicated question than it sounds! Here is some more detailed information about the fruit tree nursery production process that should help you to make a better-informed decision about buying organic fruit trees.
What is an organically-produced fruit tree?
The fruit tree you buy to plant in your garden consists of two separate parts - joined at the 'graft union', which is the kink visible at the base of the stem of the tree. The top part - known as the scion - is the variety you chose, perhaps a Braeburn apple or Green Gage plum. The bottom part - the rootstock - is selected depending on whether you want a dwarf tree or a full-size one or something in between.
As a result, it is important to understand the provenance of both the scion and the rootstock, as well as how the resulting newly-grafted tree was raised in the nursery. In practice most nurseries use their own virus-free "mother" trees to provide the scionwood, and these are usually managed with a conventional herbicide / pesticide regime, but typically at a very low intensity - in other words pests and diseases are managed by exception rather than by routine spraying. If the scionwood is obtained from other sources, e.g. national fruit collections, it is best to assume it will have been sprayed with conventional pesticides or herbicides at some point.
Rootstock production is more likely to involve a conventional herbicide regime, as it is quite an intensive process. Most nurseries import their rootstocks from specialist suppliers in Europe instead of or as well as raising their own on site.
During the period in which the young tree is raised in the nursery, it will receive herbicide treatments - mainly to eliminate competing vegetation. Pesticide treatments are applied using IPM (integrated pest management) principles. The proportion of "natural" chemicals in these treatments is increasing all the time, and is currently around 40%.
Since we are growing the trees for size rather than fruit, there is no need to spray against the various pests and diseases that can affect fruit production later in the life of the tree. Furthermore, even though our trees are not fruit-bearing when they are sold, we still comply with relevant food standards legislation for spray-free periods and residues before sale.
Is organic the same as un-treated?
In the UK the main organisation involved in setting standards for organic farming practices is the Soil Association.
Many gardeners who say they want to grow their trees "organically" actually mean they intend to avoid herbicides and pesticides altogether. In other words, an "un-treated" regime.
In contrast, fruit trees raised in an organic-certified regime can be sprayed with a wide-range of approved organic pesticides and herbicides. Some of the chemicals permitted in an organic regime, often based on sulphur or copper compounds, are perhaps not as "natural" as consumers of organically-produced fruit might expect, and can be applied in surprisingly high doses.
Why don't you produce organically-certified trees?
There are several important reasons:
- We find that most (not all) customers asking for organic trees actually mean un-treated trees.
- Our nursery regime allows us to supply large strong healthy trees which should get off to a good start when transplanted to the customer's garden or orchard.
- It is very important that we do not send a customer a tree which carries with it insect or fungal problems which could then affect other plants in the customer's garden. We think a conventional pesticide regime in the nursery is more likely to achieve this than an organic regime.
- Customers who intend to plant trees for organic fruit production do not need organically-raised nursery trees. This might sound surprising, but since a typical fruit tree will not produce commercial quantities of fruit until its 3rd or 4th year, it is the use of an organic regime in the orchard that counts for organic certification, not the regime in the nursery. In other words, the juvenile growth period of a typical new fruit tree is less than the transition period allowed when converting a farm or orchard from a conventional to an organic regime.
- Most of our trees are sold over the winter and spring. We discontinue treatments after early autumn, and from then on the trees are left un-treated, and exposed to the elements. There would be little point in achieving organic certification when our intention is not to spray them at all.
I am planting an organic-certified orchard, can I buy trees from you?
Yes! As mentioned above there should be no problem using our trees for organic-certified fruit production. The situation is no different to a conventional orchard that wishes to achieve organic certification, a process that will typically take a few years during which organic management principles are brought into play.
You should be able to apply for a "derogation" from your certifying authority. Contact us for more details.
I want to order trees that are completely un-treated from the start, is that possible?
We do occasionally take on special projects like this, contact us for more details.
Are your trees genetically modified?