Resident Introduces ‘Holistic Orcharding’ To Victory Garden
While some gardeners resort to applying chemical pesticides to prevent certain insects or diseases from sabotaging their plantings, an all-natural technique is being used in The Victory Garden’s orchard at Fairfield Hills.
Newtown resident Mark Forstrom is dedicating his time and expertise to perfecting this new practice to give the trees the best chance of success.
According to Forstrom, the fruit trees have been growing in Newtown for nearly a decade, after being planted and donated by a group from the Midwest in 2013 in memory of the children and adults killed at Sandy Hook School.
There is currently a total of 46 fruit trees in the orchard, mostly varieties of apples, such as fuji and honey crisp, as well as five peach trees, four pear trees, three cherry trees, and one nectarine tree.
“The goal in the orchard is to grow nutrient dense fruit without pesticides and fungicides,” he said.
When Forstrom retired three years ago, he began working at The Victory Garden and just last year pursued the hefty task of trying to help the orchard.
“The system we are doing is called Holistic Orcharding. I found out about this on YouTube while searching two winters ago trying to find an organic way to grow fruit, as everything at The Victory Garden has to be organic,” he explained.
He discovered the work of Michael Phillips, an experienced gardener who ran the Lost Nation Orchard in Groveton, N.H.
Phillips’ three books about Holistic Orcharding — The Apple Grower from 1998, Holistic Orcharding from 2012, and Mycorrhizal Planet from 2017 — as well as his YouTube channel were very influential to Forstrom.
“I had the privilege last June of taking a two-day intensive course at his orchard in upper New Hampshire,” Forstrom said.
The workshop was limited to only 20 people each year and people came from all over the country. In Forstrom’s class there was even a couple that came from as far away as South Africa.
“Sadly, Michael passed away February 27 of a heart attack while chasing deer out of his orchard. He was 64 years old. [It is] a very big blow for his family and the holistic orchard community,” Forstrom said.
He feels fortunate to have been one of his students at the workshop and described it as a “great and much-needed experience.”
Forstrom notes that caring for an orchard is very complicated. Many pests and diseases can ruin crops in just a matter of days, which can be incredibly frustrating.
“The biggest pest by far that we have is called Plum curculio. They have devastated this place,” he said.
Despite it taking a toll on the fruit trees this year, he is learning from the experience to better prepare for next year.
Some trees also have molasses, vinegar, and water traps in plastic bottles that hang from the trees to attract codling moth, which are harmful to the fruit trees.
Not only is prevention of pests important, but so is getting the soil just right.
With that in mind, he uses different plantings, wood chips from the town, as well as compost and horse manure from the Second Company’s Governor Horse Guard. He also uses holistic sprays every seven to 10 days to strengthen the immune system of the trees.
“A lot of the system is about not only what goes on above the ground, but what grows in the ground below the trees, and that makes what goes on underground so important to the health of the orchard. Michael called what goes on at the ground level ‘Outrageous Diversity,’” Forstrom explained.
As a result, he has been planting many different plants and flowers under the trees that are known to be beneficial to the trees and the whole orchard ecosystem. He receives planting help from Newtown resident and gardener Barbara Richardson, too.
The beneficial plants and flowers include, but are not limited to: comfrey, yarrow, Egyptian walking onions, chives, sweet cicely, mint, coneflowers, rhubarb, and lungwort.
“We are trying to work the soil under the trees as much as we do the trees above the ground trying to make it fungal. It’s different than growing vegetables, where you want the soil to be mostly bacterial,” Forstrom explained.
He added, “The soil we had tested last year is pretty much in need of everything, so I’ve given myself five years to get it in good condition, producing nutrient-dense, organic fruit. I believe we can do it; it just takes time.”
Forstrom does not plan to stop there.
He also is going to graft 10 to 12 more trees in two open spots in the orchard. To get different varieties in a small area, it will include a tall spindle-type system on a trellis planted three feet apart on dwarfing rootstock.
“We are hoping to have workshops in the future that would highlight these systems for growing tree fruit for home gardeners,” Forstrom said.
To get involved with The Victory Garden, visit newtown-ct.gov/parks-recreation/pages/victory-garden.
For more information about Holistic Orcharding, visit lostnationorchard.com.
Reporter Alissa Silber can be reached at email@example.com.