Commercial apples are sprayed anywhere from 10 to as many as 25 times in a growing season to bring that picture perfect fruit to market.  They are sprayed with toxic chemicals for prevention of early fungus, scab and viral disease, often sprayed with antibiotics to prevent fireblight and other bacterial infections, sprayed to promote thinning of the small apples, sprayed for control of coddling moth and other pests and on and on.  They are harvested green, put in cold storage and then given ethylene gas to promote artificial ripening. Many people will tell you just to wash them before you eat them or peel the skin off before eating (where most of the nutrients are) and you will get rid of any chemical residues.  I have a hard time believing that all these chemicals when combined and added up are really safe for us.

So what is an organic grower to do?  In many ways we are lucky to be inNew Mexico as most of the disease issues of fruits are related and cultivated in humid climates.  Our dry air and high UV is a natural inhibitor to many disease problems. Cedar apple rust and scab, 2 of the biggest problems are not found inNew Mexico.

The two largest pest issues (aside from birds and rodents) are the apple coddling moth and the apple maggot.   The apple maggot is just being found in a few counties in New Mexico and has not yet reached critical levels.  While you could use an “organic” pesticide such as rotenone, it is still a highly toxic poison. As with most pesticides they are non selective and will kill off beneficial insects as well as the “bad guys”

At this point we have adopted two solutions.  One is the use of a product named “Surround”

Made from modified kaolin clay, Surround® t is sprayed on as a liquid, which evaporates leaving a protective powdery film on the surfaces of

After spraying with Surround

leaves, stems and fruit. It controls a long list of insect pests on vegetables, fruit trees, ornamentals and more and is OMRI Listed for use in organic production. It is mixed about 2 cups per gallon of water and can be applied with a hand sprayer if you only want to do a few trees, or with a standard chemical sprayer for more.  Recommended application is 2 “coats” the second shortly after the first has dried.  It will need to be reapplied during the season as strong rains may wash it off.

Surround® works to protect plants and deter insects in three specific ways:

1.) Tiny particles of the kaolin clay attach to insects when they contact it, agitating and repelling them and possibly clogging their breathing pores.

2.) Even if the particles do NOT attach to their bodies, the insects find the coated plant/ fruit unsuitable for feeding and egg-laying. It just doesn’t look like a red apple any more! It is also thought that the light reflection from the white surface disorients the coddling moth especially.

3.) The protective white film cools plants by up to 15° Fahrenheit, which can help to reduce heat and water stress. Many fruits show improved color, smoothness and size with less russet, dropping, sunburn and cracking.  This in turn makes a stronger and healthier fruit and tree.

The second strategy is the use of apple maggot control bags.  These are a small bag that can be put over your apple and easily held on with a rubber band.  They are from a material similar to panty hose and stretch as the apple grows.  They allow sunlight, and water penetration and can be reused.  This is an effective barrier control method, preventing insects from laying eggs in the apples.  They also have an effect on birds which now ignore them.   Applying apple maggot control bags.

Both strategies should be started when your apples are about nickel size.