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on January 21, 2012
Southern California is three thousand miles and six climate zones from Northern New Hampshire, but I found Michael's book more relevant to growing apples in my area than all the garden books I've seen written for Southern California. He explains the mechanics of what constitutes soil heath and plant vigor and how to build it. Of course the particulars and strategy will vary from region to region, but to quote Liberty Hyde Baily, "If a grower knows why, he or she will teach themselves how".

As such it is relevant to growers outside of New England, even to my apple growing friends in Equatorial Africa, as many of the spray mixes and culture methods are available there; this is opposed to the latest pesticides which are expensive and hard to get for them. The book has the best section on pruning I've ever seen; especially how to train shoots into fruiting buds, and also how to invigorate an old tree.

He reviews the whole orchard operation, from tools and ladders to picking bags and fruit storage. I would have never figured out how to get neem oil to spray otherwise and would have ended up with a real mess. The photographs and illustrations are excellent, many taken at his beautiful farm.

He presents a myriad of operations and sprays for pest and disease control, and thankfully summarizes them with a calendar to help organize your year. The review of fruit culture for other stonefruits and berries is also helpful, using many of the methods utilized in the apple orchard.

Commercial growers may sniff at it and grumble that these methods will never produce marketable fruit on an efficient, competitive scale to stave off foreign imports. On the other hand home and small specialty orchards may be wondering if there's any way to get apples besides spraying with expensive and potentially harmful chemicals 12 to 20 times a year. This book presents a way to do it in a much gentler fashion and is a fascinating read.
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on May 6, 2012
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!
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on March 11, 2012
The best fruit growing book that I have EVER read. Even though I have a degree in Botany with a minor in Horticulture, I still learned much more from reading this book. It is also very accessible, interesting, and well organized.
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on February 11, 2012
This is the book I have been looking for! I have been trying to find a book about growing fruit organically for years, but I've never been able to find just what I was looking for. I needed someone to break it all down in terms a novice can understand, explain the hows and whys, and give explicit advice. This book achieves all that plus it is entertaining to read. Incredibly inspirational AND doable. Thanks, Michael!
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on March 30, 2012
Absolutely loved this book, great insights, well written with beautful photography. It immediately made me understand what had gone wrong with one of my apple trees. The information in this book helped me save the poor thing from going to the woodpile. Great activity to share and teach to growing children.
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on February 29, 2012
Came to this tome from "The Apple Grower". Which i found very good. Also find this book a Five Star. It is informative, education, resourceful. Good images and drawings. Appreciate artful drawings in this age of electronics. The sidebars are good and "fun" additions for me. Book travels with me from bed side to orchard. Appreciate the organic solutions to problems.
Regards and good gardening.
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VINE VOICEon October 14, 2012
The best part of this book was author's writing voice. Jovial and enthusiastic, he is honest about his personal quirks and infuses his writing with delight and ambition. Reading it was like listening to a mentor get off on an excited tangent.

This is not a book you will read once and put on the shelf to sit. There is a tremendous amount of information encompassing the entire life cycle of an orchard, with how-to's, hints, tips, suggestions, alternatives and recipes. It will take you more than once through just to wrap your mind around and it, and I suspect I'll be coming back to book marked pages for refreshers in the future.

I appreciated the author's unique approach to growing organically and in harmony with the natural patterns of plants. I will say that I don't think this book is for everyone. The author is very open to flexibility and the slight chaos that is natural to the outdoors and willing to sacrifice a portion of his potential yield (10-20%) to keep things healthy and avoid pesticides/herbicides. If you're looking for a perfectly manicured orchard or bringing in 100% of your crop every year, this is probably not the ideal book for you.

It has definitely turned out to be a keeper for me, however, and I highly recommend checking it out if you're looking to grow fruit tree or berries of any kind!
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on October 24, 2013
I agree with an earlier reviewer, the editor should have wielded a sharper pen, especially in the first 50 pages. It seems as if Mr. Phillips wrote with a thesaurus at his elbow and used most every word he could find. Mr. Phillips also has a "folksy" style that I found to be distracting. Another reviewer found this "folksy" style as "easy to read" so you be the judge. There is a lot of information and the extra verbage gets in the way. On the plus side, most of this style goes away and more straightforward style prevails (with lapses here and there).

That said, I found the book to be full of information that I plan to use. The holistic sprays Mr. Phillips recommends are for the most part excellent ways for the orchardist to strengthen their trees. Mr. Phillips also explains the reasoning behind the sprays and the timing as well. His descriptions of insect and fungal pests gives great insight on how to interrupt pest life cycles. I will be changing the timing of my mulching because of what I read - I will wait til AFTER leaf fall to add fertilizer, compost and wood chips to cover fungal spores and prevent spread in the spring. I will be adjusting my pruning timing also, again to reduce the risk of infection.

The last chapter sums up "The Orchard Year" nicely.

One reviewer was disappointed becuse figs are not covered. That would be a nice addition to a revision.

4 stars because of the writing style.

One last detail that goes to the publisher, Chelsea Green. The paper used for the cover is cheap, cheap,cheap! The cover was curling almost as soon as I opened the box. Use quality paper as if someone might want to keep the book for a while or maybe take the book out to the orchard!
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on May 30, 2012
Michael Phillips writes with the detail of an obsessive and the evangelism of a preacher, making this not only the definitive book for the home fruit grower, but one that can actually be re-read with pleasure. Not content to just give you a laundry list of what to do (although that's in there too), Phillips shows you - both in words and pictures - WHY you do what you do. His work reminds me of those amazing, off-kilter do-it-yourself books from the '70s, like How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive 19 Ed: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot and other tomes I leafed through when I was six.

In April and May 2012, I planted almost 30 dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees at our tiny farm in upstate New York. My only instruction was "The Holistic Orchard" and I'm following Phillips' directions to the letter. No pesticides, fungicides, or poisons, just a sweet little orchard that will hopefully take care of itself once I give it the tools it needs. Lest you think this is a touchy-feely book for the spiritual farmer, think again: Michael Phillips has the heart of a scientist and the pen of a believer. "Rock the biological casbah" indeed!
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on September 1, 2013
I almost didn't buy this book because I live on the Olympic Peninsula, and most gardening books from the eastern U.S. are useless here. Not the case with this book! Last fall we added several fruit trees to our front yard, and this book tells me exactly what I need to do to take care of them, complete with a to-do list based on the tree's status (dormant, budding, harvest, etc.). My mistake was not getting this book first, because I could have done better with the tree selection and planting process, but my trees are still young enough that I can treat them right from here on out.

As a result of reading this book, I have started calling my front yard "the orchard." This change in terminology also changes my attitude about the tree care. I learned to stop weeding under the trees, and I'm starting to build a nice understory for them. I have a whole new consciousness about the soil, and I'm working hard to create a healthy soil web for the trees.

I've also planted berries (one thing I did right, to put in several berry plants near the fruit trees), and this book also helps with them. I now have numerous sticky notes on the book's pages, and I've highlighted many sections of the book for future reference. I'm sure I will refer to it again and again over the coming years. I just can't say enough about it.
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