Folks ask us all the time what it means to grow “ecologically.” We like to think of our farm as a living system that is not really all that different from the forest and fields around it. We humans help orchestrate and direct what happens, so we too are part of the whole, and it makes our lives easier if we harness systems that are already in place, instead of trying to fight the forces of nature. So making sure our plants are happy means making sure a bunch of microbes, insects and other animals are all happy.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate how we do is through examples. Just yesterday I noticed that a few of our pie cherry trees had oozing trunk wounds (see photo below). Trees ooze sap when they are trying to reject an infection or an invading insect–in this case, I suspected a bacterial canker, which is common in stone fruit. To treat it, I looked to a cheap and cheerful, but time-tested antibacterial remedy: garlic. This ubiquitous vegetable, along with other alliums, is an indispensable feature in many cuisines because it helped keep foods safe prior to refrigeration.
I pounded a whole head of garlic with a little salt (another handy antibacterial substance), and pressed it onto the wounds. In a week or so, I will douse that spot with a fermented brew of beneficial microbes, to recolonize the bark crevasses with the good guys. This is akin to eating yogurt to recolonize your gut after taking antibiotics.The main ecological idea here is competition; there are only so many resources on a plant’s surface, so the more good guys there are, the lower the chances are for a bad guy to gain a foothold. Last year when I did this, they dried up and stayed that way for a year, so I’m optimistic that we’ll continue to have many more bowls of cherries.