Renovation and Ecological Management of Neglected Apple Orchards in Southeast Michigan

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2013: $7,465.62
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Trevor Newman
Roots to Fruits

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: apples, general tree fruits
  • Additional Plants: herbs, native plants


  • Crop Production: agroforestry, biological inoculants, foliar feeding, no-till, nutrient cycling, organic fertilizers, application rate management, tissue analysis
  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, biodiversity, habitat enhancement
  • Pest Management: mulches - living, mulching - vegetative
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, organic agriculture, permaculture, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: earthworms, organic matter, soil analysis, soil microbiology

    Proposal summary:

    Trevor Newman and Mark Angelini operate Roots to Fruits, LLC. Roots to Fruits is an ecological design firm that offers consulting and design services to farmers, homesteaders and land owners for the establishment of ecologically diverse and profitable productive landscapes. Additionally, we run a small research farm of approximately 10 acres on the outskirts of Clarkston, MI. We work with diversified polycultures to produce a diversity of edible and useful crops, from vegetables to fruits, berries and nuts. Our design and management is heavily informed by the science of agroforestry, agroecology, and permaculture design. We host workshops and field days where we educate about the various systems we have in place.

    Our backgrounds are as diverse as our landscapes. We’ve combined art and design with the science of ecology, systems thinking, agroforestry, indigenous and holistic management, organic agriculture, wildcrafting, herbalism, and food preservation and fermentation. Trevor is an avid nurseryman and pomologist, working on research in the fields of perennial agriculture and plant propagation. He’s an apprentice to Ken Asmus who owns and operates Oikos Tree Crops, a small research farm and nursery in Western Michigan focused on selecting diverse genetic material from the realm of useful and edible plants. Mark is an avid designer and craftsman. He has worked under the guidance of leading designers in the field of ecological and whole systems landscape design. Together, we are passionate about re-establishing diverse peri-rural and urban local food systems.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    In our work, we’ve discovered the need for a holistic approach to managing orchards and producing apples. Consumers and growers have expressed interest in apples grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides, and pesticides. Through our consulting work around Michigan, we’ve also seen an abundance of neglected, feral orchards. With Michigan being the third largest apple producer in the country and with apples being Michigan’s largest and most valuable fruit crop, if these orchards come back into production they’ll be major contributors to Michigan’s local food economy. Renovating existing neglected orchards is also a more sustainable practice than clearing new land for new orchards. Therefore, the problem we wish to solve is how to transform and renovate neglected apple orchards into productive, ecologically managed systems.

    Our project will be conducted in an overgrown 3-acre orchard located at our research farm. The orchard contains approximately 35 trees ranging from 25 to 50 years of age. Through trialing various pruning techniques we intend to discover efficient ways for bringing old apple trees back into healthy production. This will involve the removal of existing trees, which currently limit apple tree health and productivity. We’ll test the effectiveness of an innovative organic soil care regiment that involves the use of woodchips and comfrey. Foliar applications of aerated compost tea will be analyzed for their effectiveness in boosting overall tree health and vigor.Ecological management will focus on scything as a human powered alternative to understory cultivation and mowing. Grafting techniques will be used to increase varietal diversity per tree; these will include cider and fresh eating varieties. We will compare different grafting times to discover the most successful time to graft apple trees. Through visiting multiple organic and conventional apple orchards we will examine regional varietal selections and standard practices for orchard management.

    The goal of our project is to establish a baseline set of regionally adapted practices for the renovation and ecological management of apple orchards in the North Central Region. Through various workshops, tours, and presentations we will share our research with the local and regional community. Additionally, we will create a thorough research report summarizing our findings and results.

    Our primary research question is: What is the effectiveness of holistic orcharding techniques in bringing an overgrown orchard back to healthy production? To answer this question, we will examine overall tree health and performance, which will be documented through leaf biology (arboreal foodweb) analysis, observations of pest and disease, beneficial insect population/presence, and yield (if trees yield in grant cycle).

    First, we will perform comparison testing (one test before the grant begins and one test after the two-year period) of leaf biology by sending leaf samples to Earthfort Labs and comparing results. We will perform bi-weekly observations, both written and photographic, to document visible populations of pests, disease, and beneficial insects, and graft growth. We’ll establish a baseline for graft growth to determine what are healthy versus unhealthy rates of growth for grafts.

    Critical to tree renovation is determining the best time for grafting to ensure the grafts are successful. We will perform grafting in the first and third weeks of March and April and perform bi-weekly written, photographic, and measured observations of these grafts. This will cycle back into our determination of baseline healthy graft growth.

    Soil health will be evaluated through a series of soil samples—both physical and lab based. We will do pre-and post-treatment comparison soil samples from four locations in our research plot and have them analyzed through Earthfort Labs for biological activity. We will personally assess structure by digging small test pits in these four locations, completing written and photographic documentation of soil qualities. We will perform pH and macronutrient analysis using field kits both before the grant and after the two-year period and document those in written form.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.