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Here is a McIntosh apple, a beauty to behold!

Here is a McIntosh apple, a beauty to behold!

Editors note – Since the publication of this essay, there has been a little debate on the NAFEX facebook page as to what the true identity of this apple actually is.  I have never claimed to be an expert, and it is totally possible that the ID that I claim is incorrect.  I bring this up in the spirit of learning, if someone has a better idea than mine and it is backed up with decent evidence, I am all ears!  Regardless of what the true name for this apple is, I feel this is still a strong essay that can stand on its on.  Enjoy…

A reoccuring theme here on Autonomy Acres is food, a lot of the time specifically about fruit.  Fruit trees, fruit shrubs, growing and foraging fruit, and eating fruit have all been topics covered here over the last four years.  Its a favorite subject of mine for good reason, I love fruit!  Growing it, eating it, learning about it, cooking with it,  you name it, fruit is one of my passions.  Especially apples!

 

Nothing compares to a tree ripened apple on a cool autumn day.  They signal the finished accumulation of solar energy, the life of the soil, and the water from rain into a near perfect orb that holds the sweetness of summer within its flesh.  They are the inspiration for poetry and legends, and for so many years have played a part in the stories and traditions of cultures from around the cool, temperate climates of the world.

 

It wasn’t that long ago when every region in the world where apples could and did grow had its own locally adapted varieties.  Many of these varieties were used solely for culinary uses or cider and were rarely eaten out of hand and remained nameless, wild apple trees living on the edges of forests and in the hedgerows between fields.

 

But many of them contained desirable traits and magic that enchanted us – a superb taste, or great storage capabilities, or one that made a particularly smooth cider.  Some are just plain gorgeous, or ugly for that matter, but any of these apples that have called to us, have been named, and shared, and sometimes have even become famous.

 

Presently in 2014 there are roughly 7,500 named varieties of apples grown throughout the world, but it is thought that at one time (probably not all that long ago), there could have been well over 10-12,000 distinct varieties being cultivated worldwide.  But with the steady march of progress and the ever increasing trend towards a global monoculture, much of our collective apple heritage has been lost to the bulldozer, the suburbs, and the destruction of our traditional food systems.

 

While much of our great wealth of apple diversity still exists,  it is scattered and gets harder to find with each passing season.  The global, industrial cultivation of apples now relies on just 15 varieties for the bulk of its production.  How sad it is to have lost so many unique apples (and the land upon which they grew) in favor of a handful of apples that are easy to harvest and ship, and oftentimes resemble wet cardboard in  texture and taste.

 

There is an apple tree a couple miles from my house that I have been visiting now for the last few years.  It has been a reliable producer with apples that are hardly troubled by pests or disease.  They have tended to be a medium to large apple, but occasionally I will find one that is just huge!

 

This year I got to the apple tree far later than I ever have and realized that I had been picking this apple a bit too early.  This year I didn’t harvest until the middle of October, and because of this later harvest, these apples were really ready to be picked and had fully ripened on the tree.

 

Do you see a graft line?  If so, let me know...

Do you see a graft line? If so, let me know…

What I was really interested in was if I could find a graft line anywhere on the trunk.   While there is nothing discernible that indicates where the graft union may be (it was probably buried when planted, or slowly covered by the accumulation of mulch and leaves), I am pretty sure that this is a grafted, McIntosh apple tree.  Eating it this time of year, versus last year when I harvested them early in September, changed the flavor profile quite a bit, and it became evident that this was an apple that most of us have had at some point in our lives.

 

It has a noticeable thicker skin, a white to somewhat yellowish flesh that is far from crisp, but is definitely not mealy either, a small short stem, and is easily bruised when dropped.  The fruit tends to have a uniformly deep red color to it, that is splashed with small streaks of green.  It is not overly juicy or sweet, but has a nice, subtle acidic bite to it that makes it fine apple for eating fresh.  It cooked down to an almost perfectly smooth apple butter that only needed a bit of pureeing at the end.

 

All of those characteristics when compared to other descriptions of McIntosh (see here, and here) seem to be a fairly good match.  McIntosh started its journey in Canada back in 1850 and went onto to become a very popular apple for cultivation throughout Western Canada down into New England, and the upper midwest (where I live).  It is a large spreading tree, that tends to have reliable harvests, and at least the one I am harvesting from seems to be fairly resistant to some of the more common pests and diseases around here.

 

Honestly it is not the greatest apple I have ever eaten, but it is still pretty good.  Just for the fact that this is a big mature tree that is easy to harvest from, and also produces high quality fruit, and lots of it, makes me glad that this tree is in my neighborhood.  The fact that this tree is also in a spot that is very easy to access doesn’t hurt either.  This tree is a relic from when this area was still farms and orchards and I can only imagine that this McIntosh tree is in its twilight years.

 

Before I came to the conclusion that this tree is a McIntosh, last year I collected scion wood from it and grafted it onto one of my !Frankentrees!  At the time of grafting, I was calling it Crusader because of a landmark closeby, but it is now looking like I will have to get a new tag made up for that branch.

 

Mcintoshharvest

Here’s the Harvest!

The fact that this apple tree is a fairly common variety, doesn’t lessen its value as a tree or for what it can provide for one who cares for it. Moreover, the bounty and the knowledge I have gleaned from this tree are invaluable.  I love free food, and I also love the chance to learn something new, and this tree has provided both.   I admit that it would be fun to find and identify a tree that is more of a rarity than a McIntosh, but the fact that I am pretty certain about my identification means that my observations and research are maturing and starting to pay off!

 

Sadly it is getting harder to find old trees whether they are a rare variety or not.  The continued suburban expansion proceeds with the same vigour as late stage cancer, and it is not only old apple trees that perish and are lost to history, but many other forms of biological diversity are

threatened from this unceasing onslaught.

 

We may not be able stop the majority of this destruction, but we can be stewards to what is left.  We can educate our communities on the importance of fruit and nut trees, we can seek out and help preserve the genetics of threatened species and varieties,  and we can also start planting as many trees as we can on whatever land is available to us.  Trees are one way of investing in the future, so lets make our great grandkids proud and leave them something positive to remember us by.  Peace & Cheers…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Yes it is bread we fight for, but we fight - for roses too!!

Yes it is bread we fight for, but we fight – for roses too!!

Two nights in a row we have had giant thunderstorms.  Big ones, like wind gusts of up to 80 MPH BIG!  It may be the icing on the cake to a very wet spring, and as I enter into summer on this rainy, windy, and overcast solstice, I can rest assured that the gardens have been well watered and are ready for some sun .  We have seen enough rain in the last three months up here in Minnesota to pull us out of a significant drought.  Last year there seemed to be drought of epic proportions throughout the world, and now I have heard about floods in India and Canada and many other places – the pendulum of nature now swings erratically and finds it hard in this new world of global climate change to find equilibrium.

While the world burns in ever growing forest fires, drowns in flash floods, and despairs in economic insecurity and social in-justice, our gardens grow.  Through hard times and climate change, a garden well tended, even when faced with challenges, still can provide us with an abundance of sustenance, inspiration, and beauty.  I want to show you a bit of that abundance, that which is growing and inspiring on one small half acre lot in the upper midwest of the U$A.

I went out with our camera today, and took a few photos of what has been happening on the homestead on the longest day of the year, 2013.  Peace & Cheers …

berries

A bowl of Honeyberries, and the world’s best strawberries – serve with homemade yogurt and you will be in gardener’s heaven!!

I do not think I have ever had this nice of tomatos on the vine, this early in the season!  Homemade salsa here I come!!

I do not think I have ever had this nice of tomatos on the vine, this early in the season! Homemade salsa here I come!!

liberty

A one year old Liberty apple tree, that I grafted up last year. It has now surbvived two giant wind storms – I think this one is a keeper!

This is a grafted Giragaldi, dwarf mulberry.  Mulberry trees show up like weeds around here, and are hard to get rid of.  So instead, I turned the problem into the solution and tracked down a dwarfing variety, that has big, tastey berries.  Hopefully it survives the winter!

This is a grafted Giragaldi, dwarf mulberry. Mulberry trees show up like weeds around here, and are hard to get rid of. So instead, I turned the problem into the solution and tracked down a dwarfing variety, that has big, tastey berries. Hopefully it survives the winter!

With all the rain we have been getting, the mushrooms have been exceptional this year.  As an amatuer mycologist, I love mushrooms of all kinds and here are two in a beautiful picture - the slimey looking orange ones are called Velvet Feet, or Flamulina Vela tupis.  The one on the right I am not sure of, but appears to be a cup mushroom, possibly what is known as a Pig Ear, not sure though??

With all the rain we have been getting, the mushrooms have been exceptional this year. As an amatuer mycologist, I love mushrooms of all kinds and here are two in a beautiful picture – the slimey looking orange ones are called Velvet Feet, or Flamulina Vela tupis. The one on the right I am not sure of, but appears to be a cup mushroom, possibly what is known as a Pig Ear, not sure though??

These are some of our raised bed gardens.  These are our workhorses as far as our CSA shares go.  It is amazing as to how much food can be grown in intensively managed beds.  Radishes, salad mix, spinach and peas havbe already been harvested with great zeal!!

These are some of our raised bed gardens. These are our workhorses as far as our CSA shares go. It is amazing as to how much food can be grown in intensively managed beds. Radishes, salad mix, spinach and peas havbe already been harvested with great zeal!!

OK, so this one is actually from two days ago, but I had to include it.  It is one of my swarm traps atop a 12 foot step ladder, in hopes of catching a swarm that issued forth from one of our hives.  Saddly the trap did not work, and the bees found a new home elsewhere - hopefully a big, old, hollow tree down at the county park!!

OK, so this one is actually from two days ago, but I had to include it. It is one of my swarm traps atop a 12 foot step ladder, in hopes of catching a swarm that issued forth from one of our hives. Saddly the trap did not work, and the bees found a new home elsewhere – hopefully a big, old, hollow tree down at the county park!!

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In the last few years a popular meme growing throughout the ether of the inter-webs is the idea of guerrilla gardening.  The idea of guerrilla gardening is really quite simple, but with some rather radical implications.  Guerrilla gardening is the cultivation and care of plants (usually edibles) on land that you do not own.  It is done on land that may be overlooked and forgotten about by private companies or municipalities.  It may be D.O.T. land such as boulevards or parcels cut off by highways, and surrounded by entrance and exit ramps.  It may be tucked away off of the beaten path in a county park, or behind the public library.

 

All of these pieces of land represent and exemplify humans innate ability to conquer, divide, categorize, map, and privatize the Earth.  The more radical implications of guerrilla gardening is that it calls into question the land use of today’s modern world.  With the rise of modern industrial society, and the accumulation of mass amounts of riches by the ruling class, land that historically had been held and treated as a commons, has effectively been divorced from the people who benefited and cared for the land the most.

 

When common, everyday people lose access to land, they become enslaved and dependent upon the industrial machine that is destroying human culture and the land base that supports all of us.  Not that long ago (at least in the historical long view) when the planet had a smaller population and people had a greater hand in the production of their food – the commons – whether that be forest, pasture, prairie, or wetlands, contributed greatly to the food in their diets and personal autonomy in their lives.

 

Nowadays with a much larger population and less food producing (wild)land to forage from and grow on, guerrilla gardening, or what I will refer to as Guerrilla Forest Gardening for the rest of the article, provides us with a very unique opportunity.  Incorporating a few of the principles of Permaculture, a Guerrilla Forest Garden is not just a way to grow food, it is also a healing process and an act of nonviolent civil  disobedience.

 

Where guerrilla gardening is based on the use of  annual vegetables and fruits and is a relatively short lived seasonal endeavor  Guerrilla Forest Gardens seek to add a sense of permanence to these overlooked pieces of land.  The simple act of planting food bearing trees and shrubs on land you don’t “own” becomes something revolutionary and a force for positive change.

 

How much land in your town, county, state, and country has been fenced off and plastered with “No Trespassing” signs?  How much of that land, assuming that it is not harboring a toxic waste dump, storing munitions for imperialistic resource wars, or some other use that is mistaken for human “Progress”, could be planted with woody, food producing perennials?  How much of that land could be sequestering carbon that is being belched out of smokestacks and tailpipes?   How much of that land are we going to need to help feed us once Peak Oil and energy descent make industrial agriculture a thing of the past?  The easy answer – almost all of it!

 

All of this land – the isolated parcels, abandoned lots, overgrown parkland and weedy hillsides forgotten to plat maps and urban decay, now present us with a chance to start healing the landscape.  Most of this land is no longer a part of intact, healthy, and native ecosystems.  They are typically marginal pieces of land that annual crops would do poorly on, and with little to no way of irrigating, makes them a challenge to design and plant.  The beauty of a Guerrilla Forest Garden is in the use of a wide array of different perennials, that in time will need less and less human intervention to thrive.

 

Perennial food crops have many distinct advantages over annual row crops, and this can be seen with a quick explanation of how conventional agriculture works.  Our current model of industrial agriculture is based on plants that are essentially domesticated weeds that thrive on disturbed soils. This means each spring we cultivate the Earth with shovels, tillers, and giant tractors to give our domesticated weeds the foot up and environment they need to grow and thrive.  But by annually tilling the soil and using large amounts of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, we deplete any fertility that may be present and damage the huge and immensely complex web of life that inhabits and has a beneficial symbiosis with the soil.

 

This cycle of annual cultivation and constant depletion of our soils’ fertility and organic matter has led to desertification throughout the worlds original agricultural and pastoral lands (and continues to spread today everywhere there is industrial agriculture and poor land management).  By moving towards a perennial dominated landscape we can virtually eliminate (in the right circumstances) the need to disturb the soil on an annual basis to grow our food.  We can start to rebuild our soils, and also to repair the watersheds that have been destroyed through industrial agriculture and loss of wild spaces.  The unfortunate part of this is that it cannot be done overnight.  It can take many years before we can begin to see the results, but we have to start sometime, so let’s make it happen now!

 

The initial establishment of a Guerrilla Forest Garden requires the most work.  Before even thinking about digging the holes to plant the trees in, we first need to come up with the varieties of fruits and nuts we want to put in the ground.  What I plant here in Minnesota is going to be different than what can be planted in a much warmer (cooler, wetter, drier, etc…) climate, so the logical first step is to decide what perennial food plants grow in your region and then find a source for these plants.

 

I love seed and nursery catalogs, but they are expensive when you start to order a large number of trees, shrubs, and seeds with which to work.  What I do (most of the time) is use them as a way of creating a wishlist of plants that I want to acquire.  I get names, pictures, and descriptions of varieties that look like good candidates for a specific project or garden and add them to my list of plants to research.  When I decide upon a certain apple, plum, gooseberry or whatever it may be that I am looking for, I rely on swapping with friends, arranging trades through The North American Scion Exchange (or similar networks), and foraging them from already established orchards, food forests, and gardens.  I only try to purchase plants or seeds that have proven difficult to either find or propagate on my own, but I do still buy my fair share of vegetable seed (and root stock for tree grafting) from catalogs on an annual basis for our CSA, but I am trying to wean myself from this and I am moving in the right direction.

 

So what do you do with all these genetics (seeds, cuttings, and scion wood) that you have received in trades, saved from last year’s gardens, and have foraged from different spots?  Seeds are easy, plant them!  Well most of the time.  Some seeds/nuts need to be treated with a bit more care.  Cold stratification is a process that mimics nature’s seasonal cycle of cool and moist conditions.  Many tree nuts and other perennials will not germinate without being subject to cold stratification, so learn how to do this or find a source of seed that has already gone through this process.

 

Many plants can be propagated through rooting cuttings.  Some need to be green wood cuttings, some need to be hard wood for the rooting process to happen, so once again, do your homework.  Many people use a rooting hormone to get things started, but this is pretty nasty stuff, so be careful.  I have had luck using raw honey in place of rooting hormone and have had reasonable success.  I am not sure what the science is on this, but it is well worth experimenting with (report back with results please!!).  Plants that lend themselves to this method of propagation are blueberries, currants, elderberries, gooseberries, figs, tree collards and many more.  I have found YouTube to be very helpful in this department, so if someone has done it, there is most likely a video out there to show you how!

 

Root cuttings, or divisions are also another way of propagating perennials.  Plants like asparagus, comfrey, hops, raspberries, and rhubarb all can be multiplied by root division.   It is usually best to get them early in the spring before things are starting to really take off.  Keep them watered and you should have very few problems. Come year two or three of these plants that have been propagated by root division is when you can expect your first yield.

 

And last is grafting.  Anyone who has followed this blog for awhile knows how much I like grafting.  Tree grafting is a craft that spans thousands of years and is the reason we have named cultivars of apples, cherries, pears, and plums that sometimes can be hundreds of years old.  Grafting allows us to customize trees for the characteristics we are looking for.  Do you need an apple tree that can be kept small, and produces a good cider apple?  How about a plum that can be planted in a clay heavy soil?  The right choice of root stock (and there are many to choose from), and a cultivar that is suited to your climate can make all the difference in your grafting success.

The more modern twist on grafting is Guerrilla Grafting.  Just like its counterpart we started the article out with, Guerrilla Grafting takes advantage of resources that are already available and could be a major component to establishing a Guerrilla Forest Garden.  So many parking lots, corporate campuses, and other semi-public areas are landscaped with decorative crab apples and flowering pears and cherries.  Why not graft on sticks of edible cultivars and get some real food out of the deal!  You might be amazed at how prevalent some of these trees are.  They are all over the Twin Cities metro area where I reside and most likely in your hometown as well (wherever in the world you are reading from).  Because many of these trees are already mature, if your grafting is successful, you can expect to get fruit in two to three years.  Add a few under story plants and ground covers and you are well on your way to establishing a Guerrilla Forest Garden!

 

The very nature of a Guerrilla Forest Garden is illegal.  You ARE trespassing – and whether that be on land or on an idea, what you are doing is a threat to those in power.  There is a reason we have been separated from the land, and it is that when we lose the ability to provide for ourselves, we lose our autonomy and freedom as humans and as a community.  Guerrilla Forest Gardens are just one tactic and solution we have to start reclaiming what has always been ours.  When we have access to land that we can care for and steward, we reconnect with a bit of our humanity that has been subjugated and domesticated in these ‘a waning days of the Wal-Mart world!


Good luck to all of you who are out there reclaiming the land with fruit trees and berry shrubs.  Keep your pruning shears and grafting knives sharp, your shovels close, and your spirit of Revolution lit!  Take a chance, plant some trees, and cover your tracks!  Do it for yourself, but also for the future, and defend the Earth!  Go Guerrillas!!!  Peace & Cheers

 

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Haskap Berries from our Garden!!

Haskap Berries from our Garden!!

Recently my friend John who is a fellow fruit enthusiast like myself and helps run the NASE with me, sent me an email with a link to a program entitled The Fruit Hunters.  Documenting the history of fruit and the industrialization of the food chain, The Fruit Hunters takes us on a journey through history and around the globe.  From the jungles of Borneo and Bali, to a banana breeder in Honduras, and the flat northern plains of Saskatchewan, people around the globe have made it their mission to preserve, propagate, and share exotic, rare, and often times threatened species of fruit.

 

Whether it is the Wani white mango, the quest to breed a more genetically diverse and resilient banana, or introducing the sweetly tart haskap berry to the culinary world, humans love affair with fruit is older than written history.  Since the days when we climbed down out of the trees, our symbiotic evolution with fruit has been many things – a culinary desire, a poetic muse, and a forbidden love.  Fruit has adorned the artwork in the halls of kings, and been the foundation in ceremonies for tribal people.  It is the favorite summertime snack of a smiling, messey 6 year old, and a common culinary ingredient in so much cooking from around the world.  Fruit is a global desire – something we can never get enough of when it is in season, and something we long for in the cold, dark days of winter.

 

Those of us who are a part of the modern homesteading movement are carrying on traditions that were a part of everyday life only two generations ago.  We grow food, we preserve it, and we pass on all that accumulated genetic wealth and history to the next generation.  But modern, industrial agriculture has done such a good job of separating people from the land and these homesteading traditions, that most people do not think twice about where their food comes from anymore.  It only makes sense that apples, oranges, and bananas come from the grocery store, right?

 

This has been made possible by creating a “Global Summertime” that is powered by massive inputs of energy dense fossil fuels.  The global supply chain of fruit production, from the field to the shelf, has very little room for genetic diversity and unique traits amongst all that is grown.  If you were a piece of fruit – a strawberry, an apple, a lime – and you were to be shipped halfway around the world in February, there are only a few things that the global fruit supply chain cares about.

 

The first is ripening time.  If you and all your brother and sister fruits do not ripen at the same time, whether that is on or off of the vine, shrub, or tree, you would never be considered for the circumnavigation of the globe.  Second, if you are too difficult to harvest efficiently, sorry, maybe next time.  And third, if you do not have thick skin and a body that cannot be roughed up a bit and look better for the wear over a journey of a few thousand miles, than that will not work either.

 

Notice how flavor and aroma are not on that list.  Neither is the fruit inspired passion and ecstasy that comes from a just picked raspberry, or the first bite of an intensely flavored Rubinette apple, or a tree ripened plum.  Global fruit does not care about human passion and desire, and it definitely does not care about genetic diversity amongst the plants that we grow for our food.  Every banana you find at the supermarket is the same Cavendish banana that is being grown worldwide on every banana plantation.  Highly prone to disease, the fate of the global monoculture of the banana rests uneasily on a regiment of fungicides, insecticides, slave-like labor and a hope that a global pandemic like the one in the late 1960’s can be avoided today.

 

Another example of intolerance towards genetic diversity within the global food production system is the apple.  Quite possibly the most well known fruit in North America, Europe, and other temperate regions throughout the world, the apple has a long history that began in the mountains of Kazakhstan and has spread the world over.   Ranging in color from greens, reds, yellows, and infinite combinations of the three, and with flavors as diverse as banana, pineapple, cinnamon, anise, honey, sweet, tart, and acidic; apples have been a historic treasure trove of genetic variation and unique characteristics.

 

Beautiful Apples – Courtesy of Steven Edholm – Turkeysong Blog

Even their names are evidence to the genetic wealth contained in the species Malus Domesticus – Brown Snout, Etter’s Gold, Black Oxford, Redfree, Hudson’s Golden Gem, King of Tompkin’s County, Smoke House, Sweet Bough, and Chestnut Crab all come to mind.  Apples have taken their names from their physical appearance, flavor, place of origin, and the person who found or bred that particular apple.  They have become local legends and have had festivals dedicated in their honor, and until recently, almost every region of America (and elsewhere in the world) have had their hometown heros.

 

Worldwide there are about 7,500 varieties of apples grown today.  In America there are about 2,500 varieties that are grown throughout backyards and home orchards, and about 100 of those are commonly found in small, commercial operations.  Out of all of those apples to choose from, only about 15 varieties of them are grown on an industrial scale to supply the world’s taste demand for this wonderful pomme fruit.

 

Just like so many other varieties of plants that have been molested to fit the industrial model of agriculture, apples have been stripped of their unique identities.  Apples were made famous because of their great cider making traits, or their superb storing ability using traditional methods.  Some were used for drying or baking or making sauce, but all of them were valued for their own unique reasons.  Now an apple just needs to be sweet, without that much real flavor, and have the stamina to withstand the rigors of travelling the globe.  It is a truly sad story to witness the destruction of a vast gene pool like the apple to the hands of convenience.

 

While industrial agriculture is stripping the world of genetic diversity, there is a movement of individuals and groups throughout the world who are fighting back to protect it.  Backyard and hobby orchardists, nurserymen,  and globe trotting scientist and fruit hunters are on the front lines trying to preserve, protect, and spread all of these threatened genetics.  University arboretums, private collections, and orchards are all home to historic and endangered species of fruit.  And there are also networks that have formed to help spread these genetics.  In America there is the North American Scion Exchange (new website coming for the 2014 season!) and the Seed Savers Exchange, and in Europe there is Fruitiers.net.  There are real life scion exchanges at farming conferences and get togethers , and online trading through gardening and sustainability forums.

 

There is only so much that we as individuals can do, but the more of us who are actively participating in growing fruit, propagating genetics, and sharing what we have with the world can make a huge impact on preserving this rich history that belongs to all of humanity.  The further we progress down the road of industrial civilization and the agriculture that makes it possible, the more genetic wealth we will lose forever.

 

Every lost fruit whether it is an apple or a mango or a grape, not only represents millennia of evolutionary adaptation thrown to the wayside, but also a loss of human connection with the Earth.  Genetic diversity within our food systems not only ensures security against disease, drought, famine, and other challenges we face as an agricultural society, it also roots us in traditions that are entwined with the food we grow and that in turn nourishes our bodies.

 

Fruit is not just a food for the body, but also of the soul – the place where passion and poetry are born.  Eating fruit that you helped to grow or forage from the wild can be a sensual experience, and is one of the things that make us human.  Being inspired and moved by the sweetness of the flesh, the curvy shapes, and soft textures of fruit, we can connect with a part of our nature that has also been lost with the industrialization of food and the world.

 

So while we all can’t travel the globe searching for endangered fruits, we can all help preserve fruit genetics by growing fruit locally.  If you are a property owner try to plant as wide of a selection of fruit as possible.  Plant old varieties and new ones, things that are proven winners for your climate, and try pushing gardening zones if your heart (and taste buds) desires something more exotic.  Do not only grow these fruits, but help to spread their genes through scion exchanges and other plant swaps.  Learn propagation techniques like grafting, rooting and air layering.  If you do not have access to land to do this yourself, volunteer to help out those who do, or start planting your own Guerilla Forest Garden!

 

Whatever role you can play in the preservation, propagation, and sharing of fruit genetics, it will be a net benefit to human culture and for the biodiversity of the planets edible plant population.  With climate change and the the ongoing destruction and pollution of traditional agricultural and wild lands, any and all help is needed to help protect these species of fruit – even the ones that seem to need no protection at all today.  It will be a sad day indeed when an apple like the Honey Crisp or the Concord grape are no longer available because we could not take care of our planet!  Peace & Cheers

Part 1 of The Fruit Hunters

Part 2

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On February 7th The North American Scion Exchange celebrated its first birthday.  What started out as a simple Craigslist posting here in St. Paul, Minnesota to swap scion wood and other plant genetics, has now evolved into an international, bottom-up group of backyard and professional orchardists, cider makers, plant nursery proprietors, and an assortment of other fruits and nuts (pun intended!).  The original idea came to me after exchanging some emails with my friend Steven.  After hearing from him, and reading elsewhere about scion exchanges taking place out on the West coast, I figured it was time to try and organize something like that here.  Piggy backing off of my wife’s Yahoo account, I set up the first incarnation of the exchange – The Upper Midwest Scion Exchange.  A few people signed up, but like most things in their infancy they are slow to grow.

Then someone with the internet moniker Wild Forager signed up and posted a great looking list of scion wood and other fruits they had available to share.  Soon after that, we set up a trade and then talked on the phone.  Wild Forager, or in the real world, “Little” John the broom maker, had a lot of great ideas for improving the Scion Exchange.  We chatted for a good long while and decided upon a few changes that would be made to the exchange.  First, Little John came aboard to help moderate the exchange, and second, he did a wonderful job of cleaning up, adding too, and organizing the forum.  Without Little John’s help, The North American Scion Exchange would not be as awesome as it is today!!  A BIG thanks to Little John!!!  I also want to give a big shout out and thanks to all the members of the exchange!!  While it is cool to create something like the Exchange and share it with the world, it only works because of the real life people involved – so to all you 184 members and counting – keep on swappin’, graftin’, and plantin’!!  Thank You!

Moving on, but sticking to the topic of trading plants, this has been a very fruitful year for the exchange of plant genetics.  Like always, my main obsession is with apples.  I currently have 11 apple trees on our property, but these 11 trees have a combined 39 varieties grafted onto them.  So far this season, and I am still awaiting a few more trades to arrive in the mail, I have already received 23 more varieties of apples.  A majority of these will be grafted onto the !Frankentrees!, but a few are destined to grow as their own tree.  A few of the apple varieties that I am super excited about are Black Oxford, Sweet 16, Grimes Golden, and Wine Crisp, and at least a couple of these will find a home in our almost completed urban apple orchard!!

Here are cuttings of Honeyberries, gooseberries, and currants - all growing roots!

Here are cuttings of Honeyberries, gooseberries, and currants – all growing roots!

Apple scions are not the only genetics I have acquired thus far, I have also been collecting a few new plums – Elephant Heart, Pembina, and Mirabelle de Nancy have already arrived, and I am also hopefully getting Santa Rosa and a black plum.  Continuing with Prunus genetics, I am also intrigued by, and will be experimenting with some apricots as well.  Apache and Canadian White Blenheim just arrived and I also hope to get another named Chinese Sweet Pit.  Here in Minnesota apricots may be pushing our gardening zone a little bit, but I think I have a nice microclimate located on the southern side of a dark privacy fence that should help protect them.  Along with all the trees, a thanks needs to go out to my buddy KB!  Once again he has sent me a nice selection of currants, gooseberries, and jostaberries (a cross between the other two), and they are all growing nicely so far.

A handful of chestnuts, ready to be planted!

A handful of chestnuts, ready to be planted!

Two more entries in the experiment category are chestnuts and tree collards.  Chestnuts use to cover the American landscape until the early 1900s when the pathogenic fungus Cryphonectria parasitica, what is more commonly known as chestnut blight, wiped out virtually every mature chestnut tree on the continent.  Since then, many tree scientists have invested much time and research into trying to find a solution to this problem.  One solution has been the hybridization of the American chestnut, with those indigenous to China and Japan.  This has yielded a chestnut tree that is fairly resistant to the chestnut blight, and may be the solution for repopulating the American continent with one of its original food forest giants! Cliff England (Thank you!!!), who is the owner of England’s Orchard and Nursery in Kentucky, was kind enough to to send me a 1 pound package of cold, stratified chestnuts (along with some other scion wood) that are ready to be planted (which I just did)!  Check out Cliff’s website and support his business!!

Tree Collards!!

Tree Collards!!

The tree collards came my way from my buddy Steven mentioned earlier.  They are a perennial member of the Brassica family and look like what their name implies – collard greens growing on an upright tree.  They are definitely not hardy enough to survive a Minnesota winter, so like the figs that I grow, they will spend their lives in containers and be brought inside for the winters.  Doing research on rooting cuttings, I was under the impression that tree collards take a while to get established, so it is surprising that after only two weeks, I am already seeing a bunch of leaf growth.  Only time will tell if they are successful, but I am pretty optimistic at this point that I will a have a nice collection of tree collards by this autumn.  Thanks again Steven!!

Here is our new room!!

Here is our new room!!

And for the last update of the winter (at least for now), is the completion of the addition to our house.  I have made very small references to it before, but have never really talked much about it.  Over two years ago we applied for a home improvement loan through our county.  It is a no interest, no payment loan that only needs to be paid back when we move or have the title changed, neither of which we plan on doing anytime soon!  After much waiting, we were finally approved for the loan.  Because we have been such responsible homeowners and have done so much improvement work ourselves to the property, we were able to convince the local bureaucrats that our family of four, living in a 900 square foot house needed more room to live comfortably.  We ended up working with a great contractor and all the exterior work was finished by September.  I have spent the last five months finishing the inside.  Doing all the finishing trim, flooring, and base board work myself was quite the adventure and I have definitely learned a few new skill that will be helpful going into the future.

Here are a few photos of the construction!!

Here are a few photos of the construction!!

So there is what has been going on here for the last few months.  Lots of skill building, plant sharing, and building up our plant biodiversity.  We are not out of the cold months yet, but spring is right around the corner! Many seeds have already been started, plans for this years’ CSA are being laid, and I am ready to be outside on a regular basis again! Until next time … Peace & Cheers!!

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John and Myself Toasting our 2012 Vintage Hard Apple Cider!!

Ahh, hard cider! What a wonderful beverage! Whether it is next to a warm fire reading a good book, or celebrating with friends and family, hard apple cider is one of my favorite drinks to tip back. While I do occasionally purchase a commercial brand of cider such as Strongbow, Samuel Smith’s or Angry Orchard, hard cider can only be truly appreciated when you have had a hand in its production. While nature does do most of the work, human intervention can make this beverage truly superb.

Back in about mid September, we helped our good friend and neighbor John, harvest his abundant crop of apples. Using my apple picker, and a son who would not get out of the tree, we picked two – 5 gallon buckets, and a bushel basket worth of truly beautiful apples. We kept the best, blemish free ones for eating and a bit of baking, and the rest John juiced up in his juicer. He ended up with close to three and a half gallons of raw cider.

Fermenting Cider!!

Once the raw cider was ready, John brought it over to my house so I could perform a bit of alchemy. Since I knew that I would be helping with the fermentation, I had already propped up some of my favorite Belgian Ale yeast that I have been using for over five years (more about this in a future post)! We pitched the yeast into the raw cider, and let nature take over. And take over nature did! In all my years of home brewing and cider making, I have never seen a batch of hooch take off like this one did! It was a good thing that we only had three and a half gallons, it almost overflowed my 5 gallon carboy. After 3 or 4 days of hard fermentation, it calmed down a bit, and continued for another week and a half. At this point it got racked into my bottling bucket, primed with a bit of sugar for carbonation, bottled up, and put up on the cellar shelf for two weeks to finish its fermentation journey.

This last Saturday we tried our first bottle (okay two, and while writing this tonight my third & fourth) and were completely blown away! The first words that come to mind are bubbly, dry, tart and a slightly astringent finish. This is definitely not a sweet cider – there is almost no trace of sugar in the taste or the mouth feel, and there are subtle hints of anise (in the nose and initial taste), raisin, and grape. It is a bright golden color with an alcohol content that I am guessing is around 5%. As a single varietal cider, made with an apple of unknown origin, this cider is excellent. While I think it could be improved by just a bit of sweetness to balance the tartness and astringent finish, this is no detriment to the overall quality of this cider . The good news is this – in the next year or two, a bunch of my apple trees should be coming into decent production. This means we will be able to start fermenting and blending ciders with multiple varietals and this will add character, depth, varying degrees of sweetness vs. tartness and terroir to our neighborhood cider. Along with my trees, there are also a handful of other neighborhood trees that will hopefully start to be harvested and used in the production of our cider. Like most good things we are starting small – 3 ½ gallons this year. Next year I hope to more than double that by using more of the available apples, and also improving our cidering equipment (stay tuned for details!!).  Happy cidering to all you Homesteaders out there… Wassail, Peace, & Cheers

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Our Gold Rush Apple!!

As everyone in America knows, the summer 2012 growing season was one for the record books. Extreme heat and drought have dominated the headlines, climate change seems to be creeping into the common lexicon, and those of us who are ‘heavy gardeners, or light farmers” in the words of Utah Phillips, probably encountered many surprises this season. Starting back in late winter/early spring we had temps pushing the eighties in March!! The cherries, plums, and apples started blooming a month early and then most people here in Minnesota growing fruit trees got zapped by a hard frost (for those unlucky souls or should I say trees – more than once) and lost the majority of their blossoms!! We had good rains through May and June, and then in July and August the drought hit us and the Japanese beetles came and unleashed their hellish fury on our gardens!

Into October the drought continues and the gardens are winding down – in the next two to three nights we can expect frosts that will kill off most of the sensitive garden plants. As the season wanes, I can look back, and amidst the setbacks and strange weather, I feel like we did a good job stewarding our little ½ acre homestead. The quality on most of the vegetables this year was very high. Some highlights include the garlic, potatoes, carrots, salad mix, peppers, and tomatoes. Because of the spring frosts, we lost most of our tree fruit of the young trees, but one apple made it, and it proved its worth.

Gold Rush is an apple developed at the University of Purdue, and was released to the general public in 1992. It was developed with the intent to be resistant to numerous apple tree diseases, and also relatively cold hardy. Gold Rush is a large, conical, golden/green apple, with a blush of bronze on the sunny side of the apple. It is an offspring of Golden Delicious and has incredible storing properties – up to 7 months!! It can be eaten fresh, but is also used for baking, and an exceptional addition to cider. According to the Purdue website

“ The fruit is characterized by a complex, rich spicy flavor with a high degree of acidity and sweetness. Acidity moderates in cold storage, resulting in exceptional overall quality after 2 to 3 months. The apple retains its complex sprightly flavor and crisp, firm texture for at least 7 months at 1 C. The cultivar has been rated consistently as the highest quality apple after storage of all selections or cultivars tested at Purdue Univ.”

Unfortunately, we only harvested one of these apples this year. It is the first apple harvested off of Son of !Frankentree! I received the scion wood two years ago, and it was the first successful graft I performed on Son of !Frankentree! Looking at the Gold Rush branch, it looks like that number could increase to about a dozen next year. Most likely I will be grafting up trees of just Gold Rush because it really was that good. The trees are suppose to be great producers that are an excellent choice for the backyard or hobby orchardist. If this one apple can be proof of that, I’m a believer! On a side note, having a tree that has multiple cultivars grafted onto it is a great way to experiment with new varieties. Next year, assuming there is no killing frost at bloom time or any of the other calamities that can affect fruit production, I will hopefully be getting Karmijan de Sonneville, Hall, Coe’s Golden Drop, and Steele’s Red all off of Son of !Frankentree! Pretty cool stuff if you ask me! I hope everyone’s fall harvest is going well – Peace & Cheers!

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