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Reading as Meditation

Ok, maybe not meditation really. I have been shuffling through some self help/mindfulness/zen musings a bit these days. It is the stuff of rural winters… rest, calm, and reflection. The trouble is, I really don’t like the methods of most of these teachings. Its a little obvious, and ok, boring. It is well intentioned, but I always feel a bit like an imposter when I try these things. What I do know is that slowing the hell down and taking a few moments each day to slow your head is good practice.

There are other ways. When we first settled here 20 years ago, in the lazy hill country of northeast Vermont I did a lot of reading. Apparently there was a lot more time back then to sit about by the woodstove, I am not sure how. Those books were not my stuff of late, all chocked full of chemical diagrams and 6 syllable botany terms, but real reading. These were things like Aldo Leopold, Hal Borland, Bernd Heinrich. The point is that there are sentences out there that take you somewhere else, where you can feel your head loose its tightness, open its gaze, and stumble upon a sort of relief. After years of a lot of business and busy-ness, and engaging primarily in informational reading, I have returned to those pages as my little life raft.  There are facts about in the rural tomes, but there is an art to it, and an attention to something more reluctant to pin down. The prose of Wendell Berry, or the practical ramblings of Gene Logsdon can both make you smile, maybe think a bit,  and kind of set you free. This, I think, isn’t all that far off from sitting cross legged and finding psychic plateus. It doesn’t mean the latter has no merit. It means some folks are different than others, and some roads fit where others do not. So, reading the reflective and enjoying the power of some of life’s so called simple pleasures, or hardships, can be at once entertaining, and meditative. Maybe where the hippy meets the cowboy in us.

I will end with plug for a good friend. Ben Hewitt has been living a life of quiet reflection, right alongside a life of piss-hard work here in the northeast kingdom. You will not find better words to set your head strait than those in his blog. Mercifully it is updated often, so you get a place to return to get your fix. If it does something for you, do pledge a few bucks. It’s cheap therapy.

https://benhewitt.net

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Hedge your bets by betting on your Hedge


There are a lot of species out there being sold as hedges. That is all well and good, but the truth is, a good deal of woody plants, including trees, can work nicely in this respect even if they haven’t occurred to you. At the end of the post is a list of just a few candidates that maybe you haven’t thought of to border the yard, keep the animals in or out, or simply because it just might look cool. Any bush, shrub or tree that responds well to pruning can work. Respond well means generally that it stays in good health, but the use or look will determine how vigorously you want  it to resprout. A plant of low vigor in general can be expected to regrow slowly. Younger, healthy plants rebound more readily than sad old-timers. In most situations, you will want a good regrowth because it often means a nice, compact and dense system. Think about christmas tree shearing or trimming privet hedge and you will know what I mean. Do not forget that this method produces superb windbreaks, and can be used as privacy hedge.

This can be particularly useful when the desire is an inpenetrable hedge to keep animals out of an orchard or garden, or to keep chickens from wandering too far. Prickly choices like hawthorn or locust are obvious candidates, but even many native plums and wild pears can prove quite formidable. I have often used the prunings to stuff holes in the lower areas of the hedge, or in openings, the new growth tangling around it. This is similar to the old European practice of dead hedging, where farmers would create an impressive barrier by layering  nasty dead brush 6 foot wide and at least that tall.

You get bonus from some for dual use, for example locust as a nitrogen fixer, plums and other fruits for edibles, kindling, and smoking wood. Small wood can also be used in projects and general building.

Plashing is an age-old method developed in the old world. It consisted of slashing the stem of a hedge plant partly through its diameter and bending it down to a particular angle (often 45 or more degrees). Some practitioners would take the time to also weave the branches around each other to both hold the bent stem in place, and to add to the strength and impenetrability of the living fence. Note that any horizontal orientation of the limbs will result in vertical growth, which can in turn be bent in the future. The very act of any pruning will also yield resprouting, both in the plant aerial portions, but also in some species with root suckering.

Some species for hedges aka living fences :

plum–   especially native species like prunus americana and p. nigra, which are often sharp spurred. Will often resprout readily, especially when young.

locust– honey and black locust are common, and very thorny. They also have an irritant in the thorn. Black locust is rot resistant. Rank growth sometimes breaks, so trim stocky.

hawthorn– another very spikey species, and also has an irritation associated with a prick from a thorn. A tough plant with strong wood.

siberian pea shrub – an absolutely beautiful species. Can be trimmed quite bushy for a tree (this “shrub” can get 20 feet tall). Easy to manage. This is a zone 2 plant, with edible (kind of) pods and seeds, and is an awesome nectary for beneficials like bumblebee. Good windbreak or privacy hedge.

apple, plum and cherry – not as dense as other woody plants, they are often espaliered, trimmed, and woven to produce novel fences more akin to fancy split rails in purpose. They can however be nearly sheared (use secateurs please, not hedgeclippers), to make a denser specimen. More wild members, like crabapples and seedling pears can be brushier or pokier. Some species, like malus sargentii (like roselow), are more accurately a shrub than a tree.

shade trees – many species will allow themselves to be hedged, particularly if started young (before 6 inch diameter for instance). Look at the list on this post for more details –                            https://waldenheightsnursery.com/coppice-or-pollard

Another helpful technique when looking to create a barrier is to commingle species. A successful plan can be to gang woodier examples like plum or crabapple with lower growing simpler species like rugosa rose or blackberry. This will grow well especially if grouped to avoid excess shading in the lower plants. A wide as well as long tangle will result, keeping out unwanted guests.

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Coppice or Pollard

alder coppice                            photo by Cat James

These will be new words for many of you. These are age old methods for being able to continuously harvest a woody plant. In most cases this really means a proper tree. Some species are better than others, but the procedure between them is pretty much the same. The practice involves cutting the plant back, ideally in the dormant season, then allowing it some time (read years), to reestablish itself. The method goes back a long time, being popular in, but preceding the early middle ages in Europe. In fact, in many areas of old Europe the native forest groves were decimated from excessive harvesting for fuel and construction. By allowing a regrowth on tree species, instead of cutting to the soil line and harvesting at illogical times of year, a more sustainable source of wood was attained. There is evidence that trees managed by these systems allowed longevity of many times their normal lifespan. Fodder for livestock is another use in this system, but cutting is often done during the growing season, which can be more taxing on the plant. Both pollard and coppice management allows hand tools instead of unsustainable fuel based tools due to the small diameter wood. It is also more peaceful and healthier for the worker. It takes me approximately 4 seconds to cut through a 3 inch branch with a silky saw, 1 second to cut one inch segments with pruning shears…and I can do it all day long. I cut 14 cords of limbwood in one winter with loppers and a swedish bow saw, and I enjoyed it.

So, what’s the difference between the two methods? Coppicing, which is more often mentioned in literature, is the practice of cutting closer to the ground. Pollarding is simply the process of cutting it higher up. Any species that responds well to one method, generally responds well to both. Do note, that a higher cut retains more carbohydrates for the plant to feed on. Often, the choice has to do with aesthetics, but some factors, like keeping young shoots away from hare damage by choosing pollarding, can be practical. These methods can both be used to create border hedges as a bonus. This is particularly advantageous with thorny species.

Coppice/Pollard species

acer spp                      
maples- good for firewood and building. Sugar maple has the highest btu rating for maples

alnus spp                    
alders- not only a good nitrogen fixer, but a good c/p species if you have wetter areas. Fuel and small material in building

betula spp                  
the birches. resprouts nicely unless beginning with a very old tree. Great building and firewood candidate. Btu of yellow birch is on par with maple, and it has wintergreen flavor.

corylus spp                
the hazlenuts. Good for firewood/charcoal and small building projects and poles

fagus spp                    
beech. When tree is small, 3-5 inches caliper, it will resprout well. It also may sucker. Good firewood/charcoal, basketry and building. Dense, lightcolored wood.

ash spp                        
the ashes. the green ash resprouts the most readily. Fuel (will often burned unseasoned). Prized for basketry, and good for building.

malus/pyrus                
apple and pear. Pear will resprout quite vigorously. Both are excellent firewoods, and sought after for smoking fish and meats. The dense wood turns beautifully and so isprized by woodworkers.

prunus spp                  
the cherries and plums. Regarding the former, Black cherry, chokecherry and pin cherry all resprout readily, even from older plants. Black cherry is the longest lived. All are good firewood, about medium in btu rating among the hardwoods. Like the pear and apple, all cherries have a delightful odor when burned. Plum is much the same, but the stems need to be harvested more carefully as the spurs can be sharp.

Quercus spp
               
the oaks. All species sprouts nicely, especially on stumps under a foot diameter. High on the list for firewood, high in btu’s. Has some rot resistance due to high tannin levels. Also for that reason, it is used in tanning. Good for all types of building. White oaks are used in barrel making as the wood is closed pored.

syringa vulgaris          
lilac. Small diameter wood, but can be used for fuel. Very long lived species.

ulmus                            
elms. all resprout well. Many uses from basketry to furniture. If this species is used for firewood, coppicing and pollarding are the methods to use, as it is nearly impossible to split large billets due to stringy and sometimes twisted grain.

Note– any tree or shrub species that resprouts can be used. The thorny species I did not include because, although they are often incouraged, they can be a pain, literally. Some plums, pear, and of course hawthorn and locusts can do a number on your skin, or worse, eyeball. However, there is no better fence. A method of continual cutting, using the trimmings to stuff the holes in the hedge, will yield an inpenetrable mass to any creature of good sense.

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New for 2017

 Fruit CSA    We will be offering a membership that will include fruit and fruit products from July through December, featuring apples, pears, apple cider, fruit juices, frozen berries and other fruit, fresh berries, and extras.  All products are certified organic and grown on our farm exclusively. Not only do you get a price break, but some of our offerings are only available to members. Membership also includes extras like an end of the year party, free tickets to events, and discounts in our farmstand.

  We are looking to have folks sign up this year to plan for next year. Expect the membership to sell out, so let us know if you are interested sooner than later.  

Pickups weekly at the farm.         Contact us for details…through the contact box, email at [email protected], or 802- 563- 3012

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Attention Hard Cider makers !

Attention hard cider makers !  We are making weekly pressings with a huge diversity of apple varieties for brewing. This is unpasterized and super fresh.

Ordering ahead of pickup is required. Use the contact box, or email [email protected]

7.00 gallon in jugs

50.00 for a filled 5 gallon bpa free plastic brewing pail, and everything else you need to brew. (Includes yeast packet of choice, gasket, and 3 piece airlock)

10.00 for a half gallon fitted with plug and airlock, and yeast packet. Great for trying weekly new blends, or those new to the craft.

All orders come with data sheet listing cultivars in the batch; pH, and brix levels.

Also available- sulfite for disinfecting (important for some brewers)

-hops for cider addition- sold dry or frozen

– cider apples – .75/pound

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Biochar – fact or fiction ?

Biochar is being touted as the latest silver bullet in both the agricultural realm and that of environmental stability. There is some evidence that the substance can improve productivity in poor soils, and as another (of many) temporary sequesterers of carbon.Biochar can act as a reservoir of exchange sites, water storage, and in some cases decays more slowly than more natural carbon structures (ie plant residues). It, however is a product that needs some manufacturing to exist, either backyard in scale or industrial. Good agricultural or permaculture practices allow for organic matter systems that negate the need for this remediation. Furthermore, the raw materials for biochar are the carbon containing residues so important to a living soil system, be that natural forest systems or crop residues. Therefore, the biochar approach has more appropriate merit for highly weathered and humus poor regions like the tropics, where apparently biochar was rediscovered. Environmentally ethical sources, also, would be those waste products of industry, not of living systems. It is similar to the idea of harvesting forest debris from the lumber industry for biofuel…it leaves nothing behind to support the forest ecosystem. For those farmers or gardeners with well drained or sandy soils and low organic matter, it is likely to aid plant growth and health. Adding any organic matter, charred or not, will do this. The living soil fauna require carbon (along with other nutrients) to survive. These creatures are of paramount importance. This requires the matter to be consumed, so although a slow decay process has merit, a carbon source that takes eons to decay (mixed evidence for biochar on this front), is not necessarily useful, especially in slow decay soils in cooler, acid climates. The purpose of this post is not to write off the merits of a new approach like biochar, but to allow folks to be more informed and to move slowly and think carefully when presented with a magic bullet, particularly when it is surrounded by a plethora of products for sale.

We came across the following article by Rachel Smolker in the Earth Island Journal. It is well written and sobering for those looking for a cure all. Rachel is codirector of Biofuelwatch and a climate justice activist. She has a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Michigan, and worked previously as a field zoologist.

Biochar Article PDF

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Overstating the Organic Revolution

Growing your own food may not just be a way to fill our plates more economically, it may be the only way to obtain healthy and sustainable food with certainty. While it is apparent that grocers now stock their shelves with organic products, a sight unimaginable only a few years ago, it is still a very tiny fraction of the volume of food we consume in the United States. According to the last census, less than ¾ of a percent of the US food market is organic. Yes, that means that 99.25 or more is conventionally grown. This is not what seems apparent given the media attention to the so called explosion of the organic food market.

Another consideration is exactly what those organic products represent. A good deal of produce is shipped to us in the northeast from California, and often overseas. More than half of all organic produce is shipped over  100 miles, and 20 percent over 500. This calls into question the sustainability question firstly, as many of us organic supporters are also sensitive to environmental and sustainability issues. It should also be obvious to all that policing the practices of farmers in far off countries is likely impossible to any degree of quality.

There certainly is room for improvement in this country.  The US has a bit over 14,000 organic farms. That may sound like a lot, but in comparison  Mexico has around  170,000. Respect must be handed to our southern neighbor, but for us, perhaps, embarrassment. The United States is and has never been an example of healthy habits…quite the opposite. It is however frustrating for this organic farmer to listen to all the accolades we bestow on ourselves for some sort of health epiphany, when in reality our people neither farm or eat healthy in any meaningful way. It is a select few growers and supporters surrounded by a sea of old and unhealthy habits.

The organic farms that do exist also have the same pressures that affect other farms and businesses. Namely, that is profitability. The course, of course, is for small farm numbers to decrease, as consolidation and farm size increases, ie farm profitability by volume. This can still mean healthier food, but it also means most often a decrease in sustainability, especially with the use of fossil fuels. The mechanization also means a net loss in jobs. According to the USDA census,the number of organic farms has decreased in recent years (an example is the 400 farm decrease from 2008 to 2014), due both to small organic farms going under, and consolidation and increase of larger entities. Even though there are increasingly more large scale farms in the organic sector, the total acreage in the US under organic management has been decreasing by many thousands of acres a year. Value added products during the period, incidentally, more than tripled. So, a large percent of the increase in organic food consumption (published as a 74 percent increase in the last decade) was in the form of processed foods, arguably less healthy than conventional whole foods.

So, how does this all affect an individual or family that wants to both eat well, and do the right thing as a steward of this planet? Any product that has such a small market share is vulnerable to high pricing, and to lack of availability. This, for many, means lack of short term sustainability. It means most markets will not carry most foods, will have a long shelf life waiting for customers to buy them, and the prices will be higher. It perhaps more importantly means that both conventional and organic food come at a high environmental cost, since even organic farming by and large supports the heavy use of fossil fuels on farm, distant transportation, and energy intensive mechanization. Most often the only way to really insure a farmer is acting according to your ethics, is to have a relationship with him or her. Some organizations like the certification body for organic certification can help by setting up some arbitrary ground rules, and some (small) degree of policing. The only other way is to grow it yourself, in a community space or at home.

Growing food yourself, in addition to the empowerment and fulfillment itself, is an ironclad way of farming or gardening exactly as your ethics and health concerns dictate. This means no compromising or mysteries. The work you do will likely save you a good deal of money while accomplishing your goals.

above figures derived from the US Census of Agriculture

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Cider Pressin’

Well over a hundred varieties have found their way into the blends adding to maximum flavor. It is all our fruit, all certified organic, all tree picked.

Available in half gallon plastic jugs for 5.00. Also available in nice glass jugs, also 5.00 but with a 3.50 deposit (you can opt to keep the jug, they are high quality).

We may also have blends of other fruit juices, and 12 ounce sizes as well.

Available through 2018 while supplies last.   Call ahead please.   Pickup only.

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F.H. King : Professor of Agriculture, Organic Pioneer

“Man is the most extravagant accelerator of waste the world has ever endured. His withering blight has fallen upon every living thing within his reach, himself not excepted; and his besom of destruction in the uncontrolled hands of a generation has swept into the sea soil fertility which only centuries of life could accumulate, and yet this fertility is the substratum of all that is living.”

-F H King

Professor of Agricultural Physics of the University of  Wisconsin and the Chief of Division of Soil Management at the US Dept of Agriculture (turn of the last century).

Mr. King, through his books and research helped lay a foundation for what would become the modern organic movement. His work, like that of Sir Albert Howard, looked to the practice of eastern cultures and their agricultural practices. The highly intelligent mechanics of many of these systems, largely disregarded by industrial countries to the west, provided fodder for good research into sustainable systems. Examples of these so called primitive people were logical, effective, and creative. These were farmers engaged in a system not only innovative, but sustaining itself in some cases for thousands of years. Some figures in the west, like FH King, brought attention to these ideas. It would eventually gain popularity with some farmers throughout the world. Certainly, growers on all continents have historically engaged in natural practices, but it was becoming increasingly out of favor as industrial agriculture evolved. King and Howard brought more academic credibility to natural growing with impressive record keeping, intuition, and good science.

 

Some good publications to seek out are FH King’s “The Soil” (1908), and “Farmers of 40 Centuries” (1911).

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Record Breaking Cold in 2015

The only thing that annoys me more than nay sayers  of global climate change (that’s right not global warming), are those ready to embrace some idea of a local warming trend. That is, with the newly restructured zone hardiness map in North America showing formerly zone 3 areas upgraded to 4’s, and so on. These were altered through long term data, based mostly on minimum lows in a hundred year period. Well, guess what? NOAA printed a very long list of US locations that broke historic records for minimum temps. This was the last week of Feb. 2015. These were in Maine, Michigan, Texas, Kentucky, to name a few. These spanned from NY City to Miami.

What does it mean? Perhaps it means we should thing again about thinking anything positive about weather fluctuation. We have always preached caution when planting marginally hardy plants. As of late, we have had a very large number of folks looking to plant peaches and sweet cherries up here in the north, since the hardiness maps lightened up. Only one year later and they have proved invalid. Our state of Vermont just had the coldest February on record, for instance.

Rootstocks choice for trees such as apples are an example of preparing for the unexpected. Our nursery only sells apple trees on cold hardy seedling stock, taking temps down to 40’s below and colder. Compare that with most cloned stocks that are used, almost exclusively, in the US nursery trade. These latter stocks are only designed for zone 5 (15 to -20). This includes all of the Malling stocks.  In this situation, a tree on the industry standard, could wind battered and bewildered. That is dead.

You can decide from there.

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HMO Transfer

To the question of whether or not GMO apples can transfer genetics to other apple specimens, the answer is, you bet. Any alteration in the dna of an organism is transferable through sexual reproduction. It should be kept in mind that this would be the seed, it being the progeny, not the fruit (receptacle and calyx tissues). In cider and perhaps other processing, the seeds will be damaged, and it is possible to ingest gmo material, be it in small amounts. It is every person’s decision whether or not this ingestion is an issue. What is certainly true, is that those seeds will sprout somewhere, and they will have those modified genes, like it or not.

Proponents (including Okanagan Specialty Fruits) do not deny the risk of cross-contamination, instead taking the stance that it is unlikely given buffer strips and the like. One might keep in mind that the US had a buffer strip with Japan called the…Pacific Ocean… which wasn’t sufficient to keep those beetles at bay. Bees’ll find a way as well. And by the way, it speaks volumes that we need apple tree free strips to protect our crops from one another.

Whether or not human modified organisms (a more accurate term,), is detrimental, really hasn’t been established. HMO’s may feed the world, cure cancer, and maybe even stop that buzzing sound on my guitar amp. But for those who don’t want those genes in your apples, or food chain in general (for whatever reason), you may be already screwed.

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GMO Update

An update, for those interested in such things. That homey little biotech company (supporters of the new technology were loving this referral of the

tiny less than a dozen concern)…has…who’da thunk…been aquired. Yes, a week after the release of ARCTIC tm apples, the company was bought up by Intexon, another jillion dollar corporation, but with our best interests at heart. In their pr literature they wax about feeding the starving world. How nice. “A better world through better DNA” is the company slogan. Apparently the old DNA just won’t do.

 

Interestingly, Cornell in 2013 had released a classically bred apple (Dr Susan Brown I think spearheaded this), called “Ruby Frost”. This variety, you guessed it, is bred to be slow to brown. (We will refrain from mentioning Brown not wanting brown apples). So, whatever we think about slow oxidation and its place in the hierarchy of food priorities, it is apparently possible without genetic engineering.

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Orchard Cleanliness Reduces Apple Scab

The following was authored by Louis Lego of Elderberry Pond,  with assistance from Brian Caldwell of Cornell University.

Summary

Apple Scab is perhaps the most devastating of all disease or insect disorders impacting apple production in the Northeast. While there are many new scab fungicides including some with systemic and reach-back capabilities (can be applied post infection), none of these spray materials are permitted in organic production. In addition the cost of these fungicides is often prohibitive in conventional orchards. One of the fundamental premises of apple scab control whether organic or conventional, is that orchard floor clean-up at the end of a season can help prevent serious infection the following year. This is based on the fact that the scab fungus, (Venturia inaequalis) overwinters only on fallen debris. So the question that you might ask is, What if you cleaned up ALL debris through brushing, vacuuming, applying early compost to decay remaining bits of leaf and fruit debris? Could you eliminate apple scab in the orchard and not have to spray fungicides at all? Or alternatively would there be some residues in adjacent fields or orchards that would move into your orchard and cause infections. The purpose of this project was to try an extreme cleanup in a small 2 acre orchard that was somewhat isolated from other orchards on our farm that are managed organically. This orchard was thoroughly cleaned, compost applied in spring to accelerate ground leaf decay, and early, vigorous pruning to allow air and sunshine to infiltrate the orchard (a standard organic orchard procedure). The results were very encouraging even in a very wet year with many scab infection periods. The test orchard (with no fungicide sprays) had less apple scab than the organically managed orchard where 5 sulfur sprays were applied. Comparisons were made on the same varieties (Macoun, Empire, Honeycrisp, Fuji, Red Yorking and Northern Spy). The results were encouraging enough that we have purchased a large vacuum system to begin applying the ultra clean practices demonstrated in this project to all of our orchards. The remainder of this report details the methods used and the results obtained.

Introduction

1. Goal

The goal of this project was to determine if Apple Scab (Venturia inaequalis) could be controlled or even eliminated in a two acre isolated orchard by using three processes aimed at removal and/ or destruction of overwintering fungus on the orchard floor. If all or nearly all of the overwintering scab fungus could be destroyed or removed there would be no primary or secondary infections and no need for fungicide sprays during a growing season. This could result in saving the labor and material costs associated with from five to ten sprays in a given season. It would also be very good for beneficial insects including bees which can be harmed by fungicide sprays both conventional and organic (sulfur).

2. Farm Profile

Elderberry Pond is a 100 Acre certified organic farm. In any year we have about 35 acres of certified organic fruits, vegetables and pastures. Our mission at Elderberry Pond is to use the farm as a model of how sustainable agriculture can operate to fuel local food systems. The farm is operated by my wife and I and our son Christopher. We hire a few summer students and interns to work with us during the summer months. We market our produce and meats through an on-farm country food store, at local farmers’ markets and through a fine dining restaurant “The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond” which is located in a woodlot overlooking the farm. The farm produces a very wide variety of produce and meat to meet the needs of the store and restaurant. All of the salad greens, vegetables, potatoes, dessert fruits and many of the meats for the restaurant are grown on the farm. Apples are one of the most important crops grown on the farm. We grow about 100 varieties of apples. Because we believe orchards serve many purposes on a diversified farm our fruit trees are not planted in large single blocks, but rather are scattered around the farm in long thin plantings serving as windbreaks and as habitats for beneficial insects as well in small blocks that can be used for pastures and shade for livestock. Because our orchards are spread around the farm, and we have summer help working it is important that we find ways to control insects and disease using as few organic spray materials as possible. With this objective in mind we have tried each year to have one on farm research grant aimed at methods to reduce or eliminate the use of sprays. We have pursed spore exclusion, unique trapping techniques, and in this case a way to reduce or eliminate overwintering disease spores. These on farm research efforts are very important to the operation of our farm and to our mission of improving and promoting sustainable agriculture practices.

3.Participants

Along with my own work on this project, my son Chris helped with orchard mowing, flaming and pruning, and our Technical Advisor, Brian Caldwell advised us on issues of scab overwintering and the vulnerability of specific cultivars.

4.Project Activities

The project followed our proposed approach with a few adjustments that were due to the very snowy fall and the wet spring we had in upstate New York… the wettest on record. The very wet spring was good in a sense because the disease pressure was extreme, with over 7 scab infection periods. We started the project in the beginning of April with orchard floor cleanup. We found that our large three blade mower with hi lift blades was not picking up much of the debris. This was due to the fact that the ground was soaked and the leaves were stuck together. We then tried a small “Billy Goat” we rented from Taylor Rental. This was a much smaller machine with more suction per unit area. It worked better, but was still not doing the job. We then tried a small (20”) rotary mower with an ultra- lift mulching blade and a bagger. With a blade height setting of 3 inches, this worked well, sucking everything except the earthworms from the orchard floor. Doing the 2 acre orchard with a twenty inch mower took many hours (days), particularly since the bag filled every 10 to 12 feet. The result however was really good. Except in the very close proximity of the trees, there was almost no leaf debris remaining. See Figure 2. In the vicinity of the tree trunk we carefully flamed the remaining debris with a hand wand flamer.

Following Orchard Floor Cleanup we began pruning. The idea here was to prune the trees early and more aggressively than we normally would. The purpose of this aggressive pruning is to allow more sunlight penetration onto the well cleaned orchard floor and to permit more airflow through the orchard. This is exactly opposite to what happens in a conventional block orchard or in a high density orchard. An example of our pruning is shown in the before and after photos of.

The final Step in the process was to spread compost on the orchard floor. We used a combination of composted cow manure (Fessenden TLC) which we put in the vicinity of the tree and pelletized chicken manure (Kreher) which we used in the rows between the trees. Both are approved for Organic production. In this system the compost serves three purposes: 1. Help to decay the remaining debris which may contain overwintering scab spores 2. Provide spring nutrients for the health of the trees 3. Provide for very rapid growth of the orchard grass early in the spring This third advantage was one that was discovered during the project. With the grass mowed very low during the pre-growth period in the spring, and then fertilized, the spring rains in early May cause an amazing spurt in growth of the grass. I believe this rapid grass growth helps to shield the new spring growth on the trees from ascospores that may be released from the fruiting bodies of any remaining overwintering fungus. We allowed the grass to grow until the spring primary scab infection period was over. To provide for a comparison of the results of the scab infection rate in this orchard we had a second orchard plot which we maintained using standard organic orchard maintenance (5 sulfur sprays). This second control plot had many of the same scab susceptible varieties as the test orchard including Macoun, Honeycrisp, Fuji, Empire and Northern Spy as well as inter-planted disease resistant varieties such as Pristine and Jonafree. We have traditionally mixed scab free varieties with scab susceptible varieties to decrease the overwintering infected leaves in the orchard. There is however some risk to mixing scab resistant varieties with the Vf M.Floribunda gene resistance gene with standard cultivars. The risk is that a rare mutation of the normal scab fungus could infect the resistant variety and cause the breakdown of the resistance in that cultivar.

5. Results

The results of the test were fairly dramatic in one of the worst scab years we have had in 20 years. We began looking for primary scab infections when the leaves were just beginning to form on the early varieties. Early in the season there were no signs of infection on any of the trees in the no spray test orchard or in the organically managed orchard. We believed that we had prevented primary scab infections in all orchards, however in August we began to see both leaf and fruit lesions on Pink Pearl, Caville Blanc, and Summer Treat in the sulfur treated organic orchard. These very susceptible varieties were not in the no-spray test orchard. It was not until September that we found very small scab infections on Macoun in both the test and organic orchards.

The small scab spots were few and far between and were mostly in the line of trees that were adjacent to the clover field just to the east of the orchard. It is possible that some overwintering leaves had been trapped in the clover and spores from these infected this first row of trees. In the main part of the no spray orchard there were no visible scab infections. We cut branches from similar sized trees of the same variety in both the no-spray and the sulfur treated orchards, and compared them for visible infections. In all varieties that were in both orchards (N.Spy, Honeycrisp, Macoun, and Fuji) there were slightly ( about 5%) fewer visible infections in the no spray orchard. This may have been the result of the badly infected Caville Blanc and Pink Pearl trees that were present in the sulfur treated orchard and not in the no-spray test orchard. In any event I now believe that extreme sanitization may be the best approach to scab control in an organic orchard. It may be that these very susceptible heirloom varieties should be planted in a separate orchard and managed differently. I have begun to reconsider mixing the varieties of differing susceptibilities to lower overall infected debris on the orchard floor. Perhaps separate orchards ,each with different management practices is the best approach.

6. Conditions

As mentioned previously the spring/summer of 2011 was one of the worst for scab infection periods. Our first infection period was on April 26th when we had unusually high temperature of 67 degrees and a leaf wetness period of about 10 hours. Then on May 16th and 17th we had temperatures in the high 40’s and a leaf wetness period of over 28 hours. Figure 5 shows the timing of these infections. There were of course many more scab infection periods but all of these were following the primary infection period. The primary infection period is usually over by approximately 1000 degree days at Base 32 degrees. This occurred on about May 20th at Elderberry Pond. If all of the primary spores were expended and no primary infections occurred there would be no secondary infections. This was not the case in our orchards. Our scab infections, although minor were most likely caused by secondary infections following June 22nd, from a small number of unobserved primary infections.

7.Economics

The Time it took us to thoroughly clean the two acre orchard with a 20 inch rear bagger mower offset any cost advantage from not having to apply 5 sulfur sprays. Having said this the time in the late fall and early spring when this cleaning is taking place is not as busy a time for us during April, May and June. I believe that with a more efficient vacuum cleaner we can greatly reduce the cleanup time.

8. Assessment

This project has convinced me that extreme cleanup is the most practical and sustainable approach to organic orcharding. I believe that the continued use of large numbers of copper and sulfur sprays will not work in the long run. I also have come to believe, in part based on the results of this project, that it may be better to separate orchard plantings by scab susceptibility. Perhaps all scab resistant varieties should be planted together and managed with no scab sprays. Those varieties that have very high susceptibility like Caville Blanc and Pink Pearl should be planted in a separate orchard and managed as required using sprays to minimize resistant fungi development. All other varieties (with moderate scab susceptibility) should be managed using the techniques I have tested in this project.

9. Adoption

We do definitely plan to use the approach we tested on this project on our orchards. To this end we have purchased at our own expense a used leaf collection bin and vacuum fan which we have just finished adapting to an older Gravely Lawn Tractor. The Lawn Tractor Deck was modified to take high lift mulcher blades and feed the vacuum fan through a large flexible hose. See figure 6. The plan is to use a smaller zero-turn mower to lay the debris from near the trees to a middle isle where the vacuum machine will pick them up. We are also configuring a manually held hose attachment to the vacuum machine to use directly under the trees. We will continue to spread compost on the orchard floor for decomposition of remaining leaf debris, and to fertilize the trees and grass.

10. Outreach

We are scheduled to present the results of this project at the NOFA Organic Research Symposium in Saratoga Springs, NY on Friday, January 20th, and at the PASA Farming for the Future Conference at Penn State University on Saturday, February 4th. We will also present and demonstrate the extreme cleanup process at our 2012 Organic Orcharding Class here on the farm in April 2012. The extreme cleanup method of scab prevention will also be described to those attending our weekly farm tours at Elderberry Pond.

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Dwarf Rootstock Mortality in Cold Climates

The following is good reading when considering dwarf rootstocks in the colder climates. This is one of the many studies done through the US SARE system. (Look for more SARE project posts on our website.)

Authored by John O’Meara of O’Meara Family Farm with assistance from Renae Moran (U of Maine) :

Summary

This project attempted to determine the usefulness of dwarf rootstocks in a zone 3 orchard. Conducted over the course of four years, this project compared the growth and survivability of three dwarfing rootstocks with a standard, cold-hard rootstock normally used for extreme climates. Ultimately, the dwarf rootstocks did not survive well and generally showed poor performance at this location. The results of this project point to Antonovka rootstock as the most viable rootstock in a zone 3 location, especially when the orchard is under organic management.

Introduction

This project aimed to test new dwarfing and semi-dwarfing rootstocks in a zone 3 climate. Rootstocks G. 41 (dwarfing) and G. 935 (semi-dwarfing), developed at the USDA/ Cornell University Apple Rootstock Breeding Program in Geneva, New York, could offer the hardiness required of a zone 3 climate combined with the benefits of a dwarfing tree. Dwarfing trees could allow the northern grower the advantages of fruit-bearing precocity, ease of harvest, and high orchard density. In addition, G. 41 and G.935 have been bred to be resistant to serious apple diseases, which may make them particularly valuable to growers in various climates. To test the hardiness of G. 41 and G. 935, this project compared the survivability and growth of the two new rootstocks to Bud. 9, a commonly used hardy, dwarfing rootstock, and Malus antonovka, a hardy standard-sized rootstock.

Objectives/Performance

Targets

In the spring of 2009, we grafted 200 trees for this project. Liberty scionwood was used for all 200 grafts. 50 grafts were done on G.41 rootstock, fifty on G.935, fifty on Bud. 9, and fifty on Antonovka. The G. 41 and G. 935 rootstocks were provided by Dr. Fazio. The Antonovka and Bud. 9 rootstocks were acquired from Lawyer Nursery in Montana, the usual source of our rootstock. Success rate of grafting was recorded in the beginning of the first growing season. In the fall of each year, the trees were protected from rodent damage, in preparation for winter. During four growing seasons (2009,2010,2011, and 2012), the trees were weeded. They were also monitored for vigor, survivability, growth, and the presence of disease.

Methods

Grafting success: The trees were grafted in April, 2009 and planted on May 4th, 2009. As of June 4th, 2009, the following numbers of grafts were successfully growing, by variety. G.935 16/50 G.41 30/50 Bud 9 13/50 Antonovka 35/50 The G. 41 and Antonovka had significantly better grafting success than the other two varieties. Although every effort was made to acquire rootstock of comparable size and quality, the G. 935 was of larger diameter than the other rootstocks, requiring that the grafting was done a little differently. In addition, the Bud 9 rootstock lacked vigor from the start and did not grow well in general. Although these initial problems may have affected grafting success, we proceeded with the project with the belief that the project would still provide important data about the survivability and overall growth of the rootstocks in question, over the long term. Fatalities: Some rootstock died during the course of this project. As stated above, the Bud 9 rootstock arrived from our supplier nursery in poor condition. An unusual percentage of those rootstocks were dead on arrival or perished the first season. Deaths among the roostocks: 2009– recorded September G.935 5/50 G. 41 2/50 Bud 9 12/50 Antonovka 0/50 2010—recorded August G.935 42/50 G.41 13/50 Bud 9 25/50 Antonovka 2/50 2011– recorded August G.935 2/50 G.41 20/50 Bud 9 11/50 Antonovka 0/50 Total fatalities– 2009-2010 G. 935 49/50 (98%) G.41 35/50 (70%) Bud 9 48/50 (96%) Antonovka 2/50 (4%) Total fatalities– 2012 G. 935 49/50 (98%) G.41 47/50 (94%) Bud 9 48/50 (96%) Antonovka 2/50 (4%)

Impacts

Clearly, the dwarfing rootstocks have displayed some serious problems during the course of this project. Although the Antonovka performed as it has for several years on this farm, the dwarfing rootstocks suffered severe problems of survivability. One cause of this may have been a weed problem that developed in the nursery during 2009. Quack grass became more prevalent in the nursery and possibly inhibited the vigor of the rootstocks in general. The more vigorous Antonovka was more able to compete with the weeds. On the other hand, the rootstocks that did survive performed well, indicating that weed pressure may not have been the major problem. Our advisor, Renae Moran, has expressed the opinion that weed pressure is probably not the primary cause of the fatalities among the dwarf rootstocks. Severe winter weather is a problem for fruit nurseries in our climate. This project was intended primarily as a test of the winter hardiness of these dwarfing rootstocks. Because the winter of 2009/2010 was one of the warmest winters in our location on record, as seen in the temperature log, and cold winter temperatures would not seem to be the cause of the high mortality of the dwarfing rootstocks. The winters of 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 have also been moderate in New Sweden. The problem may be tardiness in hardening off among the dwarfing rootstocks. Although the winters have not been very cold, G.935 and G. 41 may be slower to harden off in fall; the fall temperatures of Aroostook County may be causing a higher mortality among rootstocks not adapted to a zone 3 climate.

2009 Daily temperature log

2009 was an unusual year in northern Maine, weather-wise. April and May were unusually warm and almost incessantly windy. June and July were exceptionally rainy. Low and high daily temperatures were recorded daily 2010 also had some unusual fluctuations in weather. There were long dry spells during the summer but no exceptionally cold weather during winter months. 2011 was the wettest summer on record in Caribou, Maine. Although the exceptionally wet weather may have caused even more problems among the dwarfing rootstocks, the Antonovka were unaffected. During 2012, the dwarfing rootstocks used in this project continued to perform poorly. Only 1 G. 935, 3 G. 41, and 2 Bud 9 survived, as of October 2012. In contrast, only 2 of the 50 Antonovka rootstock have died since 2009.

Accomplishments

This established that though the rootstocks in question may have utility in other locations, they did not serve well or succeed in our northern, organic orchard. The Antonovka rootstock outperformed all of the dwarfing rootstock in this project. Although there are disadvantages to using standard rootstocks, the dwarfing rootstooks tested over the past four years did not survive well enough to be viable options in our orchard.

The results of this project point to Antonovka rootstock as the most viable rootstock in a zone 3 location, especially when the orchard is under organic management.

Publications/Outreach

An article on this project has been written and submitted to Farming magazine for Spring 2013 publication.

Northern Apple Rootstock Future Recommendations

Although the dwarfing rootstocks tested in this project did not do well in our orchard, our results point to the need for more testing in more locations and in different conditions. Perhaps a slightly more temperate location would allow for more survivability among the dwarfing rootstocks.

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Newly Grafted Trees

Young grafts should be treated closer to vegetable starts than to trees. A nursery bed for that first year, at least, is required. Although the tree will require different environmental and nutritional needs than an annual, they do need the same sort of babysitting. Consider water and warmth as the “fertilizers” of first importance. This latter point is all to often left out of the equation. This also means keeping the humidity up, especially if the union is not healed so well. (Drying out the scion may not simply kill it, it may be just crummy growth). Also, make sure it is the growing conditions and not the grafting procedure that is causing slow growth. This especially means aftercare for proper heal. When they are growing, give them the attention you would give to your little tomatoes, including mulching and weeding.

There will be a disconnect in how the baby is treated in this first year or two, and how it will receive nutrition as an adult. Later in life in a healthy system, it will do well with gradual release through organic matter, in conjunction with good mycorrhizal fungal connections. Now, in a bed that has been prepared with forethought (fungal connections partially in place) and living soil, good growth is possible. Even in this situation, some supplementation is helpful. A foliar application is great, but a sustainably derived fertilizer in that bed is a good idea as well. They benefit from a bit of nitrogen which, being easily available in a mineralized form is an easy one, as is K. But, P and other micronutrients really should have been developed in that living soil. It is when the quick fix is needed that growers turn to industrial farming methods like triple superphosphate, miracle grow and 20 20 20 .

Having done this quite a bit commercially, I find that that first year never really is all that spectacular for growth, whether that is seedling plants or grafted fruit trees. I think they are pissed from being moved around and violated, and they need to be at peace again. That second year is always awesome, for most. But, if the soil is a mess and it is too late to fix it, foliar sprays, watering on time, and keeping things in the low 70’s will give the best growth rates.

If the little guys are stunted in that first year or two, it will take a few more to get things back on track, in my experience. That said, a small tree is not always a poor tree. (Charlie Brown knew this) As long as it is healthy, slower can also mean denser and more resilient wood. I would put our smaller gritty trees up against the overly succulent fertilizer pushed trees any day of the week.

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Ask the Farmer : Tree Irrigation ?

Do you see many orchards around here choosing to irrigate?

Irrigation of course, can mean a lot of things. What is being asked here I think is whether or not a constructed system is put in place to deliver the water.

Irrigation, as in drip-line, is used for high density dwarf systems. In these arrangements, whether they cultivate or not, it is usually recommended due to the meager root system. Trees using size reduction rootstocks (dwarf), require a good deal more pampering with respect to water. Traditionally this was delivered through open canals, overhead sprinklers, etc. Modern techniques include soil drenching through plastic emitters in miles of plastic tubing. It is an absolute must in many of the dryer regions of the northwest and California, but is popular throughout the country.

In the wet northeast, with standard  trees it is unnecessary. Trees obtaining their natural large stature will have roots mining for water over a very large area. Roots can extend meters down and in circumference at least twice the distance of the canopy. This means resilience during dry spells, and buffering against extreme cold.

Irrigation can confine roots to the pampered area in many cases. If the rooting mass is confined to shallow, smaller areas due to trickle irrigating, later stresses like cold or drought can lead to mortality. The mechanism here (and backed up with numerous studies) is the tendency for roots to amass in areas of ideal culture. That is, where it has good nutrition and soil moisture content. While this is good for the tree in general, it does limit the yardage the roots will occupy. This is pronounced if the outlying area is dry. Roots do not really grow toward ideal soil, they just don’t proliferate where it is poor. An example of the possible danger is when irrigation is confined to a shallow depth by continuous light applications. Roots will be largely clustered in this same shallow zone. In colder areas, this can lead to root damage or death . It can also have such consequences in warmer, dryer areas if there is a pause in irrigating (ie- broken lines or power outages).

Some alternatives include:

  • Increase the organic matter in your soil. Fully composted materials are advised if you are incorporating it directly.
  • Surface application of organic materials. This is the place to put the coarser materials, and higher carbon detritus. If it is a continuous application, we call it mulch. Bark, hay, straw, leaves and wood chips all fit in this category.
  • A 5 gallon pail of water really isn’t all that heavy. At 8 pounds a gallon, that’s 40. One in each hand (filled 4/5 so it doesn’t spill on you) is 64 pounds. That’s all you need to deal with during the occasional drought for your young tree.
  • Grow standard trees. These are those with a natural seedling rootstock that will let a tree grow to its full size. They can be pruned to be less tall and still have a large canopy and extensive root system. Think of this route as raising self sufficient children.

We suggest watering during that planting year, especially during dry spells, for better growth. Sandy soils of course will need more attention than heavier ones. Mulching is a great way to conserve that moisture ( keeping  it away from the trunk) and do it initially after the soil is wet.

Here is something to consider : The US Geological Survey posts on their site that a mature oak can transpire 40,000 gallons of water in a year. That’s one tree. Now, an apple tree is a whole lot smaller than an oak, so in the interest of fair play, let’s reduce that figure 40 times. That leaves us with 1000 gallons for a mature apple. However, if the tree is transpiring that much as water, it must also be absorbing  more to use in metabolic processes. Then there is the issue of delivery versus root uptake. That is, the soil must contain more than this amount of water to begin with. Irrigation through precipitation or human intervention must exceed the volume absorbed by the tree. To make an impact, it would seem a very large volume would have to be delivered indeed.

In conclusion, a plant with a small root system will require a good deal more attention as regards water. This lines up nicely, since a small root system stands the chance of benefitting from the amount of water we are likely to be able to deliver. This is why farms tend to irrigate their high end vegetable plots but not irrigate hay fields and cider orchards.

Water is the single greatest and most overlooked of fertilizers for plants. Time and money are the single greatest commodities of the human being. With proper decisions, nature can do a good deal of the work for us.

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Phosphorus for the Rest of Us

Phosphorus, a much needed macronutrient in plant health, is yet another resource mismanaged in modern agriculture. Traditionally, farm and even municipal wastes were returned to the growing lands to be recycled into the ecological chain. Present in respectable amounts in bones and urine, and lesser amounts in most plant residues, farmers utilized the P in an economical way.

Currently most agricultural systems worldwide rely on geological deposits of phosphate rock, most now on the African continent. The mining is often damaging to the environment, without accounting for transportation.

Some facts:

Closed loop traditional systems recycled phosphorus nearly 50 times before any deficiency was noted.

Nearly 90% of phosphorus worldwide is used in agriculture.

Geographical deposits of phosphorus are finite. (Actual figures are a point of debate currently).

Some things to do:

Since overuse is a common practice on farms and in gardens, get a soil test to determine levels. Also, since P is most usable to plants within a fairly narrow pH range, 6.5 to 6.8,  strive for this level. Although soil microbes and good organic matter levels are helpful, P can more readily be obtained in a mineralized form for plant uptake. Too low a pH and it is tied up with iron or aluminum, higher pH and it is tied up with calcium. Since soils are often not at this level, it stand to reason that there may be a banking of P in the soil through bonding in a less soluble form (immobilized). As with other nutrients, it is about balance and understanding of the system. For those who are interested in nutrient dense farming and other popular approaches, they are only effective if you get the numbers right. Dumping any resource on the land in hopes that it will help can also be mismanagement. When nutrient are in excess, they may either be unavailable for uptake, or worse, available (mineralized) and thus prone to leaching (which in the case of P, leads to pollution and issues like algal blooms ). Re-cycling phosphorus containing farm and family waste products can provide a free source of P. As with all farm inputs, it is uneconomical to misuse them.

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GMO Apples for America

The USDA approved on this day, Feb 13, 2015, the first genetically modified apples for sale and growing in the United States. The two  varieties under the trademarked moniker ARCTIC, are variants of Granny Smith and Golden Delicious. The new apples, Arctic Granny tm, and Arctic Golden tm were created by the  Canadian company Okanagan Specialty Fruits.

The improvements to the cultivars, unfortunately, were not motivated by the need to improve nutritional quality (at least Golden Rice engineers can claim this), nor by aiding farmers (with pest and disease control). It was motivated by…you guessed it…aesthetics. The new and improved Granny Smith and Golden Delicious apples will resist browning when sliced. That’s right, finally, an apple you can wait hours to eat after slicing. I know I for one, have been befuddled by chopping up my apple, then going for a quick XX ski, only to return to find my apple gone all brown. No more. Sure, I could have used a Cortland or one of the other apples already known to brown slowly (there are 498 varieties documented to naturally have this trait), but darn it, I wanted my Granny!

The fact of the matter is that a browning apple is not an indication of decay. Enzymes present in the apple (polyphenol oxidase)  oxidize its phenolic compounds, ending after a bit more chemistry into brown tissue in an event similar to the melanin reaction in your own epidermal cells. (Lemon juice or citric acid your mom uses to prevent browning works because they have a  low pH which denatures the polyphenol oxidase and cannot oxidize the phenolic compounds).

So, cut cells turn brown. It is brown, that’s all for the most part… some wavelengths absorbed, brown ones reflected. Is that it then, we don’t like brown food? Perhaps we should eschew coffee and chocolate  and hamburgers too. You know what may be more alarming than an apple that turns brown after you rupture its cells? One that doesn’t. Consider that apple that has been diced up and set in its container. How long has it been there anyway? If it is an apple from the new Arctic series, it may have been there for two weeks. That’s right, two weeks is the claim of the company. But we have an idea how long, since we or a family member dismembered it, right? This gets to the heart of the matter: An apple designed to be slow oxidizing (sluggish to brown) isn’t really all that useful to you and me. It is however, critical in use of prepared foods. Imagine fruit salads or pre-sliced bags of apples for preschoolers (these exist already). Containers sitting in a case for goodness knows how long.

These new cultivars (Fuji and Gala will also be released) have had their polyphenol oxidase gene turned off. There appears to be no agreement in the scientific community whether the enzyme serves a positive or negative function. Oxidation can lead to nutrient loss (as can exposed tissue regardless, as well as time). The entire process also triggers pathogen defense, so the apple’s browning may signify a suppression of decay.

This critique is not necessarily an attack on so called genetic modification of life forms. It is a critique on the priorities we set. If there is any case at all to proceed with caution in such a new undertaking, we should do so. Furthermore, if we are poised to utilize such a technology perhaps it should have a more useful or even benevolent outcome. It seems pristine apple slices are a far cry from those promises of suppressing disease and feeding the hungry.

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Sustainable Ag

Sustainable agriculture?

When you get right down to it, sustainability is something that a child can understand a whole lot more than I can most days. We complicate things, most often through rationalization. Many of us farm sustainably, but only when we look at it in a certain way, generally disregarding most of the inconsistencies in our philosophy. Sustainable means just that, it is capable of going on forever. Forever, though means different things to different people. It seems more often the case that it means “until I am dead”, or until I sell the depleted piece of earth for development because “it..is dead”.

At the birth of the organic growing movement of the 20th century, pioneers like Sir Albert Howard, looked to the east, and saw a vision of true sustainability. Enmeshed in their very lives was a cycling that led not just to great yields, and embodiment of culture, but a sustainability for countless generations. Not the current world method, but a purer one. The current method is “borrowing from our children the resources we have no intention of paying back”. Is this even remotely debatable?

So, what does this have to do with growing fruit? Nothing at all, really, unless you believe in such statements. Myself and my family’s approach to farming is to be sensitive to sustainability. This philosophy drives our day to day decisions in the nursery and orchard. A philosophy, like a religion, is hard to abide by and we err (even more so in our non-farm existence). But, for better or worse, this is the platform we try to filter things through. Same goes for species stewardship and healthy food production.

Let’s take fossil fuel use for instance. The big boogeyman in conversations is transportation, but it accounts for only 16% of the total US use in agriculture. Field machinery is 19% and inorganic fertilizer is 31%. The US has increased fossil fuel use 20 fold in 40 years, 17% directly attributed to agriculture. Enter here all arguments on how we cannot feed a starving world (deposit green revolution figures), how it is impossible to use hand labor or draft animals, and how farmers cannot make a living otherwise. My opinion is that it doesn’t make a lick of difference. In the short term, fossil fuel use will be so expensive and difficult to extract, we will be forced to farm differently.

The only real issue is where will effective models be? In a crusty old book…or in a pool of determined farmers in the present. The current trend is more non-sustainable practices, not less. We have tractors pulling prone workers planting strawberries, tractors unrolling plastic mulches, small fruit harvesters, mechanical pruners and other labor saving devices, at a time when our citizens are in need of basic employment. This is also in addition to the use of machinery in tillage, combining, elevators, etc. The point is that we can’t continue with these practices anyway, despite any arguments to their merits. No one wants to see people go hungry, or farmers work harder, but when the jig is up, it won’t matter. Future generation, likely our own grandchildren, may see a lack of modeling and infrastructure right at the moment that the bottle feeding of fossil fuels ends. That model may as well be you and me.

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Quality receives its accolades : The Jam Man is jamming

Congrats to Michael Fraley, owner and crafter behind the Green Jam Man label. Michael is a finalist for the prestigious Good Food Awards, from nearly 1500 applicants across the country. We are proud not just to have another Vermont foodie get their due, but also pleased in that Michael is both a friend and has been using our local organic fruit in his jams for years.

Please go to Michael’s website for more about his healthy, lower sugar jams…you can order jams directly through Michael at his website. Read more about the awards at Good Food Awards.

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Apple news in Vermont from Digin Vt

Blog – Food news from all across VT


1 October 2014 – by Helen Labun Jordan

It’s Apple Season!

Category: Seasonal Activities

Tags: 

Have you gone apple picking yet?  Enjoy the beautiful orchards and the beautiful fall foliage. Enjoy theorchards.  Happy Autumn!!

When Vermonters want to taste a unique apple, most of us reach for the closest heirloom variety. The definition of “heirloom” isn’t set in stone, but generally speaking it’s an apple variety born around the same time as our Great- Grandparents, or older. Today, heirloom apples are much easier to find than even a few years ago. I’m most familiar with the varieties from Scott Farm in Dummerston, VT. These apples, with names like Sheep’s Nose, Belle de Boskoop, and Knobby Russet, arrive on local store shelves across the state every fall. The store I shop at, Hunger Mountain Co-op, hands out guides to the farm’s 90 varieties of apples in a stack next to the apple bins. I’ve also made the trek South to the farm itself, a historic place where Rudyard Kipling once lived, that’s open seven days a week during the harvest.

The reason why I look for heirloom apples is because these varieties first came into popularity through backyard growers or very small orchards – venues that could value taste or an apple’s ability to serve a particular purpose (like pie baking) very well. These places did not select for other, less tasty, concerns like the ability to be shipped across the country or grow skin without a single blemish. But as much as I’ve thought about backyard growers in the 1800’s and the varieties they tended for future generations, I never thought about today’s backyard growers and the role they still play.

Todd Parlo of Walden Heights Nursery recently set me straight about the backyard orchardists: they’re still around, their numbers are growing, and they have a critical role to play in giving us a wonderfully diverse range of apples to sample.

Walden Heights Nursery, in Walden VT, sells more than apple trees (including pears, grapes, cherries and plums) but apples are clearly a passion of Todd’s. He has hundreds of varieties of apples growing right now. Hundreds, plural. His long term plan is to hover at 350 – 400 different kinds growing at any one time.
It turns out that when you’re experimenting with apples simply because you love to experiment with apples, you can create a lot of diversity.

There are several apple attributes that make them well-suited to playing with many varieties. For one thing, growers reproduce apples by grafting. Instead of growing a new tree from seed, they add a bud from one tree to rootstock, trunk, or branch of another. From that start, you can grow a seedling of one variety or, if you graft wood from multiple different trees onto a single trunk, you can get one tree with many apple varieties that change from branch to branch.

Also, the reason why apples are propagated by grafting in the first place is that apples grown from seed don’t make the same fruit as their parents, they make something new. . . adding a new variety to the mix. Usually this new tree is not something that anyone would want to continue growing, but sometimes it’s a happy surprise — the classic Granny Smith apple came from a seedling that grew out of a bunch of apple cores dumped in a compost pile in 1868 and the first McIntosh was found as a wild seedling by a farmer clearing his field.

And, of course, nurseries will sell seedlings of the known varieties, including heirlooms, some of which have recently been brought back from the brink of disappearing.

I asked Todd to describe some of the unique apples in his orchard that I might not have tasted before. He listed Beacon apples that taste like anise, Sweet Sixteen apples that taste like cherry lollipops, Sunrise apples that taste more like grapes than apples.  . . and of course there are also his own experiments still in development. Plus, his website offers: “. . . we can custom graft nearly any variety that is still in existence, or from wood from your own tree.”

Not everyone has a backyard they’re about to convert into a miniature orchard. I don’t. But I do enjoy wandering through other people’s orchards and daydreaming about what is possible. It’s a natural version of Charlie’s Chocolate Factory – endless flavors, textures, and aromas in eye catching apples that I never would have imagined when surveying rows of the standard Red Delicious. Some ways to vicariously satisfy your own inner orchardist in Vermont this fall:

• Visit one of the many Pick Your Own apple orchards open around the state [I think the best way to get a link is to click “U Pick” and then search “apple”? Or is there already an apple trail?]

• Go to an apple event – events listed on DigInVT range from cooking classes to pie contests to a workshop on the science of apples.

• Sample Vermont’s specialty products that are designed to show off unusual flavors in our apples – particularly traditional hard ciders, ice ciders, and boiled cider syrup.

• And if you want to learn more about the growing your own apples, check out the workshops offered by DigInVT partner NOFA-VT, including workshops at their winter conference and their summer workshop series.

When Vermonters want to taste a unique apple, most of us reach for the closest heirloom variety. The definition of “heirloom” isn’t set in stone, but generally speaking it’s an apple variety born around the same time as our Great- Grandparents, or older. Today, heirloom apples are much easier to find than even a few years ago. I’m most familiar with the varieties from Scott Farm in Dummerston, VT. These apples, with names like Sheep’s Nose, Belle de Boskoop, and Knobby Russet, arrive on local store shelves across the state every fall. The store I shop at, Hunger Mountain Co-op, hands out guides to the farm’s 90 varieties of apples in a stack next to the apple bins. I’ve also made the trek south to the farm itself, a historic place where Rudyard Kipling once lived, that’s open seven days a week during the harvest.

The reason why I look for heirloom apples is because these varieties first came into popularity through backyard growers or very small orchards – venues that could value taste or an apple’s ability to serve a particular purpose (like pie baking) very well. These places did not select for other, less tasty, concerns like the ability to be shipped across the country or grow skin without a single blemish. But as much as I’ve thought about backyard growers in the 1800’s and the varieties they tended for future generations, I never thought about today’s backyard growers and the role they still play.

Todd Parlo of Walden Heights Nursery recently set me straight about the backyard orchardists: they’re still around, their numbers are growing, and they have a critical role to play in giving us a wonderfully diverse range of apples to sample.

Walden Heights Nursery, in Walden VT, sells more than apple trees (including pears, grapes, cherries and plums) but apples are clearly a passion of Todd’s. He has hundreds of varieties of apples growing right now. Hundreds, plural. His long term plan is to hover at 350 – 400 different kinds growing at any one time.

It turns out that when you’re experimenting with apples simply because you love to experiment with apples, you can create a lot of diversity.

There are several apple attributes that make them well-suited to playing with many varieties. For one thing, growers reproduce apples by grafting. Instead of growing a new tree from seed, they add a bud from one tree to rootstock, trunk, or branch of another. From that start, you can grow a seedling of one variety or, if you graft wood from multiple different trees onto a single trunk, you can get one tree with many apple varieties that change from branch to branch.

Also, the reason why apples are propagated by grafting in the first place is that apples grown from seed don’t make the same fruit as their parents, they make something new. . . adding a new variety to the mix. Usually this new tree is not something that anyone would want to continue growing, but sometimes it’s a happy surprise — the classic Granny Smith apple came from a seedling that grew out of a bunch of apple cores dumped in a compost pile in 1868 and the first McIntosh was found as a wild seedling by a farmer clearing his field.

And, of course, nurseries will sell seedlings of the known varieties, including heirlooms, some of which have recently been brought back from the brink of disappearing.

I asked Todd to describe some of the unique apples in his orchard that I might not have tasted before. He listed Beacon apples that taste like anise, Sweet Sixteen apples that taste like cherry lollipops, Sunrise apples that taste more like grapes than apples.  . . and of course there are also his own experiments still in development. Plus, his website offers: “. . . we can custom graft nearly any variety that is still in existence, or from wood from your own tree.”

Not everyone has a backyard they’re about to convert into a miniature orchard. I don’t. But I do enjoy wandering through other people’s orchards and daydreaming about what is possible. It’s a natural version of Charlie’s Chocolate Factory – endless flavors, textures, and aromas in eye catching apples that I never would have imagined when surveying rows of the standard Red Delicious. Some ways to vicariously satisfy your own inner orchardist in Vermont this fall:

• Visit one of the many Pick Your Own apple orchards open around the state

• Go to an apple event – events listed on DigInVT range from cooking classes to pie contests to a workshop on the science of apples.

• Sample Vermont’s specialty products that are designed to show off unusual flavors in our apples – particularly traditional hard ciders, ice ciders, and boiled cider syrup.

• And if you want to learn more about the growing your own apples, check out the workshops offered by DigInVT partner NOFA-VT, including workshops at their winter conference and their summer workshop series.

Helen Labun Jordan is a commentator on Vermont Public Radio. You can find her commentaries and other food writing at www.discoveringflavor.com

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Genetically Modified Apples: Arctic ™

And so, the genetically modified food developers have gotten around to introducing apples now. If you have any reservations about gm food, listen up. If you are one of the supporters of gm crops because it will aid in producing better fruit, you may want to keep reading also.

The soon to be released Arctic apple series (trademarked of course, though Arctic is also the name of a specific heirloom variety) has been designed to grow better without toxic pesticides, right? Nope. And although there are higher levels of vitamin C in the Arctic tm versions, it was not the main focus of the program. (Keep in mind also that there are plenty of non-gmo apples with much higher vitamin C, some superior to oranges).

The new and improved apples (like newly enhanced Granny Smith and Golden Delicious in the Arctic series) are worth genetic tinkering because….ready….the flesh doesn’t brown.

So, where we used to leave out a half eaten apple for a while, and watched to our horror that it turned tan colored, now we can pick it up again at the end of the day to finish eating it in all its white fleshed glory. Sure we could have engaged in the monumental act of eating a whole apple, but now we don’t have to. Though non-gmo apples like Cortland do not brown, they don’t have the wonderful benefit of royalties garnered from a trademarked product. So, it would seem that in the early stages of gm tree fruits, the approach is marketing appeal and cosmetics.

The following is part of  a letter from organic growers in Canada:

Fred Danenhower, President, Similkameen Okanagan Organic Treefruit Growers Association, Cawston, BC

July 2012

“I am writing this letter as president of the Similkameen Okanagan Organic Treefruit Growers Association regarding the CFIA application GD 743 and GS 784 – the request for approval of the sale/distribution of the Arctic tree/apple. We request that the following points be considered in evaluating it.

Loss of Organic Production

The inevitable measureable impact of the “Arctic” apple on the local economy will be a loss of at least $4,000,000 annually. Because of cross-pollination [bees fly as much as 4 miles from a hive], organic producers will not get certification. This will cost organic tree fruit growers in the Okanagan-Similkameen (based on 16,000 bins of apple production) $2,500,000 in revenue annually . The Cawston Cold Storage Packinghouse will close: they cannot remain open running just soft fruit, costing local jobs and eliminating a payroll approaching $1,500,000. Next to School District #53, CCS is the biggest employer in the Similkameen. It is unclear, whether the other two organic packing sheds, Harkers and Organics Plus can stay open but in any scenario the loss of organic apples will result in job cuts. The total impact on the economy, the loss to suppliers, wholesalers, retailers, truckers, local business, is hard to gauge but will be in the millions.”