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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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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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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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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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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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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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Fruit growers group

After much talk we are ready to spearhead a regional fruit growers group. We are in the early stages, so input concerning its structure from you folks would be helpful. It will be centered on both practical aspects and education, but with a strong emphasis on science. Members should be prepared to make a contribution through studies, trials and notekeeping. All are welcome, beginners or experienced.

-Todd