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Species variety in the Orchard

pear, grape, black locust, cherry, birch
elderberry, apple, aronia, maple, birch, plum, blueberry, juneberry, currant, raspberry, blackberry, herbaceous spp.
blueberry, Siberian pea shrub, plum, aple, pear, strawberry, maple, birch, spruce, rose, raspberry, blackberry, cherry, lilac, Saskatoon
Leo apple tree, Leo homo sapien, grape, birch, fir, spruce, cherry, maple, hops, plum, meadow herbs.
plum, aronia, currant, blueberry, maple, birch, raspberry, blackberry, elderberry, Saskatoon, hobbits.
blueberry, currant, birch, thyme, honeyberry, grape, kiwi, apple, cherry, mint, verbena, strawberry, spruce, maple, cedar
grape, maple, birch, cherry, rose, hops, kale, herbs
apple, plum, Saskatoon, herbs, maple, birch, blueberry
apple, birch, blueberry, Saskatoon, rose, raspberry, blackberry, blackhaw, grape, maple, cherry, lingonberry, elderberry, viburnum
apple, pear, maple, birch, beech, spruce, fir, cherry, photons, pot of gold
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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 –                  

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.

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.

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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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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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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Evaluation of apple and pear varieties for cold humid climates under certified organic management

The supporting tables and documents can be viewed by clicking: Pome Study Tables and Documents
 Made possible through a grant from the SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education)
Click to view the study as a PDF document


The aim of this project was to establish an extensive review of apple and pear cultivars for successful organic management in cold humid climates of the U.S. Specifically, an established block of apple and pear trees, representing over 400 distinct varieties, will be assessed as to their commercial feasibility to certified organic orchardists and diversified farms. The fact that cultivar choice has great influence on the success rate of the farming venture, there is little room for error. Available information on plant stock for the cold humid areas of the country is inadequate, and information regarding organic management is further lacking. There is little information available to the public from universities and extension services, a formerly common vehicle for dissemination. Our extensive research over the last 20 years, has found scant (unbiased) cultivar reviews, most being antiquated or presented by nursery catalogs and other partisan sources. Organic fruit growers in the northeast are at a competitive disadvantage with the milder growing regions of the U.S. and overseas. Although the cold and humid climate of this area presents more difficulties for organic tree fruit growers, there is great opportunity if a proper cultivar choice is made. Studying varieties  will help create a pool of choices that will allow growers to capitalize on new trends in the market like heirlooms, hard cider cultivars, red-fleshed varieties and other specialty types.

Introduction and Study Impetus

Reasoning for engaging in the study hinges on the lack of information regarding organic pome fruit growing in the colder climates. Specifically, well documented assessments of apple and pear cultivars under such conditions are almost nonexistent. The northeastern U.S., with its cold and humid climate, is at a competitive disadvantage (commercially) due to this lack of knowledge.  Of the thousands of commercially available pome fruits,   few have been researched under organic management regimes, and still fewer in cold humid climates. Making matters worse, little information on the subject is available to the public.  The high competition of a select few organic varieties (Honeycrisp, Fuji) from overseas and the Western U.S. make it very difficult for Eastern growers to compete. Regional growers can make gains in the market through diversity, while supplying a local and low carbon alternative to imported apples and pears.  An extensive review of the possible cultivar choices in their region, under organic management will be of great merit to these growers.

Of concern is the lack of consistent and well documented points. Disease resistance, being of particular importance to the organic growers, should be listed for all major diseases, or stated as not reviewed. Cold hardiness should be mentioned with respect to its zone, and include the frost free days it will need to ripen satisfactorily (this last point is almost never mentioned at all). With the growing popularity of sustainable growing practices, including organic, this information will be all the more important. Zone hardiness has particular importance to farmers in colder climates, as the upsurge in the interest for locally grown food may allow for financially successful orchards to be planted in those areas. Cultivar choices are choices that will have to be lived with for years to come, and the most in depth information on the subject should be afforded to these farmers.


We addressed the issues outlined above by compiled data over the course of one year, reviewing the information, and then recompiling it into forms that may be useful for fruit growers. In some cases, information from previous years was used.

Specifically this entailed:

A data collection period –  in which spreadsheets were created. These were intended to be useful in their raw form so growers could evaluate particulars on their own or specifically look up attributes or conditions. It was also the vehicle for our creation of other, more finely tuned data sheets, and for our lists of recommendations.

Analysis –  in which various narratives was employed to discuss each body of data, in order to investigate any findings, correlation, and concepts that growers may find helpful. These pages accompany every data sheet we compiled, both to aid in understanding the data, and to help the data become more useful.

Recommendations – lists were created to help farmers make some initial choices. These of course express our preferences based on our experiences, the outcomes and workload considered. This includes both a general list of reasonable choices, and a fine tuned list as well. Also, lists addressing specific issues such as scab resistance, or keeping ability were also created as an adjunct to recommended variety listings.

What This Study is Not

The aim of the work undertaken was to create a body of data distinct from what is already available. That is, a representation of some of the physical traits expressed by the cultivars in this climate, and under this type of management. It includes some disease and insect experiences, physiology, and fruit quality aspects. What it did not attempt to do is repeat general descriptions of either the crop, history, or breeding information. While these particulars are important to many, there is ample literature describing such information currently. We did, however give some additional description of the fruit and trees in the recommendation documents.

Study Location, Climate and Management Practices

The orchard used in the study was Walden Heights Nursery and Orchard. It is located in Walden, which is within Caledonia County in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, and at Latitude: 44-27’08” N, Longitude: 072-15’25” W.   It sits at an elevation of 1703 feet at the point of entrance, and deviating approximately 50 feet in elevation higher and lower. Various aspects are present in the geography, but most, and generally they are on northwestern sloping land. Soil conditions are sandy loam, generally, with very good drainage in most areas. Orchard was installed in a formerly high density woodland environment of mixed hard and softwood species. Landscape is extremely hilly.

Average yearly rainfall in Walden is 45 inches, snowfall is 126 inches, and total days of measureable precipitation is 159 out of 365. It is located in US hardiness zone 3a. Cold temperature data since 1997 (year of orchard establishment) is supportive of the zone rating, having a 2009 low of -41F. Eleven years  have seen temperatures below -30F during the period 1997 to 2014. Frost free days average 100-120 days. Mean temperature for July in 2014 was 64.2F, in January 2014, 9.4F.

Details of soil are:

Vershire-Lombard complex, 15 to 25 percent slopes, rocky   (22.7% of orchard)

Buckland loam, 8 to 15 percent slopes          (12.7% of orchard)

Buckland very fine sandy loam, 15 to 35 percent slopes, very stony              (64.6% of orchard)

The general management of the orchard are as a low input, certified organic system, with emphasis upon hand work and a rich ecosystem. Specifically this means a diverse landscape including various fruit types, and indigenous flora. The test orchard contains bushes, vines and herbaceous planting within and at the peripheries. No tillage is done to minimize leaching and to improve soil quality. No tractors or other heavy machinery is allowed in the orchard, to prevent compaction, damage, offgassing and to maintain a low carbon footprint in our enterprise. Mulching is employed throughout the orchard, generally with farm sourced materials, but some periodic backfeeding with outsourced material is used. These outsourced mulching materials include hay, wood chips, and less commonly, compost. Manure application is not employed in the orchard due to health safety concerns. Commercially prepared fertilizers, including organically approved materials, are very seldom used. This includes lime applications. Instead, the system is supplied with farm supplied organic material, farm produced wood ash, and farm produced composts. Enough organic material is imported into the orchard system to replace losses from produce leaving the farm. Leaching of nutrients is low due to non-tillage, terracing, a wide range of perennial plant life in place, mulching, and other emphases of non-disturbance. Soil lab test have put the soil organic matter in many areas of the orchard at over 10 %, which not only improves the health and resiliency of the matrix, it also buffers a generally low pH in the area. These facts should prove useful in creating a picture of the possibility of creating a healthy orchard, but more importantly to the study is to give growers a clear picture of what environment the study sample was managed under. Although it is clearly distinct from the modern practice of high-density sod or cultivated systems, it has consistently produced healthy plants with good growth rate and fine fruit. For instance, since a majority of the cultivars showed good and healthy growth under such management and conditions, the varieties failing to thrive appears to be an artifact of the genotype and not the growing conditions.

Crop management all conforms to organic protocol. The farm and nursery, in its entirety, is certified organic. We do spray a moderate amount to address disease and pest pressures. Generally it is quite low. We use cultural practices to do most of the work of producing salable fruit and healthy plants. This includes removing or composting materials that may serve as disease vectors, hand removal and physical traps for insects, timely policing of the orchard to remove pathogen strikes, hand thinning and weeding. It should be noted that the test trees in this study were taken out of the spray regime for the test year of 2014. This fact we feel gave a better assessment of the possibility of not only an organic approach, but a low spray program. Furthermore, it gave a better picture of the characteristics of the particular varieties, and especially the fruit quality.

Test Orchard

The test orchard consisted of several blocks within the farm. It comprised mostly apple at 475 distinct varieties, and a small selection of pears, of which were 23 varieties. (It should be noted that many pear cultivars have not survived over the years here. This number is close to 100 but records for these are not part of the study).

The orchard is a very wide pool of cultivars, and of ages. The plantings began approximately 18 years ago, but some trees existed here prior. There are a number of additional cultivars growing on site,  but were considered too young to be useful in the study.

Tree variety selections were generally made, with some exceptions, with the environmental conditions in mind. This means a great number of the plantings were made with cold hardiness in mind. Marginal varieties have been periodically trialed when literature was unclear, or showed argument over hardiness. Some were also included to act as material for breeding, regardless of cold susceptibility. The fact that such a high percentage of the orchard was selected based on this prescreening for resistance to environmental stress, is likely responsible for the survivability and general good health of the trees.

Rootstock should be discussed as regards the study sample. All stock in the test is grafted to standard, full vigor stock. The types were chosen for cold hardiness, but also for consistency in growth rate and anchorage in mind. Dolgo, antonovka, ranetka, prunifolia, Selkirk seedling are used, and in a limited sampling, budagovsky 118 (full vigor) clonal stock was used. Nearly all accessions have various rootstock represented. Although testing was done with dwarfing rootstocks, and a few remain in the orchard, nearly all examples (of over 100) died for various reasons. No dwarf trees were used as grafted rootstock in the study. Some cultivars used as rootstock were tested as trees, and some were grafted upon seedling stock as the scion cultivar. (These were all examples from the budagovsky series).

Trees were grafted here at Walden Heights by the proprietors. As mentioned all varieties are on standard rootstock, and whip grafted.

Data Collection Methods

Particulars of the methods is specifically addressed in each section of the study. These are outlined in the text document accompanying each data sheet or sheets. However, the following is pertinent :

Record Keeping: Each variety in the study was on visited numerous times throughout the growing season. Information was gathered via notebook and audio recording devices, and transferred to a data file. Still digital photos were taken, as needed to document the information.

Observations: It must be stressed that the objective was to observe the results of casual infection and attack from pests in the study location, since plants was not be inoculated directly with pathogens, or pests brought to the location. This is of merit, since the primary issues organic apple and pear growers in northern New England face is with a small very apparent subset of the many diseases and pests that affect these plants.

Disease Assessment:  Of greatest concern to organic pome fruit growers is apple scab, which will represent the bulk of the monitoring. Not only are there to date very few cold hardy scab resistant varieties, but our own research has found misinformation regarding those advertised as such. All detected infections of other pathogens will be noted.

The larger scope or disease monitoring encompassed apple scab fungus (venturia inaequalis), fireblight (erwinia amylovora), anthracnose (Cryptosporiopsis curvispora black rot (Botryosphaeria obtusa), nectria canker (Nectria galligena). These pathogens are widely distributed in our region and will make for a good general assessment of susceptibility. Some minor affectations were discussed in comments.  Not all potential diseases will be discussed; Cedar apple rust for instance, cannot be investigated as we have no natural intermediate host in the area. Varieties will not be directed inoculated with pathogens; casual infection will have to occur.

Insect pest damage on each variety will be noted. Although little resistance has historically been shown with respect to insect damage on fruit, monitoring will still be done. Wooly Aphids resistance in northern spy and apple maggot resistance in denser late apple cultivars are two examples of varietal resistance to insect damage.

Methods for disease and pest identification:

  1. Project manager during rotational monitoring will record instances of infection, including severity. Conversations during the test period, and visits during past years with plant pathologists aided the experiment. The orchard was visited, and assessment methods were discussed with the project technical advisor.

Physiological attributes: Growth rate, general health, branch crotch angle, caliper, fruiting, bloom, and cold or frost damage were investigated. Lengths and calipers were measured using mechanical calipers and tape measures. An angle finder/protractor was used in assessing angles. Damage was observed directly, and through occasional dissection where warranted.

Fruit Qualities: On the varieties that are fruiting, a report on the general quality will be given. Brix reading, texture, sugar, tartness, and to a limited degree, tannin,  was reviewed. Date of ripening, and length of keeping in cold storage was also recorded. A general narrative was  given as to the merits of the fruit.

Recording:  Done by myself (Todd Parlo, project manager). Visiting approximately 1300 trees (in general at least two examples of each cultivar. Each tree was visited periodically throughout the season for general monitoring. During bloom assessment, the visits were done as often as 4 times a week for several weeks. Other visits were done often, but much less frequently.

Outcomes and Impacts

The project resulted in producing a body of work intended to aid potential and current fruit growers in making a more intelligent decision in selecting pome varieties intended for cold, humid climates. The research is directed also to low impact and organic methods of management. We have produced sets of data, along with explanatory narratives to accompany them. The data, compiled generally over the course of the year (2014), is represented as 18 separate data files (attached pdf files). These are accompanied by documents expanding on the methods and interpretations.

These include:

Table 1 : Tree Physical Characteristics – various tree characteristics master sheet with performance factors.

-Document 1 : Accompanying narrative outlining table 1, table 8

Table 2 : Bloom Time Master Sheet – Full data sheet with all bloom stages and commentary

-Document 2 : Accompanying narrative outlining table 2 and the following related tables:

Table 3 : Dates of First Bloom – table listing varieties in order of date of first bloom

Table 4 : Dates of Full Bloom – table listing varieties in order of full bloom

Table 5 : Dates of Petal Fall – table listing varieties in order of bloom termination

Table 6 : Fruit Scab Evaluation – Varieties are grouped according to fruit scab infection

– Document 6 : Accompanying narrative outlining table 6

Table 7 : Fruit Evaluation – Full data sheet on all fruit aspects evaluated. Includes pH, brix, size, weight, harvest date, scab occurrence, keeping ability, and comments.

– Document 7 : Accompanying narrative outlining table 7, 9, 10, 12, and 13

Table 8 : Leaf Scab Assessment – Full variety list noting leaf scab occurrence (see doc 1)

Table 9 : Fruit pH – Varieties are arranged according to pH levels in this datasheet (see doc 7)

Table 10 : Harvest Dates – Varieties are listed according to harvest date (see doc 7)

Table 11 : Arthropod damage- master sheet of variety vulnerabilities to selected orchard pests

– Accompanied by 4 data sheets showing rankings of each pest in the review:

-Document 11a: Apple Maggot – Discusses findings regarding infection to particular varieties

-Document 11b: Codling Moth – Discusses findings regarding infection to particular varieties

-Document 11c: European Apple Sawfly – Discusses its infection in particular varieties

-Document 11d: Leafroller – Discusses findings regarding infection to particular varieties

Table 12 : Fruit Keeping Ability – Varieties are arranged according to storage ability (see doc 7)

Table 13 : Fruit Brix Levels – Varieties are arranged according to Brix levels (see doc 7)

Table 14 : Best Selections – List of Varieties as a recommended short list, with comments

–Document 14 : Outlines the recommendations in tables 14 and 15 and reasoning

Table 15 : Recommended Fruit Cultivars – Longer list of suitable varieties with comments

Table 16 : Cold Damage – Compilation of varieties and their susceptibility to cold conditions

-Document 16 : Winter Hardiness – Outlines table 16 and 18 and general hardiness issues

Table 17 : Pear Assessment – Selected pear cultivars and their performance in the orchard

-Document 17 : Pear Assessment – Accompanying discussion of table 17

Table 18 : Mortality – List of variety specimens not surviving, with suspected causes and notes

-Document 18 : Tree mortality – Outlines table 18 and survivability issues of varieties

– Document 19 : Layout and Soils – Aerial photos of orchard and soil mapping

The preceding data and discussions is intended to be used as an aid in choosing varieties for cold climates under organic management. It should be thought of as a body of work to aid in a larger decision process. Furthermore, it will see its greatest usefulness as part of a larger group of study. Repeating and reviewing results in similar climates and different locations would be a great help in pursuing the best candidates for difficult growing areas and practices. This project, however, should prove of merit as a review of a large body of pome cultivars. We feel we have produced a good variety of information not readily obtained elsewhere. This encompassed a single year in a single location, but did allow for some data from our previous experiences and years in the orchard. It will be a starting point for further study and evaluations as the years progress in this test orchard in Walden, Vt.


The study accomplished what it set out to do at its inception. To gather a body of data, attempt to interpret it, and allow us to make some observations and recommendations. It also acted as a template for us and other orchardists to evaluate their orchards by using careful record keeping. As with any research project, there were surprises, gaps, and ironies present, but the general result was successful. We compiled a basic review of 498 pome varieties, a review of 128 fruits with attribute testing, recorded bloom histories for 209 pome varieties, investigated pest susceptibilities amongst cultivars, assessed disease occurrence, studied cold hardiness effects on varieties, and developed lists of recommended selections. This was done while growing, managing and harvesting this orchard, allowing us a close relationship with the study blocks. The project, even though ambitious in the number of subjects and cultivars involved, is only a small piece of a larger potential for education on the matter. The information displayed here has immediate usefulness, but it bears repeating that it has larger possibilities with further study, and repeat projects elsewhere. It holds the possibility of a very large multiyear investigation and assessment of the thousands of new and heirloom pome varieties that exist, instead of the very limited investigations involving new releases, particularly patented and trademarked varieties, and those pushed by extensive marketing campaigns. We believe we have made a helpful step in helping folks make some more informed decisions regarding what they may plant on their farms and homesteads.

Potential Contributions

We feel the data compiled here, along with our observations and interpretations will be of service to prospective tree fruit growers in the future. This is particularly the case for those in climates such as our, and who are or wish to employ organic management practices. We hope to keep the information updated and the studying continual, and aim to distribute this through our website and other vehicles. Those who view the material included here, will hopefully become more empowered to make an intelligent decision while choosing cultivars. The data can be used to fine tune research, develop databases related to preferences, or used immediately as a referral. The recommendations should be a contribution to many who desire a quick narrowing down of choices, especially for an initial planting in climates such as ours.

Generally, the hope we have is that growers, new and veteran will seek out a wider selection of varieties, both to increase their success in growing organically in colder climates and increase the marketing possibilities. Furthermore, we hope the greater diversity will help foster a richer and more diverse culture in farming and, well, eating. We feel the information here will help those causes.

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Pome Study Tables and Documents

Table 1 – Tree Physical Characteristics

Table 2 – Bloom time Master Sheet

Table 3 – Dates of First Bloom

Table 4 – Dates of Full Bloom

Table 5 – Dates of Petal Fall

Table 6 – Fruit Scab Evaluation

Table 7 – Fruit Evaluation

Table 8 – Leaf Scab Assessment

Table 9 – Fruit pH

Table 10 – Harvest dates 2014

Table 11 – Arthropod Damage 2014

Table 12 – Fruit Keeping Ability

Table 13 – Fruit Brix Levels

Table 14 – Best Selections

Table 15 – Recommended Fruit Cultivars

Table 16 – Cold Damage 2014

Table 17 – Pear Assessment

Table 18 – Tree Mortality

Doc 1 – Tree Characteristics

Doc 2 – Bloom Observations

Document 3- Apple Maggot Damage

Document 4-Codling Moth Damage

Document 5-European Apple Sawfly Damage

Document 6 -Leafroller Damage

Doc 7 – Fruit Observations

Doc 14 – Recommended Varieties

Doc 16 – Winter Hardiness

Doc 19 – Layout and soils

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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) :


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.


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.



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.


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%)


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.


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.


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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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.”

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Wild Plants in the Orchard

Red Berried Elder in Flower at Walden Heights Nursery

More in the growing list of plants to keep in the landscape. Along with acting as nectaries for beneficial insects, native and other wild plants are crucial to the ecosystem due to their ability to accumulate and distribute a multitude of nutrients, improve soil structure, and distract pest species. They also add to the beauty of the surroundings, don’t they?

Baneberry flower at Walden Heights (actaea pachypoda, a. rubra)

Baneberry plants sport beautiful red or white berries later in the season which although toxic to humans, are enjoyed by many bird species.

Purple Trillium (Trillium erectum)

A native of the lily family, Trillium is also known as stinking  benjamin due to its faint carrion odor which attracts small flies (its pollinators). Seeds are enjoyed and dispersed by small mammals, ants, yellow jackets and others.  Plants need to reach an age of 15 years before they bloom. Plants can live for up to 30 years. They are indicators of rich moist soils.

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Bald Faced Hornet Observation Hive

bald faced hornet nest at Walden Heights

We were lucky enough to have a nest of bald faced hornets select the outside wall of our apple house as their site. We were also lucky enough to have zero stings. It survived all season, even after heavy rains damaged the hive with runoff, the wasps repairing the best they could. The hive was attached to a gutter and wood support. The insects were happy to have the plastic serve as wall on the viewing side, and seemed unfazed by human presence.

We have kept the hive to display in our future nature museum. (Wasps and hornets abandon summer hives before onset of winter, all except mated queens die off naturally).

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Pileated Woodpecker

pileated woodpecker at Walden Heights

The Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)

At least one couple takes up residence here each year, likely due to their great fondness for grapes. We are happy to have them, despite their appetite, since they eat almost exclusively from this towering 25 foot pair of King of the North vines by the chicken coop. (They eat about one of the 3 or 4 bushels we get from these vines).

With a near 30 inch wingspan and flashy red white and black attire, who wouldn’t want them around. Their vocalizing is every bit as boisterous as the local crow population.

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Turkey Chicks in the Orchard

We stumbled upon this happy little clutch of chick this past summer, happily lounging right on the orchard path. Keeping from overly manicuring your farm allows all kinds of furry and feathered folks to feel secure. Mother was nearby, trying her best to lure us away (faking unjury a bit, and scolding). After snapping a few photos, we let them be. The group moved from the path the next day, but likely are shacking up somewhere on the farm.

turkey chicks at Walden Heights
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Wasp damage diagnosis

Characteristic damage of fruit from wasp species. This was created from yellow jacket wasps, but similar damage is caused by bald faced hornet and various other wasps and true hornets. Additionally, beetles (ie japanese beetle) and chafers can cause excavated cavities in the fruit like this. Although any loss to the crop is undesirable, these types of attack are often within acceptable tolerances.

Damage to apples from Yellow Jacket Wasp
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Ants attack caterpillar – video

We shot a few minutes of footage of ants attacking (and eventually killing) a caterpillar many times their size. Ants are problematic in the orchard in many instances, from farming aphids to biting humans. They do occasionally shine, however, as is shown in this video dispatching a hungry caterpillar. Lepidopteran larvae can be a large orchard problem, and every little bit counts when it comes to keeping their numbers in check.


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Cold damage to Roots

It should be understood that plant roots and aerial portions of those same plants vary in their resistance to cold damage. Apple tree roots for instance, can be more than 60 degrees (F) more susceptible to damage or death from cold than their above ground counterparts. The reason for the difference is still under study, but some interesting information is available on the subject.

A Cornell study in 1921 shed some light.  Apple and pear trees were manipulated as to have their roots under different exposures to soil, oxygen, and light. By allowing the tree roots to be exposed (above the soil), a physiological transformation of the roots occurred. The excavated roots soon took on the appearance of trunk and other above ground parts. Roots that were uncovered many months before cold temperatures arrived showed no damage at temperatures of at least 3 degrees F. Roots uncovered directly before were killed at 13 degrees F. It was unclear to the researchers if roots could eventually attain as much resistance to cold as normal aerial parts (ie- trunk and branches).

The same aforementioned  study showed that trunk sections can undergo a reverse type of transformation. Fameuse trees planted were planted deep enough to have about 10 inches of scion covered with clay soil. They grew in this condition for a full season, were dug and then exposed to 3 degrees F. All tissue was killed below where the soil line existed. Control trees of same cultivar and grown with all scion tissue above soil showed no damage at the same temperatures. This shows a regression of cold hardiness resistance of the same type of tissue, when covered with soil for a certain period.  There is evidence also that the more (ie- deeper) the material is buried, the less cold resistant it becomes.

The type of soil does apparently have bearing. In a 1922 study, Jonathan apples planted a foot deep in sandy soil and later excavated showed no damage to the parts in question at 2 degrees F. In the 1921 study the soil type was much heavier (higher density clay material). A similar test showed no damage on parts as low as -15 degrees F.

Older roots generally are more resistant to cold than finer, younger specimens.

This can be of practical importance in that growers can prevent any root excavation in their practices when said practice is approaching cold weather. This can happen during cultivation, raking, or mulch redistribution. It also means that older roots that have been exposed to the surface for a long period are likely not to be easily damaged by cold temperatures.

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Rootstock Crowding Study

I wanted to bring attention to a study we are doing at Walden Heights. In both research and direct observation, there is evidence that crowding of root systems leads to some dwarfing effects. Apples in particular tend to avoid growing in the same soil regions that other members of their species do. ( Atkinson D, Naylor D, Coldrick GA (1976) The effect of tree spacing on the apple root system. Hortic Res 16: 89-105 ). Additional consideration is that direct competition of many other species in the vicinity should lead to an overall size reduction. By creating a full block planting, roots will be forced to compete 360 degrees.

We have planted two sections to standard stock apple, one as an 8×8 foot grid, one as an 4×8 foot grid. We also, for comparison have standards at 15 x 15, and 30 x 30. We also have apples (part of another test) in a high tunnel at 8 foot spacing. Since we alot of scionwood collection for the nursery, if the fruit production is, well, unfruitful, there is still merit in the exercise. We are forced by necessity since we need to find room for what is closing in on 500 varieties, without resorting to dwarf stock or excessive topworking. It gives us an opportunity to run such a test without risking too much. We will keep everyone posted on the progress. There are about 500 trees in the two blocks, of 6 standard rootstocks and roughly 300 scion varieties.

Obviously precocity isn’t necessarily being addressed, at least at first glance. Since stress often leads to early bearing, who knows. If excessive pruning is needed in the early years, this may actually delay bearing. Our goals here have never been for rushing the crop- thats what berry bushes are for. Tree longevity and low maintenance plants are. If we can couple this with a tree that can more within reach for spraying, harvesting and scion collection, it may have a place in many a farm plan. Not as a replacement, but as an addition to the overall system.