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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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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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Beneficial Insects

The praying mantis is a voracious predator. It relies mostly on ambush, but is lightning quick. Comprised of 2200 hundred species worldwide, they vary widely in their appearance, generally engaging in mimicry of vegetation or some other chameleon-like sneaky behavior. They are considered beneficial in that they consume a good deal of problem insects, but since they are generalists in their feeding, some good insects will also fall prey. They also engage in cannibalism. The jury is still out on whether or not purchasing mantids is cost effective, but an initial launch would certainly be worth it in terms of pure scientific pleasure.  The mantid is the only predator which feeds at night on moths (most moths are active only after darkness) and the only predator fast enough to catch mosquitoes and flies.

Ladybugs, or ladybirds are neither birds nor bugs. These busy little beetles are quite well known as beneficial insects, and it is fully deserved. There are indigenous species, but some were also imported by the USDA to combat pests. They are very useful in the orchard primarily as a hunter of the aphid menace. Here in Walden they are constantly in residence on our plum trees (which aphids relish). Ladybird beetles will predate as adults and as larva.

The following is courtesy of the Ohio State University Extension:

Lady beetles, often called Ladybugs or coccinellids, are the most commonly known of all beneficial insects. In Europe these beetles are called “ladybirds.” Both adults and larvae feed on many different soft-bodied insects with aphids being their main food source. Ohioans like lady beetles so much that the Convergent Lady Beetle became the official state insect in 1975.


Adult lady beetles are domed shaped, oval or convex, often shiny with short legs and antennae. Wing covers are dark, reddish-orange to pale yellow, with or without black spots or irregular marks. Some are solid black or black with a red spot. The head is concealed from above. They have three distinct tarsi (feet), and range from 1/16 to 3/8 inch long. Larvae are elongate, somewhat flattened, and covered with minute tubercles or spines. Most larvae have large, sickle-shaped mandibles (jaws) and resemble tiny, six-legged alligators blue-black with orange spots. Tiny, yellow, oval eggs are laid upright in clusters of 10 to 50 on undersides of leaves.

Life Cycle and Habits

The length of the life cycle varies depending upon temperature, humidity, and food supply. Usually the life cycle from egg to adult requires about three to four weeks, or up to six weeks during cooler spring months. In the spring, overwintering adults find food, then lay from fifty to three hundred eggs in her lifetime (tiny, light -yellow eggs are deposited in clusters of 10 to 50 each) in aphid colonies. Eggs hatch in three to five days, and larvae feed on aphids or other insects for two to three weeks, then pupate. Adults emerge in seven to ten days. There may be five to six generations per year. In the autumn, adults hibernate, sometimes in large numbers, in plant refuse and crevices.

Amount of Food Consumed

Lady beetles, both adults and larvae, are known primarily as predators of aphids (plant lice), but they prey also on many other pests such as soft-scale insects, mealybugs, spider mites and eggs of the Colorado Potato Beetle and European Corn Borer. A few feed on plant and pollen mildews. One larva will eat about 400 medium-size aphids during its development to the pupal stage. An adult will eat about 300 medium-size aphids before it lays eggs. About three to ten aphids are eaten for each egg the beetle lays. More than 5,000 aphids may be eaten by a single adult in its lifetime. The lady beetle’s huge appetite and reproductive capacity often allow it to rapidly clean out its prey.

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Friendly Feathers

I am not sure how many aphids these guys can consume on a given day, but I watched one last year spend a good half hour doing nothing else. The aphids were heavily infecting a plum tree in the orchard, as they often do, but my little buddy noticed them before I did. In fact I wasn’t even aware of them until I happened upon that scene.

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The Lesser Known Beneficials

wasps reducing a mess (image : Martin Röll)

We have all heard of the popular heroes in the orchard. Lacewings and honeybees, and who would forget… the ladybird beetle(aka ladybug). There is however a long list of insects we should keep in mind when reaching for that can of pesticide. Here is our first list of unappreciated:


fiery searcher in walden heights

The Fiery Searcher

Audubon lists the food source of this beetle in one word…caterpillars. Need we say more? This is an insect that is hard to miss, both large (up to 1 3/8″) and attractive (the elytra are a reflective green, purple and/or gold). Present throughout North America and southern Canada, we find them everywhere in our landscape. particularly when digging about in the garden beds and in mulch around the fruit trees. It is one of the most common beetles here on the farm. Both adults and larvae will feed on caterpillars, both stages even climbing trees to get them. The larva will do this in the evening hours, the adults during the day. The eggs are layed in the soil and pupate there, within little cells. They can live three years. Culture that relies on tillage can destroy eggs and larvae and occasionally adults.

european ground beetle at walden heights

 At up to an inch this is another large resident of the orchard, garden and woods. The European ground beetle is welcome here due to its appetite for cutworms in addition to caterpillars. It has a more varied diet than the Fiery Searcher (including earthworms and soft bodied insects and larva). Worms aside, it does a good job cleaning up problem species. It is found in the east generally, but scattered about the country as well. It pupates in the soil, larva down there sometimes for two years. Adults live two years as well, emerging in fall. Again this speaks to the care we must take when deciding to use intensive tillage in our growing plans, as it can be destructive not just to weeds and soil dwelling pests, but also those species which lend us a hand (or tarsus as it were).

yellow jacket wasp at walden heights

The Yellow Jacket Wasp (vespula spp.) really doesn’t need much of an introduction. A resident of forest, meadow and nearly every backyard picnic. This creature hunts creatures like honeybees and other pollinators, feeds on fresh fruit in the orchard, and attacks people indisciminately and with little provocation. Ok, now for some good news. It reduces the landscape of many harmful pests (such as housefly and blowfly larva, and caterpillars) in an effort to feed their young. They pre-chew the creatures and deliver it to the colony which generally sits beneath soil level or under debris and sod.  Adults feed widely on nectar, but also on any sweet substance like fruit. We have a difficult time with them at earlier season cider pressings. The nectar feeding, however does result in some haphazard pollination. True, the slicker exoskeleton of the Yellow Jacket makes pollen transfer less likely, but they do have enough hair for the job, particularly on the head and thorax. Our blueberry patch is often filled with them during bloom. Additionally they feed on seemingly any decaying bit on the orchard floor, be it meat or sweet. They are so adept at the task that in short order the mess is reduced to nothing. We can thus consider them of good use in relegating the refuse to the decomposition web. It is a hard call here, listing it as a beneficial, especially by someone who has been stung repeatedly( I average about a half dozen a season, though I have been attacked by entire colonies some years). A compromising statement would be they are quite the beneficial in the early season, but overstay their welcome come fruiting time. That said, although most folks relate they attack without much encouragement, it is often not the case. During blackberry harvesting here, I have been surrounded by them (they also harvest blackberries) without being stung. In fact I have never been stung picking blackberries. I even grabbed two wasps in my fingers accidently last year without being attacked. Nor have I during cider pressing, despite the swarms of them. The thing to keep in mind here is that when the wasps are engaged in harvest, they seldom sting. Going anywhere near their nest is another issue entirely. So, despite some shortcomings, I like having them around. They do plenty of good, even giving the skunks something to munch on (they relish them nest and all). Even if they didn’t do as much good, maybe its important to have something to chase us off once in a while… we being the real pest out there most of the time.

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Chilling Hours

Chilling hours are defined as cool conditions necessary for certain plants to pass through a period of dormancy. Plants requiring chilling hours but are unable to do so (as through abnormal weather phenomena or when planted out of their traditional range) will suffer some degree of distress. Often this means an inability to set or ripen fruit or a failure to grow properly. Blossoms may fail to appear, fruit may be of poor quality and low in yield. Bud break may be tardy and foliage meager or slow to grow.

Temperatures between 32 and 45 degrees F are generally held to be range. Freezing temperatures do not satisfy the period, so when calculating the hours, they hours below 32 degrees F must be discounted. To calculate the hours in your location, the total hours within this period are added. They do not need to be continuous, it is cummulative. There are more complicated models that make distinctions between smaller deviations in temperature and awarding various importance to higher or lower temperatures within the range (ie the Utah model). The term CU or chilling units may be used instead of “chilling hours”, but most (but not all) models treat these terms the same. More importantly is to have a rough idea of the average chilling hours and try not to attempt growing a plant well out of its range.

Now the why. Plants have developed over eons to exist in a particular place and particular climate. Cool season species go through a dormancy which helps it survive a less than satisfactory set of climatic conditions. It goes to sleep to suffer the winter. Preceding this is a hardening off process where the plant slowly engages in physiological changes to get itself ready. It needs that period to be cool without freezing so it can prepare while it is still active. This period varies species to species because they developed in different regions of the planet. Once the requirement is reached, the plant will survive well, and come spring, will emerge in good standing. If the requirements are not, it will suffer.

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To Pee or Not to Pee

To pee or not to pee.

     Ok, all jocularity aside, this is a matter that should be discussed in logical manner. We live in a culture that spends countless millions ­­­on fertilizers and then flush a nearly equal amount down the toilet. The society which is mortified at the sight of someone peeing in his backyard is strangely the same society that concentrates astonishing amounts of human waste into singular spaces. When these systems break down, dangers to human health and ecosystem can be serious, simply due to their sheer mass.

     To the point. The human body disposes a good deal of waste product of value to agriculture. Although manure may have a part to play here, urine is the easy first step. (Humanure as it is called will be dealt with elsewhere). The liquid is both easier to deal with from a health standpoint, and is a proportionally greater fertilizer.

     Helvi Heinonen-Tanski, leader of a research group at the University of Kuopio’s Department of Environmental Sciences in Finland was involved in a study that focused on growing row crops with human urine as its sole fertilizer. The study found that the amount of urine produced by the average person could yield 160 heads of cabbage. That incidentally, is an increase of 141 pounds of food over the control plot using conventional fertilizer. This age old approach was evaluated on yield, but also on taste and passed muster here as well. Plant and biomass were slightly higher in urine plots compared with those using industrial fertilizer. Additionally, insect damage in the former was lower.

     As for implications to human health, perhaps a little primer will be of use here. Urine is the product of the body’s system for cleaning blood. Not the processing of food, but blood. The digestive system can be seen (as Isaac Asimov liked to think) as an extension of the outside world, not truly part of the body. Visualize it as tube running entrance to exit, kind of a long skinny hole right through the middle of us. The urinary system is different, being a system of organs that deals more directly with us, and thus needs to be more free of microorganisms. The digestive system is germs, and needs to be to process waste. The urinary system is more like a filtering system, where the things it is getting rid of are already present in our blood.

     So, the urine from a healthy human is a non-issue from a health standpoint. In fact it is actually sterile within the body, which is why it is used in cleaning wounds. Urine in the healthy individual contains no bacteria, fungi or viruses. It can attract pathogenic organisms once outside the body, but well, so does a sandwich.

Dr. Philip Tierno, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University Medical Center, New York City said in an interview, “there’s nothing wrong with using it.” (I just finished reading his “Secret Life of Germs” and can attest this is not a guy who takes germs lightly.

     Regarding the actual constituents, – In July of 1971 a NASA report was undertaken on the constituencies of human urine. Likely not outdone by any other study of its kind, it fills 112 pages with charts and exhausting figures. Among its findings were the following:

158 chemical constituents listed              

Nitrogen : Urea – 9300 to 23,330mg/l , Uric Acid 400-670mg/l,  Ammonia 200-730mg/l with many additional nitrogen containing substances like ammonium salts.

Potassium : 750 to 2610mg/l

Phosphorus : 470 to 1070mg/l

pH average of 6.5.

The entire pdf is available at

     Another study looked at what constituted stored urine and its value. The study was conducted by H. Kirchmann and S. Pettersson. -Human urine – Chemical composition and fertilizer use efficiency. An abstract can be found online, but some of what they found was as follows:

 pH values of 8.9 and was composed of eight main ionic species (> 0.1 meq L–1), the cations Na, K, NH4, Ca and the anions, Cl, SO4, PO4 and HCO3.

Nitrogen was mainly (> 90%) present as ammoniacal N, with ammonium bicarbonate being the dominant compound. Urea and urate decomposed during storage.

 Heavy metal concentrations in urine samples were low compared with other organic fertilizers, but copper, mercury, nickel and zinc were 10–500 times higher in urine than in precipitation and surface waters.

 Phosphorus present in urine was utilized at a higher rate than soluble phosphate, showing that urine P is at least as available to crops as soluble P fertilizers.

     So, at a period in time where we are all waxing environmental, and recycling dirty peanut butter jars wouldn’t it make sense to utilize something so natural. Either it is cultural squeemishness or an avoidance of anything inconvenient, but it is the sort of attutude that will fall by the wayside due to necessity. NASA dedicated attention to the study of urine because they had to deal with it in outer space, and to find use in it (it could be processed and drunk). We will not always have the luxury of cheap fertilization of the haber-bosch process and petroleum/natural gas. We will have to think less like shoppers and more like astronauts.

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Stumped about whether to stump?

Consider the following. The subsurface portion of the typical tree is about equal in overall mass to the aerial portion. So, when we excavate this mass, we are essentially removing a great deal of biomass from the orchard soil. If we were to assume a 14″dbh tree might give us a cubic yard or better of organic matter from the root system, and at an average cost of 30$ per yard (ie wood mulch) we are sacrificing 30$ per tree in organic material. Also consider there is no practical procedure for putting organic materials that deep into the soil, and if we could it would destroy the soil structure if we could. Furthermore, the heavy equiptment necessary for stumping would compact the soil at the same time it is wreaking havoc with the soil matrix. Compound that with the petroleum needed to do the work (in terms of environmental impact), and the cost of the work in dollars. Lastly, we are left with an enormous mass of root and stump of which volumes have been written about regarding the rigors of its eradication.

The alternative approach instead sees the now deceasing root system as a blessing. Although it will take years to degrade, there is no rush in the orchard. It will create an improved soil structure, with higher organic content, air and water penetration, and drought suppression. Furthermore it adds nutrients, short and simple. While any carbon rich material temporarily ties up nitrogen in the soil, the intact structure of the bulk of the material will only do this incrementally since the decay will occur mainly at the soil/wood interface. When the fungi and microorganisms have completed its transition to humus, nitrogen and other nutrients will become available to the crop. Oh, and for free.

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Naked Fruit

An obvious but seldom paracticed emphasis in our food system is the consumption of truly whole food. Much attention is given to the so called whole foods movement but less attention to actually eating whole food. While processing often helps extend the possibilities within and viability of farming in all forms, it often does little to improve human health. A sustainably grown organic applesauce is likely better for you than a conventional one, but it is still applesauce. We will likely always need to can, dry and otherwise process our gleanings to survive, and we do deserve some joy and inventiveness in the guise of pies and souffles and the like. However, we indeed as a culture have overdone the physical manipulation of our food. If we are really to get serious about improving the health of our people, a rallying cry might be one of naked food !