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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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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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Scionwood Collecting

Collecting scionwood properly can increase the success rate of grafting.  This post will identify the type of wood you are looking for, and why scrutiny is important.

This first photo shows the final product, a length of new growth wood about a foot long (30.48cm).

A good length of scionwood

Getting to this point is as follows:

  1. Get out there and collect, looking for good healthy material. Avoid any noticeable pathogenic organisms like cankers, fungal bodies, etc. We are after growth from last season only, anything older will likely result in failure. In the following photo, notice the ripples in the bark near the base of this scion which divides this past year’s growth from the previous year’s.

    Cut just below dividing line of year 1 and year2 wood

a.   In terms of length, the longer the better. Thickness follows in suit with length generally, but with caliper you will want to look for sizes that accommodate your rootstock size.

b.  The next  (top) photo  shows a nice branch with 12 inches of new growth.  Often this wood is at the periphery, but with strongly pruned trees, candidates are abundant in all areas of the tree. Keep in mind some wood from very low down in seedling trees may be juvenile in nature and should be avoided. These “watersprouts” may take longer to bear, though in grafted trees, which is what we all generally are dealing with, this is less the case.  The bottom image shows a poor choice of wood on the tree, having no useable wood at all. This branch has had its tip dieback in the growing season from insect damage, and side growth is composed of fruit spurs. Fruit spurs are not eligible for grafting, as they are less likely to result in shoot-like growth , and the possible blooming will drain the scion of moisture and nutrients (removing the blossoms has not been shown to negate the problem appreciably).

A good one
A bad one
  1. Next are two examples of wood of poor choice: (ruler in photo is in inches)    

            a. The image on the top is a length only 2 inches long. Since buds on the distal end (toward the tip) are usually less developed, succulent or prone to cold injury, and since buds on the proximal end (toward the base) are usually small and tardy in growing. The section of wood here shows little choices remaining.

             b.  The lower example is shorter still, with spurs and spurlike growth without a useable amount of internodal space.  The internode is simply the space between the buds, which becomes important in grafting because it is the area where the cut is made. The longer the cut, the more cambial contact is allowed for, and thus great chance for union to be made. (More on this point in the grafting posts).

Poor scion selections

This final image gives us an idea of the minimal caliper and the optimal internodal spacing. In this specimen an oblique cut of nearly an inch can be made for a whip graft. The buds are apparently healthy, without being so protruding as to break off during grafting or transport.

Nice buds and internodal spaces

Finally, the timing of gathering will depend on the climate of the area. Here in the northeast of the US we are collecting during pruning time, which is generally from February through May. Ideally, collection like pruning should be attempted after the coldest days have passed but safely before growth has begun. A point to keep in mind is the closer you can time it to coincide with the actual grafting the better due to keeping things fresh. Although wood can be kept for many months under moist refrigeration, there is less to go awry when the duration is shorter in storage. Collecting during above freezing temps will both be more comfortable an undertaking, and be kinder to the health of the tree. Collecting too late in the season may allow for scion growth before graft healing has occurred. Scions with buds opening are likely to result in failure. For more information on actual grafting, please watch our video in the video section or on youtube (english speed graft).


Scionwood must remain turgid (full of moisture), but without being drenched in water. The easiest method is to place them in a zip-lock or twist tied plastic bag with a few damp paper towels around them or beside them. Damp means rinsed then wrung out, not dripping. Put the bag in the bottom level of the refrigerator, checking periodically to make sure the towel is damp, and the scions are plump and not molding. They will keep for up to 6 months if payed attention to.

 This is also the method for mailing wood to us for grafting, remembering to add padding around the bag (ie- crumpled newspaper is fine) and send in a box.

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Hard Cider Anyone ?

There wil be a good deal of future posts on this subject, but this will be a good intro for those who are green to the world of hard cidermaking.

The following is the incredibly complicated procedure (ahem) of making a passable alcoholic beverage from a pile of  apples:

  1. Press your apples into juice
  2. Put the juice in a container with a lid
  3. Add some yeast
  4. Place an airlock in an opening in the lid
  5. Wait
  6. Drink

In all seriousness this is all there is to it. This will make a hard cider. Now, there is a world of difference between a beverage that you can drink and a beverage that you want to drink. Tome upon tome have been written about the many nuances involved here, and an entire world awaits anyone who wants to really get into it. It can be every bit as complex as good winemaking, and every bit as exciting, but you can still just putter a bit and make yourself proud. ..or get some cheap hooch.

The book that got me started is still the classic in America- “Sweet and Hard Cider” by Annie Proulx (yes, the same one of ‘Shipping News’ fame) and Lew Nichols, a wife and husband team at the time. Ben Watson’s “Cider, Hard and Sweet” is prettier to look at and equally informative. That Is just the beginning in terms of literary jaunts in the brew, particularly if you look across the Atlantic to the cradles of cidering including Merry old England, and Merrier old France.

more to follow…

hydometer : measures potential alcohol


Refractometer (image :Fernando G. (FGM)

These devices tell us how much sugar exists in our subject. By measuring this amount before fermentation, and then measuring again when fermenting is complete we can gauge how much alcohol exists in the finished product. The before ferment reading will also give us enough for a good guess on what the outcome will be.