Cider Review: J.K.’s Scrumpy Orchard Gate Gold

04This weeks cider review comes from Flushing Michigan’s finest: Almar Orchards. Almar is one of the few certified organic apple orchards in southeast MI. Using integrated pest management the Koan family grows over 30 apple cultivars on their 500 acre farm. They also raise grains and livestock including pigs which feed on spent apple pomace after pressing! All of the apples used to make J.K.’s Scrumpy Hard Cider are grown, harvested, pressed, and fermented on the farm.

CLICK HERE TO SEE A VIDEO OF ALMAR ORCHARDS

A testament to their holistic orcharding and cider making practices from Almar owner, Jim Koan:

“This Original Hard-Cider has been made on our family-owned farm in Flushing, Michigan for well over a hundred years. It was first pressed back in the 1850′s. Not much as changed in the process since then. We use the same apples from the same orchards as my great-great grandfather did before the time of the Civil War. We are proud of that. It gives us a sense of history….

Our cider is not only natural, it is truly organic. It always has been. It’s simply a fact of what we do – and how we do it. We use no insecticides in the farm orchards. Rather, I do what my grandfather did. I have a large flock of guinea fowl that wander about and eat the bugs. Fallen apples that have hit the ground are always a food source for pests, so I let my Berkshire pigs wander the orchard and eat the fallen apples. In a fast-paced, instant gratification society all this may seem a little old fashioned, or not “cost-effective.” But, we have a cider that is not like any other, and the idea of playing around with what makes that happen… well, it just ain’t part of the plan.”

IMG_2456They bottle various ciders including their Northern Neighbor Saskatoon Cuvee and J.K.’s Cuvee Winteruption (both of which will be looked at in upcoming reviews). This week’s review will cover their flagship cider known as Orchard Gold Gate. As the label implies, their ciders resemble ‘scrumpy’ ciders from England in that they’re produced in small batches using traditional methods. As a sentiment to the terrior and craft nature of J.K.’s Scrumpy Cider Jim Koan proclaims:

“I consider Orchard Gate Gold as a unique Artisan Michigan Farmhouse Cider, somewhere between English Scrumpy and a Normandy Cidre.

The bottom line is that it could not be made anyplace else. It is reliant on the soil and the climate. Open a bottle and decide for yourself!

After the harvest, we press our organic apples and allow them to slowly ferment for up to six months. We then carefully hand-fill and label each bottle and let it age for several weeks to properly condition.”

Orchard Gate Gold and the rest of the J.K.’s Scrumpy cider line are readily available throughout MI and can be found in 17 other states. Orchard Gate Gold is sold for around $8.99 and weighs in at 6% ABV. Upon pouring the cider is hazy and lacks clarity. Bits of yeast and lees float in the bottle. It has a beautiful golden straw color and the aroma grabs you immediately—it’s somewhere between butterscotch and caramel with the aromatics common of fresh apple juice. The flavor is reminiscent of apple juice left in the fridge to slowly ferment for a month or two. It is very sweet with high residual sugar and has virtually zero sharpness or bitterness. What I’d call a dessert cider. The booziness distinctly pulls through and complements the nearly overbearing sweetness. This cider is certainly not sparkling but it does posses a subtle effervescence— I believe it’d be referred to as a perlant ciderThe slight bubliness adds a pleasant mouth feel that also supports and balances the high sweetness. For a sweet dessert cider it is very agreeable and nice, but for me, drinking more than a glass would be too much. I’d imagine Orchard Gold Gate would be lovely served warm and mulled. Stay tuned for coming reviews of other ciders in the J.K.’s Scrumpy Hard Cider line. Cheers!

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Fruit Tree Polycultures: Summer Pomona Feature

POMONA
The Member-Written, Quarterly Journal of North American Fruit Explorers (NAFEX)
Vol. XLVI, No. 3, Summer 2013

Fruit Tree Polycultures
Trevor Newman
tnewman92@gmail.com
(P) 248-535-9419
(F) 248-625-7676
The Fruit Nut | http://www.thefruitnut.com

Unlike monocultures, polycultures contain diverse mixtures of species growing together in symbiosis. Creating polycultures around fruit trees can reduce the need for offsite inputs, increase biodiversity in the orchard, and provide various secondary yields such as medicinal herbs, perennial vegetables, and much more. Establishing polycultures around fruit trees is all about analyzing the needs of the tree and matching those needs to the functions of various support species or ‘companion plants.’ The aim is to provide the basic needs of the tree (fertility, pest management, weed control, etc.) by using biological
resources. Instead of ‘planting a fruit tree,’ we can think of this integrated approach as ‘planting an ecosystem’.

Dynamic accumulators are plants whose deep taproots mine hard-to-reach minerals from the soil and deposit them in their aerial parts. These plants can be grown around the base of fruit trees and managed on a ‘chop-n-drop’ basis whereby their aerial parts are occasionally cut and spread as mulch directly beneath the trees. Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is a great example of a dynamic accumulator that is high in calcium, phosphorus, and manganese. I put at least one comfrey plant at the base or around the
drip line of each tree and generally cut them back for mulch 3-4 times throughout the growing season.

Nitrogen-fixing plants are commonly used in organic agriculture as cover crops and green manure. The same principles can be applied to the orchard by using nitrogen fixing trees, shrubs, and herbs to act as nurse crops for young fruit trees. A great multi-purpose nitrogen fixer is goumi (Eleagnus multiflora), which produces an early-season berry and provides an abundance of nectary flowers which honeybees
love. When goumi and other nitrogen fixers are cut down, their roots respond by releasing a plume of nitrogen into the surrounding soil. Fruit trees and other crop plants can tap into this fertility source.

Groundcover plants are excellent weed suppressors and should be integrated throughout the orchard understory to act as living mulch while excluding any potential for weeds to grow. Applemint (Mentha suaveolens) and white clover (Trifolium repens) are two groundcovers that can be effectively integrated with orchard grass to create a dense mat. Creeping comfrey is an excellent groundcover that spreads
indefinitely, can tolerate shade, and also serves as a dynamic accumulator.

Another class of functional plants are known as insectaries. These are plants that provide fodder for beneficial and predatory insects. By attracting these ‘good guys’ to the orchard we can increase pollination and limit pest outbreaks by encouraging a balance among predator and prey populations. Plants in the Apiaceae family (carrot, lovage, etc.) and plants in the Asteraceae family (yarrow, coneflower, etc.) are especially good at attracting predatory insects like parasitic wasps, lace wings, and lady beetles. Having insectary plants flowering at different times throughout the year ensures that beneficial insects will have a plentiful supply of food and reason to stick around.

The core of good polyculture design lies in a basic understanding of ecology and plant functions. Polycultures mimic functional interconnections found in natural ecosystems while producing an abundance of yields and reducing off site inputs. Visit www.apiosinstitute.org to see numerous case studies and find out more about designing fruit tree polycultures.

photo

 

Old Apple Tree We Wassail Thee

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Wassail-Image-1It was an unusually mild January night amidst a long stretch of bone-chilling cold. Warm air blew in during the day raising temps to 45 degrees Fahrenheit…pretty warm for January 19th. This was last Saturday, the evening of our 1st annual wassailing ceremony. ‘Waes hael’ is an Anglo-Saxon word that means ‘to wish well’, or ‘to wish whole’. Orchard wassailing is an old English tradition where each year around January 17th (The Old Twelfth Night) people gather together to perform a ceremony in honor of the apple trees. The ceremony is meant to promote the health of the trees and to ensure a bountiful harvest in the coming season. This age-old custom is still practiced until this day, particularly in England and throughout the British Isles. With apples being a cornerstone to British culture, this tradition was at the center of seasonal festivities and followed the celebration of Christmas.

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Serving mulled cider to the group…

The ancient earth rite begins with the group gathering in a circle around the largest or most significant tree in the orchard, known as The Apple Man, which is meant to represent the rest of the orchard treesfrom there the butler, or ‘king’, brings forth a piece of toasted bread; the master, or ‘queen’, then takes the bread, dips it into mulled cider(which all ceremony participants are given), and then hangs the bread on a fruiting spur of the chosen tree. The cider-soaked bread is an offering to the robins, which are thought to be guardians of the orchard. A proper toast is then given and everyone drinks to the tree. The ceremony comes to a finale as the group sings a wassailing song. Everyone bangs on pots and pans, drums, and tambourines to ward off any evil spirits that might be dwelling in the tree and the ceremony is concluded. After researching numerous wassailing traditions and songs, I synthesized this version:

Old apple tree we wassail thee in hope
that thou will bear
For the Lord doth know where we shall be
’til apples come another year
to bear well and to bloom well, and so
merry let us be
Let every man take off his hat
And shout to the old apple tree
(Repeat twice more)
Old apple tree we wassail thee in hope
that thou will bear
Hats full,
Caps full,
Three bushel bags full,
And a little heap under the stairs.
Hip, Hip, Hooray! Hip, Hip, Hooray!
Hip, Hip, Hooray!

That’s a basic overview of one wassailing ceremony; there are many, many slight variations and each has its place in a different locality. The beauty is that it can be adapted to any place, and although there are some general guidelines, anybody can do it anywhere. For me it seemed like a custom worth integrating into our community, and in a very real sense we are only RE-integrating, as a lot of us trace our ancestry to places like the British Isles and other European countries. I speak on behalf of many when I say there is a major hunger for connection in our modern, technologically-rampant culture. There is a hunger for connection to place, there is a hunger for connection to community, and there is a hunger for connection to our customs and traditions which have been stripped away over the last 300+ years. I see it all around me as full moon potlucks, skill share groups, harvest parties, and other community celebrations once again become common. After all, how can something so central to human existence be left behind?

Our first annual wassailing ceremony was met with great interest as 20+ friends and fellow apple-lovers came out to celebrate. We started the evening around 5:30 with the ceremony and a large bonfire in the orchard followed by a lovely potluck indoors. The evening went on with drumming, delicious and seasonally appropriate food and drink, and many wonderful conversations and laughs. Simple gatherings like these bring us closer together as a community and feed the deep hunger within—the hunger for connection.

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Heeling-In Fruit Trees & Staking Grafts

Autumn is the ideal time to plant bare-root fruit trees. Once your trees have arrived from the nursery its best to get them in the ground ASAP. Sometimes this isn’t possible; this is when ‘heeling-in’ comes handy. Heeling-in is a technique used to store bare-root fruit trees temporarily until they’re ready to be planted. Its a simple procedure which basically entails digging a trench large enough to accommodate the roots of the tree, then placing the roots in the trench so the tree is almost laying on the ground, at about a 90 degree angle parallel to the ground. Fill in the hole with soil so the roots are entirely covered.

Situate roots in trench so they’re not circling.

Fill in trench and tamp down soil firmly over the roots of your bare-root tree.

Its best to do this in a shadier spot to prevent drying out. Bare-root trees are incredibly sensitive to drying out and they need to be treated with care. Don’t wait too long to heel in your trees if you’re not ready to plant them right away. Trees should generally not stay heeled-in for more then a month or two. With that being said I have managed to forget about heeled-in trees only to find them a season later well rooted with new growth. Don’t do this. Most of the time, however, I heel-in trees for a 1-2 week period until planting day.

One of the most exciting and interesting parts about gardening is you’re always learning something new. Each season new lessons are learned and knowledge is further refined. Its a never-ending learning process. As the garden grows so does the gardeners wisdom. This is experiential knowledge and distinguishes really knowing something versus just thinking something to be true. This year I learned something valuable about topworking trees. ‘Topworking’ refers to grafting high up in mature trees. This may be to switch over a variety or to add more varieties to a tree. I did a lot of apple tree topworking last spring. When grafting onto mature roots first year graft growth can be astonishing…and sometimes too vigorous. I’ve seen apple grafts grow 4+ feet in one season, same for persimmon and chestnut. That can be a big burden for a barely-healed graft union. While walking around the chestnut orchard at Nash Nursery a couple weeks ago I found a clever system they’d devised for staking 1st year grafts. This video shows that system:

Seeing these staked grafted was an Ah Ha! moment for me…thinking back to those apple trees I’d topworked last spring I’d realized this is what they needed. Just a couple days ago when walking through the orchard I came across one of the most successful topworking jobs from last spring…only to find one of the grafts had snapped off!  Needed those stakes…

Fortunately these bark grafts were done in fours on each limb to ensure at least one success.

Staking is good not only for providing structural support but also for directional training. From what I’ve seen these grafts want to grow vertically…staking them at desired angles and directions could be beneficial.

 

Fall Closure, Garden Update, & New Podcast

Winter is coming and you can feel it in the air. While Hurricane Sandy was wreaking havoc on the east coast Michigan got hit with serious winds, heavy rain, and some hail. That storm swooped away the remaining tree leaves bringing a conclusion to the beautiful display of fall colors. Now the bareness is kicking in. I’ve been struggling to find time to write amongst the busyness of closing down the gardens and getting everything ready for winter. You have to make hay when the sun shines- soon enough we’ll be snowed in.

A LOT has been going on, though. Many renovations  have been made in the garden/orchard as well as some new plantings. My company has been doing well this fall and we’ve hosted some exciting workshops and secured some enthusiastic new clients that are ready to take on and transform their own landscapes. The elections have just passed, thankfully, and obviously everybody has their different views on voting…but we can all use this time as a reminder that perhaps the most effective way to vote and cast your voice is with your everyday actions. ‘Vote with your dollar’ is a powerful saying. We all have an opportunity to be the change we wish to see. Make positive changes in your own community, small or large.

Thats a wrap for my political rant; this is after all a website about fruit and orcharding, not politics. I vote for apples. Speaking of apples, I just finished the latest episode of the The Fruit Nut Podcast with Michael Phillips, the author of The Apple Grower and The Holistic Orchard. It was a great conversation and Michael shared so much valuable information. We talked about holistic fruit tree care, community orchards, and more. CLICK HERE to listen to the interview. Unfortunately the past three episodes have been recorded with a low quality microphone so the audio on my end breaks up a lot and doesn’t sound that great. HOWEVER, I am investing in a new recording system to produce much cleaner audio. Look forward to episode 4 with Lee Reich.

Here are some recent photos of field trips, events, and happenings in the garden…

Spacing out blueberries for the new blueberry bed. 10/9/12

Planting potted blueberries in the ground. 10/9/12

Vibrant blueberry fall color. 10/17/12

Sheet mulched blueberry bed complete…ground level rose some 10″. Organic matter is the name of the game when it comes to blueberries! 10/27/12

Golden raspberries are best when the weather gets cold and sugar levels increase. 10/27/12

Giant daikon radish doing it’s work building soil at a client’s site in Plymouth, MI.

Mike Levine of Nature and Nurture sharing the remains of his hardy kiwi crop.

This was my first time eating fresh hardy kiwi…I’ve hard store bought but these put ‘em to shame!

These little kiwis are extremely sweet with a complex flavor. They have smooth skin and can be eaten whole…much tastier then fuzzy kiwis in my opinion. Plus they can grow in zone 5!

Ken Asmus of Oikos Tree Crops shares a lovely presentation at a recent Roots To Fruits edible forest gardening weekend intensive. 10/20/12

 

Ken talking chestnuts and explaining the benefits of ‘rough mulch’ in an orchard setting. This means leaving pruning in place beneath the tree they came from. Nutrient cycling at it’s finest…

Ken and I feeling accomplished after leading a successful edible forest gardening workshop. Beautiful hickory color in background. Photo courtesy PJ Chmiel

‘I-94′ American persimmons tree ripening at Nash Nursery in Owosso, MI. 10/13/12

Ripe ‘I-94′ American persimmons…this variety comes from the breeding work of the late James Claypool.

Beautiful stand of pure American chestnuts growing free of blight in Owosso, MI. These were planted some 30+ years ago. 10/13/12

Elegant variegated silverberry, E.pungens… 11/7/12

New seedling persimmon planting from a seedling tree grown from ‘Morris Burton’ fruit. The parent tree had lovely deep red, very sweet fruit. 11/7/12

Latest persimmon planting featuring several grafted D. virginiana varieties. More on this later…

Comfrey For The Garden & Orchard

Comfrey is a plant with a multitude of uses not only in the home apothecary but also in the garden. There are several species in the genus Symphytum, all of which merit special attention, but generally S. officinale, or common comfrey, and a hybrid species S.x uplandicum are most often used. The ladder of which is particularly suitable for the home garden because it is sterile and doesn’t spread by seed. The most available variety is called ‘Bocking 14′. These are upright comfreys which can grow 5′ tall. There are also rhizomatous species which only grow 6″-1′ high and spread to form a dense groundcover.

Comfrey is prized amongst herbalists for its incredible healing powers. Comfrey leaves and roots

Comfrey leaves and roots chopped for making an herbal salve.

contain a high concentration of allatoin– a substance that speeds cell renewal. It got the colloquial name ‘knitbone’ for its use in treating wounds and reducing inflammation from broken bones and sprains.  It’s not a surprise that comfrey fulfills a similar ecological niche working to heal wounded and degraded soils. Comfrey is referred to as a mineral accumulator or dynamic accumulator for its ability to mine nutrients with its deep roots (which also loosen compacted soils). Those nutrients are then deposited in the aerial parts of the plant; being especially high in potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and nitrogen. When the aerial parts die back in the fall those nutrients assimilate into the surrounding soil. Gardeners can facilitate this process by intentionally cutting the plant down at strategic times for use as mulch around fruit trees, berry bushes, or in the veg garden. In the permaculture world we

Close up showing comfrey mulch around trunk of tree.

Comfrey mulch chopped around the base of a young peach tree.

refer to this process as ‘chop-n-drop’. Plant comfrey at the base of your fruit trees and simply chop-n-drop the material right in place; breaking the leaves and stalks into smaller pieces will accelerate decomposition but is not necessary. This is an effective way to build topsoil rapidly and reduce off-site inputs. From my experience I’ve been able to get anywhere from 3-5 cuttings throughout the season. One fella recently told me he cuts his back 7-8 times! I like to wait for the first flush of flowers in early summer because they provide excellent bee fodder.

Preparing comfrey tea brew.

Finished comfrey tea will be slimy on top. Discard slimy material and use as mulch or add to compost.

Another strategy for utilizing comfrey’s amazing mineral accumulating capacity is to brew a fermented comfrey tea. This is a very easy procedure which entails chopping up a few handfuls of comfrey leaves and placing them in a 5 gallon bucket with water. Cover with a lid and let the mixture ferment outdoors for 1-2 weeks. Alternatively, start the batch by pouring boiling water over the plant material and letting it steep for a few hours then adding room temp. water to fill the rest of the bucket. The hot water method seems to extract more of the nutrients. You will know its ready when it has a strong stank…a good stank! Apply with a backpack sprayer diluted or undiluted. This fermented tea can be used a foliar feed or applied directly to the soil.

‘Dwarf Yellow’ comfrey

I grow comfrey around my compost bins and periodically add it to new piles or existing piles to jump-start the decomposition process. I also like to think that the comfrey roots capture any leached nutrients from the compost pile. One reason some people bash on comfrey is because its nearly impossible to get rid of as the tiniest piece of root will put on adventitious buds and sprout into a new plant. Easy to propagate? Ooooh yes! Aside from comfrey’s amazing medicinal qualities and numerous garden uses, it is also a very beautiful plant that can tolerate almost any soil type and will grow well in partial shade. Some ornamental varieties include ‘Goldsmith’, ‘Hidcote Blue’, and ‘Dwarf White’. I would love to hear how you’re utilizing comfrey in your garden! Cheers.

Short video clip: Comfrey Chop-N-Drop Timing

Since adolescent pawpaw trees require dappled shade, comfrey is a great multipurpose companion.

Comfrey and mint at base of young persimmon tree.

‘Bocking 14′ comfrey flowers

Comfrey showing itself in early spring by a compost bin.