October Update: New Podcast, Articles, & More!!!

Now the autumnal shift is fully present and unavoidable as the trees show their gorgeous display of fall colors and days get cooler. However this is still a busy time of year…even with some 75% of the fruit crops wiped out there is still a bit to harvest. Before we take a look at that, I’d like to announce the addition of two new pieces to the Articles page, one titled Making Ink From Berries by guest writer Dana Driscoll, and the other a small-scale alley crop photo essay by yours truly. Speaking of new content, I am also excited to share with you my latest audio podcast with the American persimmon fanatic, Jerry Lehman! Click here to listen to the podcast and stay tuned for Episode 3 with Michael Phillips, the author of The Holistic Orchard.

In the latest podcast Jerry Lehman tells us about his work breeding and developing the American persimmon in Terra Huate, IN. Photo courtesy Jerry Lehman
One of the collection screens Jerry has devised for gathering fallen persimmons…Photo courtesy Jerry Lehman
In a new article Dana Driscoll teaches us how to make natural ink from pokeberries and other berries.
Alley crop just the other day…nice shadows from the nanking cherries. Click here for more.

That pretty much covers the latest in terms of new content. Was at a client’s site the other day doing a check up and found some exciting things. This was a site we installed 3 years ago and haven’t gone back much since then, so whenever we make a visit its always surprising to see whats done well. While visiting we also decided to harvest autumnberries from a bountiful population along the edge of her street. Here are some photos from that adventure…

CLICK HERE to learn more about this project!

‘Amber’ is an autumnberry cultivar that produces yellow fruit…yum!
These autumnberries are much larger and juicier then most…
This multi-stemmed ‘Q-18’ peach provides nice shade when sitting on the bench.
Mark standing next to a happy pawpaw tree with it’s companion comfrey…
In just a few years time the swales and soil building plants turned compacted, gravely soil into beautiful humus…
Fall-bearing red raspberry…not sure which cultivar.
This ‘Illinois Everbearing’ mulberry has grown rapidly in a short time…
Wild autumnberries growing along the street…

Autumnberry is a truly abundant wild food that is loaded with nutrients and so widely available. More people need to start harvesting it. There is a big debate with autumnberry and many other plant species— some folks believe eradication is necessary because these plants are “invasive”, which is an entirely non-scientific claim that lacks any ecological footing. This is a big issue and we won’t get into it too much right now, but I would like to point out one thing. In the case for autumnberry, the plant arrived to NA back in the 70’s and was promoted largely by the USDA and conservation districts, NOW the same folks who encouraged the planting and dissemination of autumnberry are the ones promoting its eradication…SO, to me it seems only rational to NOT put full trust in these organizations and institutions. Who knows what will happen 30 years from now if herbicide applications are continued in radical attempts to eradicate opportunistic plants? All I am saying is we need to be incredibly mindful when we intervene on this level and have great forethought into potential future outcomes…good or bad. That concludes my rant for now.

Harvesting lycopene-rich autumnberries…which I later made into tasty jam.
Foley food mill worked wonder for separating the pithy autumnberry seeds…
As the autumnberries cook down they turn a beautiful reddish-pink color.

Speaking of jam, just the other day I harvested some mountain ash berries from a tree my parents planted some 25+ years ago. The yields were down this year but there was

The berries are much more attractive to the eyes then the taste buds.

enough to experiment making a small batch of jam. If you’ve ever tried mountain ash berries then you know they’re incredibly astringent and barely palatable(there are some varieties and hybrids which are better for eating). In past years I’ve made mountain ash mead and used the tree as a rootstock for shipova(more to come on that soon). But I never really ‘ate’ the berries. So I tried making a batch of jam…and…it tastes awful. No matter how much sugar you add the astringency just intensifies. Supposedly the berries get sweeter with a frost… and they are said to be high in vitamin C. I think its more useful as medicine then food.

Another not-so-edible berry…is the yew berry. Which in fact contains a highly poisonous seed…but the red jelly-like flesh is said to be edible. And it is edible, I am living proof. Out of curiosity I began nibbling on the berries this fall and I found they’re actually quite good! Very sweet with a mild flavor. The texture is slimy. An interesting relative that I’ve only read about is Japanese plum yew(Cephalotaxus harringtonia); this one is said to produce larger fruits that are fully edible, seed and all.

Yew berries are ornamental and delicious…just be very careful not to eat the seed, or the ‘pip’ as the brits say.
Chestnut season is upon us! Look for a chestnut post next week…
Hickory nuts in husk…good luck getting ’em before the squirrels!
‘Szukis’ persimmon working its way to the top of the tree tube…
Gorgeous fall colors…embrace the beauty!

 

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Fall IS Here, But Apples Are Not…

Today marks the autumnal equinox and now its official— fall is here! In retrospect the summer seemed to have went by in fast motion as it started abruptly with an early spring and now its concluding just as swiftly. These periods of drastic change are incredibly powerful and sometimes the shifting energy can be difficult to deal with but we try our best. I have been traveling for the past few weeks, first on a trip to VT to stay at Whole Systems Design research farm and then touring throughout northwest MI doing some consulting, seminars, and catching up with friends and colleagues. Summer seems to have ended during the weeks on the road and now that I’m back its satisfying to spend time walking through the gardens observing, harvesting, and contemplating. There is still a lot to be had for the 2012 gardening season but cold nights dipping into the low 40’s pose major threats to those vine-ripening tomatoes and unripe figs(which sadly won’t ripen). Its the time of year to move inward, wether that means collecting your ideas and dreams, or storing away the season’s bounty. In the next couple weeks I will be making jams & jellies, fermenting cabbage, carrots, and other root vegetables, as well as putting up other storable food items for the cold months ahead. The squirrels are busy burying nuts, luckily for them(and us!) its a bumper crop year for oaks. The best part is that sometimes they forget these burial sites and VOILA a cluster of oak trees appear a few seasons later.  Ever since I’ve been growing fruit and gardening in general, this season stands out as the most unusual in terms of weather conditions, ripening dates, and so on. In the old apple orchard on my families land not an apple can be found. Not to say that all of the apples in SE MI were a bust, but these particular trees set very few if any. On a recent visit to a friend’s orchard outside of Ann Arbor, I discovered that his plum, apricot, peach, pear, and apple trees didn’t set a single fruit. On the contrary, the other day while driving through the hilly landscape of the grand Traverse bay in northern MI, the roadside orchard trees were laden with ripe apples. Perhaps this protected fruit growing region has somewhat of a buffer. Either way, its been an odd and eye-opening year. I keep thinking back to a principle we share in our Roots To Fruits talks…it goes: Value Diversity; we then expand and talk about the different facets of diversity(functional,biological,genetic,etc.) and the many values of having a diverse landscape, but now I’m referring to crop diversity in a garden-orchard. Its one of those years you wish you would’ve over-planted. Another interesting idea comes to mind that I’d like to share with you. While having a conversation with my buddy Ben Falk, he mentioned that there is a lot of talk about how tree-based agriculture is highly resilient in the face of an unpredictable climate and other instabilities but really when we depend on fruit, mast, or nut-producing trees we’re actually relying on the most delicate and vulnerable manifestation of nature— a flower. He makes a good point, and it can be clearly seen this year with crop loss due to drought, late frosts, and other climatic conditions. This reinforces the necessity for planting late-flowering trees like American persimmon and chestnut. I digress.

Several exciting ideas are brewing for new blog posts and articles so keep an eye out over the next couple weeks and expect much more as we move into the winter months. I will have some amazing guests coming on the podcast as well. For now I’ve decided to share some recent photos with quick captions that will hopefully give you an idea of what I’ve been up to as of late. May you have a happy and healthy seasonal transition!

Ben showing the few quinces on his tree this year…
Korean nut pine doing well at Whole Systems Design research farm…
Comfrey growing beneath a plum tree at Whole Systems Design research farm in north central VT…
Cornus mas bush loaded with pawpaw trees in background. At Marc Boone’s orchard in Ann Arbor, MI.
Cornelian cherries were one of the few crops that fared through the tough season…one worth planting!
Marc showing the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy limb union on a pawpaw tree…although this branch is growing at a good crotch angle, it is the unhealthy one with a higher risk of splitting…
Well-joined limb on pawpaw tree with good crotch angle…
One of the few ‘Aromatnaya’ quinces. This one had plum curculio damage and Marc claims his grandma told him this is ‘how quinces are’ and why you cook ’em in pies!
Marc setting up his ‘pawpaw harvesting sleds’ for easy access through the orchard alleys…
Good pawpaw cluster, although the orchard overall produced nearly 10% of what it did last season. 9/9/12
‘Leikora’ is a seaberry cultivar that produces beautiful large clusters with good pickability… 9/9/12 Ann Arbor, MI
Mike Levine’s front yard food forest near downtown Ann Arbor, MI. Check out his website at http://www.natureandnurture.org
Extremely vigorous American persimmon that got topworked earlier this spring…mature roots make all the difference for graft vigor when it comes to American persimmons. This tree will be fruiting in no time…
Another graft detail…appears to be a rind graft.
Mike picking his favorite pawpaw— Overleese…
Mike has one of the most successful hardy kiwi productions systems I’ve seen yet…
Nice flush of oyster mushrooms on one of our very successful mushroom hunts in NW Michigan…
High density apple planting at Tandem Ciders
Tasting room at Tandem…I love this place!
Came home to find the golden raspberry primocane crop in full swing…’Fall Gold’ and ‘Kiwi Gold’ 9/22/12
Lovely basket of produce from the garden… 9/22/12

New Moon: Ground Cherries, Orgonite, Black Currant Tincture, and More…

Its been a few weeks since my last post and I’ve been itching to release some fresh ideas and photos. Things have been a bit crazy lately with selling plants at the farmers markets and working on new Roots To Fruits jobs. Its all very good, just a bit tiring at times. So now, on this new moon, I’ve found some time to put out. Just as everything goes in phases and cycles so does my motivation to write, and with the waxing moon my energy towards writing and managing the blog is on the rise! So expect some frequent posting over the next few weeks.

Its mid-august and the groundcherries in my garden are starting to litter the ground once again. This has been a tradition for the past several seasons; in fact last year the garden was so inudated w/ self-seeded ground cherries, that access became an issue! But what are ground cherries? Being a member of the Solanaceae family they bear some resemblance to tomatillos or cherry tomatoes except with a much fruitier flavor. Botanically speaking tomatoes are technically a fruit, although  they’re often referred to as a vegetable…groundcherries, however, don’t fall short of the fruit category. The common ground cherry(Physalis peruviana), also called cape gooseberry, not to be mistaken with true gooseberries(Ribes spp.), is a self seeding annual that can become rather weedy. Physalis heterphylla is a perennial relative that grows wild throughout eastern NA. I have

Sea of ground cherries, 2011 garden.

found them growing a few times in MI, and Ken Asmus of Oikos Tree Crops now sells the perennial form. Even the annual forms seem to ‘perennialize’ in the sense that they volunteer each year and reliably come back. They’re called ground cherries because they fall to the ground when fully ripe. They can then be collected, dehusked, and eaten fresh. I’ve also heard them called husk cherries because they grow inside a papery protective husk. Nature’s wrapper. The flavor is like the sweetest of tomatoes with fruity-pineapple notes. They are about the size of a grape tomato and contain several small seeds which are barely noticeable. Ground cherries are great dehydrated and I’ve been toying with the idea of using them in salsa, jelly, and wine. Mmmm…

Deh
Dehusked ripe ground cherries…yum!

Now that summer has peaked and is waning, we’ve concluded most of the berry pickin’; cane fruits are pretty much done, besides the fall bearing raspberries, blueberries are dwindling but still available, and the Ribes, besides the latest of gooseberries, are now a distant memory. Fortunately they’re blessings are preserved in jams and jellies! The

Dead floricanes removed from golden raspberry bed…

changing seasons can be difficult to deal with, but its a righteous reminder of the impermanence of all things. Actually its a good way to practice non-attachment. I really, really, am enjoying all of these wonderful zucchinis, but they too will pass! Nothing lasts forever and thats the beauty of it. As small fruits  and berries are largely coming to an end, the stone fruits are coming in, and early apples are beginning to ripen. I was in Detroit two weeks ago and was

Apical flowering on raspberry…I love these ‘everbearing’ raspberries!

delightfully surprised to find the number of ripe apples. The odd season paired with the Detroit microclimate created super conditions for tree fruit. Even the peaches weren’t phased by the early season warm spells and late frosts. We even found peach seedlings setting fruit in alleys. Want to start growing fruit? Move to Detroit.

Beehives amongst fruit trees at Catherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit, MI.
Students at the 2012 permaculture design course in Detroit sampling some early apples…8/2/12
Autumnberries ripening mid august…quite early for these guys. At The Strawbale Studio in Oxford, MI.

My peach trees didn’t set any fruit this year. Fortunately a few local growers managed to get a small percentage of the usual crop…just enough to bring to market. So the past two weeks I’ve been buying containers of peaches at the market. I belong to a goat milk share where I get a half gallon of organic raw goat milk each week. This week I decided to make some fresh cheese… I was left with a lot of whey. Today I made a lovely smoothy with one cup blueberries, two peaches, and one cup whey. No whey, yes whey… rich in flavor and rich in nutrients!

Peach-blueberry-whey smoothie!!!

As promised, here is the blueberry-lavender jam recipe…very simple, no fuss recipe. Give it a try!

What You’ll Need:

  • 8 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1.5 cups organic sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lavender flowers
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

Process:

Step #1: Crush washed blueberries in large cooking pot. Cook on medium heat for 5 minutes.

Step #2: Add sugar and lemon and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, add lavender and cook for 10-15 more minutes on medium heat. Stir consistently.

I used dried lavender from Yule Love It Lavender Farm, fresh flowers would be fine, too.

Step #3: Take off heat and fill jars; store in fridge or for long-term storage place jars in boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Tips: some recipes suggest removing foam as the jam cooks; I’ve found blueberries to be low foam producers making this step unnecessary. 

Blueberry-lavender and blueberry-honey jam ready for the pantry…

I choose to plant based on the moon using the biodynamic calendar AKA the Stella Natura. I’ve found much satisfaction(not to mention great results) in following the solunar calendar for my gardening activities. I also make medicine preparations like tinctures and salves on the new moon as to foster the lunar energy put out increasingly from that time until the next full moon. Aside from food, I’ve been curious about the medicinal uses of fruiting plants. Strawberry leaf is a great astrigent used in skin care products, raspberry leaf is high in tannins and has a slew of medicinal actions, and lastly, what I’m concerning myself with today— black currant leaf.  Aside from the potent nutraceutical properties of Ribes nigrum fruit, the leaves also possess strong medicinal properties. According to one resource, “Black currant dried leaf is used for arthritis, gout, joint pain (rheumatism), diarrhea, colic, hepatitis and other liver ailments, convulsions, and disorders that cause swelling (inflammation) of the mouth and throat. Black currant dried leaf is also used for treating coughs, colds, and whooping cough; disinfecting the urine; promoting urine flow; treating bladder stones, and as a cleansing tea.” The leaves are astringent and have been used for treating skin blemishes like acne and eczema. Since the plants are just hanging out now and all the berries are long picked, I decided to harvest some leaves for making an alcohol extract.

Attractive ‘Ben Sarek’ black currant foliage… brush up against ’em and their foxy aroma will perfume the air!
Black currant leaves soaking in everclear…

The late Frank Cook talks briefly about the edible and medicinal uses of black currant…

An exciting new project recently sprouted forth after connecting with a local friend and fellow entrepreneur, Josh Cook. His company, Source Reality, offers products and service for facilitating individuals in connecting to their deepest nature, and reuniting with the source. They offer astrology readings, reiki healing, orgonite, and more. According to the Source Reality website: “Orgonite is the name given to powerful devices which attract negative etheric energy and transmute it into positive, life-giving energy.  This is done through a mixture of metals and crystals that are sealed in a resin and formed in specific molds…”

Small orgonite mold made by Source Reality…

Visit their website to learn more about these unique energy devices. We’re collaborating to do a research experiment using orgonite for influencing plant growth. I’ve conducted a small trial with two hardy kiwi vines grown in containers under identical soil, water, and light conditions… one, however, has an orgonite mold placed in the bottom of the 1gallon pot. We hypothesize that the energetic workings of the orgonite may effect plant growth in some way. Stay tuned for results.

Orgonite placed at bottom of container atop thin layer of potting mix.
Now lets see if the orgonite has any effect on the growth of these ‘MSU’ hardy kiwis…

The sun set is telling me to conclude this post and unwind for the evening. Please check back soon for more exciting posts, new articles, and upcoming audio podcasts! Happy growing…

When All Else Fails…The Blueberry Prevails!

Whats more American than blueberries? In fact, blueberries symbolize American fruit

Even ripening is a favorable characteristic which makes for quick pickin’…

culture more than any other fruit and they’re one of the few commonly cultivated fruits which hails from this continent. They’re not only indigenous to North America but also heavily populated in the state of Michigan. The west side of the state is known for its blueberry farms and just like Maine is known for its wild lowbush blueberries(Vaccinium angustifolium), so is northern Michigan for its wild highbush blueberries(Vaccinium corymbosum). Blueberries are unique and varied in their tolerances and habitat preference… with lowbush blueberries in the northeast flourishing on rocky outcrops and highbush blueberries in the midwest growing in boggy wetlands, all the while cultivated blueberries find their happiest home in well drained sandy loams. But when speaking of wild highbush blueberries growing in Michigan, we almost always refer to them growing in wetland ecosystems. They like the high organic matter and steady moisture supply. Another factor, too, is the soil acidity found in these environments. Any gardener or farmer who has grown blueberries knows they prefer a low PH. This is their neediest of needs and the one condition they won’t perform well without.

Wild blueberries have the sweetest, most pronounced flavor notes, that not even the tastiest of cultivated blueberries could compete…

This season has been magical when it comes to blueberries. One of my clients who lives just minutes away has a beautiful wooded site with several acres. On the back part of the property a maple forest transitions to a boggy wetland and Chris(the homeowner) took me on a walk back there last year and pointed out a nice patch of blueberries that her and her kids had been harvesting from for the past few years. She invited me back to come picking and this year I took her up on it. My business partner and I made our way back there for the first time a few weeks ago and we spent a couple days picking. It was wonderful. A 2″x12″ plank meanders far enough above the ground as to keep one’s feet dry(in a wet year at least)while walking through the bog. We were grateful that she allowed us to pick from her spot. Many days ago when out picking we decided to explore the area more thoroughly. Through our exploration we came upon a much larger stand of wild blueberries. When I say large I literally mean 4-5 acres of almost entirely highbush blueberries! The expansiveness leads me to believe that the ecosystem is relatively stable and could’ve likely been this way for 50-100+ years. This is something you’d only dream of. For the first day or so I could hardly fathom the reality. Hundreds of mature, fruit laden bushes— waiting to be picked by some hungry birds, bears, or…humans! The blueberry gods blessed us indeed.

High plant density makes it difficult to truly depict the magical nature of the blueberry bog…
Fruit cluster with berries at varying stages of ripeness…

The thing that fascinates me most about these types of systems is the incredible amount of diversity. Since its an entirely feral ecosystem, all of the bushes grew from seed. This means each plant is genetically different from one another and represents a totally unique set of genes. Plant size, fruit size & color, flavor, disease resistance, and ripening time all vary drastically. On the contrary, in an agricultural setting clonally-propagated cultivars grow independently. We must remember, though, diversity is the spice of life, and every single cultivated blueberry variety ever developed was either selected or bred from these wild ancestors. If you’ve ever harvested wild blueberries then you probably know that the berries are smaller then the cultivated ones. My friend pointed out the other day how she’s thankful for modern agriculture because of the improvements made in berry size and productivity. I agree with her, but at the same time I treasure what these wild ones have perseveringly brought to this world. Plus, picking their fruit is a good practice in patience and allows one to become more in-tuned with nature. I love wild blueberries.

This specimen boasts particularly large berries…
A diverse gene pool makes for wide variation in berry color…

You may be wondering why this post got the title it did. Well, if you’ve read my previous posts then you realize that its been an odd year in regards to weather patterns. Early flowering, late frosts, and extended drought have caused some of my favorite fruits like cherries, mulberries, serviceberries, and black raspberries, to have very poor seasons. So, even in the roughest of years, the blueberries prevail (amongst others like currants and blackberries)! This attests to their adaptability and reliability. I recall Lee Reich mentioning in one of his books that blueberries, out of all the fruit crops, were one of his all-time favorites for this very reason. Currently I don’t have any blueberries planted in my garden, however they’re an up and coming addition! This spring I purchased six cultivars from Hartmann’s Plant Company in preparation for fall planting. Its smart to prepare your blueberry bed a few months in advance; this allows time for any appropriate PH adjustments to take place, unless of course you already have acidic soil.

Monilinia vaccinii-corymbosi  mummifies immature berries and is one of the few fungal disease which blueberries are susceptible to.
Blueberries ripen over an extended period allowing for many weeks of picking…
My buddy Mark picking from a wall of blueberries!!!

I fancy fresh blueberries. Eating them out of hand is perhaps one of my greatest pleasures. The light semi-acid, yet complex, fruity flavor is something to write home about. After I eat blueberries I always feel energized and fully satisfied. This must have something to do with their high antioxidant properties. They’re also very cooling on a hot summer day.  I’ve been eating fresh handfuls daily for the past 2+ weeks but I’ve also processed ’em into ice cream and more recently into blueberry-lavender jam(stay posted for recipes)!

Good genetics give this variety darker fruit and a lovely-aromatic flavor…

Golden raspberries, wild blackberries, and wild blueberries…BERRY NICE!

It looks like the blueberry season will go for another 1-2 weeks and blackberries are coming into full swing. Fortunately the blackberry crop this year is looking mighty fine. More to come on that soon. I’m still harvesting what appears to be the last ripening flush from the primocane crop of golden raspberries; be on the lookout for golden raspberry jam!!! Until next time…