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

 

Michael Phillips Holistic Orchard DVD Review

662Michael Phillips is an organic orchardist, consultant, and writer who has titled two popular fruit growing books— The Apple Grower (Chelsea Green 2005) and The Holistic Orchard (Chelsea Green 2011). His books have been crucial resources for me in my orcharding endeavors. Both books describe innovative and cutting edge strategies for managing orchards in an ecologically regenerative way that doesn’t rely upon synthetic fertilizers and toxic biocides. The Holistic Orchard DVD guides viewers on a highly informative and visually stimulating tour through a year in the orchard. Phillips takes us around his New Hampshire farm through the four seasons showing many of the happenings of a healthy orchard ecosystem.

Phillips jovially shares his 25+ years of orcharding experience in over four hours of engaging video footage. He covers everything from planting and propagation to pruning and harvesting. This instructional video will be an invaluable resource for growers of all skill levels. Phillips lays the foundation for an ecological orcharding protocol that can be replicated and adapted from region to region. He emphasizes an integrated, ‘health based approach’, which like holistic medicine— is all about boosting the health of the entire ecosystem from the fungi and microorganisms to the birds and insects. Phillips goes through the best practices for managing a number of common orchard pests like apple tree borer, plum curculio, and codling moth. Furthermore he breaks down the life cycle of each pest, shows what to look for, and explains when the best times are to intervene in that pests life cycle. This is the type of detail you will find in the Holistic Orchard DVD.

The depth and range of Phillip’s knowledge will surely clarify any hard-to-grasp concepts for beginner and advanced orchardists alike. Phillips not only offers an alternative to today’s conventional, chemical-based orcharding approach, but he presents the information in an exciting and easy-to-digest way that will motivate any gardener or fruit grower to think more holistically. I am grateful for Michael’s contributions to the world of fruit growing and I highly recommend this DVD. Whether you’re dealing with a small backyard orchard, a community orchard, or a production scale farm this video will provide valuable insights. Click here to purchase a copy of the DVD and to learn more about Michael Phillips visit his websites at: herbsandapples.com and groworganicapples.com.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE FRUIT NUT PODCAST WITH MICHAEL PHILLIPS

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.

 

Edible Forest Gardening Workshop w/ Ken Asmus

This coming weekend there will be a two day edible forest gardening intensive put on by Roots To Fruits Ecological Design in collaboration with Oikos Tree Crops. The first day will consist of a 2.5 hour evening lecture led by myself, Mark Angelini, and the owner of Oikos Tree Crops, Ken Asmus. We will be diving into the reasons why one would want to grow fruits and nuts at home as well as the nitty gritty information about HOW edible forest gardens function. This course runs from 7pm-9:30pm on Friday October 19th.

Day two will be a hands-on workshop installing a front yard suburban food forest in Waterford, MI. The workshop will run from 9am-5pm on Saturday October 20th and will include a number of education-based tasks including but not limited to:

  • Planting fruit trees, berry bushes, and nut trees
  • Sheet mulching garden beds
  • Measuring contours & digging swales
  • Planting nitrogen fixers, mineral accumulators, & other companion plants

Don’t miss this opportunity to learn with Ken Asmus who has many years of experience growing fruit and nuts and is one of the foremost experts on chestnuts, oaks, american persimmons, wild plums, and more. Find out more at his website.

CLICK HERE to learn more and register for one or both days!

 

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!

 

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