Its been a while since I’ve wrote on here or updated the site at all for that matter— largely because I haven’t found the time with my current day to day workload, and time spent on the computer is usually dedicated to landscape/farm design, administrative work, etc. However, I’m making a goal to begin again with periodic updates and postings. There are countless topics, ideas, concepts, photographs, and bits of content I’ve wanted to share for a long time that haven’t gotten out, so hopefully by setting this goal I will be motivated to share some of that material through the website. As life goes in spurts, and as we pass through the various phases of personality, desires, likes and dislikes—certain activities stick with us while others become less valuable or less useful, perhaps permanently or temporarily; as I develop my businesses and continue on my path I find that blog writing, to be quite frank, is not my favorite thing to do, nor a close runner up. What I DO enjoy is sharing what I observe, questions I have, ideas, so on and so forth. When I get emails or phone calls about how a certain video or podcast or article was beneficial to somebody, that is very satisfying and a big reason why I enjoy this work. When I began The Fruit Nut a major impetus was to fill what I saw as a ‘content void’ in the realms of uncommon fruits, genetic diversity, and ecological orcharding. Fortunately these topics are becoming increasingly popular and accessible it seems. My 1 Post a Month Goal will be a way for me to re-engage with the online world and share what I find interesting and of value to those topics.
In terms of the website, one of the questions I’ve been pondering is— given I have a decent understanding of my own blog writing strengths and weaknesses, how can I best structure posts, website management, and my overall time spent putting content out, so that it will best work with my strengths and weaknesses to create a positive workflow. I don’t necessarily have the answers to that but I intend to explore that question in the coming months. The goal is to avoid getting burnt out and continue to enjoy and actively use this tool I’ve created. All that being said, one pattern I’m attracted to is short, quick posts; that may mean a handful of photos with brief descriptions of each one or a few paragraphs telling a story about a certain fruit I recently found. Stuff of that nature— fast, easy, streamlined posting that will actually keep me posting! I digress. Below are some photos and a video of recent happenings…
My buddy Grant Schultz of Versaland is always up to some pretty cool stuff, recently he posted a video of a large American persimmon tree he found growing in Iowa. Good fruit set indeed, he even shares the cross roads. Scionwood anyone? Check my American Persimmons for Zone 5 to learn more about these heavenly sugar gems.
Upon first taste black currants fascinated my palate and they’ve succeeded in doing so ever since. Over the years I’ve increased my collection to a dozen or so varieties. With white pine blister rust being a prevalent issue in Michigan my selection criteria has been narrowed down to only varieties which exhibit partial or full resistance to WPBR. I started with Consort and since then the collection has grown to include Crusader, Titania, Blackdown, Minaj Smirou, Ben Sarek, Belaruskaja, and various others that aren’t bearing yet like Kirovchanka, Vertti, Otelo, and a few that aren’t coming to mind.
There is a wide variation amongst varieties in both bush habit and fruit quality/flavor. That to me is very exciting as I love subtle nuances in flavor and its a fun way to broaden the palate. For the 2014 season I’ve taken tasting notes for the seven cultivars previously mentioned in an attempt to compare and assess the different traits of each and acquire first hand varietal information–
Crusader was an early introduction from the Central Experiment Farm in Ottawa, Canada. It was released in the 1940’s as a rust resistant variety for North America. For me it has been a very consistent producer of medium sized fruit. They tend to be thicker skinned and very sharp(high acidity)…not one of my favorite for eating out of hand but still enjoyable, especially when dead ripe. Crusader holds onto its fruit for a long time and the thick skin slows down their perishabilty which is a nice quality. The bush itself, like all of the others developed by A.W.S. Hunter, is upright and open compared to some of the more dense varieties, particularly those from the Scottish Research Institute.
Consort was released from the Central Experiment Farm to replace Crusader as a commercial variety in the 1950’s. Why, I’m not sure…as I tend to prefer Crusader. Consort fruit are small and relatively poor quality in my opinion. They’re sharp and have that characteristic ‘musky flavor’ but lack depth and seem inferior to Crusader. Consort does produce long strigs that tend to ripen pretty evenly. Consort is entirely WPBR resistant. Coronet is another one from the Canadian breeding program that I’ve yet to try.
Titania is a Swedish variety that was developed in the 1980’s using Consort as one of the parents. This is the first season I’ve had a substantial crop from Titania and so far it seems similar to Crusader and Consort both in fruit quality and bush form. It was very productive this year and is a vigorous grower; thus far it seems rather quick to mature compared to other cultivars that have been in the ground 1,2, and 3 years longer. Titania is reliably resistant to WPBR.
I haven’t been able to find much information about this variety besides that it was developed in Bulgaria and is a more recent introduction. This has been hands down the most productive variety for me. Also the most vigorous grower that requires aggressive pruning. The branches tend to lodge when holding big crops and are more laterally dominant than varieties like Consort and Titania (conducive for layering). The berries ripen over a long period starting early in the season (need to take more notes on ripening times*); generally its the first to ripen here. This is a great variety for somebody new to black currants or for the more tamed palate as it is very mild. Thick skin can be a turn off for some folks, Minaj scores well in this department with the thinnest skin of all. It lacks the tart punch that almost all black currants have which makes it nice for eating out of hand. However, if you’re after that traditional black currant flavor than Minaj is probably not for you. I enjoy the berries because they ripen first and I always realize its blandness when compared to some of the later ripening cultivars. Minaj is reliably resistant to WPBR.
Blackdown is an English variety that is reportedly not 100% rust resistant, however its never showed any signs in my trials. The bush is more compact than most with very close leaf nodes making the canopy dense. So far it has been a little less productive than the other varieties but produces the highest quality fruit in my opinion. The flavor of blackdown is outstanding– they have the same acidity thats common with varieties like Crusader except they’ve consistently had a higher sugar content which really supports the sharpness and makes for an overall more pleasant mouth experience. The berries are medium sized with moderatly thick skin. Higher sugar content would make Blackdown more acceptable for the average American palate I think. I am going to plant a lot more of this variety because I like it so much.
All varieties with Ben in their name come from the Scottish Research Institute. Ben Sarek is a more compact plant making it nice for the home garden. It bears resemblance to Blackdown in bush form and holds its berries in tight clusters. For me it has been only moderately productive. The berries are larger than all of the other cultivars and tend to have a unique flavor that I’ve yet to figure out. Less complex and less tart and almost a mild dirty flavor…as if they’re slightly rotten. It also gets this weird rot where the berries become very soft with an unagreeable flavor, unlike any other cultivar. Aside from the compact nature and large fruit size Ben Sarek doesn’t have much going for it. It is partially resistant to WPBR but has never shown signs in my trials.
This is a variety I added to my collection per request from Lee Reich and I’m happy I did. I planted it in the spring of 2013 and cut the bush back to a few buds and it put on considerable growth last season and set a small crop for this first time this year. The berries are somewhere in between Blackdown and Titania in flavor with a nice sweetness as described with Blackdown. So far I’ve only sampled a few dozen of these and look forward to further evaluation. I see good prospects for Belaruskaja as a premier fresh eating variety.
It has been a joy to compare these different varieties and if it weren’t for the diversity than the contrast would be minimum and there wouldn’t be much to judge against. I hope to pay closer attention in future years to ripening times and pest resistance, primarily regarding currant borer and aphids. Also, further experimentation in the kitchen will prove which varieties are best for cooking, juicing, etc. All in all black currant has been one of the most successful, less-maintenance fruits in my gardening experiments.
I’ve finally gotten around to posting theRoots To Fruits 2014 schedule of events! We are psyched to be offering many exciting classes and workshops in the coming year. More information for each event will be posted to the RTF website soon. Stay posted for registration details…
This 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.
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.”
They 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 cider. The 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!
Hardy kiwi is a fruit that I’m just starting to become more acquainted with over the past few years— thanks to my generous/nutty friends and colleagues who kindly share their space and knowledge. Not to go on a tangent, but really its folks like Mike Levine, Ken Asmus, Marc Boone, and so many others who have made this path of fruit exploration so much more accessible for me as a young orchardist, and for that I’m very thankful. Anyways…Actinidia! Actinidia is the genus for kiwi, the fuzzy kiwi that we all know so well is A. deliciosa, but unknown to most are A. arguta and A. kolomkita, two kiwi species that are reportedly hardy to -25F. Hardy kiwi fruit however is approximately grape size and entirely fuzzless, unlike the supermarket kiwis most people know. So you can just pop ’em in your mouth whole, and their flavor is truly exquisite; many people, including myself, claim they have much better aromatics, sweetness, and overall flavor than the fuzzy kiwi. Out of all the uncommon fruits, like pawpaw, black currant, and jujube, to name a few— hardy kiwi seems like one that really has the potential to catch on and to be sought after by the likes of many, not just foody fruitnuts with crazy palates. One company, Kiwi Korners, has been successfully growing hardy kiwi as a commercial crop for some time now. None of my kiwi vines are producing yet, as they can take 5-10 years to come into bearing. DON’T WAIT, plant your kiwi vines today. Another reason I’m so adamant about hardy kiwi is how late they ripen in the season when not much else is available; from a resiliency and season extension standpoint this is prime. One minor challenge with kiwi vines in cold climates is their tender leaf buds want to unfurl very early and they’ll often get zapped by late spring frosts. This doesn’t kill the plant but it certainly sets it back for that season.
All In The Pruning…
Kiwis grow on vines, similar to grape vines. From my research and explorations thus far, it seems that the key to growing a productive hardy kiwi vine is all about proper training and pruning. Generally speaking, vining plants inherently want to just grow, grow, grow, and focus most of their energy into vegetative growth rather than flower and fruit development; so as caretakers of the vines there are certain ways we can coax the vines into instead thinking fruit, fruit, fruit. Its called spur pruning. Kiwi vines need annual pruning to develop small fruiting branches known as spurs. In my travels I’ve seen many large healthy looking kiwi vines, but often times their productivity is very low. Now I realize that these plants weren’t managed under a careful annual pruning regime. I am no expert in this field, or vineyard as it were, but I do know people that are so I’ll use this time to plug their expertise.
Mike Levine of Nature and Nurture, LLC has been growing hardy kiwi for several years in SE Michigan and he is one of the few people I know around here with such a successful system. Hats off to Mike for what he’s doing…
Another person who is perhaps one of the most experienced kiwi geeks in North America is Michael McConkey of Edible Landscaping in Afton, Virginia. Here Michael talks about summer spur pruning of kiwi vines…
Lee Reich is one of the upmost authorities on uncommon fruits and has a lot to say about hardy kiwi. Check out his book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden to find more on hardy kiwi.
If you’re going to plant hardy kiwi(which everyone in the north should ASAP) it seems very worthwhile to take the time to train the vine to develop a single trunk system, and then manage the cordons each years to maximize their fruiting potential. I am so excited for the day that my vines come into production. There is oodles of information available on the web about hardy kiwi and the purpose of this post was to primarily talk about the training and pruning techniques necessary for growing productive vines. Visit the nursery links page to find sources for hardy kiwi plants. I’ll be busy dreaming of jars and jars full of kiwi raisins stored away for winter snacking…until next time!!
POMONA The Member-Written, Quarterly Journal of North American Fruit Explorers (NAFEX) Vol. XLVI, No. 3, Summer 2013
Fruit Tree Polycultures Trevor Newman email@example.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.
Michael 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.