It 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.
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 trees… from 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
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.
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.
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…
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.
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 Podcastwith 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 withLee Reich.
Here are some recent photos of field trips, events, and happenings in the garden…
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 podcastand stay tuned for Episode 3 with Michael Phillips, the author of The Holistic Orchard.
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…
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.
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
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.
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!
Atlas, after a long delay of figuring out some technical twerks, the podcasts page is finally up and runnin’! I recorded episode one just the other day with Eric Toensmeier of www.perennialsolutions.org; It was a delight to speak with Eric about edible forest gardening, perennial food crops, and other juicy plant geek stuff. Look for future podcasts with other professionals in the fields of agroforestry, ecology, pomology, permaculture design, 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
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…
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
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
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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…”
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.
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…