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…
My enthusiasm for cider drinking, cider-making, and everything involved in the culture of cider, is ever expanding and one resource that’s been monumental for me is The New Cider Maker’s Handbook by Claude Jolicoeur. Being a noob to the cider making world, I am beyond grateful to have this gem— and from what I can tell this is perhaps one of the most comprehensive guides to date. The book is beautifully put together with rich text and loads of high quality photographs and diagrams adding even more clarity.
Claude lays the foundational principles behind cider making and outlines all the step necessary for making a good cider, from grinding and pressing your apples to fermenting and bottling the finished product. He compares various types of presses and highlights the pros and cons of different apple grinders. He even shares his basic plans for making aDIY apple grinder that grinds a bushel of apples in 1-2 minutes! In fact, while scrambling around earlier this year deciding how to improve upon our (slow) sink disposal grinder unit and while getting overwhelmed by the seemingly infinite number of plans online and choosing whether to buy an entry level commercial grinder or build our own— Claude’s timely book came in clutch with the ideal plans for us to move forward! Many thanks to Claude we adapted his plan and came up with this nifty, high efficiency home-scale grinder:
Claude has won awards for his craft ciders and takes a detail oriented approach to sharing his deep understanding of the processes involved in making high quality cider. The book covers both the scientific and practical aspects of the process, such as measuring gravity with a hydrometer, testing the acidity of your must, choosing the right yeast strain, and blending apple varieties to make the type of cider you’re after. He outlines the techniques for making sweet or dry cider, sparling or still cider, and even Québec’s finest: ice cider!
With some 70 gallons of cider fermenting in my basement this year, I’ve constantly been turning to the book as a reference. Claude explains potential challenges in the process making troubleshooting a breeze. What Claude has offered to the cider community is invaluable; The New Cider Maker’s Handbook is a crucial resource for beginner cider makers and will offer a range of tips, tricks, and new ideas for the advanced cider maker. Visit Claude’s website to learn more about his cider brilliance.
With the conclusion of the growing season I am starting to focus more energy on renovating the website, adding new podcasts, and writing more— with that I am introducing a new aspect to the blogroll, that is CIDER REVIEWS!
I’m certainly far from a cider expert, but I am extremely geeked on this lovely fermented beverage we call cider. Before going much further I’ll make the necessary distinction between what I’m referring to as ‘cider’ and the raw, unfermented fresh apple juice that most Americans call cider. In England, France, Spain, and practically every other neck of the world the term ‘cider’ refers directly to fermented apple juice, not fresh apple juice that has been misleadingly called cider with the craze of the autumnal trend of cider and donuts.
I digress. There’s an artful craft and beautiful tradition to cider making that is ages old and is making a timely resurgence in North America and particularly here in Michigan. Not to mention it’s the second fastest growing beverage industry next to craft beer! The apple after all has become a universal fruit whose fermented juice is not only an excellent, nutrient dense, preservable food source and inebriating drink, but also a very delectable beverage that can range from sweet and bubbly to dry and tannic, and everything in between. As I write this I can hear the rhythmic ‘plump…plump’ of the airlocks releasing gas on the some 70 gallons of cider fermenting in my basement! More on that later…can you tell I’m a bit excidered?
The cider I’ll be reviewing today comes from the outspoken permaculture expert and tree crop guru— Mark Shepard. New Forest Farmis his 106 acre perennial ag sanctuary in southwest Wisconsin; there he raises chestnuts, hazelnuts, hazelnut finished pork(!), apples, and a variety of other crops. They’ve been producing cider for a few years in an expanding on-farm facility and the cider is currently available only in southern WI (I got mine from a friend who took his PDC earlier this year). His ciders go by the name Shepard’s Hard Cyder. Note the spelling here… cyder with a Y is another variation simply referring to the real-deal stuff made with love and craftsmanship, not the watered down, from-concentrate, preservative ridden, commonly available neo-American hard ciders! Whew.
Out of the three cider offerings from Shepard’s Hard Cider we’ll be looking at one called Adam’s (which you could guess accompanies it’s counterpart—Eve’s). Upon opening it was very gaseous and perhaps too carbonated from being over primed, furthermore we had to open the bottle over the sink and it took a few minutes to settle down. Once poured the cider had a light golden color and moderate clarity, with a foamy head that slowly receded to about a quarter of it’s initial size. In both appearance and aroma it resembled a champagne with a very subtle apple pie fruitiness on the nose. Upon first sip the boldest character was its crispness and effervescence. It was relatively dry and lacked the sometimes overbearing cloyingly sweet flavor so common in the lesser grade commercial ciders. I also appreciate the moderate acidity that gave this cider its refreshing tang. However aside from it’s dryness and mild sharpness, it lacked overall body and depth of character…almost bordering bland after the immediate burst of flavor. I am unsure but perhaps this is because Shepard is using run of the mill dessert apples rather than some of the bitter and bittersharp cider varieties that offer richer body and complexity. For a mid-range gravity sparkling cider weighing in around 5.5% ABV it was GOOD…one I’d really enjoy on a hot summer day. I look forward to eventually tasting more from the Shepard’s Hard Cyder line.
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!!
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.
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!