How to Make Bradford/Callery Pear Less Invasive.

Bird predation given fruit width.png

In my last essay, In Defense of Bradford Pear, I showed the above chart from Australia that correlated fruit size with bird species. Similar charts or descriptions have been found in publications from New Zealand, Spain, Japan and in the US, as well. Based on the correlation of fruit consumption with fruit size, I’ve decided to elaborate on the last essay in order to practically address Callery/Bradford pear invasiveness in the US in the best way I can.

Cedar Waxwing eating Pyrus calleryana in winter. Photo from Pilot Online

Due to Callery’s fruit size attracting our native songbirds, like American robins, cedar waxwings and gray catbirds, we can’t stop them from eating the little pears and pooping in marginalized areas like fencelines and worn out pastures. To think we can kill enough Callery pear to make a difference is a lesson in futility because 1.) We live in the United States and you can’t go kill a neighbor’s tree in the name of INVASIVES if they don’t want you to and 2.) Each tree produces thousands of fruits. So, with that said, here are my top solutions to sustainably make Callery pear less invasive and more useful.

1.) Citizen Breeding. What makes Callery pear invasive is its ability to produce copious amounts of small fruits, which birds then eat and distribute all over the place. It seems logical, then, to want to try and breed larger fruits into our populations of Callery in order to stop the spread by birds. In order to reduce invasiveness by around 80%, all it takes is getting progeny from the Callery/Bradford trees to produce fruits that are around an inch (25mm) in diameter. How do we do that? Allow them to hybridize with larger fruiting pears so the seeds dispersed by birds will have a higher likelihood of growing larger fruits…thus halting the invasion cycle.

What is needed to hybridize these pears and get them larger? For starters, you’re going to need a collection of pears that bloom at the same time as Callery, which is quite early. Russian/Cold Climate and early Asian pears are likely your best bet for this, so I went through the GRIN database (taxpayer funded genetic repositories) and have made a starter-list (there are a bunch more):

PI 541904- Seuri Li
PI 45845- Yaguang Li
PI 437051- Jubilee (cold hardy)
PI 541925- Kor 2
PI 267863- Pingo Li
PI 134606- Tioma (cold hardy)
PI 278727- La Providence
PI 278731- Sivaganga Estate
PI 307497- Seu Ri
PI 292377- Ranniaia Mleevskaia (cold hardy)
PI 541760- Chieh li x Japanese Golden Russet
PI 278729- Samy’s Estate
PI 541761- Chieh Li x Japanese Golden Russet 2
PI 541905- Szumi
PI 127715- Krylov (cold hardy)
PI 541326- Angelica Di Saonara
PI 324028- B-52 (cold hardy)
PI 541290- Mag 1 (cold hardy)
PI 132103- Shu Li
PI 312509- Tse Li

Appreciate this list? Help fund this type of work and more by purchasing charcuterie from www.hogtree.com.

You can request free scions online from September 1 to February 1 of every year from GRIN. You can also probably buy many of these cultivars online. From there, I highly recommend you share scions of these for free every winter, as I plan to do, in order to help infuse larger fruiting genetics into Calleryana.

You might notice there are a bunch of Asian pears in that list and you might think: Eliza, those pears are super fireblight susceptible! And you are right, of course, but think of it this way: MANY trees that are listed as fireblight susceptible are actually quite tolerant to FB once they are established and reaching sexual maturity. With Callery being an amazingly fireblight tolerant rootstock, this should help to get your topworked trees past the first 2 years of heightened susceptibility so they can start to fruit. Once these Asian pears intermingle with Callery, there are two possible outcomes:

1.) The hybrid offspring are more fireblight tolerant than the grafted Asian pearent’s tolerance

2.) The hybrid offspring is less tolerant to fireblight than the grafted Asian parent’s tolerance and will probably succumb to the disease and die on its own.

Either are a win-win, really.

Next, you’re gonna need to go into your pear thicket and do some cutting and grafting. There are two scenarios I see often:

1.) Field full of Callery: If you have a thick field of calleryana, I would recommend getting a forestry mulcher in and cut/mulch rows into the existing Callery stand. Then, run the mulcher to cut out trees within the rows left standing so the remaining are at 15 foot spacings. Top the trees you’ve left behind above deer browse ( throw into the alley and run over those, too, with the mulcher) and graft on the early blooming large fruited cultivars.

2.) Fenceline/Border with Callery: This is the scenario We’ve been dealing with over the past few years along the farm fenceline. First thing I do is flag the trees I want to keep, which are at 15 foot spacings along the fence. Then we cut out and chip all the non-flagged callery trees using my neighbor’s chipper (I mulch my orchard with callery pear wood chips). While we are cutting out the non-flagged trees, I go ahead and also cut the tops out of the flagged trees. I pick a height that is above deer browse height and also has a lot of clear wood without branches, because that helps with grafting. In April (I’m in zone 7a), I make fresh cuts on the remaining pear trees and topwork all of them to fruiting cultivars. We’ve been doing this for 3 years and 2018’s topworked pears will be producing fruit this year.

Topworked fenceline callery pear to a local french heirloom cultivar. This was grafted in April of 2021
Topworked fenceline callery pear to a local french heirloom cultivar. This was grafted in April of 2021. This is a smaller tree. I’ve topworked 7″ trees as well with amazing take.

This is totally doable and the result? An orchard of pears! You’d have to cut the tree down anyway if you were going to spray it, so why not turn it into a producing pear tree of value? My neighbors even pitched in to help us cut and chip in the name of supporting my vision and also getting rid of the fruiting portion of the Callery trees.

In two years, your top-worked pears will be flowering and the bees will mingle between surrounding landscape Callery/Bradford pears that weren’t able to be cut down and the large-fruited cultivars you have grafted. With callery pears being pollinated with the list of pears above, your chances of getting larger fruit to come up from the fertilized seed will exponentially increase, limiting its invasiveness if the fruit is an inch or larger in diameter.

2.) Use them as rootstocks! Every Callery pear growing is automatically the best pear rootstock around. For all of you people out there who are inundated with deer pressure, graft to the Callery pears to any pear you’d like (or Winter Banana apple) above the deer browse line. Sure, you’ll get lots of leafy re-growth off the trunk for a few years (which the deer or other livestock eat as tender shoots), but its also really easy to remove new growth with your hands or slightly older growth with pruners, and new shoots don’t have thorns. You’ll start to get fruit in 2-3 years.

One of the main reasons why Callery didn’t catch on as a rootstock, aside from root propagation failures and hardiness, is that they don’t produce dessert fruit (fruit meant for out of hand eating). This is the same reason why we’ve lost SO MANY fruit cultivars in the last 100 years. If you weren’t a dessert cultivar chosen by the cooperative extension to be grown in the early 20th century, you were phased out. However, in today’s markets, I believe large fruited Callery pear hybrids really have a chance in fermentation, specifically cider blends and perry (cider made from pears). They are high in sugar (over 16% brix on average for the 200 or so hybridized trees I’ve evaluated), and run the gamut in acidity, tannins, aromatics and unusual characteristics. Since these trees are so disease and pest tolerant, which allows them to grow and produce copious amounts of fruit without the hand of humans or chemicals, they stand to produce the most sustainable fruits and alcohol in humid temperate climates. We need more people working with them in order to make this happen because they aren’t apples and they need their own methods.

If you’d like to see more essays in general (I literally have 75 in draft form and many more in my brain), my time will need to be supported. You can do this through the donate button above or buy my company’s charcuterie from HogTree

The last essay left me with a bunch of hate mail and loads of baseless claims. In future essays, I’ll be debunking many of these claims in order to try and bring about a full picture. With that said, please send your strong opinions to fruitandfodder@gmail.com

Of Note: throughout the South and Southern New England, I have been noticing spontaneous hybridization in the “wild” between P. calleryana with P. communis (French) and/or P. pyrifolia (Asian). These trees have much larger fruits, usually golfball sized or larger, and are often loaded with fruits dripping from the trees because Callery genetics are heavy lateral bearers (perhaps an indicator phenotype for these hybrids). No research that I can find has evaluated the genetics of these larger fruited callery-like pears to see what exactly they are crossed with, but I’m happy to help supply specimens if anyone out there takes an interest.

In Defense of Bradford Pear

I wrote this article for TheFruitExplorers.com and decided to cross post it here.

Every year, around this time, social media begins to rumble in uproar over Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana). With headlines like “The Curse of the Bradford Pear,” “Bradford pear tree: How the trees can hurt people, then environment,” and finally “I Just Hate Bradford Pear,” it’s no wonder people have it out for them. The trees have NO GOOD PRESS and, unfortunately, it’s much easier for hoards of people to fall in line with anti-invasive rhetoric than to understand who or what they are trying to demonize. In light of this, the time has come to take a stand for this poorly misunderstood tree.

Bradford pear belongs to the species Pyrus calleryana, which is why it is sometimes called “Callery.” This species of pear is native to China, where the range goes from sea-level to 5000 feet in elevation, spanning a thousand miles inland as the crow flies. Cousins of callery pear are also in Northern Korea and Japan, showing an immense climate and site adaptability for the species.

Pyrus calleryana in Japan
Pyrus calleryana in Japan

How did it get to the US?:

In the early 20th century, the Pacific Northwest contained many orchards of Pyrus communis, or French pears. These pears were being ravaged by fireblight (Erwinia amylovora), a native bacterial disease, and professor Frank Reimer was pulling his hair out over the potential loss of the West Coast commercial pear industry if a control for fireblight wasn’t found soon. Researchers have long known that Asia’s gene pool for fruit and nuts is much older than European or American genetics, and likely hold resistances or much improved tolerances to pest and disease due to the long and slow co-evolution over time. Reimer knew, from his research, that Pyrus calleryana and Pyrus ussuriensis were inherently resistant, so he put out an SOS to obtain pear seed from Asian regions in order to hopefully find resistance.

Professor Frank Reimer, left
Professor Frank Reimer, left

Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum in Massachusetts answered his call in 1908, sending plant explorer EH Wilson (aka “Chinese” Wilson) to China to see what he could find. Once there, he collected P. calleryana seeds from 4,000-5,000 feet in elevation and sent them to be grown out in Boston. Many of these proved to be hardy for Massachusetts and many people, including professor Frank Reimer, got excited. Given the potential for Pyrus callerana to save the commercial pear industry in the PNW, the USDA decided to add callery pear to their fruit’s explorer’s collection list.

At the time, the USDA had been going through a period of glitz and glam concerning their plant exploration program. The golden child at the center of this hubub was the darling plant explorer David Fairchild, the person responsible for bringing over German hops, the avocado, and kale (among many, many other things). With his notoriety and prestige, he married into the fabulously wealthy family of Alexander Graham Bell, and was feeling the need to step down from his travels abroad in order to start a family. Instead of Fairchild himself going on the pear mission, he delegated the job to one of the toughest mofos alive: Frank Meyer. Dutch born, Meyer was known for his ability to walk 30+ miles a day, everyday, forever.

Frank Meyer in Turkestan
Frank Meyer in Turkestan

This would be no small job, either. According to Arnold Arboretum, 25 pounds of seed would require picking seeds out of 5000 pounds of fruit. That’s the equivalent of 125 bushels of tiny (8.5mm on average) callery pear fruits, which would be maddening to collect by hand. This wasn’t a problem for Meyer, though, as he probably preferred tiny pear seeds to interacting with people. With his marching orders, he set out on this pear mission, writing the following to his boss, David Fairchild:

A letter to David Fairchild from Frank Meyer April 16, 1917
A letter to David Fairchild from Frank Meyer April 16, 1917

Once the first batches of seeds were back in the States, they went under commercial pear rootstock monitoring for fireblight resistance. These pear seeds produced vigorous, uniform trees that, when inoculated with fireblight, proved to be the most resistant of any pear tree they had evaluated, by a landslide (double the resistance of Pyrus ussurriensis and far more vigorous). The chart below reveals the results of this trial:

Fireblight Results Callery Pear Innoculation.png

In later studies, Reimer reported that 11% of P. calleryana trunk inoculations showed a severe fireblight infection. Which, by the way, is pretty amazing. When I innoculated my apple seedlings with fireblight ooze, 95% of them showed severe infection or died.

In addition to having stellar fireblight resistance, Callery pears were tested on a variety of sites and were found to thrive in nearly all soil and moisture scenarios, from coarse sand underlain by granite to heavy clay. They also found Callery pears to have a lower chilling requirement than P. communis (French pear rootstock) (source), allowing for it to be grown in more erratic seasonal conditions (which might not have been a big deal then but MAN is that a big deal now). This pear species was seen as the most bomb-proof, resilient rootstock around on which to grow our favorite eating pears, and even produced yields 32% above the same cultivars grafted to P. communis (Source: Westwood, Pear Rootstocks for the Northwest. NAFEX POMONA Vol 3, Number 2, 1970). With the excitement and growing popularity of using callery pear as rootstock, the US continued with seed gathering trips to China for decades.

From Amazing to Pariah, what happened?

First of all, most of what you read about the introduction of Bradford pear (P. calleryana) to America is incorrect, as I’ve just given you the real history above. Outlets like The Grumpy Gardner, a now-retired columnist for all things horticulture at Southern Living Magazine, have done a lot of damage spewing emotion-based information to people who don’t know any better.  With little challenge to any of the points ever made, he and others managed to create a culture of emotional reaction surrounding P. calleryana, rather than a much needed practical one. For the record, the chances of you being allergic to Bradford Pears are slim to none because they aren’t wind pollinated. Bullied, bruised, blamed and constantly soaked in toxic agri-chemicals to try and kill it, the Callery pear is one of the most shamed species in the US. If you don’t believe me, look no further than the hundreds of online articles that alone focus on how the blooms smells like male ejaculate (that’s spermadine and putresine you’re smelling and it’s in a lot more plants than you think, including the beloved American chestnut).

Why didn’t Callery become the main rootstock of all pear production in the US? According to Reimer, on average, the tree isn’t very hardy (doesn’t like to grow colder than 7a, or below -10 fahrenheit), it doesn’t propagate all that well from stooling beds (primary means of producing rootstocks in the nursery industry), and has poor fruit qualilty. Why fruit quality matters for a rootstock is beyond me, but it was listed as a reason. In regions 7a and hotter, though, Callery pear is the best rootstock onto which one could graft European and Asian pear cultivars, but the research conducted on these pears was West coast centric and never really made it over to the East, even after Callery became a dreaded invasive.

Root Stock to Ornamental to Monster:

The Glenn Dale Maryland USDA research site had planted many P. calleryana seeds from Frank Meyer’s collection and by 1950, there were still a few P. calleryana trees remaining at the location. In 1952, researchers took notice of one particular thornless (many wild apples and pears have thorns) tree with an amazing white bloom (Callery produces fruit on lateral branches, on the previous year’s wood and on spurs of older wood. According to Reimer, It probably produces more blossoms than any other species of Pyrus). Thinking this could be of ornamental quality, cuttings were taken from this tree, grafted onto a seedling Callery pear rootstock, and planted in a subdivision nearby for testing. These trees were pruned/maintained, and after 8 years of oohs and ahhhs, they named the cultivar ‘Bradford,’ in honor of the horticulturalist who recognized its potential as an ornamental tree.  By 1962, the Bradford Pear was available commercially and it became one of the most widely planted suburban trees in the US.

Around this time, other research stations and arboretums were noticing the ornamental value of the seeds planted from Meyer’s explorations. The National Arboretum produced, from a seedling selection, a cultivar called “White House,” and a seedling now known as “Autumn Blaze” was selected from the Horticultural Farm in Corvalis, Oregon.

The late 1960’s welcomed a gold-rush era of Callery pears, with many nurseries planting out seedlings from the original collections of Frank Meyer in order to find the next Bradford. This, friends, is where we start to transition from Amazing Rootstock to Amazing Ornamental Street Tree to “The Curse of the Bradford Pear.”

Pyrus calleryana is amazing for all of the reasons I listed above (insect and disease resistance, able to grow in a variety of soils and climates), but did you know it is also largely resistant to pest like deer, Japanese beetles, and wood boring beetles? The tree is precocious (often 3 years to fruit), the first to leaf out in the spring and the last to drop its leaves in the fall/winter. All of these qualities are noteworthy, yet have gone largely unnoticed due to one thing: The original ‘Bradford’ tree was self sterile.

When a tree is self-sterile, it cannot reproduce with itself in order to create progeny (fruit with viable seed). This wasn’t a problem when Bradford clones were planted out in the DC suburbs, because they were all genetically identical. When the bees would visit the flowers of one tree, and then the next, the pollen was sterile and did nothing to further fruit development.  However, that was just one cultivar’s genes.

Remember when I said that Meyer walked 30+ miles a day? He covered so much ground while in China that he sent seed from Callery pear populations hundreds of miles apart. As it turns out, these populations produce genetically distinct cultivars under the species, and are totally able to cross with one another. Which they did once all those populations were brought together to intermingle in the US.

When the other ornamental selections like “White House” and “Autumn Blaze” showed up on the streets, the self-sterile Bradford pears soon became promiscuous in the neighborhood. By 1980, 300,000 Callery pear trees had been planted as street trees, producing huge amounts of small fruit with viable seed. From there, seedlings spread far and wide via birds and raccoons.

Today, in certain areas of the US, Callery pear seedlings can be found inhabiting fence-lines and ecologically stressed out pastures/roadsides, causing everyone to scream INVASIVE! THEY’RE INVASIVE! OMG KILL THEM. I CAN’T EVEN THINK STRAIGHT RIGHT NOW. EWWWW. IS THAT SPERM I SMELL? KILL.

But let’s take it out of all caps for a moment and go a bit deeper, because they deserve a chance.

Why is it so successful in the landscape?

Look, when you get into research about exotic plant species in the US, a huge majority of papers are biased in their research scope to focus on their invasiveness rather than what they offer. For instance, this paper (and there are many like this) decided to go ahead and only name one bird, the invasive European Starling, as being responsible for spreading callery pear in the landscape.

Screen Shot 2021-03-29 at 10.51.48 AM.png

This is a type of fear mongering that I find over and over again. Rather than list the native birds that actually feed on Callery pear (there are MANY), research tends to dwell on the negative ones in order to further demonize this tree. I’ve been writing this paper for nearly 3 years (because 2 editions of this have been deleted on accident) and the only research I have been able to find listing native birds comes out of non-profit research and a masters thesis from Michigan, both BURIED in google. Over time and with much frustration given the extreme biases of US research, I decided to broaden my search for Callery pear dispersal in other countries, and the following is what I found out of Australia:

Size of fruit matters given the diversity of birds.
Size of fruit matters given the diversity of birds.

As you can see from the diagram above, the size of fruit directly corresponds with the number of frugivorous bird species that eat them. Like most ornamental fruit trees, Callery pear’s small fruit (8.5mm on average) is relished by birds, especially since they often have a tendency to hang on the tree well into winter- providing some much needed winter food for the birds that stick around.

Ok, so lets briefly put this all together: Ornamental= small fruit= bird food= birds poop= up comes Callery pear= produces thorns so not browsed= very tolerant of all the diseases= very tolerant of any soil type= it grows and thrives. But also, the Southeast is seriously just like China’s native range for Callery Pear (dark grey)…

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232682928_The_Beginning_of_a_New_Invasive_Plant_A_History_of_the_Ornamental_Callery_Pear_in_the_United_States
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232682928_The_Beginning_of_a_New_Invasive_Plant_A_History_of_the_Ornamental_Callery_Pear_in_the_United_States

I have two trains of thought that I’d like to go down: Fruit size and human impact on the land

1.) Fruit size: The average untamed fenceline in my climate contains autumn olive, barberry, multiflora rose, Callery pear, oriental bittersweet, honeysuckle, greenbriar, flowering dogwood, privet, american holly, hackberry, black cherry and a growing number of ailanthus. With exception to Ailanthus (which has a winged seed), what do all of these species have in common? They all produce fruits less than 15mm in size. Whenever there is a perch, such as a fenceline or a powerline, you’ll often see these species because they have small fruits that birds eat. The reason why we see so many Callery pear along these areas as well as in old fields and the built environment leads me towards the second thought…

2.) Human impact on land. Unlike many of the other species I mentioned in the paragraph above, Callery pear can thrive in compacted, low nutrient, poor draining soil with blazing sun and oppressive humidity. The reason why we see so much of it is because it thrives where humans have arrived and destroyed. Places like old fields, for example, which are are nutrient poor and compacted due to the robber-farmer that took more than the field could supply. Often in my area, those fields once supported tobacco and now are hayed by good-ole boy farmers in the area to keep the property in ag taxation for the owner, but no one ever puts any love/nutrition back into the land. What will grow in this scenario? Callery.

How can we make these pears less invasive?

Due to Callery’s fruit size attracting a high diversity of fruit eating birds, we can’t stop birds from eating the little pears and pooping in marginalized areas like fencelines and worn out pastures. To think we can kill enough Callery pear to make a difference is a lesson in futility because 1.) We live in the United States and you can’t go kill a neighbor’s tree in the name of INVASIVES if they don’t want you to and 2.) Each tree produces thousands of fruits. So, with that said, here are my top solutions to sustainably make Callery pear less invasive and more useful.

1.) Citizen Breeding. What makes Callery pear invasive is its ability to produce copious amounts of small fruits, which birds then eat and distribute all over the place. It seems logical, then, to want to try and breed larger fruits into our populations of Callery in order to stop the spread by birds. In order to reduce invasiveness by around 80%, all it takes is getting these trees to produce fruits that are around an inch (25mm) in diameter. Throughout the South and Southern New England, this is happening already in the “wild.” I’ve noticed trees that strongly look to be be hybrids of P. calleryana with P. communis (French) and/or P. pyrifolia (Asian). These trees have much larger fruits, usually golfball sized or larger and are often loaded with fruits dripping from the trees due to callery’s lateral bearing genetics (a possible phenotype identifier for callery hybrids). No research that I can find has evaluated the genetics of these larger fruited callery-like pears to see what exactly they are hybridized with, but I’m happy to help supply specimens if anyone out there takes an interest.

What is needed to hybridize these pears and get them larger? For starters, you’re going to need a collection of pears that bloom at the same time as Callery, which is quite early. Russian/Cold Climate and early Asian pears are likely your best bet for this, so I went through the GRIN database and have made a starter-list (there are a bunch more):

PI 541904- Seuri Li
PI 45845- Yaguang Li
PI 437051- Jubilee (cold hardy)
PI 541925- Kor 2
PI 267863- Pingo Li
PI 134606- Tioma (cold hardy)
PI 278727- La Providence
PI 278731- Sivaganga Estate
PI 307497- Seu Ri
PI 292377- Ranniaia Mleevskaia (cold hardy)
PI 541760- Chieh li x Japanese Golden Russet
PI 278729- Samy’s Estate
PI 541761- Chieh Li x Japanese Golden Russet 2
PI 541905- Szumi
PI 127715- Krylov (cold hardy)
PI 541326- Angelica Di Saonara
PI 324028- B-52 (cold hardy)
PI 541290- Mag 1 (cold hardy)
PI 132103- Shu Li
PI 312509- Tse Li

Appreciate this list? Help fund this type of work and more by purchasing charcuterie from www.hogtree.com.

You can request scions online from September 1 to February 1, of every year from GRIN. You can also probably buy many of these cultivars online. From there, I highly recommend you share scions of these for free every winter, as I plan to do, in order to help infuse larger fruiting genetics into Calleryana.

You might notice there are a bunch of Asian pears in that list and you might think: Eliza, those pears are super fireblight susceptible! And you are right, of course, but think of it this way: MANY trees that are listed as fireblight susceptible are actually quite tolerant to FB once they are established and reaching sexual maturity. With Callery being an amazingly fireblight tolerant rootstock, this should help to get your topworked trees past the first 2 years of heightened susceptibility so they can start to fruit. Once these Asian pears intermingle with Callery, there are two possible outcomes:

1.) The hybrid offspring are more fireblight tolerant than the grafted Asian pearent’s tolerance

2.) The hybrid offspring is less tolerant to fireblight than the grafted Asian parent’s tolerance and will probably succumb to the disease and die on its own.

Either are a win-win, really.

Next, you’re gonna need to go into your pear thicket and do some cutting and grafting. There are two scenarios I see often:

1.) Field full of Callery: If you have a thick field of calleryana, I would recommend getting a forestry mulcher in and cut/mulch rows into the existing Callery stand. Then, run the mulcher to cut out trees within the rows left standing so the remaining are at 15 foot spacings. Top the trees you’ve left behind above deer browse ( throw into the alley and run over those, too, with the mulcher) and graft on the early blooming large fruited cultivars.

2.) Fenceline/Border with Callery: This is the scenario We’ve been dealing with over the past few years along the farm fenceline. First thing I do is flag the trees I want to keep, which are at 15 foot spacings along the fence. Then we cut out and chip all the non-flagged callery trees using my neighbor’s chipper (I mulch my orchard with callery pear wood chips). While we are cutting out the non-flagged trees, I go ahead and also cut the tops out of the flagged trees. I pick a height that is above deer browse height and also has a lot of clear wood without branches, because that helps with grafting. In April (I’m in zone 7a), I make fresh cuts on the remaining pear trees and topwork all of them to fruiting cultivars. We’ve been doing this for 3 years and 2018’s topworked pears will be producing fruit this year.

Topworked fenceline callery pear to a local french heirloom cultivar. This was grafted in April of 2021
Topworked fenceline callery pear to a local french heirloom cultivar. This was grafted in April of 2021

This is totally doable and the result? An orchard of pears! You’d have to cut the tree down anyway if you were going to spray it, so why not turn it into a producing pear tree of value? My neighbors even pitched in to help us cut and chip in the name of supporting my vision and also getting rid of the fruiting portion of the Callery trees.

In 2-3 years, your top-worked pears will be flowering and that’s all part of your plan, as bees will mingle between surrounding Callery and the large-fruited cultivars you grafted. All of a sudden, your chances of getting larger fruit to come up from that fertilized seed will exponentially increase. And did I mention that you’ve also made yourself an orchard?

2.) Use them as rootstocks! Every Callery pear growing is automatically the best pear rootstock around. For all of you people out there who are inundated with deer pressure, graft to the Callery pears to any pear you’d like (or Winter Banana apple). Sure, you’ll get lots of leafy re-growth off the trunk for a couple years (which the deer or other livestock eat as tender shoots), but its also really easy to remove new growth with your hands (they pop off) or slightly older growth with pruners, and brand new shoots don’t have thorns. You’ll start to get fruit in 2-3 years.

One of the main reasons why Callery didn’t catch on as a rootstock, aside from root propagation failures and hardiness, is that they don’t produce dessert fruit (fruit meant for out of hand eating). This is the same reason why we’ve lost SO MANY fruit cultivars in the last 100 years. If you weren’t a dessert cultivar chosen by the cooperative extension to be grown in the early 20th century, you were phased out. However, in today’s markets, large fruited Callery pear hybrids really have a chance in fermentation, specifically cider blends and perry (cider made from pears). They are high in sugar (over 16% brix on average for the 200 or so hybridized trees I’ve evaluated), and run the gamut in acidity, tannins, aromatics and unusual characteristics. Since these trees are so disease and pest tolerant, which allows them to grow and produce copious amounts of fruit without the hand of humans or chemicals, they stand to produce the most sustainable fruits and alcohol in the South. We need more people working with them in order to make this happen because they aren’t apples and they need their own methods.

Resized_Resized_20210320_121413.jpeg
Resized_Resized_20210327_104037(1).jpeg

Orchards and Slavery on the Rappahannock

I’ve been looking for established connections like this ever since I started to see the connection between old silk trees and the enslaved people who cultivated them.

American Orchard

Between May 13 and May 23, 2013, I co-taught a study tour of Civil War battlefields with a colleague. While this was the sixth time I have offered this study tour for undergraduate students, I decided at the outset that I would use this opportunity to gather information about orchards on Civil War battlefields.  I was aware of the “famous” peach orchard where many men died on the field at Gettysburg, and was aware of a few other references to battlefield orchards, but was surprised at the abundance of information I uncovered on the eleven day trip.  This is the second in a series of blog posts on battlefield orchards.

Chatham Manor today. Before the Civil War, this was the back of the house, with the front yard overlooking the Rappahannock. Chatham Manor today. Before the Civil War, this was the back of the house, with the front yard overlooking the Rappahannock.

Chatham Manor sits on the north bank of the Rappahannock River, on a high bluff overlooking the City of…

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The Passing of C. Lee Calhoun: Southern Apple Hunter

It is with a heavy heart to report the passing of C. Lee Calhoun, Southern apple hunter.

Lee Calhouon Horne Creek

Lee Calhoun at Horne Creek Historical Farm


In March of 2009, while living on an un-bridged island in Maine, I was struck by an instant and permanent passion for apples. When I came out to my family that I wanted to be an apple orchardist, my Grandmother wrote me back and said: Did you know that we have a family apple? Your great-great-great-grandfather, JA Dula, whom you are doubly related, was a famous North Carolina orchardist of his era. Our apple is called the Dula Beauty.

Immediately after reading this, I googled “Dula Beauty” and the only descriptor I could find was a snippet from the Book “Old Southern Apples,” by Creighton Lee Calhoun. I was too poor to buy the book at the time, so I found Lee’s phone number and gave him a call for the full description. He answered, asked me to give him a moment to pull out his notes, and started to tell me everything he knew about the Dula Beauty apple and where I could find it.

Lee graduated from NC State with a degree in agronomy and plans to become a plant breeder, but the Korean war had different plans for him and he joined the army soon after graduation. Though the army soon made a career man out of him, he couldn’t shake his passions to get back to farming. The day he retired, he bought a chainsaw and started clearing a site for a house and orchard in Pittsboro, NC.

Once his Japanese-style house was built, he shared with his elderly neighbor that he wanted to plant a few apple trees. This conversation sparked the neighbor to share with him that he had once had a Magnum Bonum apple growing in his childhood home, and he’d sure love to find another to plant at his house. Finding the Magnum Bonum was the sort of challenge that got Lee’s wheels turning. How many old apple cultivars were still out there? Little did he know at the time, the tradition of Southerners growing apples was quickly disappearing from the landscape and he had been tagged to help keep it alive.

Apples were once grafted onto seedlings or roots as a means of propagation, which gave them a lifespan of around 100 years in the South if the vines were kept out of the trees. In the 70s, Lee realized these trees were aging out, as were the people who knew the names and stories of these trees and the window to find them was quickly closing. From there, he and his wife, Edith, devised a plan to go find what they could: They would buy ads in the rural electric cooperative newspapers across the South and see what people knew of the old apples in their landscape.

This plan worked. Soon, Lee and Edith were getting calls and letters from all over the place with apple names they’d never heard of like “Notty P,” “Crow’s Egg,” and Early Joe.” Excited for the adventure and exploration, they hopped in the truck and took off. As they gained more fruit exploring experience, they developed more parameters for apple hunting which they called “signs of elderly people.” If there was an apple tree, a clothes line with laundry hanging on it, and an old car somewhere on the property, they would stop and knock on the door. Lee told stories of pulling into these driveways to find an elderly man skinning a muskrat on the porch, or a man whittling a wooden duck for his great-grandson which he planned to give him on his 100th birthday, which was only 3 days away.

My favorite Calhoun cold knock story came when I asked him if he knew of any apple varieties that were used to feed hogs. He snorted and then he told me about the time when he pulled into a driveway next to a doughnut factory. The man who answered the door said he’d gladly take Lee to the tree in the backyard, and grabbed a large stick on his way out the door to keep the pigs back, because the apple tree was located in a pig paddock. When looking at the tree, Lee asked if the pork was good from eating all of these apples. The man smirked and hollered in to his wife to make a couple ham biscuits for Lee. Once back to the house, Lee sunk his teeth into the ham biscuit and it was the best he ever had. “This is what apple fed pork tastes like?!” He questioned/exclaimed. “Nope,” the old man replied. “That’s what doughnut fed pork tastes like.”

It took Lee and Edith two years to find the Magnum Bonum that his elderly neighbor first mentioned from his childhood. With each find, each letter, each phone call, a world of apples unfolded. Through the grapevine, he was finding other people who were also looking for and propagating these apples. People like Joyce Neighbors of Alabama, Jim Lawson of Georgia and Tom Burford of Virginia. People catching on to Lee and Edith’s work were contacting Lee wanting to take part in the hunt, too. Soon, Lee and Edith had a network and a lifeblood to go rescue these lost apple cultivars from the throws of nature and human development/axe. Over that decade, Lee and Edith had acquired nearly 400 apple cultivars from across the South. They grafted these trees to dwarfing rootstock and started one of the first high density apple orchards in the South, if only to hold their large repository in a small space. They also started a fruit tree nursery where they custom grafted these apple varieties from their home, located on Black Twig Road.

In the 90s, Lee and Edith wrote the book “Old Southern Apples” cataloging all of the apples they found and all of the apple cultivars they believe to be threatened or extinct. I never got to know Edith, as she had died of pancreatic cancer a few years before I found Lee. However, Lee would never start a story about the book without telling me that Edith wrote that book. She typed the whole thing. Edited it. Gave insights to Lee on what to say. He would also tell me that she could bake an apple pie in her sleep, as she had to try each and every apple in their orchard in pie form to see if one of the old uses could be for pies.

Which leads me to tell you about the gargantuan amount of research and work that went into each apple find. Lee and Edith traveled far and wide to find old nursery catalogs, books, flyers, and articles describing these apples and their uses. These descriptions, aside from their elderly caretakers, were all they had left in terms of what these apples were used for. Dried apples. Pies. Molasses/Syrup. Fresh eating. Winter storage. Dumplings. Hard cider. Vinegar. And the list goes on. Edith and Lee were at the helm of running a home lab to try and bring back a purpose for these apples.

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We’re all eating “Tony,” one of Lee’s most resilient apples.

In 2015, I traveled to Lee’s house for the second time with my friends Pete Halupka and Pete Walton to sit down and drink some hard cider with him. We asked him what the chances of finding old lost Southern cultivars might be in this day and age. He responded, matter of factly, that it is nearly impossible in today’s time. So many pressures endanger an apple tree on the landscape, time being the greatest of all when it comes to old Southern apples. In seeing our fruit explorer hopes being dashed, he quickly amended this statement by saying the chances are nearly impossible of discovering identities of these fruits we find in the landscape, but we may very well still find old apple trees. He also encouraged the exploration of mulberry and other nut trees like pecans, as they are much more long-lived than the apple.

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Lee Calhoun was a member of the North American Fruit Explorers (NAFEX) and his contributions went beyond apples, as he was also the one to re-introduce the Silk Hope mulberry to the US fruit world. He would tell me of streets in Chapel Hill lined with old Silk mulberry cultivars and the sleeping mulberry landscape of North Carolina which remained despite the failure of an industry. He also collected old rose cultivars, telling me that most of his rose genetics came from cemeteries throughout the South. He grew plums, peaches, sour cherries, grapes and other fruits at his house as well. Even the mightiest of the mighty fruit explorers fall to wanting to plant a little bit of everything.

The world has lost one incredible fruit explorer, but he seemed content with leaving this earth. A mutual friend of ours, Carl Thomasson, visited Lee on Wednesday at hospice, where he was lucid and grateful to have been given a couple extra victory laps of life after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer 3 years ago.

Lee and Edith are now driving down old country roads, spotting apple trees and “signs of the elderly.” Together again, the old truck doors shut and they make their way up the steps of a stranger’s porch. Each knock on the door filled with the thrills of being on the heels of recapturing a piece of history and breathing new life into it.

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Picture from Calhoun’s book “Old Southern Apples”

*Lee’s orchard was nearly destroyed by fireblight in the 2000s. His nursery business was passed to several nurseries, of which David Vernon of Century Farm Orchards and Horne Creek Historical Farm are still active.*

Fun Fact: Creighton Lee Calhoun was the last remaining descendent of John C. Calhoun, founder of Clemson University, and former US vice president.


Lee Calhoun’s List of Cedar Apple Rust Resistant Apples:

American Golden Dorsett

Morgan

Aunt Rachael

Muskmelon Sweet

Aunt Sally

Old Fashion Winesap

Ben Davis Ophir
Benham Pinky

Bevan’s Favorite

Polly Eades

Black Limbertwig

Pomme Gris
Blacktwig

Pound Pippin

Cherryville Black

Red Astrachan

Dixie Red Delight

Red Canada

Dr. Matthews

Red Limbertwig

Fall Orange Red Rebel

FREEDOM/LIBERTY

Rockingham Red

Gilpin Rusty Coat

Golden Harvey

Sally Gray
Harris Short Core
Honey Cider

Sine Qua Non

Hunge Starr
Ingram

Summer King

Jarrett

Summer Rambo

Jakes Seedling

Swazie
John Apple Sweet Russet

June Sweeting

Terry Winter

Keener Seedling

Tony

Kinnaird’s Choice

William’s Favorite

Lacy Winter Jon

Lowland Raspberry

Wolf River
Lugar Red

Yellow Transparent

Mattamuskeet

 

Mulberry Preamble

Old gnarled and twisted mulberry trees.

I have spent the better part of 3 years obsessed with mulberries and their possibilities. It all started with the concept of an everbearing mulberry, which can drop various amounts of mulberries (from a light rain to a canopy downpour) daily for 2-4 months. This journey started with ‘Hicks Everbearing,’ which was known to drop prolific amounts of mulberries for upwards of 4 months in the deep South, and soon transitioned into much, much more. 

I am not really a believer in silver bullets, but after much passion, obsession, discussion and study, I believe mulberries are one of the most versatile and adaptable trees on the planet. This is coming from someone who has devoted a decade of her life to the self-study and research of apples, one of the most adaptable fruits in the world that has strains growing from India to Russia, Alabama to Alaska, Bahamas to Beirut. In my own humble opinion, and facing much sacrilege from 10 years-ago-me, mulberries have a lot more to offer than apples alone, and should be implemented in most agricultural systems world-wide. 

White people have never been good at identifying mulberry species. The common ones found in the Eastern US are Morus rubra, our native ‘red mulberry;’ Morus alba, otherwise known as ‘white mulberry,’ a native to China which was brought over to the US in the 1600s and after; and a hybrid of the two species, rubra x alba, as they readily cross with one another in the wild. It is my current theory that many of the mainstream East Coast botanist of the late 19th/early 20th century tended to mix up M. rubra and M. alba with the hybrids. This can be seen in Liberty Hyde Bailey calling Hicks Everbearing a full Morus rubra, which most certainly is not the case seeing as how it contains smooth shiny leaves and multiple lobes (among other characteristics). It is theorized by A.J Bullard, one of the last remaining mulberry experts in this country hailing from Mt. Olive, NC, that all East Coast originating everbearings are rubra x alba hybrids. I tend to agree with this theory due to the rampant hybridization between asian cultivars and our native red that has been happening for 400 years here in the US. To hammer home this point, a study of isolated and endangered populations of Morus rubra in Canada revealed that 53% of these isolated stands were comprised of hybrids. That’s in Canada! No doubt, the further South you go into North America where the native rubra ranges expand, as do the silk prospecting regions, the number of hybrids will increase. Point being: I think the horticultural greats, guys like Andrew Jackson Downing and Liberty Hyde Bailey, were given hybrids as baselines for their botanical keys. Meaning, I think the large majority of mulberries we have in the US today are hybrids and very few are strictly Morus alba (which people term as invasive…even though they have been here as long as white people have). Also, if you do much research on certain cultivars, you’ll find a huge amount of copying what the person before them said. Not a whole lot of original American thoughts have occurred in the mulberry realm.

While everbearings and other fruiting mulberries are amazing when thinking about them for human and livestock fodder, there’s another aspect to mulberries that shouldn’t be overlooked: the leaves. Mulberry trees have been in cultivation for 4000+ years in Asia for the exclusive harvest of their leaves, which they use to feed silkworms. This is the oldest form of agroforestry in the world. Silkworms are monogastric wee beasties that are quite sensitive to what they eat. They have different needs throughout their different life stages and Asian cultures have selected certain mulberry genetics and combined these genetics with harvesting strategies to feed these silkworms exactly what they need to thrive and produce high quality silk. It’s all incredibly complicated, but silk is worth it. 

So worth it, that the US has been struck with a get-rich-quick scheme for silk TWICE in it’s infantile history. Once in the early 17th century when King James I tried to encourage silk production in the colonies, first using the abundant native red mulberry (M. rubra) and then mandating each landowner plant 6 mulberry trees a year for 7 years from M. alba stock sent over from England. Once tobacco was discovered to prosper in the Southern soils and the crown and colonists got a hankering for nicotine, the cultivation and excitement of mulberries faded out. To this day, in and around Williamsburg, some of these old 17th century cultivated silk mulberry trees (M. alba) still exist. Two centuries later, the silk craze struck again- this time having Americans consumed with the planting of “Morus multicaulis,” an Asian strain of white mulberry (M. alba) known for its silkworm rearing (Multicaulis= many stems, a hat-tip to the pruning used in the cultivation of mulberry leaves). Conventions were held all across the East Coast with arousal and promises of employment and riches, the first in Baltimore in 1822 . Gardens, fields and highly productive farmland were planted to the gold-producing tree with hopes of getting filthy rich. New Jersey had the most M. multicaulis cultivation, followed by Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and further South.  For a variety of reasons, all of this prospecting came crashing down in 1841, with millions of trees in the Mid-Atlantic and beyond remaining on the landscape- flowering, fruiting and hybridizing more than ever with our native populations (and creating a large hive of everbearing genetics). These trees, comprised of Asian genetics meant to feed silkworms, have leaf protein contents equal to or higher than alfalfa, only they are more digestible by livestock and more nutrient rich due to their roots plunging deep into the soil. These defunct orchards could have helped to feed livestock (pigs, chickens, cattle, goats, sheep) without a problem, yet this alternative to feeding silkworms was never acted upon. To this day, Asian mulberry trees from the 17th and 19th centuries still sleep in the landscape, their lower limbs browsed by deer (who know what’s up). 

It is my goal to assemble the genetics necessary to provide both humans and livestock with nutrient rich, climatically adaptable perennial fodder (fruit and leaves). This includes everbearings and silk cultivars which are cold hardy,  resistant to popcorn disease, able to flourish in the intense heat and humidity of Southeast, able to be grown without chemicals, and the like. Myself and others are hunting our surroundings and the world* for the old, the impressive and the everbearing to offer a diversity of mulberry options for farmers and fruit enthusiasts alike. My mulberry catalog is launching this coming week on HogTree.com (which is currently down for maintenance) and will include a smattering of the above.

*Next year (2020), fellow NAFEX (North American Fruit Explorers) board member Taylor Malone and I will be traveling to China to observe a few mulberry cultivation systems that could potentially benefit fruit and livestock fodder production in the US. We have obtained clearance from the USDA to import 5 cultivars per year from Asia, and will be importing genetics for high quality fodder and fruit. We plan on making this trip part of #thefruitexplorers and will soon be launching a Patreon to help support us in our collection and dissemination of  knowledge for the cultivation of mulberry and other fruits for home and farm (agroforestry, silvopasture, grazing, and livestock-in-orcharad settings). We’re also looking for in-kind help. If you write grants and think you can help us in this multi-year endeavor, we’d love to talk. You can write us at thefruitexplorers@gmail.com.

One Bad Day

This post is about pigs, not apples. 

Often times in the pastured pig world, you’ll hear people refer to their pig’s butcher day as their “one bad day.” This is because these pigs have lived on grass, rooting and running and generally being happy pigs for their entire life, rather than confined indoors in crates the size of a coffins in CAFO-style situations (contained animal feeding operations). The only bad day for my pigs is the one where they go to the butcher. This essay is NOT about all that. This essay is about MY one bad day this year. Yesterday, September 10th, 2019.

For those of you who follow me on social media, you might have gotten a chuckle out of how hard last year was for me to keep pigs contained within their paddocks (which I move regularly). They got out a half-dozen times, with the majority of those escapes happening when trying to load them out of the fields and into a trailer for their butcher date.

The most story-worthy scenario happened when the pigs ignored my attempts to load them and busted out of the fence, nearly making it into a 10,000 square foot wedding tent across the street. I chased behind them in the dark early morning, freshly electrocuted from getting tangled in the electric netting that I did not see and only wearing one boot because the other got stuck in the mud (it was pouring down rain). It took everything I had to sprint and get in front of them, ultimately turning them around and getting them back on the farm.

The memories of not getting pigs loaded out of the fields and missing butcher dates has stuck with me to the point of anxiety for this year’s butcher date. That day was yesterday, and this is the story of my one [really] bad day…

A few days ago, I backed the trailer up to the pig paddock, reorganized the fencing (creating hard walls for loading rather than the normal poultry-style netting) and started feeding them in the trailer. When the day came to load these pigs, I rallied a few friends and used my friend Sara’s truck instead of mine because it has 4 wheel drive and the loaded trailer would need to go across several hundred yards of cow pasture. All went amazing well and the pigs were loaded within 20 minutes, a personal record! We hooked the trailer to Sara’s truck and headed back to the road, where I noticed that some cables had been eaten and the lights were no more. Because of this, we decided to delay taking the pigs that night and instead take the pigs to the butcher in the morning, after I had gotten some temporary lights on the trailer.

Fast forward to yesterday morning with lights that work and a trailer full of pigs.  I got up early, sang to the dogs that I’d be back in a couple hours for a nice long walk, and skipped out the door. Sara had suggested I use her truck to take them to the butcher since it already had the trailer hitched to it, and I thanked her for the suggestion. Off I went…

8 miles away from the butcher, on Interstate 70 in Maryland, the truck started to lose power. I thought to myself: If I could just get to the butcher and unload these pigs, all will be much more easily handled. 3 miles from the butcher, and 30 minutes from the deadline to bring in the pigs, the engine light came on and I pulled over as much as I could, cars whizzing by at 80 miles an hour only inches away. The electronics on the dash read: TRANSMISSION.

I screamed a string of curse words, watching my happy productive day flash before my eyes, and called GEICO.

The GEICO lady, whose name I do not remember,  should get an award for best performance “out of her comfort zone.” Pigs in a trailer attached to a truck that doesn’t belong to me that won’t move. She worked really hard to finally break it to me that, turns out (she must have called 15 tow companies), it is near impossible to get a tow company to tow a trailer full of livestock anywhere. Even if it’s 3 miles away. She could, however, tow the truck back to it’s home location. Deal.

I then texted farmer friends Andrew and MK of Open Book Farm to see if they knew of anyone who could help me in the area. Andrew, a wonderful man and livestock farmer, told me that he had invisioned this for himself before and it was his worst nightmare.  He would come get me and the trailer full of pigs.

Meanwhile, the tow truck had showed up and the tow guy was in a bad mood. He pointed out the trailer had a recent flat (probably from driving on the side of the road and hitting glass) and when I asked for him to help me fix it, he started in on how that was not part of the protocol. I warned him that I was about to start crying and his attitude got a little better, no doubt to avoid having to console me in some way.

Soon thereafter, Andrew showed up and we decided to try limping along for the remaining 3 miles with only one good tire on the right side of the trailer. We hitched up and made it, 3 hours after I first had to pull over. The butcher accepted my more-than-late deposit of pigs and they unloaded like champs. I left the trailer at the butcher’s shop because there was no way I could get it 40 miles back home.

Andrew brought me back to his and Mk’s farm and Sara then came to pick me up and take me home. On our ride back, the mechanic called. He had gotten a chance to take a look at the truck and the transmission was blown. $3500-$3700 in repair costs.
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Folks, we are in need of some meat sales in order to afford these truck repairs/another truck that can host a snow plow.

Beef: <— Click Here for Sara’s website

Sara is an amazing beef cattle farmer who is the 10th generation to reside on her family land in Northern VA, Oakland Green Farm. She has 4 cows going to the butcher next month and needs to sell some sides to help pay for the blown transmission. If you are in the Northern Virginia area, or en route from Northern VA to Hampton Roads, I can deliver beef to you: A whole side or by the cut (cut minimum is $100). More info about her cuts and sides can be found HERE.  Beef sides are $4.50 a pound hanging weight plus processing and Hagerstown is where you’d pick it up (unless you contract me to deliver to you)

Pork: <— Click here to buy salami on HogTree.com

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Salami: Price: $17.50 for 6 ounces of dry-cured goodness. Use promo code TRANSMISSION for free shipping on 2 or more. This stuff is delicious, no lie. Now that the weather is cooling off and I’ve blown a friend’s transmission, I’m ready to ship these cured salamis to your door. My HogTree salamis are ‘Cacciatore’- a traditionally cured American-made Italian recipe. It is nitrate free and the ingredient list is as follows:

HogTree Pastured Non-gmo Pork. Salt. Dried Milk Powder. Celery Powder. Dextrose. Vitamin C. White Pepper. Garlic Powder. Fermentation Starter Culture. Natural Pork Casing.

Sara and I will be collaborating on a half pork/half beef Spanish Style Chorizo in the next month as well. This will also be available online in early November.

Pork Cuts: I am primarily selling cured bacon, ribs, pork chops and sausage (assorted flavors). This is pick-up only or delivered en route between Northern VA and Southeastern VA (but try me. I drive all over the place). Pick up by appointment only.

Everyone in the Frederick MD area: Go shop at Open Book Farm’s on-farm store on Saturday mornings and support really amazing people who grow nutrient dense food and saved me big time!

 

 

 

 

Behold the Graft-Chimera!

It has been a while since I’ve posted anything on this blog and that’s not to say I haven’t been writing (I’ve been writing quite a bit and getting extremely (and excitedly) nerdy). However, my 1000 word essays have been in short supply and I thought I’d throw one up on the blog today. It is inspired by the amazing Jack Kertesz of Maine, who shared this photo with the Maine Tree Crops Alliance  last week:

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Same branch.
Same tree.
Two distinctly different apples. (Calyx, stem, skin, fruit shape, flavor, etc)

This was one of those WOW moments for me because I don’t ever see this sort of thing.  No, the yellow/green apples aren’t unripe versions of the red apples. Nor are they a more pale version of the other. This is something special and when I first saw it, there were three possible scenarios for what this was:

1.) Bud Sport. Not a typo for the epic Jean Claude Van Damme movie. A bud sport it’s basically a chance mutation of a single bud on a tree that produces a different looking fruit.  Sometimes this bud turns into a branch that produces apples double the size of the others on the tree. Sometimes a red delicious apple tree produces a branch of black apples…

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No, I don’t think what Jack found is a bud sport, as two distinctly different kinds of apples are coming out of the same bud. We won’t venture down this rabbit hole, however I do plan to write more about bud sports in the future. They are fascinating!

2.) Top-Grafting. This is one of my favorite methods of grafting because it allows you to graft one or unlimited cultivars of fruit onto an existing tree of the same genera (ish). I made a quick video of how to do this with Bradford Pear:

However, if everything goes correctly, you still wouldn’t end up with a tree producing two different apples from the same bud on a branch.

3.) THE GRAFT-CHIMERA!  OMG. I’ve been waiting to find one of these! I had first learned about this crazy concept  when reading about the rediscovery of the citrus fruit cultivar ‘Bizzaria’. The gist of the story is this: Back in the 1600s, a Florentine gardener named Pietro Nati discovered a citrus fruit tree  that was growing three different fruits.  One fruit was the sour orange, which was from the rootstock’s genetics. The next fruit was the citron, which had been grafted onto the sour orange and was of the scion’s genetics. A third fruit was growing from this stem, which appeared to be a complete meld of the two fruits. The scientific community at the time, perplexed, fittingly named this fruit ‘Bizzaria.’ This branch was grafted in gardens all over the place and, amazingly, the chimera held true.

bizzaria

Bizzaria Fruit- half sour orange, half citron

Centuries later, the concept of having 2 or more distinctly different fruits emerging from one stem was revealed to be a graft-chimera, a botanical phenomenon where the cells of the rootstock and the cultivar being grafted get wrapped up together in a single branch and both traits are exhibited.  Sometimes, like with the case of Bizzaria, a 50:50 fruit also emerges. How this happens can be boiled down fairly simply thanks to a German botanist named Hans Winkler.

Winkler was fascinated with the idea of graft-chimeras and began to experiment with how this sort of thing could come about and happen more regularly. How could he cause two different cultivars of fruit/vegetables/flowers to come out of the same bud? Instead of using apples for his experimenting, which take years to produce fruit, he used tomatoes and other graft-compatible nightshades (I’ll use eggplant for this essay, though it may not be historically correct) to conduct his experiments because they looked completely different in fruit and leaf.

The experiment goes like this: He grafted a tomato cultivar to an eggplant rootstock and when the graft was well healed and the plant established, he cut the graft union in half so the rootstock/scion union had exposed cut tissue.  He watched these cuts callous over and develop adventitious buds (new buds that arise from calloused tissue) grow. If a bud arose from the eggplant portion, it was an eggplant. If it arose from the tomato portion, it was a tomato.  If it arose from the graft union, it was a n Eggplato, composed partly of eggplant and partly of tomato. Essentially, two different species present within the same stem!

20190907_232857.jpgTurns out, this little experiment from Winkler is highly replicable and he was able to show how such branches can arise incidentally from normal grafting methods. The genetics and botanical world should have gone crazy at this time, experimenting with these concepts and producing serious Frankenfruit. But, like many cool experiments uncovered from the last century or more, they never picked up steam.

Two varieties on same tree

Back to Jack! And apples!

When I asked for more pictures, especially of the trunk, they sent this one over to me:70440750_2423351177877972_14148004525113344_o.jpg

After seeing the picture, I think there are two possible scenarios for this graft-chimera.

1.) The tree’s graft union was buried and suckers came about from the union, producing chimeras.

1.5) The tree was mowed/driven over at the graft union and what came up was the graft-chimera

2.) The tree’s graft union was buried and some low-down injury occurred (weed eater?), causing a deep enough cut around the tree to reveal both rootstock and scion tissue. Up from that came these chimeric shoots.

Regardless, I think this ability to meld two cultivars into a single stem is very cool and somewhat witchy. I definitely want to experiment more with this concept in the future and I don’t know why more hasn’t been done with this concept. Maybe it has and I’m unaware, but I have found that some ornamental cultivars, especially the variegated types, came about as graft-chimeras.

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Sidenote: I find it fitting that Winkler coined the term ‘Genome.’ How did he do it? Much like the Bizzaria fruit being half citron and half sour orange, he combined the words ‘Gene’ and ‘Chromosome’ together to get ‘Genome,’ lol.

Resources:

  1. https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/tisscult/Chimeras/chimeralec/chimeras.html
  2. http://irrecenvhort.ifas.ufl.edu/plant-prop-glossary/03-genetic-selection/04-genetic-chimera.html
  3. STOUT, A. B. (1920). A GRAFT-CHIMERA IN THE APPLE. Journal of Heredity, 11(5), 233–237.
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0012160616300902
  5. https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdfplus/10.1086/330463

 

 

 

 

When pigs have free choice [in Chernobyl]

I had a brief period of downtime last week and what did I do? I got in bed with my computer, a glass [bottle] of Eve’s pommeau , and a hankering to read about pigs in cultivated places (could be an orchard, could be a wood pasture). After some rabbit hole google searches, I stumbled on a bit of research that made me excited: A paper on pigs in Chernobyl.

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Back in 1986, Ukraine had a nuclear disaster affecting 1000 square miles around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. All of the residents within this 1000 square mile exclusion zone were forced to evacuate, leaving their livelihoods behind. Many of the inhabitants were subsistence farmers, who were forced to abandon their gardens, orchards, hogs and chickens. Since, a radioactive landscape thrives in the absence of humans.

In 1992 and 1993, scientists ventured into the exclusion zone to capture pigs at different times of the year in order to record their age, weight and stomach contents. They wanted to know what in the heck these domestic-turned-wild pigs were eating once all of the people left. Turns out, I wanted to know as well! The results were put into a beautiful chart that I wish I could make using excel:

Chernobyl Pigs

Apologies for the blue light blocker

As someone who is VERY into perennial livestock food schemes, I LOVE this chart. This shows what free choice looks like within a human manipulated environment. Give a pig an orchard, herbs, abandoned grain silos, evening primrose and small rodents, and watch their preference by season. What’s very interesting to me is the absence of grain in  their Fall, Winter and Snow-bound winter diets. Yet come spring, the pigs are back on the grain train, though never more than a quarter of their diet. I also enjoyed seeing an absence of fruit in the early winter diet, but a presence in snow winter. This has got to be due to apples and pears that don’t fall.

I think there is a lot to learn from this type of study and would LOVE to know if this sort of study exists for anywhere in America. This study shows that pigs eat a LOT of evening primrose, dandelion/dandelion cousins, hawkweed and stinging nettle. All of these plants re-seed happily and profoundly by themselves, offer amazing nectaries for insects, and can provide medicine and food for us, too. Not to mention, these plants also comprise a garden club planting scheme from hell. (Mwahahahahahaha) 

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Evening Primrose

Evil cackling aside, lets examine Evening Primrose (Oenothera spp) a little more deeply for a moment. It is native to the US and was brought to Europe in the 1600s, where it quickly established itself all over the place (Ukraine included) and has now naturalized. For human consumption, it was once cultivated for the roots, which taste like salsify. In today’s time, it is now grown for the seeds which contain large amounts of Omega-6 oils. Natives used the whole plant to treat minor wounds and bruises, and the roots to treat hemorrhoids. The pigs probably know about all of these health and wellness benefits, which is why they love it so much.

From a horticultural perspective, there are many cultivars of Evening Primrose. Some are annuals, some perennials and some biennials. Some are drought proof and love infertile soils, others prefer moist fertile soils. Some grow to be 6 feet tall, while others become low-growing ground covers. The diversity is huge within this plant’s genetics and it seems like there is a cultivar or two (or three) for everyone. The other interesting thing about Evening primrose is how it is propagated. They are amazing and prolific self seeders, but they are also propagated by division. Division is when the roots are divided into smaller pieces and then replanted wherever you want.

With the ability to be propagated by division or by seed, it seems as if Evening Primrose is well adapted to the pigness of the pig.   Pigs and their rooting behaviors would easily divide this plant and provide a seed bed to be sewn for the plants loaded with seed. What roots they don’t eat would return again the following year in plant form. Perhaps this is, in part, why this plant occupied such a large space in their yearly diets?

Though I could see it becoming slightly out of control, there is more to learn about this plant and others in their applications as pig fodder. Identifying fodder for pastured pigs in cold (or not so cold) climates that will thrive against repeated destruction is hard to find. I’m excited for some of you out there in the world to give it a try.

*Rumor has it, evening primrose is also a japanese beetle trap crop. I wonder if pigs will eat Japanese beetles? Has anyone ever observed this?*

 

Chernobyl Apples

There was an old Ukrainian
woman at the market
selling her goods.

            Come get your apples!
she calls.
                  Chernobyl apples!

Don’t say that,
someone tells her.
No one will ever buy

                    radiated apples.
Don’t worry, she says.
             They all buy them.

Some need them
        for their mother-in-law.
Some for their boss.

     There was an old Ukrainian
woman at the market
selling her goods.

Come get your mushrooms!
she calls.
Chernobyl mushrooms!

                                                -John Bradley

 

 

 

September Giveaway (In October)

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I’ve been helped out by a lot of people this year. In thanks, here is a Gantt chart (my favorite kind of chart) of September apple drop dates for Zone 6b East Coast climate (with scribbling all over it because it’s hard to let go***). This is for you silvopasture folks, you u-pick folks, you livestock-in-orchard folks. Many of these apples are very cold hardy, so you Northern folks adjust to your own climate using common cultivars like Macintosh to guide you

I still have June/July/August/October in my secret crypt, but I’m giving away the abundant month of September. Thanks to all.

(Donations are accepted for this compilation if you find it of any use)

 

***It is hard to let go because this info is very difficult to come across and has involved both years of personal research and study from orchards and people in Maine, Virginia, New York, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. At this point, my life’s work is categorized into 7 months, May through November. This is 1/7th of my life’s apple work so far. You might be thinking: No biggie, 31 apple varieties in order. But it is a big deal.  Please use it, respect it, fix it according to your particular climate, and build from it.

HogTree: Update, Thoughts, Lessons

Last May, I wrote a post announcing the launch of my new orchard concept/business called Hogtree. Since writing, an entire summer season has come and gone and HogTree pigs are nearing their market date (I have a few left and if you are interested in purchasing, click here). With the pig season coming to a close and a rainy day forcing rest, I wanted to take some time to write an update for you all. This is a long one, folks.

1.) Land

I am nearing in on 6 months of an 8 month lease. The lease, which was an experimental one to see if the landowners and I could be good farm partners, cost $1. The pigs were to be pastured in future orchard rows, prepping the property for future orchards if it worked out between the two parties. I am happy to report that, to the best of my knowledge (and farm partner Phil demanding me write an online update), the two parties get along very well and share an affinity for the pigs. This isn’t to be taken lightly, as we’ve been through a lot together this season:

-First of all, we are 30+ inches above our normal rainfall for this year. It has been wet and muddy and not glamorous or romantic whatsoever in having pigs. Catching pigs in the pouring rain. Moving pigs in the pouring rain. Feeding pigs in the pouring rain. Fun!

-Secondly, we had some tragedy strike in the form of losing 2 pigs to heat stroke. The weather has been tremendously variable, and 2 weeks of rain ended abruptly with 2 hours of intense 96 degree sunlight. That 2 hour period was enough to put two pigs over the edge. Dealing with the two deaths showed crisis could be handled in an empathetic way.

-Thirdly, we all value hard physical work. I had never considered this factor before in leasing land, but I’ve begun to value it in a huge way. Hard physical work needs to be valued by all invested, and it often is not.  Having landlords who are into your vision because of the romanticism and can’t see past the weeds is a problem I (and many of you) know all too well.

And last, we’ve had some fantastic help from two extraordinary people, Grace and Kris, who are there whenever I have to leave town, move pigs, ferment feed, pick up whey and don’t have a truck, etc etc etc.

We are moving forward with further planning/visioning for 2019. That includes what the lease will look like, what shared labor and equipment looks like, and making sure the big picture is in agreement.

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Farm Partner Kelly getting to know the little pigs with gifts of strawberries

2.) Rain and Pigs and Fruit Trees

I don’t know what the future holds for our weather patterns other than likely being totally whack, but here are some observations.

-It only seems to pour these days. This makes having pigs difficult because they become rooting machines in the rain. I don’t actually know why this is, but I have a theory that it is earth worm related. If you hang around someone who harvests night crawlers, you may see them bang a metal rod into the soil. That reverberation, I’m told, mimics the sound/energy of raindrops hitting the ground. Loving rain, the night crawlers come to the surface. It’s my theory that rain=earthworms coming to the surface= pigs starting to root in order to eat these earth worm. I could be totally off base about this theory, but it’s what I tell myself whenever it rains (Rain=protein, Eliza.). This rooting action is a problem when you don’t want your orchard to get pocked with ankle-spraining craters, and given the rain this year, some new game plans need to be adopted…

IT IS TRUE that once an area has been “pigged” (as in, gone through virgin ground and thoroughly rooted to eat all the grubs, dock/dandelion roots), the pastured pig genetics tend not to root much. Maybe a sod flip or two every now and then. However, add a 2 inch rain event in a couple-hour period and shit gets real, fast. Pigged or not, I’ve learned I’ll need to set aside a “pig overflow” area in the orchard, where they can go if the sky opens up and dumps on you. This is an area(s) that can be disturbed and I have plans for what that will look like (hint: rhizomatous, stoloniferous and suckering shrubs/trees).

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3.) Cover Crops

I don’t know grass. It’s not something that has been in my wheelhouse of knowledge nor have I tried to seriously learn about it because I’m a tree person (Just recently, I had a mentor show me the difference between orchard, timothy and alfalfa).  I’m learning, though, and that involves learning this whole reseeding-a-pasture for grazing game.

-I learned first hand that if you seed barley into a field without anything else, it provides an EXCELLENT nursery for foxtail, an eager invader here.  I’m not sure if it was my seeding density (probably), but I’m also going with a need to co-plant clover with anything else I try to seed. Feedback and experience is welcome on this, but it might take me a week or two to respond because it takes me at least 2 weeks to respond to anything this time of year.

-I’ve seeded crimson clover with buckwheat with great success (and such a great insectory right about now!), and oats with peas (needs clover, I think), and just finished seeding wheat with red clover and, of course, everything I have mixed all together (because what the hell?). These are all annuals because they will probably graze the paddocks again (aside from the wheat/clover paddocks), but I couldn’t handle thinking or learning about a perennial pasture this season. This is an area I’m looking to step into this winter.

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4.) Fermenting Feed

I used to do things like make hard cider and brew beer. Now I just drink other people’s beer and cider and spend my hobby time fermenting pig feed. It has been a journey that I want to take a minute to write about.

I don’t want to treat my pigs in any way different from how I treat the trees. This means, I want my tree sprays to be pig beneficial, and my pig inputs to be tree friendly. So! This year I watched a few youtube videos/read some articles of various people fermenting their hog feed and it varied from water to energized water (using a vortex machine) to whey to using Effective microbes.

In the fruit tree world, there is a defense strategy in organic management that I’ll call “colonization.” This involves spraying alive yeast and bacteria beasties onto your trees in order to colonize the surface, effectively setting up a viking fortress on the surface of the leaf that strongly discourages harmful cultures from buying leaf real estate there. Whey and Effective Microbes are often talked about in the beyond-organic fruit management world as good leaf colonizers….

Crossover time!

Effective microbes (known as EM) are expensive. Like, a barrier to affordably using it in an orchard unless you can ferment it and keep it going forever (akin to keeping a sourdough starter going). However! I happen to have ties with a feed store in the area that sells livestock grade probiotics for WAY CHEAPER. EM contains Enterococcus faecium, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus plantarum which can all be found in Probios (not sponsored, but would totally be up for it). EM also contains Bacillus subtilis, which can be found for cheap as an additive to the chicken feed industry for increased weight gains. I acquired all of those ingredients as well as striking a deal with a local cheese maker to get her whey, and then I started to ferment the feed.

After some time, I developed a “house culture” that I think is pretty fantastic. A little bit of feed from the last batch is used in the new batch and the result is a wonderful pineapple/tropical smell. I’ve yet to get it analyzed, but that’s part of my winter’s work to see what proportions of what it may contain. I’m hoping to turn this culture into a colonizing fruit spray that makes the whole environment come a little more alive and beneficial from a microbial perspective.

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5.) Tree Fodder

This is a huge topic that I will only briefly talk about today, but it’s an important one. HogTree’s orchard systems are based off of a tree fodder scheme, so putting trees in order according to harvest. Fruits and nuts are considered part of tree fodder, and I have a plan for those from May to November. What I haven’t talked much about is the leaf fodder scheme that is a part of my plans (which is still housed under the topic of tree fodder). For years, I’ve been dreaming this up as part of my ideal orchard system and I had to travel all the way to France and Spain earlier this year to feel like these plans weren’t crazy and out of reach.

This year, I fed heaps of leaves and the stems to the pigs. It was a test at first, and then became a regimen. Here’s a sampling of what I fed:

  • Mulberry- This is like candy to the pigs. The leaves have a protein content between 18 and 28 percent, rivaling alfalfa. Unlike alfalfa, mulberry is drought proof.
  • Willow- This is a mild pain reliever and natural wormer for the pigs. Watching them eat willow is a treat to behold. They strip the bark and eat it like spaghetti. I can only imagine that it is uncomfortable to gain 1.5 pounds a day. I will be planting more willow after watching their affection for the leaves and branches.
  • Black Willow/Pecan- Both of these species come from the walnut family. They are great natural wormers (black walnut being more potent than pecan) and the pigs enjoy the leaves and stems on occasion. They are currently loving the dropping nuts from these already established trees.

This business of feeding trees to livestock is not new. It’s an ancient process involving select pruning methods of certain tree species (usually called pollarding, but for some reason coppicing is all the rage in the states right now. The difference is the presence of a trunk).  Feeding leaf fodder to animals is an adaption to drought, as something like a mulberry tree is 100 times more drought tolerant than alfalfa. Being a tree person, of course I took to the idea of tree hay over ground hay, and here we are.

Seemingly regular trees will be a part of HogTree’s orchard, but many of them will be cut back in extreme ways. What some people consider “Crape Murder” is my total M.O these days and it would take me a few hours to explain why. Just know it is undisputed in Europe that if continually pruned using these ancient techniques, these truffula-like trees can live forever. Many have already proven to be over the 1,500 year mark.

This is my mycorrhizal game in the orchard. Drastic cuts on various species in the orchard cause some (but not even close to all) roots to die and/or release a root exudate that provides food for all sorts of soil life underneath. In ancient forests where trees still stand that once got this human treatment, the mycorrhizal diversity is quite amazing. Not to mention, hollowed out stems become amazing habitat for those seeking refuge. An old pollarded tree in Sweden was found to be housing 26 BRAND NEW, never before discovered species of beetles.

Oh, plus you get all the tree remnants laying above the surface after all the livestock go to town consuming what parts of the branch they want. Another mycorrhizal boost.

6.) Fruit-Drop Schemes:

I’ve added quite a bit more diversity to my fruit scheme thanks to some old citizen science I’ve come across in the recently scanned POMONA archives (the publication of the North American Fruit Explorers). This includes drop schemes for peaches, Munson grapes, plums, asian pears and many more apples. In the future, I’m looking forward to helping more Northern people out in HogTree-like quests, but only after I help my people in the South, first. Stay tuned for an announcement by the North American Fruit Explorers (NAFEX) via their facebook page and website, as well as on here, for when the scanned Pomonas will be available for members to search!

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7.) Nursery Tree Business: 

Hicks Everbearing Mulberry and Stubbs Announcement:

Due to all the rain in May and June, I had a 100% graft failure rate for all mulberry nursery trees planted in the ground. 10-20 inches of rain caused every single graft to blow out of the rootstock. 2000 failed grafts, to be exact.

The in-ground mulberry rootstocks are doing just fine, however, and some are already up to 10 feet in height. Despite any found history or knowledge on summer budding mulberry with green budwood, we went for it and all looks well. I hired one of the best grafters in the country to help me and he is still optimistic about it all. If this doesn’t work, we’ll chip bud with dormant wood next summer.

This will delay the Hicks and Stubbs tree availability until early winter 2019/late winter 2020. Cross your fingers, folks. Once they are ready for shipping, they will be on 3 year old roots and will be extremely vigorous once planted in their new home. Lots of lessons learned on this one… like, mulberries are NOT APPLES (lol). Despite the financial hit/delay I’ve had to take this year with this setback, nothing has been lost other than time, energy and a lot of scion. So stay tuned! I’m looking forward to supplying loads of everbearing mulberries to farms across the country. #hogtree

8.) Planting Trees:

This winter I’m planting lots of rootstocks. I’m not bothering with planting grafted trees because the risk is far too high for deer destruction, and therefore waisted money. I plan to graft these trees above browse height once they get that tall, that way it’s only 1-2 dollars lost at most if the deer get in (which they probably will).

9.) Next Year’s Pigs:

The farm partners and I are already excited about getting pigs for next year. Perhaps we’ll get 24 ;-). I’ve had great success with David Crafton (of Six Oaks Farm)’s pastured pigs. I received 11 heritage cross pigs (tamworth x large black, blue butt x large black) from him this year and they have been great. I have also raised berkshire hogs this year that came from a local guy and the difference is day and night in terms of foraging. David’s hogs come ready to eat blackberries, any tree leaves you throw at them, grass, etc. Those poor berkshires still don’t really get it and rely mostly on fermented feed.

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One thing of note about receiving pigs. YOU HAD BETTER MAKE AN AREA AS TIGHT AS POSSIBLE OR ELSE YOU WILL BE CHASING LITTLE PIGS FOR HOURS. Assume they can escape through anything, because they can. I even had one jump through a hog panel and then 3 others followed. I have spent far too many hours this year chasing pigs BUT I’m in pretty decent shape as a result. Pig cardio can be a thing.

**Apologies for the largely sepia tint to these photos. I put a blue light blocker on my computer and it snap shots the photos this way. At least you won’t be killing your eyes looking at my pictures!