Topworking (top grafting) trees, my ciderdays presentation

https://youtu.be/8e2TaSDjM7w

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What you, the potential applicant, should know about the Fox Haven Organic Farm Job Posting.

First and foremost, DO NOT APPLY FOR THIS JOB, and spread the word to others who might have been interested or have already applied. It is a false write up, as the farm doesn’t really exist outside of an unsustainable hay operation, some blackberries/asparagus on a removed and highly erodible site, and a lease of 50 acres to a dairy farmer. The farm does not know what they want or where they are headed and you’ll find yourself  part of a buzzword fairytale told by the landowner on capitol hill.

What does the farm actually entail?

900 acres of land, with most of the riparian areas being planted in CREP trees (the landowner received millions of dollars in government funding to take marginal farmland and plant it into trees). Most of this marginal farmland is perfect for agroforestry orchards, and could have been expanded under EQIP, however the large majority of these plantings are accompanied by restrictive easements, which won’t allow you the farmer to use these plantings for agroforestry or any human use other than timber down the line. The trees aren’t planted for timber, so future forestry opportunities are limited. 

Around 100 acres of hay (I’m not exactly sure) of declining quality, which I’d guess has never been amended. The soil on these hayfields likely has been compacted and could be accompanied by a hardpan from the repeated use of large haying equipment over the past two decades. Up until recently, the hay was all sold off site to an organic dairy. However due to the poor quality, even the dairy farmer is only buying a portion of this year’s crop.

A new tractor was bought last month, picked out by the octogenarian farm manager. There was no consideration of a farmer actually needing to use it for farming purposes. It only suits his need to mow all day, every day. It can’t pull a small subsoiling keyline plow, nor a tree planter. There is a BCS walk behind tractor with a mower, tiller and snowblower implement. Ask for any other implements and you’ll get the story about how the owner has to stop spending money. Ask for pallet forks for the tractor, you’ll get the same story. Nevermind the fact that you’ll have to fight tooth and nail even to drive the tractor, despite previous experience. 

There is a “production garden” which is the only place on the farm with irrigation potential. There is no fence, deer and rabbits are everywhere, it’s a removed location without electricity (so no hope for a packing shed or storage), and on a VERY windy site. So windy, in fact, that someone once tried to put a wind turbine on that site (rumor says it  fell apart into pieces). I planted garlic there last year and all of my mulch blew off, along with some of the soil. You’d be best off using plastic in order to grow crops on this site, but if we’re talking “permaculture” or “regenerative ag” or any other buzzword listed in the job posting, you won’t be able to farm on this spot with a clear conscience. There is a hoop house at the production garden, where the sides don’t roll up and there’s no ventilation other than the doors on either end, rendering it difficult to manage. The two things going for this site are asparagus and blackberries planted by the former farmer, which is the only part of this site the prospective farmer should consider, in my opinion. However: no fencing, deer are rampant, rabbits abound. You’ll see a stunted blueberry planting on this site, as it has been browsed from day one. Fencing was another item asked for by the farmers and fell to the same fate as the implements.

Cold storage is in the learning center barn, a 6 x 8 room run by a coolbot that marginally works miles away from the production garden. 

Housing for me, the past farmer, was nearly impossible. My advice to you is to NEVER consider living/renting on site if there is space. The owner will walk in the house uninvited, snoop around your yard without notice, complain to others about your own personal projects happening on the property you are leasing/renting (read: paying rent, which started out at 1200/month plus utilities), allow people to enter the property late at night or anytime of day to take firewood/access the barn for sweat lodge purposes. The owner will try and claim your belongings for her own, like potted trees, chickens, and a compost pile. As a tenant at Touchstone house, you will be harassed in one way or another. If you come with a partner, this will put a huge stress on your relationship. Bickering back and forth constantly about what rights you have, how you are being violated by the landlord, and why you should/shouldn’t move away. Oh, there are also illegal animals on the property where you may be asked to live, which appear to be kept as pets (they have names). The wild animals have been kept there for 2 years and no matter how hard you try and protest them being there, they are still there bringing you paranoia and loads of continual discomfort. That’s another form of harassment. 

The farm is a distinct entity, separate from the Learning Center. This is important. The Learning Center is a non-profit organization which does a lot of good with teaching cool classes and hosting events. It consists of 12 acres and is home to a 2 acre heirloom orchard (I planted it before I took the farm job), a defunct american chestnut breeding orchard (a small percentage of the trees remain and they are dying), and a beautiful herb garden which functions as a community space (bean collective)/herb CSA. The orchard and herb garden are the only spots anywhere on the 900 acres which have a fence. But they are not part of the farm, and will not be in the future as there are large strides being made to separate the two for legal reasons. This is, in part, why the job announcement is so false. The organic farm is not comprised of orchards and community gardens and classes and events. That’s the learning center, which is a non profit governed by a board (but only sort of). In reality, the owner of Fox Haven has had a habit of making decisions in defiance of the board’s decisions (which causes stress, disgruntled employees, confusion, stalled momentum). Unlike the learning center, the organic farm is completely under the owner’s impulsive control, and that is reason alone to walk away. An example of impulsive: You’ll get called last minute into a farm meeting to talk about growing kale for the community, days after you had a meeting with a facilitator, employees and owner, explicitly stating that no talks of that nature were to happen until larger goals were sussed out for the farm. When you express the need to stick to the plan agreed upon by everyone, you’ll become a target of obsession by the owner, who will cross boundaries from your work life into your personal/tenant life and try to nit pick you into submission.

Still think you maybe can make it work? Reach out to me, I’ll connect you with others who will tell you about their experiences at Fox Haven Farm. It’s not just me who has been tricked by delusions of grandeur and then terribly burned.

***Disclaimer: I was fired 3 weeks ago from this job, where I made $15/hour and couldn’t make a penny more (capped at 40 hours a week). Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll make 50-60k. The goal was to design and plant orchards (agroforestry-oriented) and then lease that land when the trees started to produce. The idea was that in lease fees and a percentage of the crop, the trees and labor would pay for themselves and start to make a profit over time. There would also be space integrated within these systems to allow for annual agricultural leases from other people. This is why I was hired. I was also hired to eventually take over for the octogenarian farm manager, who was described to me as “old school” and only farms from atop a tractor. He wasn’t in the loop when I was hired, and he repeatedly threw me under the bus in order to keep his job. Though I don’t know why I was fired (Maryland is an at-will state), I was told that if they would have known that it would take trees 5 years to start producing money, the farm manager would have never brought me on in the first place. This is an example of how dysfunctional Fox Haven Farm is. You bring someone on to create an agroforestry system on site and then let them go, citing how waiting 5 years for trees to start making an income is a poor business decision for a so called regenerative/permaculture farm.  Though I am upset about being fired, this post is to bring awareness to anyone considering this job posting. The take home message is: Do not pursue it. How many times must someone be a beginning farmer? This position will only perpetuate the cycle, especially if you are a perennial farmer. Seek elsewhere, somewhere that has concrete goals and visions. I was naive in thinking that I would be different than the other farmers before me who were kicked off for no apparent reason. Don’t repeat our mistakes. Do not pursue this job posting. Be well

Job Description is below in case they take it off of Indeed.com and it resurfaces later in one form or another.

Organic Farm Manager
Fox Haven Organic Farm and Learning CenterFrederick, MD

$50,000 – $60,000 a year
Fox Haven Farm seeks organic farmer/gardener to manage the farm and finances with experience in sustainable, regenerative agriculture, permaculture, and managing the business of running a farm.

Qualifications:

* extensive knowledge and experience with organic farming

* minimum of 2-year’s experience of managing an organic farm as a business

* experience organizing a community garden, and managing people

* flexible and cooperative personality, open mind, open heart and practical skills

* motivated to make the world better, provide alternatives and influence thought leaders

Salary is dependent upon experience

Fox Haven is an organic farm, ecological retreat and learning center, wildlife sanctuary and nature preserve. We seek to live in harmony with the natural world, balance ourselves and reconnect with nature. Grounded in nature, we hope to build right relationship with the living earth. Just an hour’s drive from the nation’s capitol, we are well aware of global environmental problems like climate change and shrinking biodiversity and we offer local solutions to global problems. We are modeling sustainable systems that don’t destroy life on the massive scale that is now happening and do it in a way that can be replicated and serve as a model for government officials coming to Fox Haven looking for workable alternatives.

Fox Haven Farm models innovative agricultural practices that are sustainable and can make a difference; permaculture, biodynamic farming bringing spirit into the cultivation of the land, installing solar panels on the barn roof to reduce use of fossil fuels, planting thousands of native trees to slow soil erosion, working with the American Chestnut Foundation to grow out blight resistant Chestnut trees, grafting heirloom apple and pear trees, building nutrient rich black soil by rotational grazing of cattle, sequestering carbon in the soil, cover crops, composting, preserving wetlands and wildlife habitat, keeping bees, using holistic management to balance all the parts with the whole. By modeling innovative organic farming practices that are alternatives to chemically intensive industrial agriculture, free of GMO’s and toxic chemical pesticides, we are part of the solution to collapsing ecosystems.

Fox Haven Learning Center is a gathering place for people seeking innovative and systemic solutions to the complex environmental problems threatening our planet. We offer workshops in permaculture design, bee keeping, mushroom cultivation, mycelium running,

fermentation, finding wild edible foods, foraging, syrup making, children’s programs exploring nature, growing herbs and making tinctures, oils, cooking vegetables fresh from the community

garden, cultivating the inner and outer ecology of health. We are looking to find someone who has the ability to make real the potential of Fox Haven and has the spiritual capacity to hold a field of compassion and gratitude to serve the local community.

Fox Haven is also an ecological retreat, safe haven for environmental groups in Wash DC for rest, relaxation, recuperation and regeneration, to take time to appreciate the beauty of pristine nature they are working to save. It has been used as a think tank bringing together thought leaders from different fields to talk and conceptually create sustainable systems by learning from nature. It offers a place, a salon for conversations, to answer the question, “What would nature do?” about man made systems that were well intentioned and appropriate at the time they were set up but have since become outdated and destructive. How could we create an ecological system of governance based on natural living systems instead of the mechanistic, polarized, competitive government we now have that pits Democrats against Republicans? Can we learn to live in harmony with nature?

If we want to learn how to create sustainable systems, we can learn from nature. There is no better teacher than nature. She’s been at it for eons. The complex, intricate, interdependent relationships and patterns in the natural world are stupendous and we are just beginning to understand the dynamic complexity of living systems.

Inspired by the genius of nature, Fox Haven seeks to live in harmony with the natural world with reverence for all life. So at Fox Haven, nature is our teacher and inspiration as we study how things work in the natural world. We are learning how to work with the forces of nature; sun, rain, wind, gravity and growing plants. We are fascinated by the mutually beneficial relationships and cooperation that make nature so abundant, bountiful and beautiful. We share this sense of wonder with all those who come to Fox Haven, to learn from nature and be part of the solution.

Job Type: Full-time

Salary: $50,000.00 to $60,000.00 /year

Required experience:

  • farming: 2 years

The Holy Grail of Apple Nerdery is Here…

When I apprenticed for John Bunker in Maine, one of my paid gigs was to help create an online apple key. All summer and fall, I entered apple descriptions into the computer from a gigantic three ring binder containing 16,000+ apple varieties. That three ring binder was Dan Bussey’s book, version 1 of The Illustrated History of Apples in the United States and Canada….in size 5 font with no pictures.  I didn’t even make it out of the B’s that year.

The Illustrated History of Apples in the United States and Canada

7 years later, the day has come for this 7 VOLUME SET to now be available for purchase and hugging. This, friends, is truly the holy grail of apple nerdery. And it’s affordable at $350 (which includes shipping). Don’t believe me? Try buying an original copy of Apples of New York Volumes 1 and 2. (and you only get 2 volumes compared with 7)

I just bought a set and thought I’d share it on this blog because I’m excited about it and want Dan to sell thousands of volumes. With the exception of William Cox’s A View of the Cultivation of Fruit Trees (which I’ll probably never own a real copy of), I’m fairly certain my heirloom apple library is now complete with this acquisition.

Wondering what to get that special someone in your life who enjoys apples? Why not get them the most overwhelming 7 volume set of apples you possibly can this year. The pictures alone are worth the $350.

Dwarfing Mulberries: An Afternoon with Dr. A.J. Bullard

“Over here are the mulberries. This one is a pure Morus rubra that produces 2 inch fruits.” “Liza. Can you tell me what is different about this tree?”

This is the way of Dr. A.J. Bullard. He playfully taunts you with little snippets from his 70+ years of tree knowledge and then immediately follows it up by asking you seemingly impossible questions. “What is different about this tree?” 

Dr. A.J. Bullard isn’t a former horticultural professor, but a former baseball player and Dentist who is a botanical wiz. He reads botanical textbooks and then writes letters consisting of page upon page of single spaced revisions and fact checking to the authors. The most common complaint he voiced to me in reading these texts was how everyone seems to copy information from book to book rather than doing the research for themselves. Dr. Bullard is that man, the guy who has studied the intricacies of the Southeastern plant world so thoroughly and in real life that he often receives identification questions which have stumped the arboretums and universities (and he figures them out).

I didn’t know this about A.J when I went to visit him. I knew of him as the former president of the North American Fruit Explorers (NAFEX) who probably knows more about mulberries than anyone in the US. His knowledge is integral to the advancement of mulberries as a tree crop in the United States.

This blog post/essay is in relation to a running conversation about mulberries that I’ve had with A.J ever since we met (my boyfriend would tell you that I talk to A.J on the phone more than I talked to him when we first started dating).  The full conversation will be in the form of a presentation at this year’s annual NAFEX/NNGA conference in Tifton, Georgia. Among the multitudes of reasons why you should be there, hearing A.J. talk is one very, very good reason.


“What is different about this tree?” 

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Slowly, we approached the above pictured mulberry tree and he asks us again: “What is different about this mulberry tree?” I think on it for a bit and come up with nothing, so he asks again. “What do you see that is different with this tree?” I got nothing, A.J. No idea. “What about the height? It’s no taller than 12 feet,” he says. Ah, right…mulberries aren’t normally 12 feet tall unless they are a naturally dwarfing cultivar. “Correct!” “What if I told you this wasn’t a dwarf cultivar? What if I told you that I have figured out how to dwarf mulberries?”

Dear readers- Have you ever had your mind blown? It’s a flooding of immense realization and wonder and excitement, all at the same time. What I’m about to tell you not only blew my mind, but in a strange way paralleled my own exploits.

Dwarfing trees is a huge deal these days. Thousands and thousands of orchard acres are getting converted yearly into dwarfing orchards because 1.) more trees per acre=more fruit per acre 2.) smaller trees are easier and cheaper to manage/harvest. If you pick up an fruit industry magazine, there’s usually a very good chance of the magazine featuring one article on the promise of better dwarfing rootstock for pears/cherries/peaches/name fruit tree in the coming years because that’s where the industry is headed. However, there are some downsides to all of this and it’s usually in these three sectors: Costs (because trellis systems or support posts are expensive, Longevity (dwarfing rootstocks are shorter lived, maybe 25 years), and Input (these trees require tending from humans or else they’ll suffer and/or die).

What A.J has done to get dwarfing mulberries would allow an orchardist to fit close to 200 mulberry trees per acre. It costs less than, say, planting the same number of apple trees per acre on an m26 rootstock (semi-dwarfing) because the trees you plant are able to stand up without the need for support posts. They are longer lived (the trees pictured are 40 years old). And there are no chemical or water inputs necessary (other than establishment necessities).

Mulberry trees are naturally tall for fruit trees, usually around 30 feet or more (for M.alba and M.alba x M.rubra hybrids). Given the standard size, if you were to prune heavily every year, you could probably fit 70 trees per acre (more like 40 trees per acre if you didn’t prune heavily). With Dr. Bullard’s dwarfing methods, you could likely plant 3-5 times that amount per acre. Which, just to throw it out there, would be an incredible set up not only for people wanting to sell mulberries, but also for pastured chicken or pastured pork operations (more about that later).

Alright, so what goes into Bullard’s dwarfing methods? Note: What I’m about to discuss is only an hypothesis. We don’t know what is actually going on, but this is our best guess. Well, we think the name of the game is incompatibility. If you study the history of apple rootstocks like I have, it’s only a matter of time until you start to come across accounts of rootstocks (aka, the roots to which you graft your cultivar/scion/variety) imparting various characteristics into the cultivar/variety (here’s a fun essay on the subject I wrote last December). Some characteristics include a change in flavor, tree size, fruit size, disease resistance, yields, and death, among other things. Some of these characteristics (like death) are deemed incompatibilities. Keep this in mind.

Alright, so what did A.J do?

He took Morus alba (white mulberry- brought over from Russia in the 1600’s for silk production) and to it, he grafted Morus rubra (red mulberry-our native mulberry) or a rubra x alba hybrid. He planted the grafted trees in pots and let the rubra send out a vigorous shoot. Then he tightly wrapped a copper wire just above the graft union and buried the whole tree, leaving a small amount above ground. What grew up from there became a dwarf mulberry tree. Across the boards. At one point in time, he had an orchard of around 150 cultivars and he employed this method to fit them all into his yard. If you look at the above picture, you’ll see other dwarfed mulberry trees- all different cultivars.

He put the trees on their own roots using a method very similar to the one I made up 2 years ago (which you can read about in this essay). That’s part of the reason why my mind was blown, because I’ve been down this rabbit hole before with apples; only with A.J I got a chance to see a glimpse of what the future could possibly look like for my experiments. And also, there are major agricultural implications for this (a later essay).

Why does it work? We’re not totally sure, but we both think it could be some form of incompatibility transferred from the M. alba into the M.rubra which imbedded itself into the scion/variety/cultivar by the time the rootstock/nurse root girdled off and the tree was on it’s own roots. That incompatibility caused dwarfing. If you look at the ground where tree hits soil, you’ll see a bulge. Perhaps that’s where the vigor went.

Anyways- this is all very exciting and details of all of this, including how exactly to do it (which I’m doing as we speak) will happen this year at the NAFEX annual meeting in Tifton, Georgia.

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I’m Hosting a FREE Workshop on How to Become a Guerrilla Grafter (aka, topworking)

Hi folks!

Do you want to learn how to take one of those invasive bradford pear trees the landscaper planted along your driveway and turn it into an Asian or European pear tree? How about turning your red delicious tree that you accidentally planted from Home Depot into a vibrant heirloom cultivar? Or change over a native persimmon tree seedling, or a Chinese chestnut, or a black walnut, or… you name it, really. Want to learn these skills for free in exchange for a few hours of sweat equity and camaraderie? Do I have the opportunity for youuuu!

APRIL 1st and 2nd (12:30-5ish) in Jefferson Maryland!!! Yes, I know that’s only 2 weeks away, but I was worried that my window for doing this wouldn’t be viable over those dates due to February’s summer temperatures. Fret not, we have plenty of time.  Come one, come all… learn the skills necessary to become true guerrilla grafters.

The PROJECT:   I will be hosting a Guerrilla Grafting party in order to convert as many bradford pears on our farm over to asian pears as possible within a 2 day period. Here’s a map for most of the trees:

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What will this event look like?

1.) You show up with friends, a grafting knife, a finer-toothed (pruning) saw, and clothes that can get some paint on them. A step ladder and hammer would also be good if you can bring them.

2.) I give you quality instruction and inspiration for guerrilla grafting. Then I pair you up and send you to a bradford pear sector to get your graft on.

3.) You leave with the skills and confidence necessary to guerrilla graft!

4.) A special bonus for helping- In 2018, I’ll supply you with moderate amounts of asian pear scionwood ($3.50/foot street value) to go off into the wild/suburbs/urban areas and turn bradford pears into asian pears.

INTERESTED? If so- fill out this google form.

Need a knife? Indicate on the google form (or email me) AND PAY for the knife via paypal on this blog and I’ll get you one for $15 bucks.

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The Ecosystem Orchard: A New Orchard Aesthetic

Excellent blog post by fellow apple grower Mike Biltonen of Know Your Roots!

The Ecosystem Orchard

For well over 100 years, orchardists and researchers alike have been striving for ways to make orchards more productive, efficient, and profitable. And while the story doesn’t begin with England’s East Malling and Long Ashton (EMLA) Research Stations, the modern chapters of dwarf fruit tree production certainly do. The East Malling research station was established in 1913 as a way to “study the problems which are met with in the actual culture of fruit trees and bushes.” Though not limited to development of dwarf rootstocks, its establishment launched the orchard world down a path that has resulted in smaller and smaller trees, planted in increasingly higher densities, requiring greater inputs of resources, pesticides, and money. And there is no doubt these technological advancements have led to greater productivity, cosmetic fruit quality, and profitability. But at the same time they’ve gutted the heart and soul from fruit orchards, reducing overall biodiversity…

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WOMEN NEEDED for March 4th & 5th Grafting Workshops- UPDATE to the UPDATE

THE MARCH 4TH AND 5TH CLASSES ARE FULL!!! HOWEVER….

The classes are man-heavy and I’d like to see more of a gender balance in these workshops. I’ve decided to enlarge each of these classes (March 4th and 5th) by 6 participants and those spots are only for women (or those who identify as women). What would it take to get you to this workshop (or future workshops), ladies? Whatever it will take to get you here, I want to know. Please fill out this form!

Say you bought an apple tree at Home Depot. It was a red delicious and you got one hell of a deal (maybe $10 dollars or so). You’re excited because the tree is cheap and soon you’ll have arm-fulls of apples from you own backyard.

Red Delicious.jpg

Well, this is all well and good until you taste these apples and find out what an awful mistake you made. Especially when you sneak over to your neighbor’s yard and try one of the apples off of their trees. You ask them what it is and they’ve forgotten, so you’re sad that you’ll never be able to buy another tree like it. You can either cry as you’re eating your gross red delicious apples, or rejoice because there is hope for you yet!

!!! I CAN TEACH YOU HOW TO TAKE A CUTTING OFF OF YOUR FAVORITE TREE AND MAKE YOUR OWN TREE FOR WAY LESS THAN WHAT HOME DEPOT CHARGES!!!

That’s basically what this workshop is all about. Sign up and I’ll not only teach you the nuts and bolts of grafting an apple tree for far less than $10, but you’ll go home with 2 trees.

With the skills I’m going to teach you, you will be able capture the fruit or ornamental qualities of whatever trees you desire and bring them to your own backyard or orchard. You’ve found a tree without any disease that tastes great? No problem! You will soon be able to propagate it. Whoa, look at that bloom! With my guidance you’ll know what to do in order to capture it…

Grafting is seriously one of the most empowering tools you can learn. I mean, it’s basically combining the thrill of creating a Frankenstein with the utility of being able to eat whatever fruit you damn well please from your backyard.

The cost of this workshop? $40 dollars.

What you’ll take home? A lifelong skill which will enable you to capture all the flavors you desire. Also you get 2 trees.

Where will it be held? Jefferson, MD

When will it be held? March 4th (sold out), March 5th from 1 to 4

And who will be leading it? Yours truly, Eliza A. Greenman. Monikers include: Elizapples or the Apple Queen (of Kyrgyzstan).

Sign up now! Spaces are limited!

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Old Orchard Restoration/Pruning 101 Workshop (note: it has been rescheduled for Jan 7th and 8th)

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January 7th & 8th, 2017: Apple Pruning 101 and Abandoned/Old Tree Restoration

*Notice! I have had to change the dates of this workshop due to agreeing to speak at the Horticultural Industries Show Conference in Arkansas. Sorry for the inconvenience!*

Location: Lovettsville, VA and Surrounding Areas
Click HERE to sign up!

This is a 2-day hands-on pruning intensive course which will cover everything you need to tackle an apple tree, young or old…kept or abandoned. Day 1 will cover the basics of pruning, from tree physiology to how to make a pruning cut to the considerations that go into making a cut. We’ll cover all sizes of apple trees from just planted to deer browsed to juvenile to mature trees. The day will end with participants breaking into supervised groups and working on trees. Day 2 will put into action all that we learned the day before, only this time we mean business. We’ll cover how to prune the big, burly, and the old. We’ll also cover top-working (changing a tree over to another variety) and the steps needing to be taken in order to graft a tree over to a new variety in spring. This class will be capped at 20 participants. Cost Per Person: 2 day workshop is $110, 1 day is $70.  Overnight lodging can be made available, ask for more details. In addition to money, work trade and barter are both acceptable means of payment.  CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP! 

Rootstocks: Do they impact flavor?

Earlier this year, as I was doing some research on the effects of grafting apple varieties to Malus angustifolia (southern crabapple), I kept running across interesting accounts of noticeable changes to the apple varieties when grafted to crabapples. One of these changes is in flavor, which is what I’m writing about today.

This is the original snippet that sparked my interest. Why? Because this dude back in the 1800s is telling me that when he took the Bethlehemite apple, a dessert/culinary apple from Ohio, and grafted it to a crabapple rootstock, he got something different from the original variety. The grafted Bethlehemite apple had developed some astringency. Astringency is the key word here.

OMG, DID THIS GUY TURN A DESSERT APPLE INTO A CIDER APPLE BY GRAFTING IT ONTO A CRAB ROOTSTOCK?

This thought has rumbled around in my head for the better part of this year and whenever I had a moment to sit at the computer and not read my emails, I researched this topic a bit more. First, I went back in history (via google books) to find more testimonials of these findings. Here are a few:

1867:

1871:

1873:

1889:

 

I could go on, but there are many, many testimonials in favor of rootstock having a flavorful impact on the grafted variety. There were some naysayers, who basically just said “this can’t be so” and changed the subject. But all in all, my historical research has been in favor of a rootstock’s ability to change flavor in apple varieties.

Eager to pursue this topic, I started looking up scientific papers on the subject and started with this, Cornell’s research on nutrient uptake by different rootstocks.  The thoughts and questions of the horticulturalists back in the 1800s seem to still align with the questions of today, as seen in this conclusion:

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“The ability to match the nutritional requirements of a scion cultivar to a specially tuned rootstock…” COULD, in my opinion, create a cider apple out of a friggin’ dessert fruit.

Positive, I kept up the research and found considerable evidence in citrus fruit that rootstocks can change the flavor of the fruit. Here. Here. And Here.

This study, which looked at an apple rootstock’s impact on triterpene (cancer and immune disease prevention chemical compounds) found this:

“The largest differences in triterpene content were found between rootstocks. The results showed that both at harvest time, and after cold storage except the first harvest time samples, the apples from rootstock MM106 had significantly higher triterpene content compared with those from M9; … Selecting suitable rootstock might increase the triterpene content in apple peel in practice production.”

And this study on different rootstock’s impact on peaches showed that the variety ‘Suncrest’ on Julior (rootstock) and GF677 (rootstock), followed by Ishtara (rootstock), produced fruit with the greatest antioxidant activities and total phenolic contents. The ‘Suncrest’ on Citation (rootstock) and, especially, Barrier1 (rootstock) had reduced nutritional values of the fruit.

WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN? 

Right now, everyone I know who is planting a cider orchard is planting on known rootstocks like the MM series or the Geneva $eries. With these rootstocks, we know what size of tree we’ll get and we generally know when it will start cropping apples. This is valuable information because we want order and sense in our orchards. We also know the disease tolerances of each rootstock, which have been known to convey some resistance to the apple scion, and that’s all well and good. There are many knowns of these rootstocks because they’ve been extensively studied…for dessert fruit. But what about cider fruit? How many rootstocks have been thrown out in university trials for imparting astringency to an apple? Probably a lot. But what if this is what we’re after?!

If someone came to my farm peddling their wares and told me that they could take my dessert apple and turn it into a cider apple with one of their amazing magical rootstocks, I would buy it. I’m sure it would be a hit. This is why we have started in on the private research of grafting apple varieties to different rootstocks for the purpose of flavor/nutrient evaluation (as well as growth influences, which is another blog entry).

Currently, my partner and I have Malus angustifolia (southern crab), Malus baccata (Siberian crab), own-root, M7 and M111 trees grafted in our nursery to the same variety. These will soon get planted out at the farm in an area set up for evaluation. This, I believe, is another untouched frontier whose findings could be incredible for the future of growing superfruits, having value-added rootstocks, and growing with lower inputs.

So far, the science and the observations are there. There’s much more to learn, but why not start in on the fun?