Why Wild Apples Matter in Your Orchard // Scion Wood Orders Open

Happy New Year, friends! After an amazing, abundant, challenging year of work and play in the world of apples, we have arrived at the helm of a new year, a new chance, a new go-round the sun. I resolve in 2018 to write more regularly, and to better document the work I do for orchards and wild apple trees so that my followers can be better served while reading about apples here at Gnarly Pippins. I hope that I can meet, work, and teach more of you this year, and I wish you all the best tidings.

★★★ FURTHER ALONG IN THIS POST YOU WILL FIND INFO ON THE GNARLY PIPPINS 2018 SCION WOOD ORDER FORM ★★★

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Proud moment from 2017: delivering a talk at Franklin County Cider Days on exploration for Lost Apples of the Quabbin Project.

I stumbled across this article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette by Sarah Roberston, and was taken by how topical it is to the conversation Gnarly Pippins frequently engages in. The article chronicles some hundreds of thousands of dollars in  state-awarded grants to several farms in western Massachusetts, one of which is Phoenix Fruit Farm, an orchard primarily planted in apples. The grants will allow the farmers to — here it is, description provided by the state government —  “prevent or mitigate direct impacts on water and air quality and ensure efficient water use.” This is a very honorable cause that the state of Massachusetts has undertaken, but it seems like a huge claim! To prevent impacts on water and air quality due to the production of food in a  changing climate is a herculean task. When it comes to orchard management, there are so many more variables at work than those which can be controlled in irrigation, weed control, pest management or any of the other inputs which go into the modern production of tree fruit. There are systemic changes which must be made in order to form a holistic approach in addressing changing climate.

Ellie Vaughan, owner of Phoenix Fruit Farm touches on the more fundamental changes necessary in the orchard regime: “warming temperatures will make the New England climate less hospitable to the region’s traditional apple orchards, but more suitable for southern fruits like the pears and peaches [she] plans to plant,” (Robertson 2017). Modifying orchard plantings to better fit the growing conditions is the first step in the right direction. We’re talking about cultural change here! Big things! However, I disagree with with Phoenix Farm in just how we may best be doing so. Of course some of the more sensitive stone fruits, such as nectarines, peaches, plums, cherries (and more) should be more successful in a warmer New England. Apple orchards can maintain their resiliency and reliability amidst climate instability if we eschew mundane and hackneyed apple varieties commonly grown (and commonly stifled by climatic irregularity) in place of place-based wild varieties that are found to have vigorous tree health, consistent bearing capability, disease resistance, drought tolerance, unique qualities, and usefulness. We must remember that global warming, though it follows a general trend of warming, doesn’t actually surface in that way as regularly as we experience general instability. And it is instability which tree fruit are really unable to manage the effects of.

Inputs for Wild vs. Cultivated Apples 

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Humongous wild apple tree holding a crop of yellow fruit in late October, incredible hardiness. See below image and description for details.

In discussion about sustainable agriculture, I like to quantify crop suitably in terms of volume of inputs. Irrigation, pesticide, herbicide, fungicide, frost prevention, and labor are all inputs. In order to be an environmentally sustainable grower, it should be your mission to minimize any of these inputs that contribute to the pollution of air, or water in carbon emissions or chemical contact with soil and watersheds. So, with that in mind , the reframing of varietal selection is not only a conversation about selection of apples, it’s a matter of considering what inputs may be eliminated in growing crops in a changing climate; not by choice but by necessity imposed by mother nature!

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Take a look at these apples: this photo was taken in November, after the tree had lost most of its fruit, though some still held on. The only adversity this fruit is showing, in terms of its value, was that some of the drops had begun to blet and rot. Other than occasional cosmetic blotchiness and pest marks, these apples are clean and pristine. This was in an area with lots of disease inoculum and pest pressure from neighboring apple trees and orchards. Luckily, this is NOT a total anomaly.

It may seem like a pipedream to have varieties of tree that would seemingly be impervious to the needs that other modern varieties have demonstrated a need for. But it is perfectly clear when you consider that commercially popular tree fruit varieties were developed in conventional, high intensity, high-input growing systems which cannot be considered sustainable. Wild apples, on the other hand, grow in sheer total utter neglect. By virtue of natural selection, many of these genetic lines of apple trees have developed resistance or partial resistance to a number of common maladies or climatic stress. Any diehard apple forager or apple explorer will have stories about their trusty wild apple trees. Just refer to Ch. 5 of the  Wild apple Forager’s guide for proof!

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Shot from section 5 of The Wild Apple Forager’s Guide. Pick up your Winter Reading! Buy button below.

 
Buy Now Button –
The Wild Apple Forager’s Guide

 

WILD APPLE SCION WOOD AVAILABLE FOR ORDER

An opportunity that I’m excited to provide is the ability to grow choice cultivars of wild apples that I have selected carefully over the past several seasons. This is the inaugural year that I’ll be offering scion wood, and I couldn’t be more excited. These trees have been selected for their high quality fruit, disease resistance, and ability to grow and thrive in compromising environments. I am recommending these trees as prime candidates to be grown with minimal- or no-intervention growing practices.

In this catalogue, you’ll find 16 seedling apples, 1 seedling pear, and a handful of cultivated heirloom apples. There are plenty of choices within, you’ll find fruits that are prime for all purposes: fresh use, baking, hard cider, savory cooking, sauce, and storage. Below is the clickable link, ordering instructions, pricing, and shipping information are contained therein. Enjoy.

GNARLY PIPPINS 2018 SCION ORDER FORM

It is imperative that we consider the impact of the food we are producing and consuming. There is always room for improvement! We can always make our food systems less demanding of resources. Wild apples in orchards big and small, commercial or personal, cider or culinary, make a tremendous difference. It is more important now than ever, when we are facing the (un)foreseen consequences of global warming in our food systems. Apples can make a big dent in how we tackle these issues! I hope that you consider a few sticks or bundles of wild apple scion wood for your 2018 Spring Grafting projects.

CIDER OF THE WEEK

This is a new item in my blog posts, but another regularity that I will continue in 2018. Each post, I will review a commercially available hard cider, ideally made with wild apples. Here’s #1: Shacksbury 2016 Pét Nat Farmhouse Cider

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This cider is made from wild apples foraged in Vermont. This type of cider (pét nat = pétillant naturel) is one of the oldest ways of obtaining natural effervescence in bottle: the cider is bottled before initial fermentation has been completed, so the CO2 produced by yeast in the last bit of fermentation is trapped in solution. This cider was let to cellar for 1 year, and in that time, enough gas hadbuilt up that we had a bit of gushing action upon opening! Most would consider this  a flaw but I am not one to judge! Especially after we’d tasted it. An aggressively sparkling cider, dark amber in hue, the aroma of ripe apples, a touch of the funk billowed up from the glass. Extra dry, but retaining floral character on top of a pleasant mineral backbone. This is my type of cider: one of the best I’ve tasted in a long while. I give it a 10/10! If you can find one of these bottles (which are becoming a bit rare!), it is worth every penny. Great with a meal, or solo, it stands out as a knockout cider. Coincidentally, one of Shacksbury’s main source of wild apples is Yoder Farm, Danby VT. They have appeared in prior blog posts in discussions about wild apple groves, and it makes this cider so much better to me, knowing the place where it comes from so well.

 

Be well apple folks. Until next time!

Matt // Gnarly Pippins

3 thoughts on “Why Wild Apples Matter in Your Orchard // Scion Wood Orders Open

  1. You’re doing great work Matt. I’m so glad to see someone else openly discussing an ecologically minded direction for tree fruits. Despite all the good people doing good work out there for regenerative farming practices, usually when I try to talk about encouraging genetic diversity in the orchard, nearly everyone winces and thinks I’ve gone down some kind of eco-woo-woo rabbit hole. I’m sure more people will see the economic light when fossil fuels and all the ag inputs made from oil start to double and triple in price. Peak oil is quite sadly still controversial.

    A few questions for you:
    Do you still need to graft the wild scion wood to modern established rootstock? I don’t know much about the modern rootstocks except that people treat them as the only way to go, are there alternatives for the “holistic” orchard?
    It seems like you’ve gotten to know these wild varieties quite well. Could/would you organize a whole orchard around them and would you still organize them in typical rows? Could you plant the rows of wild varieties based on expected harvest time for efficiency?
    Are there any of these varieties you’d recommend for super low maintenance, hardy storage apple for my aging, but still actively gardening parents?

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Trevor. Don’t let people who frame agriculture more conventionally get you down or trouble your ways of thinking. As you said, when the going gets a bit rougher for growers due to scarcity and higher costs of artificial fertility and chemicals, folks may see the light. For now, I say that we’re in a period of “cultural shift incoming,” (to quote a wiser orchardist than I). Keep these dialogues going, Trevor!

      To answer your questions:
      1). No, you don’t need to graft wild scion wood to modern, standardized rootstock. Many folks only use these standard nursery stock choices for rootstock because they actually provide many advantages in terms of blight and disease control. Resistance to crown rot, root rot, and fire blight, are a few commonplace immunities of Geneva and Malling series rootstocks (the most popular in N America.) However, many folks ignore the fact that seedling rootstock (stock grown from a seed) is actually the longest lived, and potentially (depending on seedling parentage), some of the hardiest and best adapted roostock. Of course seedling stock will most likely grow to full size eventually (35-40ft unchecked), so that’s a limitation. It is certainly a cheaper route to run than nursery stock, but it will afford you a bit extra time to get going (you’ll need to nurse seedlings for 1-2 years before grafting a scion onto them. This is a short description of starting your own nursery.) There are some nurseries that actually sell established seedling apple trees that you may do with as you please (rootstock, ahem), but I’d recommend trying to find those as closely locally as possible for adaptation’s sake.
      2). You could definitely plant these in a typical orchard layout in ripening order. These varieties are apples just like all the others you’ve heard the names of before. All apples that we value as heirlooms, modern varieties, etc, all originated as pippins. At one point, they were discovered by a person, evaluated as being useful in some way, and they named them and promulgated them. The difference between those apples and the ones you’ll find in the Gnarly Pippins catalogue is time: these are most recently discovered and have yet to really disperse into a larger community of growers.
      3). My best recommendation for a super low maintenance, hardy storage apple in my catalogue would be the Deerhide Russet. It is a great disease-free grower. Russets in general, I have found, are very tough soldiers. This variety will not be as adversely affected by scab, and will resist rot, even when they drop to the understory. I have kept a bushel of these apples out in a box in my kitchen (room temperature) for a month and a half after harvest without any degradation other than a slight amount of give under the thumb and forefinger. In refrigerated storage they will be much better off though and I’d expect they keep for longer yet. They grow to full size, rather than some other smaller crabapple items in the catalogue which store well too.

      Hope this helps!
      Matt // Gnarly Pips

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