Please consider contributing to a permaculture demonstration orchard at the Leelanau Conservancy-owned DeYoung Farm property. Thank you kindly!
Of the thousands of varieties of apples that exist worldwide, why is it only a few ever make it to the supermarkets across America? The answer isn’t that these varieties taste better, or even that they are easy to grow, it’s simply that they travel well across long distances.
The result of 50+ years of commercial preference has dwindled populations of once popular varieties, in some cases, to the brink of extinction.
Those of us in northern Michigan are fortunate that protected within the boundaries of our beloved national park are old orchards grown on standard stock, still thriving after 100 or more years. Healing Tree Farm is working with the NPS to preserve and propagate some of these varieties. These trees will be grafted by a group of volunteers in the spring of 2014 and planted in a nursery at the DeYoung property.
In addition, HTF is planting an eight acre apple orchard next spring featuring 200 antique and unique varieties collected from trees found outside of the park boundaries. Some of these varieties include: King of Tompkins, Manet, Striped Harvey, Winesap, Sweet Sixteen, Belle de Boskoop, Roxbury Russet, and Wealthy. Grafted on to standard and semi-dwarf stock, these trees may survive to see our great great grand children, with a lineage, in some cases, reaching back more than 400 years.
Each variety has its own story. And each selection of scion wood grafted again propagates more than variety; it lends a voice to each tree.
King of Tompkins County
King of Tompkins County, also known as the “King apple” for its unparalleled vigor and size, was so named by Jacob Wycoff, who brought a grafted tree to Tompkins County, NY in 1804 from Warren County, New Jersey. Though the exact lineage is unknown, an investigation some sixty years later by a horticulturalist named James Mattison, revealed the trees likely originated near the north side of the Musconetcong mountain range.
By 1860, it was being grown in Michigan, but like many varieties was overshadowed by a more industrial approach to fruit growing initiated by the 1940s. Likely the first tree we’ll see produce fruit from cuttings, we’re looking forward to breathing new life into this magnificent variety.
A probable a parent tree of the popular McIntosh apple, the Fameuse, or “snow apple” is a small, but flavorful dessert variety first planted in Canada in the 1600s. What I love most about this sweet little apple is the bright red skin juxtaposed with the bright white flesh. Though a delight, at the beginning of the 20th century it was already scarce.
In a 1907 Ottawa Citizen article titled, “A Doomed Apple,” then vice-president of the Pomological Society of Quebec, CA, R.W. Shepher, said he feared the Fameuse would be permanently superseded by McIntosh. The mac was less likely to bruise when shipped, and held similar appeal.
Fameuse is also found on North Manitou Island, nestled within an orchard planted more than one hundred years earlier by Frederic M. Beauham. Contracting with the Stark Brothers in 1894, this 160 acre orchard is home to nearly 1000 apple trees.
A product of French missionaries in Canada, the Fameuse apple is at least 300 years old. Though planted in other regions of the world, many insist it will only reach its full potential on Canadian soil. Friendly neighbors to Canada, we’re hoping to disprove that biased rumor.
A northern spy cross, the sweet sixteen was developed in 1977 by the University of Minnesota. Though a recent addition, the tree maintains the exquisite flavor, vigor, and disease resistance of an antique variety. We call it the ‘bourbon of apples’ for its heavy spice flavor and aromatic qualities, and we’re excited to see it excel in availability and taste-trials here in northern Michigan. For this apple, the story is just beginning to unfold.
In the coming months, we’ll share more about the varieties coming to Healing Tree Farm at DeYoung and additionally, will offer classes both at DeYoung and Port Oneida in pruning, grafting, and old apple tree restoration. Be well!
We’re not your average farmers- eagerly awaiting a small infestation of aphids, so that we might experiment with solutions to eliminate them from our fruit trees, but there we found ourselves- eager at the sight of them to experiment with more traditional remedies. To prove more to ourselves than anyone else, that we can grow an orchard without chemical salts, fertilizers, and biocides- grow a food forest as nature might.
While nature doesn’t supply us with aphid spray (natural or otherwise), it does supply us with observable phenomena and if we apply this knowledge, rather than change the underlying structure, we can adapt and respond quickly; ensuring successful results.
We noticed not long ago that the tree suffering with curly leaf aphids was showing signs of stress. It had suckered on two occasions, and appeared thirsty. Within days, the aphids arrived.
People often look at aphids as the source of the problem with a plant, much as they might accuse the hungry woodpecker of destroying a tree. However, there are often underlying issues (and thankfully issues more easily resolved if noticed early on), that lead to infestations and disease.
Much as the overworked human might fall ill without rest and proper nutrition, and the tree, death by dismemberment, due to infestations of insects that attract woodpeckers, our trees will also suffer the consequences of illness, if not paired with good soil and adequate water.
Simply put, healthy trees stave off their own health issues. And trees interplanted with habitat for predatory insects that might feast on aphids, are at a huge advantage.
So apart from spraying a solution of peppermint oil, a soil conditioner, plus water (completely non-toxic), I also spent some extra time watering this particular tree and will interplant with some chives and comfrey in the next few days for added mulch and resistance to other aphid populations.
Normally, these trees would have been planted in an ideal mix of soil, mulched properly, and interplanted to start, however time constraints prevented us from first achieving the ideal conditions. What we hope to harvest from these trees, apart from eagerly anticipated apples and pears, is knowledge that may be applied in conventional orchards to replace costly and dangerous biocides.
“In teaching, there is healing; and in healing, we teach.”
I’ve been brainstorming ideas to make this blog more effective and I’ve decided to build a website around topics discussed on the blog while maintaining the blog as a central forum for discussion and ideas. The website will offer resources to folks new to permaculture and also those more familiar with the “do no harm” approach to farming, including helpful links and articles written by me and those more familiar with the process.
Since we’re landless, we’ll be propagating a new kind of garden – with vital seeds of change – online!
Once we have allowed for ample decomposition and the accumulation of multiple nitrogen/carbon-rich layers of biomass along with a healthy number of lively microbes, planting may begin. Really, what you plant within your guilds is completely up to you, but there are some general guidelines to consider and you may go as deep into these as you’d like. Permaculture can be quite the scientific endeavor, but it need not be overly complicated in your first attempt. Grow and learn with your guilds.
If you’re planting a fruit-centered guild, think of the tree as your centerpiece. Everything around the tree should compliment the tree. I don’t mean aesthetically, though it will naturally assume a beautiful pattern all its own, but rather compliment in the sense that those things growing around the tree either work with the tree or do not interfere with the tree during major growth cycles.
Cat mint works to attract beneficial bees and insects; comfrey accumulates nutrients and mines for water from deep within the soil and offers medicinal value to humans; grass-suppressing bulbs act as a deterrent for deer and other scavengers while attracting beneficials while the tree is blossoming. One of the most important things these plants share in common is their lack of competition at root level with the fruit-tree. Another is that they supply a food or medicinal source for humans and none of them require much upkeep other than the occasional watering.
In certain cases, there is a very specific and “magical” relationship between plants. Blueberry roots feed off of a specific microbe found in the rhizomes of certain members of the Rhododendron family. Since both of these prefer a lower pH, blueberries and azaleas, for example, may be planted side by side and will establish a harmony all their own over time.
A tree that takes in more nitrogen, might do well with N2-fixing plants such as clover or wild blue indigo. Our mulberry guilds will contain some of these lovely blue accents to benefit the tree, offer some diversity in the guilds and attract insects. The mulberry itself is an excellent food source for both birds and humans and will keep birds interested in the mulberries over your apples or cherries.
I’ll suggest some specific plantings in a future installment. Email/comment with questions.
Once you have built a healthy layer of topsoil, wait a while (like months) while the materials break down and the heat isn’t so intense as to devour the roots of early-plantings. Guild-building is a long project for forward-thinkers. It can be frustrating in that folks who visit our backyard experiment often give us perplexed looks, seeing mostly circular raised beds dotting the landscape. “Give it a year,” I tell them.
We began our guilds in June, but this week we will begin planting bulbs for spring. The bulbs sit higher in the soil and won’t be heavily impacted by the heat rising up from the composting manure. [If you've never stuck your hand in composting manure, (and you probably haven't) it's HOT. When sifting through manure to remove larger rocks, the rocks would surprise us with their heat. I dropped one it was so warm. Like a hot potato (covered in poo).]
I digress… The bulbs are nice because they’ll give you something to enjoy next spring. Beautiful large blooms to squelch any unwarranted criticism from family and friends. AND they double as grass-suppressors, hopefully they’re edible or maybe they deter ground-rodents and deer. The other important element of a fruit-centered guild is that whatever you choose to plant, the roots and functions must be considered carefully.
The roots of a fruit tree extend out one and a half times the diameter of the tree. If you are planting an apple tree, consider the size of the tree once it reaches maturity and adjust your guild-size accordingly (you can always add on later, if necessary). As mentioned earlier, what to plant within your guild depends a lot on the roots and functions of the plants you wish to include within your guild. There are many kinds of bulbs available, but which bulbs offer the most functionality within the guild? Consider:
- which insects/animals these plants attract or deter
- whether or not any part of the plant is edible
- the plant’s vigor and whether or not it will spread
- pH requirements
- the type of root system and where it falls relative to the fruit tree
- when the plant takes in the most nutrients/water
- how and where the plant stores nutrients
- yields and value to humans, medicinal value, environmental impact/value
A dandelion, for example offers a deep taproot that won’t “compete” for nutrients from the tree; it breaks open and oxygenates the soil; it has edible and medicinal roots and leaves and it absorbs a higher level of CO2. Comfrey also has a deep taproot, enormous medicinal value, and stores a high concentration of nutrients in its leaves, so it can be mulched in place and makes a terrific fertilizer. Daffodils are grass-suppressors (they keep the grass roots away from our beloved tree roots); they take in the majority of nutrients in the spring (before the tree); and they deter deer and rodents, but attract beneficial insects to our guilds.
These are just some examples. We’ll talk more about the specific plantings later in our third installment. For now, start thinking about roots and plant functions. Think about the sort of things you would like to grow and research their various functions. Also consider nearby trees. Some trees, like the black walnut, are allopathic to neighboring trees and will deter healthy growth.
Keep in mind, I’m not an expert in permaculture, I’m a student. There’s a lot to learn and as the old adage goes, if you’re not killing some of your plants, you’re probably not learning anything new.
In healing we may teach others and in teaching, we may heal.
I was talking with Sandy at Rennie Orchards about my tree order (he was very helpful in helping me select varieties hardy in our area, but also flavorful). A customer drove up to the barn where we stood talking and purchased some apples. Sandy introduced me and told the customer about all we’re hoping to do at Healing Tree including my cancer and decision to go organic. What made me smile was that our differences in practices didn’t damage our friendship. Instead, we are learning from one another (at this point me from him more than the other way ’round).
It’s easy to point fingers and tell people they’re doing something wrong, but often things are far too complex to insight a reasonable argument. Conventional farming certainly has its purpose for large-scale production and in an area surrounded by cometing orchards, it’s difficult for even the small-scale farmer to transition into alternative methods. A bad transition could cost someone their farm.
I’ve been approached by the most evangelical, off-the-grid, alternative folk who have tried to push me into engaging farmers in an argument. I love to argue, but arguing with the very folk who sustain our community (despite the known harms of conventional farming practices), doesn’t feel like the answer. Opening a dialogue between farmers of all backgrounds and experiences and teaching while learning seems far more practical solution. Change like this is gradual. If someone doesn’t see the damage in ingesting poison, then they’re not going to understand my desire to change the way we farm locally.
Every year, as more trees are planted, more guilds are established and habitat diversity increases, we will learn whether this method will work for us. And if it works for us, might it work for a larger farm and so on and so forth until the old way is in the old days. President Kennedy declared his intention to put a man on the moon and a decade later, we saw the imprint of a boot on the moon’s surface. Like that first step, it seems small, but its impact is far-reaching.
After a phone call with Sandy Rennie of Rennie Orchards in Williamsburg, MI, we decided to simplify our tree order so we might order closer to home and in one order instead of three or more. It is difficult to find a supplier who is willing to sell under 25 trees in a single order. Most nurseries will only sell huge quantities to commercial growers, but if you are diligent, you are sure to find most varieties online somewhere.
The next dilemma is finding a root stock appropriate for your soil, the desired height, approximate yield, and resistance to specific diseases. And in this most nurseries serving the backyard orchardist limit choices to the vigorous root stock or those that require the tree be staked for life.
As I am still learning about root stocks, I will save a more formal discussion of such for later. For now, I’ve included our order:
- 3 Ulsters (Mahaleb)
- 2 Emperor Francis (Mahaleb)
- 1 Balaton (Mahaleb)
- 2 Gale Gala (M-9/EMLA 111 Interstem)
- (All of the above are 1/2 diameter)
- 2 Honeycrisp on EMLA 111 shipping 7/16 in.
All of these are being shipped from Adams County Nursery, Inc. in PA.