Apple Mosaic Virus, Susceptible Varieties in My Collection

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Having a lot of apple varieties gives me a chance to make some observations.  One of those observations is which varieties show signs of apple mosaic virus and which do not.  I can make this observation because I have a tree with many varieties that is infected with the virus.  The disease virus is systemic, so any variety grafted to that tree has it.  However, only a certain percentage will actually show it.  I went through the whole collection and observed which varieties show symptom of the disease. 

Of approximately 150 different apple varieties on !Frankentree!, the following are those that show visible signs of the mottling effect on the leaves that can be induced by the virus, also noted is the degree to which they are affected this year:

  • Rubinette, Medium
  • Katherine, High
  • Red Astrachan, High
  • Sam Young, Medium
  • Cherry Cox, Low
  • Sweet Sixteen, Medium
  • Lyman's Summer, Low
  • Pitmaston Pineapple, Medium
  • Hudson's Golden Gem, Medium
  • Pink Parfait, Medium
  • Kandil Sinap, Medium
  • Whitney Crab, Low
  • Bullock's Pippin, Low
  • Mollie's Delicious, High
  • Ribston Pippin, Low
  • Cox's Orange Pippin, Low

There are also 3 or more varieties on the tree which are unlabeled, but affected.  All information considered, it would appear from the limited data I have that something in the neighborhood of 15% of varieties show signs of infection.  Walking around the rest of the property, I see no other trees that show any sign of infection, including the the varieties that are on the above list, but which are also growing as separate trees or cordons.  Most of those duplicates were either grafted a long time ago, or I went out of my way to source scions from elsewhere.  Also, there is none of the disease in my apple seedlings, which is expected, since the virus is not transmitted in the seed.

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I don't know a lot about the pathology of the disease.  The only way I can tell a tree has it is if the leaves turn partly white or cream colored and some leaves will turn partially brown and crispy as well, possibly from sunburning on the white parts?  I have seen branches affected pretty strongly, but over all Frankentree seems healthy and vigorous and bears well on good years.  Apparently, it also affects other species. 

I think that the free trading of scions by fruit enthusiasts must be contributing to the spread of Apple Mosaic Virus.  I don't send out scions of anything that I know is infected unless it's so rare that it can't be obtained anywhere else, and the receiver is aware of the disease status of the material.  I would suggest that others do the same.  Even so, since something like over 80% of varieties show no sign of infection, it is likely that we will end up trading scions that are infected anyway.  it is possible to graft a very susceptible variety onto a tree to see if it shows signs, but I would let it grow for more than one season before assuming the host tree is clean.  Other than that, it is probably going to continue to proliferate among fruit collectors.

Nectarines over Almonds, Grafting Onto Seedling Almonds With Summer Chip Budding

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No, the title of this blog post, Nectarines over Almonds..., does not refer to some kind of dietary cult belief.  I'm simply trying to take advantage of the qualities of almond rootstock to grow an outstanding nectarine variety.

Grafting has it's detractors, and maybe they are right about some of their arguments.  But there are some decided advantages to grafting.  I'm taking advantage of a few of those advantages in this project.  For one, I can secure a new tree very quickly.   It will also probably come into bearing sooner than a seedling tree.  Most important though, is that I'm choosing the roots of the tree by their special qualities.

Almond trees are almost the same tree as peaches and nectarines, which are in turn even more similar to each other.  Almond trees, however, are known for being drought tolerant and resilient under stress, while peaches and nectarines are decidedly not.  So, the thought of grafting a new Nectarine tree onto Almond rootstock, naturally occurred to me when it was time to plant one of my catch pits.  The tree will grow on an 8 foot by 3 foot pit backfilled with layers of charcoal and whatever soil improving goodies manifested on the homestead over a year or more.  This is a special tree site, so I picked a special tree, one tested for decades by a local fruit explorer and veteran plantsman.

Stribling's White Free Nectarine is a gem of a variety that now languishes in obscurity.  My friend Mark Albert has grown and tested a lot of prunus and it is his best, most reliable stone fruit.  The fruits are delicious and good for drying, while the tree itself outgrows the yearly attacks by peach leaf curl that many varieties are set back badly by.  While not immune to the curl, as some varieties are, it does outgrow it reliably without spraying, and that is good enough.  You are not likely to easily find a grafted Striblings White, so it's only for those that take the time to graft.

From Mark:  “Stribling’s White Free Nectarine, a proven gem for our inland climate for 30 years, ripens in July, and has outperformed all other stone fruit varieties. It dependably grows right through the Spring peach leaf curl and makes luscious, white fleshed, freestone nectarines for fresh eating and easy drying. No longer sold by nurseries, only known by collectors now. Must be grafted.”
   Wickson looks a little stodgy, but he had a pretty good sense of humor brewing under that stern countenance.

Wickson looks a little stodgy, but he had a pretty good sense of humor brewing under that stern countenance.

I found very little on the internet about grafting peaches onto almond stocks.  But I did find a reference in California Fruits, by E.J. Wickson, which you can read online by following that link.  Our old friend Edward Wickson, left an inestimable legacy in California Agriculture.  Among many other achievements, he edited the important agricultural journal  Pacific Rural Press. for over two decades, so he had his finger on the pulse of California agriculture.  He reports in the later 1920 edition of California Fruits that I own:

"The Hand Shell and Sweet Almonds have long been used as a stock for the peach.  It is held that they give a stronger, hardier root in dry coarse soils especially, but neither have been largely used."

Well, that was good enough for me to make the experiment.   BUT, this just in!  While looking for that quote just now, I found these references to using almond stock  in an older edition of California Fruits:

“The success of Nectarine worked on Almond stock, as has been demonstrated by the experience of many, has led to the grafting over of a good many unprofitable almonds to nectarine, though this has not been done to the extent to which the french prune and some other plums have been worked on old almond stocks.”
“The almond is successfully grafted over with the peach, and this course has been followed with thousands of unproductive languedoc almonds during the last ten years.”
“Trees are changed from one fruit to another, as with thousands of unproductive almonds, which have been worked over into plums, prunes and peaches.”

Well, there ya go.  Looks like I made a good call.  In starting the stocks this time, I did what I always do.  I shelled and soaked the almonds and planted way too many.  Over-planting allows me to select the best stock in the end.  Planting the seeds directly in the ground where they will grow allows the formation of a deep, natural root system.  I’m after a self sufficient, drought tolerant root network.  I want the trees to go deep to look for water in the dry summers, when I don’t always have a lot of water to spare.

I was more or less planning to graft these stocks to dormant scion wood in the late winter, but I decided that since I had some Striblings White Nectarine branches on a nearby tree, I would go ahead and graft one of them with a small chip of wood.  When I contacted  Mark to ask him something about Striblings, he suggested that I chip bud it now, which I had just done.  But, he also offered to shoot a chip budding video at his place, which we did and that video will be out as soon as it's edited.  I went ahead and grafted the other two stocks as well.  Even if the buds don’t take (though it’s likely that all three will take) I can still revert to dormant grafting this winter.

   Chip budding with Mark Albert

Chip budding with Mark Albert

 

Ironically, this may be one of the few trees that I end up pampering, but the almond roots will be just fine with that.  In the case that I don’t, I’m hoping that having planted the trees on a huge pit back-filled with charcoal and other goodies, combined with the tough almond stock, will give me a reasonably resilient and productive tree.  In general, peach and nectarine do not thrive on neglect.  They are very domesticated trees and prefer regular watering, fertile soils and pruning.  But, as the rolling stones said, you can’t always get what you want.  While I may not get what I want, a productive, drought tolerant nectarine tree that will produce reliably even with low inputs, the potential reward is worth the risk.  Possibly more important is the information the experiment might yield in the long run.

Damaged Anvil Edges, Do They Really Need to be Repaired? Work First, Worry Later!

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Damage to anvil edges is fairly ubiquitous in old used specimens.  Often the edges are quite rounded and occasionally to an extreme.  Rounding from 1/8 to 3/8 is very common.  this happens from hammer blows and I suspect also frequently from doing cold work, where the work piece is hard, whereas a hot piece of iron is quite soft.  It is possible to build the edges back up with welding rod, but the anvil face, at least close to the line where it is welded, will be softened to an extent.  An anvil face is hard for very good reason. While primitive smiths work on anything from rocks to soft iron, the anvil has progressed from that state to a well designed high performance tool.  Good anvil makers went to great pains produce durable hard faced anvils that would withstand decades of hard use. 

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There is a difference between hardness and toughness.  To find the two embodied to a high degree in any one material is a rarity.  Most hard materials are also brittle to some extent.  Tool steel is not bad at achieving both at once, but it still becomes more brittle the harder it is.  Given this limitation in material performance, brittleness is the natural cost of having an anvil face that can withstand hard use.  A good anvil will resist denting when doing cold work to some extent and will not easily be damaged by other tools, certainly not hammers, which are about the only other tools that should hit an anvil face regularly if reasonable care is exercised.  This hardness insures that the work surface remains flat and smooth.  It also gives the anvil bounce.  Being someone who continually bounces their hammer off the anvil between blows, I have a great appreciation for anvil bounce.

It may seem tempting to restore the anvil to it's original new condition, but a good argument can be made that the original square edges were more of a detriment than an advantage.  A very square edge is both more fragile and can lead to deeper damage by chipping, and it can nick up your work and damage inside corners in bending.

   If the damaged edges are rounded off, they will be more useful. They are also less likely to be chip away even further.

If the damaged edges are rounded off, they will be more useful. They are also less likely to be chip away even further.

My friend once imported a beautiful European anvil.  The face was milled perfectly and the edges were very square.  I tried using it and it was leaving nicks all over everything I did.  At the very least, a slight rounding of edges will help prevent this problem.  Having used anvils now for significant time with very rounded edges of at least 3/8 inch radius, if not more, I find myself inclined to think that a significant pre-rounding of anvil edges is probably preferable and that working on an anvil with fairly large radii is rarely a problem.  If a sharper edge is needed, the tail of the anvil, or the portion of the long edges near the hardy hole, can be left more acute.   Vice jaws or any various pieces of metal that are usually lying about a smithy, or can be kept on hand for bending small radii, or modified specifically for that use.

An anvil is used hard enough to cause real damage mostly in the zone just down from the horn a little.  This is often where you see the greatest amount of chipping.  Edge damage usually stops or is minimal near the hardy hole and down to the tail.  A factor that may not be understood by many people is that the sharp delicate edge is not only vulnerable to crumbling itself from a hammer blow, but it also creates an initiation point and geometrical weakness that can lead to deeper chips.  In other words, if I smack a rounded edge, it is less likely to take a deep chip than If I strike near a squared edge.

But, how much should the edge be rounded.  My suspicion is that the best compromise would be to have continually diminishing radius put onto a new anvil edge varying from about 1/4 or 3/8 inch near the horn, down to 1/16 inch at the tail.  This would offer a wide range of radii for bending different curves into workpieces and it would protect the most vulnerable part of the anvil.  Youtuber and viewer Broadus Thompson says this is exactly what the best smiths he knows do.  Makes sense to me.  Would I do exactly that on a brand new expensive anvil?  Probably, but I'm not ready to recommend it unequivocally. 

When shopping for an anvil, do look at edge damage.  if it's light enough that you can grind it out to a 3/8 inch smooth radius or less, I would say don't worry about it.  If it's more than that, or the flat surface of the face is significantly narrowed because of encroaching chippage, then bargain hard, but don't necessarily write it off.  Primitive smiths have  and do use all sorts of substandard surfaces for forging, from rocks to mushroomed and dished pieces of metal of various descriptions, but a good quality anvil should have a quite hard face that is not easily damaged.  Any anvil face will have some dings and marks, but a good hard anvil face will be pretty smooth. if the anvil is cheap, or de-tempered by heating, say in a barn fire, you may see mushrooming, and deep dings and cuts.  Look also for cracks extending down the edge of the face or across it and to see if there is any separation between the top steel plate and the main body.  Hammers struck lightly on the anvil should bounce back and then skitter to a stop, not thud deadly against it and stop.

As to repairing anvil edges, I don't know at what point I would be willing to go there on a quality anvil. these anvils were carefully crafted and tempered, a process I can't imagine is easy.  Once heated, that anvil face will not be the same again.  If you overheat only the interface between the new metal left by the welding rod and the anvil edge, maybe it will not prove to be a problem.  But the edge would have to have a whole lot of damage before I would be willing to go there, and that damage would have to actually be significantly affect my workflow.  I've never got a chance to examine an anvil that has been repaired by welding up the edges, and then seen hard long use, so I have no idea how it would hold up.  My advice to anyone is the same.  Use the anvil.  Get to work and don't fix it unless it shows itself to be a significant problem.   Even then, think hard about it.  If you have an anvil with an intact horn, with hardy and pritchel holes, and the anvil face is as wide as a sledge hammer face and still hard and smooth, you are completely stoked compared to most of the smiths throughout history and prehistory that ever pounded on a hot piece of iron, and could consider yourself lucky. 

   In some cases, the anvil face starts becoming quite narrow and I might start thinking about repair, but even then, I'd think hard about it.

In some cases, the anvil face starts becoming quite narrow and I might start thinking about repair, but even then, I'd think hard about it.

I will leave you with the quote from Practical Blacksmithing, 1889, that put me off the idea of trying to repair the edges on my anvil.

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From Practical Blacksmithing, Articles for "The Blacksmith and Wheelwright" Edited by M.T. Richardson, 1889. Read online free here!  http://www.craftsmanspace.com/free-books/blacksmithing-books.html

Chopping Off 31 Years of Dreadlocks, Some of My History and Punk Influences

A few days ago I shaved off all my hair off after having it cut last in a swamp in Florida with a swiss army knife on my 20th birthday by my then 36 year old girlfriend.  Turns out that my new girlfriend was born that year lol.  One pretty consistent thing about me is I do what I want and screw all ya'll if you don't like it!  This is mostly about Punk and how it influenced me to live differently and ultimately pursue self reliance related things.  Also, about what it was like to run around with dreadlocks when white people very rarely had them and most people still didn't know what they were.  It was an exercise in cultivating the ability to be articulate and disarming.  Here's to Steven version 7.0 which will probably go through revisions pretty rapidly.

Posted on July 21, 2018 .

Thinning Apples, No Place for Dummy Rules

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As many know already, I'm not a big fan of what I call dummy rules.  The dummy rule phenomenon as roughly defined by me, is a broad rule statement with either minimal context, or lack of context, stated dogmatically without qualification as a should and/or shouldn't proposition.  As a social phenomenon, the less experienced will often take these absolute statements as absolute, which shouldn't be surprising, and use them as both weapon and battlecry in their petty wars on "misinformation" against people like me with enough experience to understand that there are such things as nuance and context.  Lol, good luck with that.

Rules of thumb are a different matter.  Many dummy rules probably start as rules of thumb, or contextual statements and are mutated into nonsensical dogmas that retain just an "element of truth".  If I were a different kind of person this article and video could be more along the lines of...  "Today I'm going to show you how to "properly" thin apples.  Thin the apples when they are such and such size to such and such distance apart."  But alas, life is more complicated than that, as we all find out when we start doing things and not just reading about them.  I think I remember reading in Michael Phillips book on apple growing (but am too lazy to look it up) that there was a study showing a diminishing finished apple size if you thinned the trees after applets reached the size of a nickle.  In other words, if you wait too long to thin, the remaining fruit may not grow as large as it would if you thin early.  Let's assume I remember correctly for argument's sake.  It would be easy enough to take that and create a dogma.. "always thin you apples by the time they reach the size of a nickle!".  Not to say Michael said that, which I doubt, but this information can easily lead to that kind of thinking. 

Context, however, may dictate other approaches.  First off, all apples do not set at the same time on a tree, so there are can be a large variation in size.  Should I thin everything for sure as soon as the first apples reach the size of a nickle?  Maybe I average that out and and let some get to the size of a quarter and thin when most of the apples are around nickle sized.  Maybe I thin early, because I have time and may not have time later.  Another thing experience teaches is that I may want to give diseases, pests, weather phenomenon or other environmental factors a little extra time to beat up on my fruitlets, so I can thin the resulting damaged ones, and leave the ones that have remained unscathed in early summer.  Now we are in the realm of real life, life as art and as adaptation and cumulative knowledge... the realm of context.

I use the handspan rule-of-thumb quite a bit when thinning apples.  That is to say that a good distance for apples along a limb is about a span of thumb to forefinger extended, like the Shaka/Hang Loose hand gesture of Hawaiians and surfers, about 7 or 8 inches.  But, that is a contextual guideline, not a dogma.  So many different things can affect the decision of spacing, and the decision to leave or not leave pairs or even three or four apples in a cluster.  If I say simply a handspan apart, but there are only 20 apples on the tree and thinning to singles at hand spans would leave 5, that would just be dumb.  Also, how large is the fruit of said apple variety? I'm not going to use the same spacing on a 1.5 inch apple variety as I would on 3 inch apple varieties. 

   The hang loose rule of thumb (and forefinger :) is an okay reference point.  Good when there are a lot of apples widely distributed on the tree.

The hang loose rule of thumb (and forefinger :) is an okay reference point.  Good when there are a lot of apples widely distributed on the tree.

Another thing to think about is how much you are likely to lose early in the season to burrowing insects, birds and other diseases, pests and phenomena.  Maybe I'll leave a few extra for now and thin more off later.  Finally, where are the apples located on the branch?  If they are gregariously clustered into denser groups, then I might space actual apples closer and be looking to leave an amount that would be similar to what would be left with an apple every 7 inches along the branch if they were spaced perfectly all over the tree.  The handspan is a very useful guideline, but it is just a point of reference that not only doesn't always just play out like clockwork in real life, but probably rarely does so.  So, it is not the spacing itself that matters, but total fruit load, placement, environment, goals, style, timing and so on.

Lets back up a bit here, thinning can be done for the following reasons. 

To get rid of diseased, oddly shaped, damaged and poorly pollinated apples.  Worthwhile even if the tree is not crowded.

To avoid fruit touching one another on the tree.  Touching fruit is a common site for insect infestation.

To avoid broken branches.  Overbearing is probably the most common cause of broken branches.

To increase the average fruit size.  Very important in commercial production, though few home producers are much concerned.

To spare the resources of the tree, which can encourage yearly cropping instead every-other-year cropping.  Most trees left to their own natural tendencies will fall into biennial cropping.

When I approach a tree for thinning, I look at several things right away. 

How big are the applets?  It is tempting to thin early, but I like to wait a bit so that scab can take hold and become obviously visible, bugs can do a little damage, unpollinated or poorly pollinated applets can be rejected and our hail season is more likely to be past us.  That way I can take out all those newly damaged apples, leaving a sizeable crop of good ones.  The information about thinning by the time apples reach nickle size is only one piece of information in these decisions, assuming it's true that is.  The rest has to be intuition, experience and as much as anything guesswork.  Personally, I hardly blink about fruitlet size until quite a few start to hit quarter size or start going over.

   Very small fruitlets are more difficult to assess.  As they grow larger, scab, asymmetry and any other defects become more obvious.  If very small the un-pollinated apples may not have even been rejected by the tree yet.  When a little larger (center), defects like scab, lopsidedness and other damage are easier to spot when rapidly thinning.  The apple on the right has already suffered bird damage on June 8th.  Leaving a little extra fruit can absorb some of this later damage from birds, insects, hail, diseases or whatever menaces you have around your part of the world.  A piece of information saying that thinning early favors fruit size of remaining fruit is useful to have, but it is wise to ask "in what context is that information useful".

Very small fruitlets are more difficult to assess.  As they grow larger, scab, asymmetry and any other defects become more obvious.  If very small the un-pollinated apples may not have even been rejected by the tree yet.  When a little larger (center), defects like scab, lopsidedness and other damage are easier to spot when rapidly thinning.  The apple on the right has already suffered bird damage on June 8th.  Leaving a little extra fruit can absorb some of this later damage from birds, insects, hail, diseases or whatever menaces you have around your part of the world.  A piece of information saying that thinning early favors fruit size of remaining fruit is useful to have, but it is wise to ask "in what context is that information useful".

How many fruits are on the tree?  A lot of fruits on the tree means larger overall spacings between apples, relative to the normal fruit size of that variety of course.  If there are very few, I will leave them close together and even in clusters.  It is better not to leave doubles and clusters, because it's a favorite place for insects to lay eggs or set up camp, but again with the context.

   While I prefer not to leave apples touching each other, my allegiance here is to the seeds inside these hand pollinated apples, Suntan x Grenadine.  In other cases I many have only a few apples of a variety and I'll take my chances that a moth will lay eggs in between two or three apples.

While I prefer not to leave apples touching each other, my allegiance here is to the seeds inside these hand pollinated apples, Suntan x Grenadine.  In other cases I many have only a few apples of a variety and I'll take my chances that a moth will lay eggs in between two or three apples.

How large is the branch? How much weight will it support?

   These apples are too crowded.  William's Pride is a quite large variety and the combined weight of these at maturity could break this small branch.  I thinned some more off today, but not to an "ideal" number.  These are well past recommended thinning size, but the apples were already pre-thinned   once and a late second thinning can give time for damage and depredation to occur and for physiological problems to show up.  Thinning apples adequately and early may result in increased size of the remaining fruit, but size is not usually very important to home growers.  It certainly isn't to me.  Birds ravage this variety every year, and bird damage will start any time now.  Leaving some extra fruit will ultimately mean that I eat more apples.  In that context I don't care how big they are.  Last year I probably ate one or two mangled partial apples off this tree.    The rest were bird, raccoon and possum food.

These apples are too crowded.  William's Pride is a quite large variety and the combined weight of these at maturity could break this small branch.  I thinned some more off today, but not to an "ideal" number.  These are well past recommended thinning size, but the apples were already pre-thinned once and a late second thinning can give time for damage and depredation to occur and for physiological problems to show up.  Thinning apples adequately and early may result in increased size of the remaining fruit, but size is not usually very important to home growers.  It certainly isn't to me.  Birds ravage this variety every year, and bird damage will start any time now.  Leaving some extra fruit will ultimately mean that I eat more apples.  In that context I don't care how big they are.  Last year I probably ate one or two mangled partial apples off this tree.  The rest were bird, raccoon and possum food.

Am I greedy this year, or striving to maintain annual bearing?  Or maybe I just DGAF.  Most trees will fall into biennial bearing easily, meaning that they will produce a lot one year and little to no fruit the next.  The tools you can use to try to prevent that scenario are adequate thinning and good cultural care.  Unless I make a real effort, most of my trees are going to be pretty biennial, because my cultural conditions are not great.  I can live with having king david apples only once every other year.  I've got bigger problems to tackle.  In a more ideal world, I'd try to get crops more consistently.


Thinning apples, just like training and pruning trees is more art than science for a small holder like me.  It is different in the context of monocropping, where there is more repeatability and predictability.  For the average backyard and home orchardist, thinning in a couple of phases works pretty good.  In fact, after editing through my video and writing this, I think that is a great approach to recommend and ultimately something like what I practice.  Thinning in two stages takes off a lot of pressure for those just learning about this task, who will always want to leave too much fruit anyway.  It also encourages observation which can help inform future work.  Go through quickly once when the apples are under quarter size for the most part and take out the great majority of what you will take out in the long run.  Leave the best looking undamaged fruits and some extra.  Come back in two or three weeks and you'll start to see that there is more fruit there than you thought you left.  Take out a little more and some that have taken damage or where flaws have become more apparent.  A stroll through your trees every few weeks will allow you to see the results of your practice and give a chance to keep removing damaged fruits.  I pick off wormy and bird pecked fruit through the growing season.  Everyone has those right?  If not, where do you live?, I'm moving there buddy!  Your context is your own.  Don't over-think it, obsess, or spend too much time deciding what fruitlets to leave or how many, but don't under-think it either, because it does require forethought and knowledge.  As small scale growers we may often be able to afford the luxury of these pleasant strolls to micromanage the fruit over a period of time and observe the effects of our activity.  I love thinning my apples and checking on their progress.

I'd be interested to hear from others of you that have thinned apples for a while and what kind of rules of thumb you use or how your context and life affect your approach to thinning fruit.  Happy growing and best wishes for a good fruit season. <3

   While I don't lose a lot of sleep over fruitlet size when thinning, I don't like to see many clusters of apples up to an inch and more like this one.&nbsp; Some significant resources of the tree must be wasted in thinning and it can become more difficult as the fruits and stems crowd and mature.&nbsp; Yet, it often happens.&nbsp; It's just hard to get to everything on time.&nbsp; Now that this blog post and video are laid to rest, the next week should see me on daily thinning patrols, managing the largest fruitlets first and catching up with everything else as things mature.&nbsp; Right now they range all the way from 3/8 inch up to 1-1/2 inches or more and already taking some bird damage.&nbsp; With over 200 varieties of apples on the homestead here now, I have a long flowering season, which means that my situation is very different from a well managed orchard of one variety where the trees are best thinned in one pass during a short time.&nbsp; Context is king!

While I don't lose a lot of sleep over fruitlet size when thinning, I don't like to see many clusters of apples up to an inch and more like this one.  Some significant resources of the tree must be wasted in thinning and it can become more difficult as the fruits and stems crowd and mature.  Yet, it often happens.  It's just hard to get to everything on time.  Now that this blog post and video are laid to rest, the next week should see me on daily thinning patrols, managing the largest fruitlets first and catching up with everything else as things mature.  Right now they range all the way from 3/8 inch up to 1-1/2 inches or more and already taking some bird damage.  With over 200 varieties of apples on the homestead here now, I have a long flowering season, which means that my situation is very different from a well managed orchard of one variety where the trees are best thinned in one pass during a short time.  Context is king!

 

 

 

Posted on June 15, 2018 .

Biochar Chats, Q&A and Talking Points

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I have gotten a lot of questions about biochar stuff.  Common questions concern crushing, pre-charging, quantities to use, how does it work and so on.  This video was just me trying to quickly discuss some of that stuff.  Many questions I can't answer.  I know very little technical information about biochar.  I'm not up on the latest theories and research.  I'm mostly interested right now in how it works here using simple methods of production and applications, and what percentages I want to use; and by extension approaches to experimentation and production that might suit average people well.  Setting up experiments for long term observations is of great interest to me as well.  I probably am going out of my way not to consume too much information on biochar.  For one thing, it's boring. Also though, I often prefer to work with minimal information. It forces me to observe and think a lot and not be overly polluted with the stuff.  I know that probably seems counter intuitive to a lot of people.  Why not take in all the data, parse it and try to put it to best use?  Because information influences our thinking and behavior and not always in a good way.  It changes our lines of thinking and thus our experiments.  Possibly for the better at times, but not always.  Assessing the relevance and veracity of quantities of complex information is not a clear cut easy task.  I remember one time coming to the idea that early inventors, like Tesla or Rife lets say, were so innovative because they hadn't learned what was and wasn't possible yet.  A major problem causing stagnation of progress is the institutionalization of ideas and dogmatic sub cultures.  These cliques form a sort of immune system or armor to deal with information that doesn't agree with a standardized dogma or theory.  Open inquiry in groups of study are not the norm.  I wonder if that idea is even close to achievable actually.  We all operate in an invisible matrix of language and social constructs, but I think there are things we can do to think more freely and information consumption has something to do with that.

Information is a double edged sword.  Information could be seen as having a place on a scale that runs from straight untested raw information on one end to thoroughly proven information on the other, or what we might call hard verified fact.  Placing any information on that scale as to the level of confidence you have in it's veracity is not necessarily an easy task.  Much (probably most) information, if viewed honestly, floats in limbo remaining of very unknown status on this scale of confidence.  Simply knowing that much of information is best considered to be in that limbo is helpful, but if we consume it, it still influences us.  My modus operandi is basically consumption of small amounts of information and then long, un-rushed, experimentation, observation and contemplation.  I didn't develop this approach as a theory, I just noticed that I did it as a preference and now it's more of a conscious philosophy.  I think it forces me to think of things in my terms and context more than someone else's, or in a group's.  I think it also cultivates intuition, which I'm a big fan of.  My observations or theories on biochar may or may not be verified by future information and cross pollination with other explorers and researchers, but either outcome is instructive in some way.

All of which I started to say because this isn't me spitting out a series of stuff that I learned by research, so much as thoughts and observations and ways to think about the problem.  The important thing with this sort of activity, at least from an on the ground application standpoint, is does it work, rather than how does it work.  How it works could be very useful for informing our practice, but for now, we have good archeaologic and historic records to indicate the efficacy of char modified soils.  Normal people with simple means can attempt to replicate those results without over complicating the thing, because it is unlikely that these ancients were operating on some very sophisticated principals of production, application and technical understanding.  We can always build and modify our knowledge and practice from there.  Sometimes the best solution remains the simple solution.

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Posted on June 11, 2018 .

To Kill a Turkey With a Turkey Wing, Bone Hunting Call

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The beautiful, if somewhat goofy, Wild Turkeys are residents of my part of the country.  Apparently they are relatively recent immigrants, but they are well entrenched and seem very well adapted to the country.  In spite of the name, the Turkey is a native of North America.  They are a popular game bird, fun to hunt, and delicious to eat.  The feathers could hardly be surpassed for use as both quill pens and as fletchings for arrows.  I also use the tail feathers to make quicky disposable paint brushes of two different kinds.  All in all a very useful creature in traditional living.  One of the most fun crafty things to do with a dead turkey though is turkey wing bone calls.

It seems a poetic injustice that you can call a turkey in with a call made from a turkey, but these calls are quite effective.  I get the majority of my turkeys by calling them to me with these calls.  Others I just locate with the call, or failing to call them in, I am able to sneak up on them, or head them off as they travel.  The call is meant to imitate a turkey hen.  They don't sound exactly like a hen (at least not when I'm using them!) but hey, the proof is in the pudding and if they didn't work, I'd eat a lot less turkey.  No doubt I could refine my technique, but I lack incentive, because my technique is effective enough for the time being.  A horny turkey that has been working itself up into a turkeystosterone fueled frenzy for weeks is often less than discriminating when something resembling the plaintiff cry of a Turkey hen in need a of a good mating pierces the air. 

The calls are made from three of the wing bones on one side of the Turkey.  There are three sections to a bird wing. The outermost, smallest, pointed wing tip section is discarded.  The middle section contains two of the bones used and the large base section contains the third bone.  I have never used domestic turkey bones to make one of these, but I imagine you could make one well enough to at least bag a wild turkey to make another.  No doubt a mature wild turkey's bones will be more developed and substantial than a young fast grown turkey fed on a diet designed to achieve eating size as quickly as possible.  Same as a chicken.  You can eat the ends off of a domestic chicken bone and crush the remainder with your teeth, but try that with one of my mature free range chickens and you'll break a tooth.  If domestic turkey bones would work, this could make a great project for kids.

 12 years ago when I first moved here.

12 years ago when I first moved here.

Smart Fruit Tree Training, Toward Better Methods and Clearer Goals

Hello friends.  I've been out of it lately, forgetting to post stuff, but  I'm back with something paradigm shifting.  If you don't already expect to see next level, envelope pushing content from me on a semi-regular basis, you can start any time lol.  Here are 3 videos that are a first installment on the subject of training up fruit trees. 

You can also keep up with the Smart Tree Training Playlist for this subject on youtube here.  All videos related to training trees will be added there in the future.

People of my personality type think that everything can be improved.  We can seem contrary by nature, sometimes to a fault, but that is just an immature expression of our nature to question and experiment.  Now that geeks and freaks are more and more influential via technology and the information age, the new paradigm is open source.  It's not just a practice, it's a way of thinking.  It's my way of thinking and it's about time it started gaining some traction!  This new paradigm can come about because we now get less of our information through dogmatic, institutional channels which act as filters and tend toward conservatism.  Also, people that have knowledge and ideas to offer can much more easily get those ideas out.  Information can not only proliferate quickly and easily now, but we have forums to hash out ideas and share experience and experiments, which creates a crucible for testing information and ideas.  In spite of the huge preponderance of weak and incorrect information proliferating on the internet, this more positive side of the information age is having a profound effect on human knowledge and progress.  It is my hope that we will continue to mature in our thinking, and in our vetting and processing of information.

We can't think about and become experts on everything, but we also don't have to buy everything that is handed to us as if someone has figured it all out.  We should be skeptical and critical in a constructive way.  In the case for fruit tree training methods, the same basic rudimentary approach has been in use for a very long time, with minor variations and minimal dissidence in spite often achieving poor to mediocre results over an unnecessarily long span of time.  I used those methods for years and found them unsatisfactory, so I began to tinker with other possibilities.  Then I found a brilliant study that was done from around 1925 to 1930 that completely changed everything.  To quote the authors of that study, A Study of the Framework of the Apple Tree and it's Relation to Longevity, 1932:

“That improvement in methods of heading fruit trees is desirable is evident from even a casual study of bearing apple orchards, where a certain proportion of the trees will be found breaking down from causes that can be traced directly to the way the young tree was trained.”
“The central leader type of tree has been the expressed preference of Illinois growers.  Nevertheless, most of the heads in Illinois commercial orchards are vase shaped.”

The authors found that while growers expressed a definite preference for one type of tree, the practice of cutting back on planting, known as a heading cut, was producing an entirely different type of tree.  In spite of the practice having a high failure rate, the orchardists continued the practice anyway, and it is still the main technique in use today.  Adopting their recommendations and tweaking them improved my results and the time from new tree to framework radically, so I am very enthused about continuing to experiment and add to those methods.

I had already been experimenting with notching buds and shoots to encourage them to grow, but these guys took an altogether more divergent approach to training that bucked one of the fundamental dogmas of tree planting and training, namely, that the tree must be cut back on planting.  This is the most sacred dogma of tree training.  Cutting back is said to balance the root and top, create a more stocky tree with a thick enough stem, and stimulate branching below the cut.  No doubt it can do all of those things, but are they actually necessary?  They put that question to the test rather than accepting it and found that it was not necessary to cut the trees back, which I have so far confirmed.  The authors surveyed the available literature both current and historical, interviewed orchardists and examined orchards to see what was actually happening all the way from initial training, through to failure of the trees.  After those important initial stems which helped define the problem, they designed experiments to test alternative tree training techniques, and ultimately developed a set of recommendations for improvements in tree training that avoided the common tree failures caused in early training.  They were able to achieve the desired tree forms more assuredly, resulting in a well formed, well balanced, long lived tree in a short space of time.  Bravo!

While the study gave specific recommendations on what to do in training apple trees and some suggestions regarding the training of different varieties, it is far from the final word on the subject.  I've already improved it, just by adding notching and transferring the same and similar principals to further establishing specific goals for the secondary scaffolds.  I've also already thought up lists of potential trials and experiments to answer a growing number of questions about variations on their methods, alternative techniques and how different fruit tree species respond to various interventions.  The authors would have thought this was the thing to do, you advance the work.  I've used notching quite a lot on various different species of fruit, but the original study was on apples and that has also been my main experience so far.  More experimental trials are needed to assess these and other techniques on other species.

I'm super stoked if I can help my blog readers and youtube viewers train their trees better, but I have my sights set on much bigger game, the mastodon of  common training recommendations, which I refer to as "clip and pray".  It honestly would be hard to do worse than these common recommendations and even the simple training used to set the trees up in these first videos could go a long way toward improving outcomes.  My main goal would be to evolve informed, but simple and accessible "systems" of sorts for mass consumption with a 3 to 4 year plan using a small number of easy to understand tools and goals.  On the back end, I'd like to see a continuing evolution of understanding about how different fruit tree species grow and respond to various interventions.  Maybe more importantly though, I want to see a paradigm shift in thinking about what we are doing in fruit tree training, and why.  The essence of that philosophic understanding is still evolving, but here are my basic thoughts now.  I've been thinking of the process as guiding a finite amount of resources or growth energy of the tree to achieve very specific goals.  The tree can only grow so much in a year.  Where are you going to encourage that growth to go and what techniques can be use to convince the tree to favor growth in those areas.  Another important concept is creating some kind of balance in growth between parts of the tree.  This balance can vary in form and degree, but we all know drastic imbalance when we see it.  Training is often approached somewhat haphazardly.  By having specific goals in mind and reasons for having those goals, we can then apply the tools we have available to make that tree form happen.

There is much to say and I hope to keep producing videos and essays or lectures on this subject.

The full fruit tree framework study is available to download on the free stuff page

In the meantime, the simple recommendations and information given in these first few videos could go a long way toward improving fruit tree training for home orchardists.  Results will absolutely vary by species and variety, and no doubt by environmental conditions as well.  The tools presented are not new and they were not new in 1925 either.  But the obvious is not always so obvious and for whatever reasons, I've never seen anything like this presented anywhere.  I'm calling it Smart Tree Training and hopefully that name will stick.  It is a great name I think for a non-specific collaborative project that aims to take an informed and goal oriented approach to the problem of fruit tree training.  I feel confident in saying that you can help me improve the practice and outcome of fruit tree training by sharing this information as it comes out, through appropriate channels where it will be put to use.

Apple Pollen Available for Breeding

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I collected apple pollen this year, which is now available in the store here.  This is pollen from select varieties that I use in breeding or consider interesting enough to use.  The quantities are small as it is rather time consuming and many are in limited quantity, especially since I'm also pollinating a lot of blossoms this year in that hopes that I will have apple seeds to sell in the fall that are specific hybrids between carefully chosen parents.  Fingers crossed on that, but for now we have pollen.  If used carefully, this small amount of pollen can go a long way.  Very little needs to be applied to the female parts to achieve pollination.  You can read about the varieties on the store page.

I have stored pollen for a year and used it the following spring successfully, but at other times it has not seemed to work as well.  But that is in a room with very large temperature swings and extremely hot in the summer.  If you were to freeze the dried pollen I think it would probably keep well enough until the following spring.  The pollen must be absolutely dry for any kind of storage and a desiccant of some kind would probably help with that.  Some use rice, or those little desiccant capsules that come in jars of vitamins.  Just remember that whatever you use, your small amount of precious pollen will probably stick to it.

Here is a short video on how I pollinate apple blossoms for breeding now.  Good luck to anyone trying to do cross pollinations this year!

Peasant King and My Tree Collard Selection Project

About 5 years ago, a friend gave me some tree collard seeds from Montenegro.  Some years since planting those seeds, I’ve selected one seedling that stands out from the rest to name, propagate and distribute.  I is ostentatiously and awesomely dubbed Peasant King. 

Tree collards are a perennial vegetable also variously known by other names like Tree Kale, Palm Cabbage, Walking Stick Kale, Tree Cabbage and no doubt more.  They are something like collard greens or Broccoli leaves, except that they grow all year for multiple years without flowering eventually becoming very tall.  They could be compared to regular collards, but generally are heavier in texture and maybe stronger flavored.  I also suspect they might be more nutritious, but who knows without an analysis, and I don't know that it's been done.  Tree Collards are a member of the species Brassica Oleracea, which includes, Broccoli, most Kales (not siberian or red russian, which are Brassica napus species), Cauliflower, Kohlrabi, Brussel's Sprouts, Cabbage and Collards.  Many people are surprised to find out that these are all the same species of plant and and as such can inter-pollinate.  The only reason they look and act so different is that they have been bred in different directions for a very long time.

"In Jersey, the Palm Cabbage is much cultivated, and reaches a considerable height. In La Vendée, the Cæsarean Cow Cabbage grows sixteen feet high."  
PLANT LORE, LEGENDS, and LYRICS, RICHARD FOLKARD, JUN. 1884 http://www.gutenberg.org/files/44638/44638-h/44638-h.htm

Tree Collards are traditionally grown in various parts of the world as fodder for both humans and animals.  They probably originating in the British Isles.  A variety referred to locally as Purple Tree Collard has been grown in my area by old and young back to the land types for a long time, but they are generally propagated by cuttings, not seeds.  That is because the purple tree collard that is grown around here rarely sets any seed.  Flowering is not very common to start with and they flower only weakly when they flower at all.  Also, they don’t seem to pollinate themselves and may only set seed when pollinated by another genetically unique variety of tree collard or other member of the Brassica Oleracea group. 

When I got these rare and unique seeds, I saw it as a chance to find out if the trait of resistance to flowering was transferable, with an eye to selecting out some new perennial varieties worthy of propagation by cuttings.  I grew up around 35 new plants in some out-of-the-way long term test beds.  I was impressed early in their growth that many of the plants seemed more vigorous than the standard tree collard I had been growing for years.  I wondered if our tree collards had picked up virus or genetic damage that caused them to grow more weakly.  I won’t be 100% sure if the average plant is more vigorous unless I grow multiple varieties side by side with the old type. What I'll probably do instead is yank out all of my old Purple Tree Collards so that they don’t infect my new varieties if they are carrying something infectious.

   Peasant King shows much darker purple and more completely colored leaves than the average seedling in the group.&nbsp; The leaves also average much larger.&nbsp; More average leaves are to the left.

Peasant King shows much darker purple and more completely colored leaves than the average seedling in the group.  The leaves also average much larger.  More average leaves are to the left.

Out of those 35-ish plants, I have selected just one so far that is clearly superior by a combination of leaf size, color, shape, vigor, uprightness and resistance to bolting.  It has beautiful, large, dark purple leaves.  While most of the seedlings more or less resemble the purple tree collard grown here, they vary in color, with a few being more or less purple.  The old cuttings everyone grows here are partially purple, but probably average 50% or more green.  My new selection is among the most completely purple of this seed population, though, like all of them, there are green patches.  Keep in mind that the color trait will vary somewhat with weather, soil and culture.  The leaf shape is a little more frilly and rounded as well.  All in all, it stands out from the crowd in it's physical attributes, and if random leaves are picked from all of the plants, it's leaves are easily distinguishable from the rest

The original plant is now about 7 feet tall at 4 years old.  it is not the tallest, but that may be just as well.  I think a combination of tall and short types might be best scenario in terms of design options for gardens.  It has resisted flowering through at least two hot California summers with no water, and two of the worst drought years in living memory.  Those trial beds have also gotten very little fertilizer past the initial establishment.  The conditions I’ve grown these in shows out just how tough these plants are.  We have no significant rain for usually about 5 or 6 months of the year, depending on the year, yet the percentage of plant loss to drouth was not all that high.  Heavy environmental stress often causes plants to flower, probably as a reproductive imperative- as in, "I might die, I better make babies to pass no my genes".  Growing these under these challenging conditions creates heavy selection pressure to weed out the weak.

I named the variety Peasant King because it is tall, with a beautiful crown of royal purple leaves, and tree collards are the epitome of healthy old school peasant food.  My home girl Sophia Bates acquired these seeds, which were gifted to her by the Matron of the farm she was staying at in Montenegro.  She said that they are a regular staple among the farming folks of that region and are grown in every nook and cranny of the homestead that is not used for anything else.  They are pretty neat.  A tough resilient plant that is easy to propagate from cuttings, nutritious and grows with little care in out of the way spots.  To boot, it looks cool.  I think further trial will show Peasant King to be more upright and handsome than the usual collards.  Only further trial will tell us for sure, or whether it will show out some other problems such as susceptibility to pests or disease.

So what’s the down side?  Some people don’t like them for one.  They are also not very hardy.  John Jeavons of Ecololgy action, a long time promoter of tree collard growing, says the usual purple tree collard can freeze out below 18 degrees Fahrenheit for extended periods I do not recommend trying to grow them in areas where they don’t really want to grow, but see below for possibly more hardy options.  Being perennial, they can be host to long term pests, like aphids.  I have gotten aphids and if I recall, maybe some fungal disease on my Purple Tree Collards in the past, but they always seem to outgrow everything eventually.   Once I can grow more of them and get them to some other people, we will find out how they fare in the long run.  I hope to have cuttings of Peasant King to offer in the next year or two.  I should be rooting cuttings within a couple of months to grow more plants, to make yet more cuttings to distribute.  The first available cuttings will go to a combination of influencer types and content creators and as usual my patreon supporters.  Sometime after that I’ll probably distribute cuttings for at least a year or two as long as it keeps performing well here.

 

THE FUTURE

In doing research I ran across a blog comment somewhere by Chris Hommanics saying that he has been working with tree collard hybrids for some time.  He had actually contacted me last year about getting me some apple scions, which I unfortunately wasn't able to take advantage of.  Anyway, small world.  It turns out he is offering a population of hybrid Tree Collard seed that he’s been working on.  It is a randomly mixed hybrid pool of tree collards mixed with Kales and other oleracea types.  The seeds are available for experimentation and can be acquired here.  This seed offers a much more diverse genetic range, with improved texture and varying form.  This looks like a really promising project.  I also ran across a video by Plant Abundance on YouTube, showing a kale, tree collard hybrid which he grew from chance pollinations with Kale in his garden.  I think the future of tree collards is likely more along these lines than the more traditional inbred line I’m working with.  Only the future will tell if that is all good, but I’d say expect to see an explosion of tree Brassica diversity soon.  The internet makes spreading knowledge and plant material so much easier than it used to be and new people are inspired every day to do backyard breeding and selection.  Even a few years ago when I started this project, there wasn’t all the much about tree collards out there on the web.  Now there are lots of videos and blog post.  The internet has been good to the humble tree collard.

   The seeds are still viable and I planted two flats this spring

The seeds are still viable and I planted two flats this spring

My plan from here is to germinate a bunch more of this Montenegran tree collard seed.  This time, I’m going to do a pre-selection in the flats, choosing only the healthiest looking vigorous seedlings.  Then I’ll plant those in trial beds on a close spacing, of maybe 6 or 8 inches to do a second selection.  The winners will be transplanted to trial beds and once established, I’ll neglect them, just like I neglected the current trial beds and see what survives and thrives.  I would like to select out three or more plants worthy of naming and propagating from cuttings.  After that, if I continue working with them, it will probably be to hybridize in some other Oleracea varieties, like kales and maybe purple cabbage, and start growing those out.  I think Chris Homanics said that about 25% of hybrids inherit the perennial trait of seeding resistance and I think my seedlings might show about the same.  Transference of perenniality was my biggest question going into this project.  Now that we know that the trait is transferable, it opens up a huge window of opportunity to work with perennial tree Kales and Collards.

If you want to experiment with breeding and or selection, tree collards should cross with other members of the Brassica oleracea group mentioned above.  There are hybrids of Brassica napus with Brassica oleracea, but I'm not sure how easy that is to achieve.  The idea of a cross with the napus Russian or Siberian Kale is very intriguing though.  Read more about those inter-species hybrids here.

Please don't contact me about cuttings unless maybe you are a collector or breeder that will in some way ultimately benefit others by distribution, education, research or breeding.  If I have cuttings, they will be offered in the web store as they become available.  Since the variety is named, it should get into circulation from other sources eventually, as long as it proves it's merit over time.  I still have to look into options for release to the public.  I'm going to check out the open source seed initiative, an organization which one of my gardening heroes Carol Deppe is involved in, but I still need to think about whether I think their whole concept is a good idea or not.  My intuition tells me there is something wrong with it and that is usually the start of something lol.  I'm also not sure if they do vegetatively propagated varieties.  I have my own ideas about what the future of seeds and perennials, plant breeding the legal stuff involved, the plant breeding community, and the broader gardening and orcharding culture could look like, but that's another bag of worms.

A Few Common Axe Handle Mistakes and What to Do About Them

On a recent snowy morning I answered a YouTube comment on axe handle breakage that led to a one take video shoot with a beautiful snowy background.  Being conceived and shot in one morning, this is just a partial snapshot of the subject.  It revolves around the specific problem of design factors contributing to handle breakage just below the axe eye.   It could easily have snowballed into a multi-part series on axe handle function and design ideas, leading to yet another video or series on user contributions to breakage; but the snow melted and I couldn't throw out that beautiful backdrop, which some people actually thought was done with a green screen!

This is viewed primarily from the perspective of American axes, which are evolved in the direction of high performance with the consequence of increased delicacy.  At least that is my current take on it.  An axe is a system composed of a handle and head which creates some inherent problems.  In America, the European axe systems that migrated here with early colonists eventually evolved toward higher performance creating narrower eyes that are inherently weaker than the wider ones they descended from.  European axe eyes seem to have remained wider for the most part, often even when copying American patterns.  In fact, I think the standard American axes are refined to a point where the handles could not be much thinner at the eye without becoming impractical for use with wooden handles, and some might argue that they already have become too thin.  That is a subject for another time though.  For now we will just look at, common problems that we see from both manufacturers and folks producing handles at home, which are easy enough to fix with some tuning up. 

While there are a lot of people that understand some of this intuitively and practice it, I don't recall seeing it spelled out anywhere.  It is my hope that this information will spread and eventually reach manufacturers, many of whom who are clearly not axe users.  Most axe handles will need work out of the factory and that is fine, but the mistakes that are greater in concept and scale are costing a lot of handle breakages at the eye that are totally unnecessary.  The essential problem is that manufacturers think they can just increase the thickness of the handle body to decrease handle breakage.  When viewed as a dynamic system though, it quickly becomes obvious that doing so puts undue stress on the thin eye portion of the axe, instead of sharing the stress across the length of the handle. At some point, continuing to thin a handle will obviously reverse that problem and create excessive vulnerability in the handle's main body.  That is really another level of this discussion though and one I purposefully avoided in this presentation.  Another issue is that there are other types of stress that are incurred from different types of use or mishap that may be more likely to break the body of the handle.  The grain of the wood and it's character is also at play.  We are dealing with a tool that sees different types of stress at different times, has inherent problems that are not entirely solvable and involves an inconsistent natural material.  Wood of even the best quality has fatal faults.  We continue to use it for the same type of reasons I continue to use vacuum tubes in my stereo and guitar amps, and that is user experience.  I personally also like wood because I can cut down a tree and make a new handle without relying on industrially produced products that I have to buy.

There is a lot of forgiving grey area in this problem and we don't have to engineer a perfect handle.  But, we do need to avoid the largest mistakes being made and if we get a handle that has them, we can tune those problems down until we have something that is more comfortable to use for long periods of time and also reduces stress on the eye.  I don't think I've seen a handle yet where the problem encountered was too little wood to work with!

Enough said here.  While this video is incomplete, it presents some ideas that I think are important and which can go a long way toward practical solutions. 

New Axe Cordwood Challenge Facebook Page

I've started a facebook page for the Axe Cordwood Challenge.  We needed a destination of sorts to coalesce and interact as a community of people doing the same thing, sharing information and progress and discussing relevant stuff.  I'm open to discussion of other axe reliant projects as long as they are all about axes and don't just happen to use an axe, for instance hewing with axes or building a log cabin using axes for the majority of the work.  It's not for axe porn (at least not if unrelated to the challenge :) or general axe discussions, identification, collecting, restoration and all that stuff, because every other axe group I can find is dominated by that sort of thing to the point that posts about working axes and how axes work flounder or are rapidly buried.

It is a public group, so anyone can check it out, hang our or support participants.  I would have preferred to have used a different platform, but facebook is easy and most people are on it already.  I would like to move it someday, but am not in a position to set anything up elsewhere or paying for some kind of discussion board service to plug into the skillcult site.  Maybe in the future.

In the Meantime... https://www.facebook.com/AxeCordwoodChallenge/

Tasting Two Long Keeping Apples Out of Storage in Early March, GoldRush and Pomo Sanel

Yesterday I pulled out two varieties of apple from storage to taste, GoldRush and Pomo Sanel.  It is one thing to find apples that keep for a long time without rotting, but that does not mean they will retain flavor or keep a good eating texture.  Some apples will actually gain flavor with maturity, at least to a point, but most will lose flavor.


GoldRush

These were picked later than they should have been.  I suspect if picked earlier, they would store a little better.

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Gold Rush is well known for keeping very well, even without refrigeration.  I have specimens from the refrigerator as well as from a cold room.   All were picked late The apples from the fridge have retained some crunch, though they are not like the super crispy apples that you might find in a grocery store this time of year.  Those apples are stored under controlled conditions with inert gasses to hold them in stasis until they are shipped to stores.  The flavor has developed well in storage.  When this apple is first picked it is edgy and harsh.  I wouldn't say the flavor has improved from a month ago, but it is still complex and full with enough acidity to get my attention. 

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The apples stored in the shed were wrinkled and drying out.  None though showed any signs of decay.  Their texture is rubbery, with no hint of mealiness.  The flesh compresses, then starts to break into pieces.  The flavor and sugar are concentrated and delicious.  I could see storing a lot of these and drying the oldest left over fruits in the spring.  They would be half dry already.

All in all GoldRush is an excellent home orchard apple, and should be considered in any small collection of varieties.  It combines long keeping, flavor, good cultural traits and some disease resistance.  Out of all my dwarf interstem trees, it has the best, easiest to care for, form and high vigor.

 


Pomo Sanel

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Pomo Sanel is a rare apple, barely known among a few fruit enthusiasts in this area, let alone anywhere else.

Pomo Sanel was stored in the refrigerator.  It gradually lost it's crispness.  It is not meally or mushy, at least not yet, but all remnants of crispness are gone.  I was hoping it would go rubbery instead, but it didn't.  The flavor has changed, less complex, more appley, banana still prominent.  There is some acidity, but the sprightliness is gone.  I could eat plenty of these, but it is not equal to it's fridge mate at this point and will surely decline from here.  Like GoldRush, it was probably harvested too late and might do better in storage if picked at an earlier stage, as soon as it reaches full size, but before the sugars develop.

   Pomo Sanel, still a little lean and green, but closer to where it should probably be picked for long storage

Pomo Sanel, still a little lean and green, but closer to where it should probably be picked for long storage

Pomo Sanel's most interesting attribute is it's late ripening in late December or usually January here.  Given it's high quality straight off the tree at that season, it's a winner here in my climate.  Whether it will store well enough beyond 4 weeks or so if harvested earlier and treated well remains to be seen, but keeping up with the likes of Pink Lady and GoldRush is a tall order and it no doubt won't.  A really good storage apple can be very good, even excellent, but it's still not the same as a tree ripened apple kissed by frost and brought into it's prime in cold weather, nor is the whole eating experience the same.  That paradigm is where Pomo Sanel and hopefully it's offspring will shine.  I sent out many seeds this winter all around the world, so everyone cross your fingers and we'll check in about 8 or 10 years from now.

I'm interested in breeding with both of these and have made some crosses.  If I'm lucky, some of those seedling crosses might bear fruit this year.

How to Find Fruit Wood Scions for Grafting, Scion Exchanges and People to Trade Varieties With

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I commonly get requests for scion wood or questions about where to find scions in general, or of a particular variety.  Below are my best recommendations.


Scion Exchanges and Swaps

These are usually free, sometimes with a small entrance fee, but I've never heard of one where the scions are not free.  There are more and more of them, though large areas of the U.S. still don't have any.  Search the web for terms like scion exchange, scion swap, grafting class or grafting workshop along with your large city, state or region.  If there are none nearby, maybe you can find some like minded people and eventually start one.  To my way of thinking, there should be one within easy driving distance of everywhere :)


Online Trading, Fruit Communities and Fruit and Nut Organizations

  Below are listed some online forums, destinations and organizations where people trade cuttings and seeds. They generally are also places to meet like minded people in your region.  The best information and collaborations are often local.

!GROWING FRUIT’S SCION SOURCE PAGE! http://growingfruit.org/t/scionwood-s...   I like this forum a lot.  Friendly with a lot of knowledgeable people.

NORTH AMERICAN SCION EXCHANGE Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/scion...  Started by my Friends Andy and Little John because they had no nearby scion exchanges.  There is a website too, but the facebook group is most active

NAFEX, North American Fruit Explorers: http://www.nafex.org/  A long standing organization of fruit variety enthusiasts.

MidFEX, Midwest Fruit Explorers: http://www.midfex.org/

CRFG, California Rare Fruit Growers: https://crfg.org/  Membership organization with multiple chapters up and down the state.  CRFG scion swaps happen up and down the state over the winter.

Home Orchard Society (Pacific Northwest): http://www.homeorchardsociety.org/  An excellent organization for NorthWesterners.  From what I hear, their scion swap is one of the largest and best in the country.

Temperate Orchard Society: Apparently cloned the enormous Nick Botner apple collection, so they should have over 2000 apple varieties. (scion sales) http://www.temperateorchardconservancy.org/contact-us/

DBG Scion Exchange, EDMONTON CANADA: https://dbgfruitgrowers.weebly.com/sc...

MOGFA, Maine Organic Farmers Association, Scion Exchange: http://www.mofga.org/Events/SeedSwapS...

SEEDS Durham North Carolina: http://www.seedsnc.org/2018/01/upcoming-grafting-workshop-scion-exchange/

WCFS, Western Cascade Fruit Society, Scion and Grafting Fair in March:  http://wcfs.org/

Michigan Home Orchard group:  https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/mi-home-orchard  Group by YouTube user Prof Kent for michigan folks.

For Europe, Fruitiers.net scion trading:  www.fruitiers.net


Buying Scions

Finally, you can buy scions.  They have become more expensive, but if you really want a variety and you can't find it anywhere else, it might be worthwhile.  Also, once you get interesting varieties, it gives you trading leverage.  I sell scions sometimes, but I rarely trade, because I'm not collecting much anymore.  Also, the apples that remain on my wants list are very rare, some probably even extinct or at least lost.  If you want a specific variety, just search the net for the variety name and the work scion.  You might be surprised to find some for sale, or to find at least someone that grows that variety or has it for trade.  If I have scions for trade, they will be in the webstore around January and February.  Unless you have some amazing rare stuff to trade, don't contact me about trading.  I like to help people and will go out of my way to help serious collectors and breeders, but I get way too many requests.  If you can find it anywhere else, please do.

If were to make a list of scion wood sources, they would all be on this page on the GrowingFruit.org site anyway, so I'll just refer you there....   http://growingfruit.org/t/scionwood-sources/3346

Grafting, the collecting fruit varieties and scion trading are fast growing in popularity, and for good reason.  It's always an adventure finding out about new varieties, tracking them down and fruiting them out.  I hope it grows enormously in the future.  It is important to the preservation of food plant diversity that everyday citizens grow, share, eat, talk about and even create many different varieties.  Even at it's most diverse, the larger industrial food model will always lack true diversity and soul.  When there are quite possibly tens of thousands of apple varieties, even 20 varieties in markets looks pretty weak.

Feel free to contact me or leave a comment if you know of other good online communities, organizations or annual scion exchanges.  Happy hunting

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A Review of Tanning, Leatherworking and Skin Related Books in My Collection

Below are Tanning and skin working related books collected by myself and Tamara Wilder over the years.  The video version talks about these books and a little history and such.  Some of them are broadly recommended, and some are only for people with certain specific interests.

Many, many books on Tanning, Glue Making and Leather working that are not listed here are available as free downloads from the Downloads page, SkillCult.com/freestuff

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Buckskin, The Ancient Art of braintanning, Steven Edholm and Tamara Wilder, 1997: 

The book I wrote with Tamara Wilder in 1997.  From what I've seen, it is probably the longest and most detailed book on home tanning to date, especially considering it's focus.  As of writing this, it is currently out of print with plans to revise and re-print in digital and print forms.  Covers wetscrape braintanning, with some satellite subjects like sharpening and dyeing buckskin with natural materials.  If you've read it, please consider leaving a review on Amazon.


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Deerskins Into Buckskins, Matt Richards, 1997: 

Published the same year as our book, this one also covers the wetscrape method, but focused on bucking, which is using alkali to soak the hide instead of water.  It is the best, if not only, book reference for that technique.  There is also a companion DVD.


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Traditional Tanning Leather and Furskin, Lotta Rahme, 2014:

This would probably be my number one recommendation of a book on general tanning covering a lot of ground and many methods.  It has lots of anecdotes and tidbits on traditional tanning from various parts of the world, and good basic information on tanning chemistry and theory.  If a person were interested in braintanning primarily, they should get a book on that subject.  This may be currently the best single book reference for vegetable (bark) tanning.  Lotta is an experienced, small production tanner, with her own micro-tannery, so she has real insight, skill and knowledge to offer.


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Fish Leather Tanning and Sewing, Lotta Rahme, 2006: 

Lotta's cool book on tanning fish skins.  This is a popular subject.  I keep hearing about and seeing more and more fish leather. Much of the information is also contained in her general leather tanning book, but there is also a lot of information specific to fish skin and various species of fish, though they seem largely to be species from her part of the world, Sweden.


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Blue Mountain Buckskin, Jim Riggs: 

My teacher and teacher of my teacher Jim Riggs.  Jim was largely responsible for disseminating braintanning knowledge, having learned from his teacher Buckskin Slim Scheafer, who's book is below.  This is the best all around reference on dry scrape braintanning.  Fun, thorough and insightful.  #1 recommendation for a book on dry scrape braintanning.

Jim died last year.  He was friend and mentor many and had a profound and enduring effect on the primitive skills movement.  Many people's live took radically different directions because of either contact with Jim, or with others infected with his knowledge and philosophy.  My buckskin book contains much of Jim and would not exist without him.  Blue Mountain Buckskin is an enduring slice of Jim in the best way.

Tribute page for Jim Riggs: https://www.facebook.com/pg/jimriggsmemories/community/


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The Tanning Spirit video, Melvin Beatty, click here to watch:

Mel is one of the best tanners I know to this day and has always produced the best quality wetscrape buckskin.  His tips helped me get to producing better wetscrape buckskin.  You can watch his video on the subject on youtube now.

Also visit mel at the following.  He posts tips and experience on braintanning at his facebook page.

www.Braintanbuckskin.com

And Facebook as BraintanBuckskin


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The Indian Art of Tanning Buckskin
"Buckskin Slim" Schaefer, 1973

Jim Rigg's teacher Slim wrote this book at Jim's urging.  It was published the same year as Larry Belitz' book, Brain Tanning the Sioux Way, those being the first two books specific to braintanning that I know of.  This book is out of print, but they show up on ebay and elsewhere now and again at not unreasonable prices.


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Brain Tanning the Sioux Way, Larry Belitz:

This is a small book and lacking somewhat in detail. There is enough information to learn the process, but it will be more trial and error than when using a more in depth book.  I think a lot of braintanners in the 70's and early 80's probably learned at least partly from this book.


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Making the Attikamek Snowshoe, Henri Vaillancourt:

Available on the Author's website, this book is fantastic.  It is exactly what it should be, a detailed documentation of a traditional art, with as much important detail as possible, recorded in quality images and insightful text.  Henri is part anthropologist and part craftsman, which is how it should be, but almost never is.  The section on hide working outlines interesting traditional methods common to moose country for tanning skins and producing rawhide, both very important skills in that part of the world.

 


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Home Tanning and Leather Making Guide, A.B. Farnham:

This guide has some useful information, but leaves something to be desired as a stand alone guide to tanning.  It is still one of the better references for vegetable tanning and well worth taking advantage of, all the more so, because it is out of copyright and can be download from tanning book collection


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Home manufacture of Furs and Skins, A.B. Farnham, no date: 

A useful book when it comes to handling and dressing furs.  Available as a free download from tanning book collection


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Home Tanning of Leather and Small Fur Skins, USDA, 1923:

Of limited use due to lack of detail, but worth reading.  Download from tanning book collection.

 


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Primitive Wilderness Living and Survival Skills, John and Gerry McPherson, 1993:

This book contains John McPherson's small book on braintanning by the dry scrape method.  It is a competent and useful guide to that subject, and also contains lots of other great stuff on primitive living skills of all kinds.  A good and useful book worth the price of admission from some old friends back in the day.

 


Aboriginal Skin Dressing in Western North America, Arden Ross King, 1938: 

This book is unobtanium, and likely only available in a few large university libraries.

 


The art of leather manufacture, Alexander Watt, 1885:

One of the better old books on tanning, although the only digital version I could find is the later 1906 version.  Available to download from the tanning book collection.  Much of the better part may be derived from the De LA LANDE translation below, which is more recommended.


The Art of Tanning and of Currying Leather... Collected From the French of monsieure De La Lande and others, 1773:

or download in my tanning book collection here

Maybe the best all around old resource I've found, introduced to me by friend and tanning colleague Jason Leininger.  Unusually well written and exhaustive for that time period.  Anyone who reads french should go to the original text, as no doubt things are changed, left out, or lost in translation.


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Dictionary of Leather-Working Tools, Circa 1700-1950 R.A. Salaman,1986:

Another book primarily for the enthusiast, tool maker and researcher.  A jillion variations on leather working tools as well as some tools of the tanner and currier.  Helpful in identifying old leather working and tanning tools.


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Secrets of Eskimo Skin Sewing, Edna Wilder, 1976:

Traditional patterns and techniques from the source.


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Glue, Gelatin, Isinglass, Cements and Pastes, Dawidowsky & Brannt, 1905: 

This is the book I learned most of what I know about glue making from.  It is a technical manual for manufacturers from the intersection of tradition and science at a time when hide glue was still king.  Dowload free from Glue Books Collection


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The American Indian Parfleche a Tradition of Abstract Painting, Gaylord Torrence, 1994:

An art book, packed full of art-speak.  There is some interesting history, and the small amount of functional detail it does contain helped me figure the process out eventually.  The photos are excellent.  This is a beautiful and unique practical art form that originally combined a functionality tailor fit to a singular lifestyle with expressive art.  Very neat book.

 

Axe Buying Checklist Series, #1 Damage and Wear

This is a series on common problems found with axes from craftsmanship to use and abuse.  There are many points, like a checklist of things to look at when picking up an axe or axe head which few people are savvy enough to know to look for all of.  After this series, you'll have that mental checklist. 

The four video segments are on:

Wear and Damage,

Symmetry,

Handles

Options and Axe Hunting

Most used axes are either worn or abused in some way.  Fortunately, they are often perfectly serviceable anyway, usually after a little work.  New axes can have various issues and seemingly perfect axes seem to be the exception. 

This links to the video playlist.  One video will come out every day for the next few days.

Photographs from 2017

I started putting together a blog post on some of my favorite pictures from 2017, but it was looking more like 4 blog posts, so I'm just going to send you to my Flickr page, where I put all the photos I really like already anyway.  https://www.flickr.com/photos/52106235@N07/

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Posted on January 25, 2018 .