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.  The leaves also average much larger.  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 .

Tasting 9 Late Winter Apples, The Good, The Great and The Mushy

Anyone that has followed my apple content for a while knows I'm obsessed with late hanging apples.  In this video I'm tasting 9 late winter apples, mostly off the tree and a few out of storage.  Results below.

Some favorites, roughly in order.

1. Katherine.  Named for early 20th century apple breeder Albert Etter's wife, this is an exceptional apple.  It hangs very late and seems to be at it's best sometime in December.  This late specimen has a rich multi-dimensional flavor.  It was popular at new year dinner last night, one person described it as like wine.  The flavor is not very describable, but it's deep and sophisticated.  Earlier, it is often less complex and just pleasantly flavored.  It has an unbeatable texture when it's at it's best, with a very light crisp flesh and plenty of juice.  This would be in my top 10 apples as grown here.  I have never stored it to speak of.

2. Whitwick Pippin:  This beats out Katherine for intensity and any one person might easily prefer it to that apple.  It is more intensely flavored, complex, quite sweet but also acidic.  The texture at this time of year is better and I suspect it will prove to be a later hanger in the long run.  I only scored Katherine higher because I am more compelled to eat it for whatever reasons and I would never argue with that.

3. Gold Rush:  Even out of storage, this scores 3rd, although Lady Williams would likely go in this spot if it were ripe.  These have held good texture and although they have picked up or developed some off flavors in the fridge, they are quite good, with a forward acidity, plenty of sugar and plenty going on in the flavor department.  Thumbs up for a storage apple.

4:  Pomo Sanel:  Some specimens at this apple at this time will beat some specimens of Gold Rush, but today, gold rush won by a small margin.  This is a very rare apple discovered locally.  It bears some resemblance and eating characteristics to gold rush and it seems quite possible that it is from the same grimes' golden/golden delicious line that Gold rush is part of.  Pomo Sanel is more rubbery in texture and will hold it's shape very well when cooked.  I threw a slice in my coconut milk shrimp soup base the other day and let it boil for a while and it held up very well.  I think you could probably get away with canning it for apple pie filling.

5. Hauer Pippin:  I've not been able to get super excited about this apple, but it has some good characteristics.  It is a rare apple outside of Northern and Central California.  It was originally discovered in Central California and is rare outside of this state, though I hear it was grown commercially at one time.  It is a very beautiful apple and hangs well to the tree through the first half of winter.  The flavor is somewhat odd to me, but this specimen makes me think I should keep a branch of it.

Lady Williams would be higher on this list if it were ripe now, but it is a couple weeks too early.  It may even deserve to be before Hauer Pippin, even now.

More apples could be on this list, those are just the ones I had to taste on this new years day.  Here is a previous video on some of the same apples and others.

Axe Cordwood Challenge 2018 is On, Rules and Stuff

The Axe Cordwood Challenge for 2018 Kicks off today, Jan 1st 2018, through Sept. 1st 2018.  Here is the official video.  Also, below is the "must watch" playlist of videos for the cordwood challenge, which I hope to add to in the coming months.  Stay safe and have fun.

Axe CordWood Challenge 2017 Final Results, 12 Cords, 13 Choppers, 1,536 cu ft.

The Axe CordWood Challenge for 2017 Ended in the first week of june.  It was a considerable success.  Altogether we had 13 people finish 1/4 cord or more.  8 of us finished 1 cord or more and one person cut over 2 cords.  The total quantity of wood was probably around 12 cords, which is a closely stacked block of wood 8 feet wide, 4 feet high and 48 feet long, or 1,536 cubic feet!  The web page is here, with participant links and photos.  ACWC 2018 is on the way...

Bulgarian Giant Leek Seed Germination Testing and Origami Seed Pockets

The leeks seeds are finally dry and ready to package, but first germination tests have to be done to insure good viability.  Also in this video, folding origami seed packets.  An editable template for printing the seed pockets can be found on this page.  Once I get my apple seeds collected and sorted, I can list everything and start sending seeds out.

 

And here is the full video playlist for this project spanning almost 2 years now.

Posted on December 26, 2017 .

A Locally Discovered Rare, Late Hanging Apple, Pomo Sanel

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The fable I heard is that someone discovered a late ripening apple on a local homestead, took cuttings, named it Pomo Sanel and it shows up occasionally at scion exchanges.  Like any such apple, it may be an older named variety, but I don't know that anyone has identified it as such.  Although I'm not crazy about the Banana overtones, it's late hanging and richness of flavor have impressed me, and I think it would be found worthy of propagation by some.  If nothing else, the genes that allow it to hang late into the winter are worth preserving.

Very late hanging apples are one of my great apple interests.  Walking out to my trees crunching through the frost to munch on a sugary, juicy, flavorful apple is something I've become attached to.  I recall in previous years that Pomo Sanel is usually my second latest apple, ripening in January, between a group of Christmas apples like pink parfait and Katherine and Lady Williams ripening February 1st.  This year it is earlier.  Apples from storage can be quite good at times, but they can also be less than optimal and may pick up off flavors.  Besides, letting apples hang does not preclude storing them as well, even the same variety.  I think this apple may be better if picked at some point and then stored.  By that I mean that it may be more reliable and I might have fewer losses to rot in the stem wells or the occasional cracked apple, and that ultimately the apples would last later.  Even for a durable apple, hanging through rain and freezing weather an take it's toll.  But I would still let a few hang, because I like having them off the tree.  Another thing to consider is storage space.  I have no root cellar.  I have unheated rooms and a small fridge.  Storage of apples is not convenient for me.  And I was just last night trying to stuff things in the fridge because the crisper drawers are mostly full of apples.  In the end, I think a combination of both hanging late apples and storage, will prove the best strategy to carry fresh eating apples through.  Some varieties will keep long, but will not hang late.  I suspect that most long hangers will store well if picked at the right time.

Pomo Sanel is well above average for winter durability. It will show cracking on some fruits though.  It also frequently shows separation of the skin from the stem down in the stem well.  It also seems to dehydrate naturally on the tree a little bit.

As long storing apples go, I suspect that many others may do better than this one.  Dehydration and resultant shriveling are commonly considered a fault of storage apples and Pomo Sanel is already showing signs of shriveling on the tree.  It is not always a deal killer though.  Sometimes they will retain an acceptable texture as they lose water.  A good example is that some Russet apples will wrinkle up and become rubbery in storage.  Given the tough flesh and somewhat rubbery tooth of some of the specimens on the tree now, I suspect it will have a partial tendency toward that effect.  Other apples will soften in their own ways.  Some become what might be called tender, but without being at all mushy or mealy.  I personally enjoy coarse grained tender apples.  This one also seems to have a tendency in that direction.  Although they were clearly picked too late for best storage life and quality, I do have some put away in the fridge now, and am interested to see how they do.  I must have stored a few in the past, but I don't recall.

My general impression of Pomo Sanel is that it's a gem in the rough.  It is not a highly bred apple, like modern specimens of perfection being created now.  It has some character with it's freckles and somewhat uneven matte colored skin.  The dense flesh requires a little jaw work, something modern people don't get enough of anyway, so that could be a plus. 

The flavor is pretty complex, with maybe something like a fruit smoothie effect.  The most prominent flavor is banana. It's not a sickly sweet banana flavor, but it's definitely there on top, like it or not.  The sugar is  not overly high, but very adequate and compliments the level of acidity well.  Intensity of flavor is definitely above average.  It's no Suntan, but it asserts itself for sure. 

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Pomo Sanel's very late hanging characteristics got my attention.  I've been meaning to make some crosses with it, but this is the first year I did.  I crossed it with the queen of late hanging apples (in my orchard), the sleek, durable, beautiful, highly flavored, well behaved Lady Williams.  She impressed someone, because she is one of the parents of Pink Lady, an excellent late hanging apple in it's own right that I've eaten off the tree here at the new year.  Another potential cross would be Gold Rush and Pomo Sanel.  Gold Rush is by all accounts an outstanding storage apple and has disease resistance genes.  The ones I'm eating out of storage now are quite good around Christmas.  They both have Banana as a prominent flavor when ripe, but other flavors differ a little.  Gold Rush has more spice in it.  Gold rush is not durable on the tree though, where it cracks and declines in quality.  Both seem productive.  Gold rush has Golden Delicious and given the characteristics and appearance of this apple, it wouldn't surprise me if it comes from the Grime's Golden/Golden Delicious line.  Other late hanging apples that come to mind as possible candidates for crossing are Whitwick Pippin, Allen's Everlasting, Pink Parfait, Grenadine, Granny Smith, Katherine (of Etter) and Pink Lady.  Since I've made crosses using some of those late apples already I also hope to have seedlings that could potentially provide breeding material.  Who knows what the limits of quality, hanging and storage apples might be if we keep crossing these late lines.

I'm saving some seeds from this interesting apple to distribute this winter, but I can't send out scions of Pomo Sanel, or anything else, due to disease issues in the orchard.  I may at some point try to sleuth out a new source of scions to distribute to people that might grow it and share it out.  I have no idea what level and duration of cold it can stand.  Even if picking it for storage, it has to ripen into at least late November here.  It's okay to pick apples early for storage, but they should be fully sized up.  The picture below shows Pomo Sanel in mid November still looking a little lean and green.  Your mileage may vary of course.

 Pomo Sanel looking a little bit green on November 14th here in Northern California

Pomo Sanel looking a little bit green on November 14th here in Northern California

One thing I feel sure of is that this variety is worth saving, and it is certainly not remotely safe at this point.  Maybe the longest standing, most knowledgeable and well connected local fruit collector/experimenter I know asked me for some mosaic virus infected scions a couple of years ago.  I'm sure there are more copies out there among the local fruit collectors somewhere, but if it's not distributed much by any of us, it will fizzle out like so many others have.  That is assuming that it is a unique variety and just an unidentified more common named variety.

Penetration, Saturation and Coating, 3 Main Factors in Oiling Wooden Axe and Tool Handles

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Over the years I keep evolving and refining my methods and understanding of the process of oiling tool handles.  Although it is painfully simple, the obvious is not always so obvious.  I've been soaking my handles pretty deeply with oil for a long time, but still have had something of a fixation on coating them with a protective coat.  Until, I realized that a well saturated handle is it's own finish, and more.

a Coating ona a handle is a barrier between the wood and the environment.  But does it achieve that goal well, and what is the goal anyway?  The goal is to protect the handle from environmental changes in moisture basically.  Moisture swells the wood, and when it leaves, the wood shrinks.  When wood shrinks, it is stressed and those stressed can lead to cracks.   For some reason cracks seem more likely to form if the wood swells and shrinks repeatedly.  If the wood swells within the eye of a tool, the wood compresses against the hard metal of the eye walls, becoming crushed.  When it shrinks on drying again, it many shrink smaller, than it was before it expanded.  That is why soaking the eye of a tool in water when it is loose will eventually make it even looser.  A good thick coating of cured linseed oil can help prevent the entry of moisture, and anytime oil is used on a handle, some of it soaks into the wood to some depth, bringing in the factor of penetration, which must help some.  A coating is basically still very thin though and will wear off over time.  These are handles remember,  They are essentially rubbed over and over again.  And although some penetration is always occurring, the questions to ask is how much good is penetration when it is shallow and of a low saturation.

Enter Saturation.  Saturation if you look it up, basically means full or at maximum capacity.  But it is commonly used with a quantifier or clarification like partially, mostly, completely.  If I soak a handle numerous times with linseed oil, it will penetrate to a certain depth, but unless it is applied regularly and in quantity, it will have a very low saturation as the oil spreads itself out deep into the wood structure.  Eventually, it either reaches the middle or some unknown depth and starts to increase it's saturation eventually filling the wood to the point that no more will soak in.  This 2 minute video shows the process I pretty much use now.  If you get tired of adding expensive oil to a handle, try stopping for a month to let the oil in the handle cure and penetration should slow down.  Some handles will take a lot of oil.  Fortunately, oil is light.

Now if we think about a handle that is fully saturated with oil, for even 1/8 of an inch deep, let alone more, we now have something like the equivalent of a 1/8 inch coating.  But even more cool, it is actually protecting the wood itself by filling the pores and structures that water would fill.  If you leave such a handle out in the weather, water droplets just bead up on it and sit there.  Not recommended, they aren't necessarily immune to moisture, but it's telling.

 droplets on a well saturated knife handle.  Two hours later they were still there, though smaller, but I have little doubt that at least the majority of missing water left be way of evaporation and not penetration.  That is a test better done in high humidity, not on a warm breezy morning.  This handle has probably not been oiled since it was originally treated 2 or 3 years ago.  After all, the treatment cannot wear off.

droplets on a well saturated knife handle.  Two hours later they were still there, though smaller, but I have little doubt that at least the majority of missing water left be way of evaporation and not penetration.  That is a test better done in high humidity, not on a warm breezy morning.  This handle has probably not been oiled since it was originally treated 2 or 3 years ago.  After all, the treatment cannot wear off.

Try it on a handle and see what you think.  It is a long process and the oil is not always cheap.  many tools are also not subjected to much in the way of atmospheric changes, so it's not something we have to use everywhere.  I'm pretty sold on it though and any axe that I plan to keep and use gets the full treatment now.  Dudley cook recommends the same basically, but he maintains with an occasional coat, which I think is unnecessary if the wood on the outside of the handle is well saturated.  The wood essentially becomes it's own finish.  If the wood will ever take oil on and soak it up, do it, but it it doesn't, there is no need to keep coating it. 

I use food grade linseed oil (usually labeled as flax oil, which is the same thing) anymore and have found ways to pick it up cheap enough.  Boiled linseed oil is toxic and I think it probably dries too fast.  Prices change on amazon constantly, but this brand is usually about the cheapest, but do your own research.  I've also found flax oil at the local cheap food outlet where they send overstock and expiring stuff.  Other oils can be used as well, walnut, hemp, poppyseed and tung oil should be adequate, but I really haven't used any of them enough to say for sure.

For handles that you don't need to saturate, I recommend a thin coat of oil once or twice a year, or better, just whenever you have an oily linseed rag.  Raw linseed oil will cure, it just takes longer.  So called "boiled linseed oil" contains metallic driers and solvents that speed curing time.

I have more ideas and experiments brewing around this problem, and no doubt you'll hear more about it in the future.

Bark Tannned Leather Clinic With Zack, Vegetable Tanning

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Zack Hribar came over to show me his first batch of bark tanned leather.  We shot an informal video talking about them and vegetable tanning options, troubleshooting the hides, stories and that sort of thing.  It was fun.  Zack is an enthusiastic new bark tanner, check him out on instagram as z._hriack_bar

Winnowing Seeds for the Bulgarian Giant Leek Seed Saving Project

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Seed saving requires seed cleaning.  In this video I use simple methods to clean the leek seeds from the Bulgarian Giant Leek seed saving project.  Without the use of fans, and without any breeze, seeds can be winnowed and "sifted" on flat tightly woven baskets.  The seeds will be ready in 2 or 3 weeks after final drying, germination testing and packaging.

Etter's Blood Apples, Unique, Beautiful and Tasty, Red Flesh, Red Flavor

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This year I have three of apple breeder Albert Etter's red fleshed apples fruiting.  They are very unique and interesting apples, though they still represent unfinished work.  Red fleshed apples will be coming more and more into the public eye over the coming years.  They could have arrived much sooner had anyone taken up Etter's work, which was already well started.  With all their faults, these apples are still worth growing.  Also a short video on Gold Rush, which might be the apple I've seen most universally endorsed by home growers for flavor, keeping ability and disease resistance.