In this video I taste some usual suspects, Kerry Pippin, Chestnut Crab and Williams' Pride, and a couple of newer ones, Viking (very interesting) and Salem June (meh...)
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 have ostentatiously and awesomely dubbed it 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 that lets say a cauliflower and a kale plant look and act so different is that they have been bred for different characteristics 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 originated in the British Isles. A variety referred to locally as Purple Tree Collard has been grown in my area by both 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 particular 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 I suspect they 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 out 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.
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 plants.
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, is very 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.
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 over the next two decades. 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.
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. In the name of diversity and resilience, I would eventually like to select out three or more plants worthy of naming and propagating from cuttings. The seed stock I have here would also ideally be crossed with the common local purple tree collard as well, for some genetic refreshment, diversity and invigoration to the line, but I may leave that up to someone else. 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 resistance to flowering, and I think my seedlings might show a pretty similar rate of inheritance of that characteristic. Transference of perenniality was my biggest question going into this project. Now that we know that the trait is transferable, even when crossed with other B. oleracea types that tend to seed quickly, 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, including many kales, broccoli, cauliflower, collards and Brussel’s sprouts. 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 the framework of the project, 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, legal issues, the plant breeding community, and the broader gardening and orcharding culture could look like, but that's another bag of worms.
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.
These were picked later than they should have been. I suspect if picked earlier, they would store a little better.
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.
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 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'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.
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.
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.
This is how I make my seedling mix. I rarely put anything purchased in it and It's great stuff. Seedlings grow well and can get quite large before they start running out of nutrients. Because of the high organic matter, it holds water, yet drains quickly and remains well aerated.
Some overdue tending of my seed leek project. From here out I just need to keep fertilizing and watering till spring when I select the best leeks and allow them to go to seed. The seed should be ready for sale in fall of 2017 Related videos linked below.