One of my main interests when it comes to collecting and breeding apple varieties is the very late hanging/ripening types. I’ll be heard to proselytize about them frequently and I am not sure why everyone else is not as excited about them as I am. While most would normally think of winter apples as being eaten out of storage, certain varieties can be ripened and held on the tree through at least all of January assuming the climate is suitable. This video is a walkaround checking out what is still hanging as well as tasting the remaining late ripening seedling apples from the breeding trials. I wrote a whole post about late hangers, but I decided to put off posting it until I can make a video that makes an argument for growing them more, ferreting more of them out, and beginning to test the climatic limits of hanging late fruit. Clearly there is going to be a cold limit and folks in places like Michigan will not be able to grow them. But chances are that they can be taken advantage of in much of Cascadia, the southern belt east to west, and other places that you can’t go ice fishing without falling through. Not doubt too there are going to be varieties that are more durable to the cold than others. Unfortunately, many of these late hanging varieties are quite rare and I usually have very limited scion wood available. I will have some this year, quite a bit of some of them and none of others. Scion sales will begin soon and I’ll post when they are available.
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.
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.
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
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/
SEEDS Durham North Carolina: http://www.seedsnc.org/2018/01/upcoming-grafting-workshop-scion-exchange/
Michigan Home Orchard group: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/mi-home-orchard Group by YouTube user Prof Kent for michigan folks.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
When I moved here 12 years ago, one of the first things I did was start to plan my fruit orchards. I well knew then that the time to plant a fruit tree is ten years ago, now I might extend that to 15. I began doing research on apple varieties, which I was very unfamiliar with. I figured there must be hundreds of them, but the best resource I had available was a thick book called Cornucopia, a source book of edible plants which only listed a few of what I later found out were probably tens of thousands of named varieties. I also talked to friend and fruit explorer Freddy Menge, who made his best recommendations at the time. I had helped Mark Dupont of Sandy Bar nursery graft his first batch of fruit trees many years before, and had an outstanding favor owed for fruit trees whenever I finally got my own place. I called in that favor. Looking through their catalogue, they said they had a variety called cherry cox that had become a homestead favorite. I was intrigued. They had no trees to sell that year, but Mark sent me a scion, one of the first scions I grafted onto frankentree. I've since sent out lots of scions to other people all over the country.
Cherry Cox has not disappointed. It really does taste like cherries, among other flavors. Few descriptions mention that it has a cherry flavor, suggesting even that the name is for the redder color it has. There is no doubt though that the name is from the flavor, though I don't doubt that it does not always develop and some say they can't detect it at all. It was also precocious, being one of the first apples to ever fruit on frankentree and one of the most consistent since. If anything, it sets too much fruit, though it has taken years off as almost any apple will do when poorly managed. It seems healthy enough so far, but I can't say too much about that as apple diseases are just getting a real foothold here. It does get scab, and I think it could be called moderately susceptible. Don't quote me on that, it's just a vague impression.
Cherry Cox is a sport of the very famous Cox's Orange Pippin. A sport is a bud mutation. One bud on a tree mutates into something new and thus begins a new variety, no tree sex required. While many sports are very minor variations on the parent tree, Cherry Cox seems to be considerably different than it's parent. It tastes different, performs different, allegedly keeps longer, and I'd just about bet that if you planted rows of each side by side there would be some obvious differences. I was at my friend Tim Bray's orchard and his Cox's Orange Pippins were notably small and the trunks and branches completely covered in lichens, unlike the other trees. They are known for their poor growability and have no doubt only survived by the virtue of exceptional flavor. Cox's Orange Pippin is widely used in apple breeding because of it's eating quality, and is probably the apple most commonly said to be the best out of hand eating apple in the world. Cox's Orange Pippin is indeed one of the few apples I've ever eaten worthy of the classification "best". Even at it's best, Cherry cox is still not in that category. It's a good lesson though that Cox's Orange Pippin seems to do poorly under my conditions and cherry cox is consistently good to very good.
Flavor wise, Cherry Cox has a lot going on, like it's parent Cox's Orange Pippin it is complex. Obvious flavors are cherry, something almost like cherry cough drops, but in a good way, Anise is also present and I've detected some flavor of spice. There is certainly more going on, other fruit flavors, but I'm not good at picking them out. If I were to change things about Cherry Cox, I would. It could use more sugar, which would bring the flavors out more. Have you ever noticed how much better fruit tastes when you sprinkle sugar on it? It's not just that it's sweeter, sugar is to fruit what salt is to meat and savory foods. Cook a fantastic soup with no salt and you will barely taste the potential of it's flavor. Add salt to it and boom, flavor city. The cherry flavor develops early in cherry cox, but the sugar develops late. It is a fairly acidic apple, and maybe even tart before it gets really ripe. I would not reduce the acidity, I would just balance it with more sugar. More sugar would also make it a richer flavored apple. It can be a little thin tasting at times. More scab resistance wouldn't hurt. In the Beauty department it lacks nothing. It's is a beautiful apple. it can grow plenty large under good cultural conditions, though it is not generally a very large apple. Cherry Cox is a little known and little grown apple. I doubt it has great potential as a broader market apple, but it has huge potential as a small scale specialty orchard and farmer's market apple. And then there is the breeding potential.
Looking toward improvement, I think cherry cox is very promising breeding material. If nothing else for the cherry flavor, but it also must carry most of the exceptional flavor gene pool of Cox's Orange Pippin. My own breeding efforts include Cherry Cox crossed with various other apples. If my efforts don't breed anything exceptional, maybe they will produce something that is worth using in further breeding. I've crossed it with several red fleshed apples in the hopes that I might be lucky enough to co-mingle the berry flavors of blood apples with C.C.'s complexity and cherry flavor. I've also crossed it with Sweet Sixteen, which has sometimes a cherry candy component, while also being a good grower and carrying some disease resistance. I've crossed it with Wickson for higher sugar content and unique flavor and probably others I'm forgetting about. I think Golden Russet might be a good candidate since it is one of the best apples I've ever tasted, and it also has an extremely high sugar content. I'd like to see more crosses made along these lines. I would like to see Cherry Cox crossed with sweet 16 and Sweet 16 also crossed with the generally scab susceptible red fleshed apples, and the offspring of both back crossed in an attempt to keep Sweet Sixteen's scab resistance, while reinforcing the cherry component and hoping for a red fleshed offspring.... or something along those lines. I don't know anything about breeding for scab resistance, but the information on dominance of traits is available out there somewhere if one cared to look for it. I've got all of those genetic crosses made, and then some, so fingers crossed.
For various reasons, I'll have few Cherry Cox scions to offer for grafting, if any. Being uncommon, it may be hard to find scions, but I think with a little effort they can be found. The more that people grow it, the more scions will be available. If you have a scion exchange in your area, that is a good place to look. Online scion trading and fruit discussions can be found at GrowingFruit.org and The North American Scion Exchange. Information on grafting can now by found on my Youtube channel and on this website.
Other apples in my cherry cox tasting video that are worth mentioning are:
Egremont Russet: A nice russet. Not up to the best russets as it is grown here, but a good performer and very good at it's best. Stephen Hayes in the UK is a big fan. Here is his video review.
Sam Young is an Irish apple that is rare in the US. My small branch is just starting to fruit, but seems promising. It's somewhat russeted and is also known as Irish Russet. I'll be keeping an eye on this one. It is hard and very sweet. Below are some old descriptions.
Sam Young: Fruit small, flattish, about an inch and half from the eye to the stalk, and two inches in its transverse diameter; eye remarkably large, having some of the calyx attached to it; colour yellowish clouded with russet, reddish to the sun; very apt to crack; flesh yellowish, firm, crisp, sweet and well flavoured. In use from the beginning of November to January. Tree flat headed, shoots declining, of a light brown colour ; leaves sub-rotund, acuminate, coarsely serrated, upper surface shining, under slightly pubescent. An abundant bearer, and healthy on all soils.
Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London, 1820
Sam Young, aka Irish Russet:
Fruit of a smallish size, somewhat globular, flattened, about one inch and three quarters deep, and two inches and a half in diameter. Eye remarkably wide and open, in a broad depression. Stalk short. Skin bright yellow, with minute brown spots, and a considerable quantity of russet, especially round the stalk; in some specimens red on the sunny side, usually cracking. Flesh inclining to yellow, mixed with green; tender, and melting. Juice plentiful, sweet, with a delicious flavour, scarcely inferior to that of the Golden Pippin.
An Irish dessert apple, of high reputation, ripe in November, and will keep good for two months.
The merits of this very valuable apple were made known in 1818 by Mr. Robertson, of Kilkenny. It is certainly one of the best of our modern apples, and cannot have too general a cultivation.
A Guide to the Orchard and Fruit Garden: Or, An Account of the Most Valuable Fruits Cultivated in Great Britain, 1833
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Grafting has generally been seen as the domain of experts and super-geek enthusiasts, but it doesn't have to be. It is a skill that many, if not most, fruit tree owners could benefit from having. Without it, you are at the mercy of economic and social trends, nursery owners, growers and distributors. Fruit collecting, testing and breeding are exciting, life affirming, useful and meaningful pursuits which all pretty much require grafting. There are exceptions, but most grafting is not that hard and once you've assimilated the basics, you don't have to really know or remember all that much. You can go find any extra information you require on an as needed basis, or come back and review this stuff later.
I've been meaning to do a basic dormant grafting series for a couple of years. A week or so ago, I decided if I didn't throw my standards under the bus and just shoot the footage, it wasn't going to happen, and all those people out there with scions sitting in the fridge would be all like "WTF do I do with these?" So, I shot enough for the whole series in one day regardless of lighting and other considerations that I prefer to pay more attention to. I actually have to re-shoot the last few segments, but I have 5 of them published now for those of you who don't follow me on YouTube here is the entire playlist, which will be rounded out with segments on why grafts succeed or fail, grafting and grafts, aftercare, and follow up care. Look down the page for the individual videos published so far. If you are grafting this year and not totally sure what you're doing, I'd recommend watching all of them. If not, they'll be here when you need them. The sharpening video stands alone as a good treatment of what is important in sharpening and will be useful to anyone wishing to learn that skill.
At this point, I don't even make 100.00 a month on YouTube advertising revenue. Patreon and commissions from people using my Amazon link when they shop on Amazon both bring in more. Maybe I'll someday get enough views to make it work, but for now Patrons and Amazon link users keep the boat floating, and have so far prevented me from taking a working vacation to generate income. Anyone who uses and enjoys my content can thank them, as I do. THANK YOU! You guys rock. Onward.
THE FULL PLAYLIST
It’s bloom season and time to be out pollinating apple blossoms during sunny late mornings and early afternoons. Since it’s raining, I’m going to write down some thoughts today on promising directions in apple breeding. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere before, the interests and goals of large scale commercial breeders who have bred most of the apples now available in stores, are to an important extent different than the goals that benefit home growers and home breeders, and even to some extent, consumers. While the apple is capable of much further development, entire genetic areas are ignored or even intentionally bred out. Some of these genetics may actually be desirable to us for various reasons. Not only do I think they are worthy of pursuit, I feel we have almost a responsibility to pursue and improve some of them if we are to begin to re-take partial responsibility for our own food supply and not simply hand it over to a system who’s first priority is profit.
The big breeders mostly breed for commercial production now. That means apples have to meet a lot of criteria and be acceptable to growers, shippers, wholesalers and grocers. Of course they have to be acceptable to consumers too, but with a limited number of choices the consumer by extension has a limited education in their selection and critical estimation of the apples widely available. Most Americans will have a preference for which apple they like, or what style of apple, but they are familiar with the available options only, and may not even know, for instance, what a russet apple is. The market has ideas about what we want and will buy as consumers. Whether those perceptions are accurate or not, I can't say for sure, but even if they are accurate now, I think the market can be trained, or retrained, to want and like other options. For instance, Cuyama a large organic orchard in California took a chance on Crimson Gold, a very small apple bred by Albert Etter in the first half of the 20th century. As far as I can tell, they are doing quite well with it. The apples are no more than a few bites worth, but bags of them appear in the market here every fall and I’ve heard that they are also available on the East coast from the same grower. It’s no wonder. It’s an excellent apple, with more flavor than a typical large apple. Once someone bites into one, they are likely to become a fan. More on Crimson Gold below.
FLAVORS, AND OTHER EATING QUALITIES v.s. DISEASE RESISTANCE
While growth characteristics and disease resistance can be important when it comes to actually getting apples into our hands, we eat them for texture, flavor, sugar and to a lesser extent appearance and size. And it is those things that are inspiring to me. It seems as though we should be able to take any type of apple that we can come up with by mixing crazy flavors and extending seasons etc. and eventually have something like it in a disease resistant apple with long enough effort and intention. But if we pursue disease resistance first, then our options for parents are much more limited. So for me, the pursuit of apple breeding is largely a feeling out process to see what can be created in terms of the things that make us want to eat apples in the first place.
I don’t talk about disease resistance much, because I don’t think about it much. Disease pressure is fairly light here in our dry summer climate. I’ve noticed some increase over the years and it will likely become more of a problem as I build up a reservoir of disease pathogens and pests. No doubt they’ll entrench themselves along with my establishing trees. I understand that folks in less favorable circumstances would naturally look toward disease resistance as a primary goal and I think it’s an important long term goal and a great endeavor. There are still plenty of good apples to work with that are disease resistant, including heirlooms. In fact, I’m sure there are more than ever due to the efforts of large scale breeding programs. While I choose to keep it simple and not avail myself of much information related to plant breeding, there is no doubt much to be gained from studying how the various disease resistant traits are passed or reinforced. No doubt much has been learned on the subject, which might be found out by reading scientific papers or communicating with breeders at universities.
But for me now, I cross whatever I’m moved to cross and let the cards fall where they will. I’ve already seen horrid scab on a couple of seedlings, but the information I want is what the apple turns out like as far as other characteristics go and I’ll worry about the rest later, or let someone else worry about it. I’m particularly interested in the idea of introducing new exotic flavors into the lines I want to work with. The most intriguing are the cherry and fruit candy flavors and whatever psychotic combination of flavors are contained in sweet 16. Fortunately, one of the other flavor groups I’m fascinated with, the berry flavors, are found most strongly, in red fleshed apples, one of my other great interests. Combining the former and the latter to find out what happens is high on my list and well underway already. I’m also interested in pineapple flavor, but it is not super common in any apples I have fruited, at least not strongly, except in Suntan, which is a triploid and very hard to pollinate. I think I’ve gotten one viable seed from suntan over the years for all my efforts, and it died. And then there are the crab apples with the unique flavor they bring to the table and which Etter showed in Vixen and Amberoso, can be brought into larger apples. My seedling, BITE ME!, a small to medium sized apple, but certainly not a crab, has enough of that special taste to be it’s star flavor component. I’m hoping that crossing larger tending apples with that flavor component, like BITE ME! and Vixen, with other larger Wickson offspring will reinforce that flavor trait in normal sized apples. Vixen is the most promising large parent I’ve tasted in this line.
SMALL APPLES AND CRABAPPLE GENES
Once I realized that the remarkable flavor characteristics and high sugar content of Albert Etter’s Wickson was due in large part to the crab apple genetics used by Etter in breeding, my gears started turning. Later I was able to taste some of the other Etter crab derived apples, which have similar flavors, including Crimson Gold, Vixen and Muscat de Venus. I feel quite sure that small apples with concentrated flavor and high sugar could be a class of popular apple. You may have noticed as I have that large size often comes with diluted flavor. Breeding large apples with concentrated flavor and high sugar is a worthy goal as well, and it is possible to do, at least to some extent, but there is no good reason to neglect small apples. If someone bites into a truly remarkable miniature apple, there will be no turning back. Is it just coincidence that both Wickson and Chestnut Crab show up so often on favorite lists? Nope, not a coincidence.
I’m fairly well convinced that the small, intense apple endeavor alone would be a worthy pursuit for an amateur breeder. Collect all the very best crabs, along with other interesting apples to breed in other traits such as flavors and keeping ability, and start mixing it all up. The crab derived apples Chestnut, Trailman and Wickson are all already excellent out of hand eating, and a great base to work from. There are also a lot of red fleshed crabs, though I don’t know of any that are dessert quality out of hand. I have made a lot of crab on crab crosses and have crossed wickson with many larger apples. My own thoughts are to continue crab on crab crosses, but also continue to breed crabs with remarkably flavored apples like cherry cox, sweet 16 and golden russet to shake it up a bit. I’m also mixing in a red fleshed crab called maypole and the red fleshed grenadine.
And why not go even smaller. My friend Becca sent me an unknown tiny crab that hangs in clusters like cherries and has yellow flesh. It was allegedly acquired out of an orchard at a North Carolina college. They are truly one bite apples, the size of a cherry. Most people would probably find them too tannic for munching, but they are sweet and delicious along with the pucker, and I love munching them down, seeds and all. The flesh is crisp and juicy and they hang on the tree well. I’m definitely working with Becca’s crab this year. Imagine the possibility of a one bite apple that grows in clusters like cherries, and has very red flesh. The red pigment would bring berry flavors to the mix. Add some of the cherry flavors of Cherry Cox or Sweet Sixteen and that apple could be something else! It’s a project that’s not going to come to fruition overnight, if it's even possible, so I’ll not likely see it in my lifetime, but I can damn well start the ball rolling and see what happens. I also think such an apple could be marketable if it was good enough. It could be sold on the antioxidant angle since they will contain a lot of antioxidant system stimulants. It will certainly inherit more natural polyphenol content than the average apple, because of the tannic nature of crabs. There is also the red flesh, which contains anthocyanins, widely promoted as healthy. Even further, there are the seeds, which contain cyanic compounds shown to have health benefits as well. The flavor of the seeds also reinforce the cherry aspect. Give it a great name and sell them as cherry apples in clusters. Who would not at least try them?
I have not sampled all that many red fleshed apples considering the number that seem to be out there, with more surfacing all the time, but my general impression is that they are badly in need of improvement all around. My suspicion is that being mostly from primitive genes and receiving very little attention in the past from breeders, the red fleshed trait likely comes with a package of other less desirable genes equating to high acidity, low sugar and not so great texture. Teasing those genes apart and refining selections to get the traits we want from other apples, while retaining the red flesh may be something of an undertaking. Albert Etter started the process, and while I haven’t tried all of his red fleshed creations, my impression so far is they could use improving. Greenmantle nursery has put trademark names on some apples that they allege to have salvaged from Etter's experimental orchards, but aside from Pink Parfait, I can see why Etter would not have released any of them. Pink Parfait, which has only pink mottling in the flesh and very mild berry flavors, is the only significantly red fleshed apple I've tasted that has very high desert quality. The others would never stand on their own merits without the red flesh, as interesting as that makes them. The others I’m most familiar with are as follows:
Grenadine: dark pink to reddish with excellent fruit punch/berry flavor. Variable quality on the same tree in the same year, lots of early drops and some of the apples go mealy early. Variable size. In a very good year it is grainy when ripe enough for good eating and high flavor, but more often it is mealy by that time. Sugar is not particularly high. Tannin content fairly high. But that flavor! The juice is excellent and it's a heavy and reliable producer for me.
Rubaiyat: Very dark pink to almost velvety light red, strong berry flavor, but maybe not as complex or punch like as grenadine. Seems to be very Scab prone, drops from tree, Often mealy by the time it is really ripe, but it can have a nice texture and it is a somewhat more refined apple than Grenadine. Not all that sweet. At it's very best it makes decent eating and has excellent "red" flavor. It is a very nice looking apple when it escapes the scab.
Pink Pearl: Not particularly rich or flavorful or sugary. A good cooking apple. Better texture than the above apples. Light pink flesh.
There are a bunch of commercial breeders and university programs now working on red fleshed apples. I don’t know what took them so long. Albert Etter knew 80 years or more ago that they would be popular, but he just didn’t quite have time to get them off the ground before he died and no one took up his important work. Any red fleshed apple breeding program should be assessing his apples as possible breeding stock. I have successfully passed the remarkable Grenadine flavor on to a seedling that I’m already hopeful will best it’s parent (even though I’ve only fruited two apples of it, and one was stolen by a raccoon!) I’m hoping to get a few more this year. It isn’t going to be an outstanding dessert apple, I can tell that already, but if it’s better than Grenadine that’s a start.
I haven’t talked to him in a while, but I seem to remember my friend Freddy Menge saying that about 25% of the red fleshed apple seeds he’s planted yield apples with red flesh. Once crosses with non red fleshed apples are made though, I'm hoping those apples can be crossed with each other to reinforce the trait and bring it out since both parents will carry the gene. That is the experiment anyway. I make crosses of non-red fleshed apples with multiple red fleshed apples with just that plan in mind. I’m also hopeful about crossing the resulting red fleshed x non-redflesh crosses with Pink Parfait and William’s Pride, both only slightly red fleshed, but both excellent desert apples in every other way. You see where I’m headed I hope. Take the best apples with red flesh, even if it’s not very much, and cross those to reinforce the red and hopefully also retain the desirable dessert qualities. That is why I’m crossing William’s Pride and Pink Parfait this year, both great apples with some pink in the flesh. Check back in about 6 or 8 years, lol.
Russets are another neglected but very promising line of genetics. The phenomenon of russeting has been selected against in apple breeding for a long time now, so it’s not likely that large scale breeders will be pursuing a true russet apple, or even using them in the mix at all. When I had good russets for sale at farmer’s market, people bought them. They are somewhat wary at first, but once bitten, they almost always buy some. Heirlooms are big, flavor is becoming more and more important to people, food is huge, foodie-ism is huge, and because of all that, and their inherent value, russets should become popular again. There is nothing like them. They have their own character and uses. Not only should we not let them die out or languish in the background neglected by the monetary interests that drive our food systems now, but they should be taken in hand and improved, which has probably rarely been attempted due to appearance alone.
The best russet I’ve tasted, and still one of the very best apples I’ve ever tasted for that matter, is the Golden Russet, a classic American apple. At it’s best it has a well balanced symphony of flavor. The flavor is concentrated and lasting. It also has an extremely high sugar content and was once widely employed in cider making. So, what’s not to like? Well, culturally, it’s a pain in the ass. It grows lanky and tippy with long bare interstems. It’s hard to know how to prune it and I’m inclined to just let it grow and then hack off some bigger branches once in a while. I’ve never seen it to be particularly productive either and I hear the same from others in the area. Perhaps low productivity is the cost for all that flavor and goodness, but it if it doesn’t have to be so then I want more! Compare that to another American classic The Roxbury Russet, which is better behaved and more productive. But alas, though very good and very similar, Roxbury Russet is not the apple that Golden Russet is when it comes to flavor. If I had Roxbury here, I’d probably cross the two of them this year with a view toward an all around better russet. I may cross Golden Russet with Ashmeads Kernel this season for similar reasons. Another very high sugar russet I’ve been trying to acquire and fruit for possible breeding purposes is the Golden Harvey. I’ve run into a couple of other breeders online working with Golden Harvey.
To anyone well versed in heirloom apples and apple types, the thought of discarding russets from the world of apples would be absolutely horrifying. Some of the best English, French and American apples are russets. A person could stay pretty busy just collecting, archiving, researching, testing, tasting, photographing, documenting, making available and breeding russet apples and they’d be doing the world a great favor. Another of many things I’d love to do, but that someone else will just have to do.
VERY LATE HANGING APPLES
Extremely late hanging apples represent another whole area of possibility waiting to be expanded and improved. Though my latest hanging apple, Lady Williams, is ripe February first, I’m inclined to think the season could be pushed later. Some apples store really well, but to have fresh apples straight off the tree on a frozen February morning is another thing. Also, the same apples could probably be harvested in January and store all the better for being picked so late. I’ve found sound seedling apples hanging in a hedgerow here in March. They were the pretty sour and useless, but that’s beside the point. They were not a mushy mess. We just need those kind of genes in a better eating apple. Granny Smith, Lady Williams and Pink Lady are all promising apples for this line and all related, Granny smith coming from the very late, long keeping French Crab, Lady Williams from Granny and Pink Lady from Lady Williams. Other Late hangers that I will probably use, or have used, are Pink Parfait (December), Grenadine (December), Pomo Sanel a selection from a local homestead (January) and Whitwick Pippin (December at least).
I’ve looked for other late hangers, but not concertedly enough to find much. I’m sure there are many more out there, but it will take some effort to find them. Others will not have been noticed, either because the owners always pick them early, or because they are growing in cold regions where the fruit can’t hang so long. I can hang any of these in temps down to and possibly a little below 20 degrees f, though some will be partly damaged by cracking near the stem well, probably due to ice forming there, and may then start to rot. Others varieties would probably hang that long in good condition, if they didn’t crack so easily. Many apples will hang late, but there is a clear difference between something like Lady Williams or Pink Lady not even ripening well until very late, or improving in storage if picked and held for a while, and some apple that looks well enough hanging there, but is declining in eating quality all along instead of improving. My most promising acquisition aside from the two Ladies and Granny Smith, is Pomo Sanel. I don’t know much about it, just that it came from a local homestead. It has some similarity to Grime’s Golden and Golden Delicious in form and color. The apples hang very late. They have a coarse flesh and fairly rich flavor, though not quite equal in quality to some of the others. Pomo Sanel is a little more prone to cracking and not as late as the Granny line, but it is still promising and I’ll probably use it to make some crosses this year.
Onward we go into the adventure of apple seeding, breeding and selection. Those who prefer instant gratification and sure things are probably better off messing about with peaches, which will usually yield decent fruit with less variation from the parents. But, peaches don’t come in a jillion sizes, shapes, colors and flavors. You either get it or you don’t. If someone can read this article and not become excited about playing mad scientist mixing apple genes to see the results, they should go do whatever moves them. I’ve run into people that are doing the same thing I am. The apple renaissance is afoot! Not just the apple revival, but the renaissance. A new era in which the diversity and awesomeness possible in apples will be realized more than ever.
If I had to do it over, I’d do even more research than I did. I’d collect potential breeding parents more carefully, collecting and testing everything I could get with very intense flavor, especially fruit, pineapple, berry, cherry and almond. I’d collect as many allegedly great or super long keeping old school russets as possible and as many out-of-hand edible crabs as possible. I would also try to acquire more good red fleshed apples to work with. Albert Etter said something to the effect that breeding up new apples was as simple as breeding up good dairy stock, just start with the best herd you can. That means either trying out apples that someone else grew, or more likely growing them out yourself for assessment, a several year process, even when using dwarf stock or grafting onto established trees. Etter trialed about 500 apple varieties and thought most of them were not worth growing. By choosing the best of those to breed with, he said that he improved on the average of those 500 in the first generation.
I'm very interested in high quality crabs with high sugar or unique taste, truly amazing russets, better red fleshed dessert apples and extremely late hanging apples that are still crisp and solid on the tree after new years as well as being good eating. If they hang till March and are just okay eating, I'm still interested. Please contact me if you can help with any of those that are not already listed here.
I've been making tons of crosses this year. Below are some of the crosses and parents I've been using, though not necessarily in the order presented. I make up others as I go, like Coes Golden Drop x Muscat De Venus.
Becca’s crab w/ wickson, maypole, sweet 16, cherry cox, trailman, grenadine
Golden Russet w/ Ashmead’s, Egremont, Chestnut (most exciting, but can't make this one till next year), pendragon (red flesh, Welsh), Coe’s Golden Drop, Suntan, St. Edmund's Russet, Muscat de Venus, Roxbury russet (if I had it. I REALLY want to make this cross!)
Chestnut crab (if I had any blooms or pollen this year) w/ Golden Russet, , Muscat de Venus, St. Edmund’s Russet, Coe’s Golden Drop, Ashmead’s Kernel
Williams' Pride w/ Pink Parfait, Rubaiyat, Pendragon, Sunrise (early), Sweet 16
Cherry Cox w/ N. Spy, Vixen, Muscat de Venus, Sweet 16, Pink Lady, Becca's Crab, Pendragon, Maypole
Pink Parfait w/ Pendragon, Lady Williams, Williams' Pride, Pink Lady, My own seedling Grenadine x Lady Williams #11/12, and Pomo Sanel
Lady Williams w/ Pomo Sanel, Whitwick pippin, Allen’s Everlasting, Newtown Pippin
Sweet 16 w/ Vixen, William’s Pride, Cherry Cox, King David, etc...
Trailman w/ Becca’s, St. Edmund’s, Chestnut Crab, Maypole
Pomo Sanel w/ Goldrush, Lady Williams, Whitwick Pippin
THE FULL APPLE BREEDING PLAYLIST
This is a continuation of my apple breeding project and video series following the process from pollination to fruiting and hopefully beyond. In this season, the seedlings are cut off and grafted onto dwarfing roostock. The dwarfing stock should induce fruiting more quickly (or so the common assertion) and keep the trees to a small size in the crowded test rows. At 12 inches apart, in rows 6 feet apart, I can't afford large trees. I show the two grafts I commonly use and talk some other basics. Soon we'll be planting these in new beds to grow until they fruit.
BITE ME!, my new public domain (and open source for apple breeders ha ha) is officially out. I have scions in the webstore and a page dedicated to the apple here: www.skillcult.com/biteme Scions are available in the webstore till they run out. I may re-sort the short and thin ones in my fridge and relist after that to get as many out there as possible. I should also hopefully have them available for some years to come.
I'm also taking a two week break from making youtube content and probably any other content, in order to get life on the homestead back on track a little bit. Some stuff needs doing around the place. Here is a quick review of the Snow and Neally boy's axe. The short version is that the head looks pretty nice, but the handle was so, so and the hafting was pretty bad. The Council Tool Boy's axe seems like a much better at 31.00 shipped, currently less than half the price of the S&N. The council has a less pollished head, but I think has a much better designed handle and the wood on my counicl is much superior v.s. this S&N. Too bad I was hoping it would be better.
Apparently I can't keep up with myself. Here is a backlog of recent videos on everything from rawhide to roads.
The difference between the different sections of the leek bed are even more obvious now, confirming more what I observed this summer, which is that the soil with charcoal (biochar) has what is generally referred to as heart. That is to say it has staying power and isn't easily used up without regular additions of fertilizer. I've been very negligent with this leek bed and it really shows on the control end with no charcoal, but not much on the 10% char end. The 5% section is better than half way between the two others, but there is an obvious difference except that within one foot of the 10% section, the plants are nearly indistinguishable from most of the rest of the 10% section. The very end of the 10% section drops off in size, but that may be due to the shape, of the bed, which is pointed on the end. Also, many gardeners will have observed that plants tend to do less well on the ends of beds. If you took the difference between the control end and the 10% end as at least 600% difference, that could be interpreted as the 10% char end making 600% better use added amendments. That is a sloppy interpretation and doesn't take into account all possible factors, but it's still impressive and probably on the low side if anything. The leek seed from this project will be ready in the fall for planting about this time next year.
ROAD SERIES PRIMER
This one is a quick primer for what will be a series on the design of graveled roads based on what I learned and have observed building mine, as well as paying attention to other unpaved roads and what happens to them in various circumstances. It will have to potential to save a lot of people, time, money, unpleasant driving conditions, all while saving resources ultimately and keeping sediment out of stream beds. In the meantime, you can download the handbook for forest and ranch roads for free here. It is a dry read, but very worth putting to use if unpaved roads are a regular part of your life. http://www.pacificwatershed.com/sites/default/files/roadsenglishbookapril2015b_0.pdf
RAWHIDE HANDLE BRACE FINAL
This is the final part of the rawhide axe handle brace. As usual for me, this series wasn't just about making this one tweak, but about rawhide and sinew and hide glue and context and related stuff.
Below is todays video, the latest installment in the now year and a half long homescale apple breeding project. We started at pollinating some blossoms in Spring of 2015, and now the trees are waiting another couple of months to be grafted out. Labeling is important because it is what allows me to keep track of each tree and to take notes on the apples as they begin to grow and fruit. The identifier code also tells me what the parents are and what year the pollination was made.
The fall colors on some of these seedlings is remarkable. All of the extremely red leaved seedlings have maypole as one parent. It is the most red fleshed apple I've used, but it also has very red leaves, flowers, bark and even some red in the wood. The downside is that, it is a very primitive apple with a lot of puckery tannins. The flavor is excellent, but it is pretty rough around the edges, and low in sugar on top of it.
One neat thing about Maypole is that it is a columnar style tree. That means it grows very upright and narrow. Not a single stem, but it has a very small footprint. It is also dwarfed, so it will never grow very tall. If I recall correctly, I think the columnar trait is dominant. So that will be interesting to watch for as these guys grow out.
One of the apples I crossed Maypole with is Wickson, which can get up to 25% sugar, the most I've ever heard of for an apple, so hopefully one of those 14 crosses might yield something sweeter. If nothing really eminently edible comes of those, they might still make good puckery cider apples if the sugar is raised, or something to use in further breeding. Because, remember, each new seedling is a product of both of it's parents, and carries a large compliment of Genes hiding within. If the high sugar trait does not express in the first generation, it may in a second generation, especially if it is back crossed to Wickson, or another Wickson seedling. Stay tuned for 5 or 6 years to find out!
and here is the entire series on this project...
I visited with my good friend Mark Albert a long time collector and unintentional breeder of Feijoa, also known as Pineapple Guava. Mark is a dyed in the wool fruit explorer and has dedicated his life to the pursuit of knowledge in the realms of home gardening and orcharding. More importantly he's driven to share that information (as well as genetic material) forward through the local group, Mendocino Permaculture which puts on the local scion exchange , writing, teaching and personal correspondence all of which no doubt cost him a great deal let alone not resulting in any personal gain. We had a discussion while I was there about that drive to share information which we both share. The idea that someone would earn that kind of hard won knowledge and not share it would probably leave us slack jawed and shaking our heads in bewilderment. If that kind of thing isn't used to help us all progress then what's the point? I hope to do some more video visits with him in the future and get some of his wisdom and opinions out to you guys.
After about 40 years of growing and testing Feijoa, he has some new seedling varieties which have risen to the top. I've confirmed that at his tasting where I unknowingly picked the same favorite he did. They are smaller fruits, but quality over quantity if it comes down to that. Down the page you'll find his recommendations for a early, mid and late feijoa. After this visit I'm planning to put in three to cover the season. I have a smattering of them already placed here and there, but I think it's time to put in a row of better placed, and better cared for, bushes. The plant is very tough and drought resistant once established and it looks good. All around a good one for establishing on the homestead or home landscape if you have the climate for it.
VARIETY RECOMMENDATIONS FROM MARK ALBERT
At the 40 year mark of testing, the list has gotten pretty simple for the north.
The north means our Mendoterranean climate zone, or anywhere north of the bay, where the cooler climate zone will likely not allow the latest-season southern cultivars to ripen to perfection before our cold temperatures stop the ripening or freeze the hanging fruit. This list has a definite bias toward the home grower, with no commercial goal in mind, and quality of fruit comes before size.
The proven cultivars at this point are:
Early season (October): Albert’s Pride or Albert’s Joy
Middle season (November) : Moore
Late Season (December): Albert’s Supreme
Because these cultivars have been selected in the north, they will also work in the southern California when they are not ruined by the Santa Ana winds, the hot, dry wind from the east that can cook the ripening fruit in the fall. It does not work the other way: good southern cultivars may not ripen in the north.
This is an ongoing experiment, and we are now testing the latest New Zealand cultivars which have recently made their way to the U.S. These are likely to be very good, because they newest cultivars were selected by New Zealand feijoa lovers with a more educated pallet, not by paid academicians, as in the past.
Also the biological time factor is that feijoa is a very new fruit, only selected out of the wild in the last 130 years or so from South America. When we look back at the old cultivar names, that’s only 5-6 generations of development. So it makes sense that each generation is higher quality because they are crosses of the best of the previous generation of cultivars. This is how all fruit is improved. The previous 2 waves of New Zealand cultivars were commercial selections and were a bust in California.
So these recommendations may change in the next 5-10 years.
I went out and picked what apples were available to taste this past week. There were a few good'ns in there. More exciting is a couple of my seedlings that are looking rather nice. You can tell some things about an apple by just feeling it and looking at it. A couple just look like they are going to be hard dry fleshed and bitter. The one I taste in this video obviously looks more like something you'd expect to be eating. The most exciting though is a very red and beautiful apple which colored up amazingly even in nearly complete shade covered with stocking material to protect it from birds. Typically fruit colors up better with light. It is a cross between Grenadine and Lady Williams. Both are late apples and this may be a very late apple, though I'm inclined to think it is approaching ripeness fairly soon.
You can't judge an apple by it's cover. We certainly learned that from the red delicious era when strains of it were selected for better and better looking apples with worse and worse flavor and texture. But I'm hopeful for something tasty out of this with red flesh. The odds are against it of course. Most of my apple seedlings will be between mediocre, such as the one I taste in this video, and just plain bad. But even with the primitive, unrefined apples carrying undesirable characteristics that I'm using in many of my crosses, more will be edible than not and I'm expecting at least a smattering of apples worthy of further propagation by someone. This apple bears so much resemblance to Grenadine, that I'm hoping it has inherited it's beautiful and flavorful red flesh. Check it out.
The thing is that the red skin of grenadine is actually from the color of the flesh showing through the translucent skin. My hope beyond hope is that this is the case with the seedling. It seems unlikely though. We'll find out soon enough.
In the video I taste wickson, amberoso, crabby lady, king wickson, muscat de venus, something that may be katherine, something that may be ashmead's kernel, bedford pippin,high cross pippin, claygate pearmain, one of my seedlings, pink parfait, gold rush and others.
I only had a few specimens of my seedling apple this year. The first couple were unripe, but the last one seemed better than any I had last year. That is not surprising since fruits either grafted or from seed can take a few years to start bearing exemplary fruit. BITE ME! is from an open pollinated Wickson seed, which means that I don't know whos spread powdery pollen was spread over Wickson's sticky stigma. This year BITE ME! seems to have more of the Wickson flavor that motivated me to use wickson as a parent in breeding. That flavor and the high sugar content (up to 25%) have encouraged me to make a lot of intentional Wickson crosses with other apples. It's encouraging that the flavor came through in the this case, although the sugar content of BITE ME! seems average. I will definitely be sending out scions of bite me to whomever wants to try it. It has potential and I'd like to see what others think of it in the long run and how it does in other regions. I will probably start selling scions in the webstore here about FEB 1st. That is the plan at this point.
Also in this video we taste a few other apples, one that is probably Northern Spy, Zabergau Reinette, Vanilla Pippin and Suntan.
Somewhere back over five years ago I began to cross pollinate apples with the goal to breed new varieties. This year 12 seedlings out of about 120 bloomed, some of those grew apples, and I now begin tasting the fruits of my labors. In the video below, I taste what appears to be the earliest ripening of those fruiting this year and am looking forward to tasting a few more as the season progresses, though the set is sparse, the growing conditions harsh, and many of the fruits look pretty stunted and tortured.
This particular apple goes now by it’s tag name GN x GRT 11/12, which means, A Grenadine blossom was pollinated with Golden Russet pollen in 2011. 12 is a random identifier, but it is the important number that distinguishes this apple from the other seventeen GN x GRT crosses I made in 2011. Grenadine is a red fleshed apple with fruit punch and berry type flavors and the Golden ‘Russet is a super sweet, complexly flavored gem of an old American apple. If one apple was the top inspiration to collect and work with apples in the first place it was Golden Russet.
This offspring of those very different, but both very interesting, parents is yellow, smooth, takes a high polish and has a strong aroma, even though it was picked under ripe. The texture is crisp now, but a damaged one that I ate a couple of weeks ago had a rubbery texture, which if I recall correctly is a trait of the Golden Russet. The rubbery texture that some russets acquire as they age and shrivel is far preferable to the mealy texture of most over ripening apples. This new apple is very sweet, and I’m sure the sugar would rise further if it were allowed to ripen more. Golden Russet has very high sugar levels, allegedly up to 20% and even more, while grenadine is lacking in the sugar department. GN x GRT 11/12 has an angularity to it, like grenadine, but not nearly as pronounced as Grenadines “roman nose” ridge. Though perfectly edible, it is fairly astringent like Grenadine, although that may mellow if it ripens more or is grown under better conditions. These trees are not getting enough food and water, which I hope to fix this next season.
Like my first open pollinated seedling, Bite Me, there is nothing in particularly that is remarkable about this apple, even though it may end up being quite good. But it is quite edible and certainly not a spitter. As many of you already have gathered, I’m somewhat miffed about the urban (rural?) myth that you can’t grow apples from seed or you’ll get nearly 100% spitters. I’ve eaten two of my seedling apples now and they were both good. A third which I tested while very under ripe was astringent, so we’ll see how that one progresses. This myth is a misunderstanding blown out of proportion by overstatement and repetition in Michael Pollan’s book Botany of Desire, which was also adapted into a widely viewed PBS special. Many millions of people must have consumed that information. Since many people don't distinguish well between information and knowledge, we have the current state of things where any discussion of growing apples from seed is likely to be peppered with un-factoids stated as unassailable truths presented by a guy who probably never grew an apple, let alone from seed. If the truth were addressed, much of the apple chapter in that book would probably have to be consigned to the scrap heap and re-written since it seems largely woven around that misunderstanding. If you want to know more about that stuff, watch my apple breeding introduction video below.
For people who view and consume information primarily as entertainment the erroneous content of Pollan's book may be a minor issue, but for me it’s obviously more personal. I would like to see a frenzy of apple breeding and selection take place over the coming decades. A chaos of people planting seeds all over the place and doing back yard breeding and selection of apples and all other fruits and edible things. This is one of the ways we can reclaim responsibility for our lives and sustenance instead of standing by watching ever more gigantic corporations execute almost unbelievably Machiavellian long game plots to control the worlds food supplies while our seed and scion heritage go extinct in front of us. When I say things like that, many will think of saving existing heirloom varieties, but the breeding and selection of new varieties is also part of that heritage. After all, that is how varieties were developed in the first place. When seed is saved, even without intending too, we are selecting and adapting varieties. But amateur breeding and intentional improvement go back a good way as well and are easier than ever now with wider access to both germplasm and information.
With apples in particular, I think that we need to continue improvement because they could still be much more improved, they are remarkably useful and they have huge potential for diversification and general improvement in various areas. Major improvements are being made, but for the most part it is being left to professional breeders who are constrained by market forces into a narrow band of acceptable results. Things like shipping, storage, size, particular looks and shapes, and disease resistance are also likely to be prioritized before flavor or niche uses. By way of example, one of the greatest of our apple heritages is the russet group. Many russets are apples of outstanding beauty, utility and flavor. But the breeding and improvement of these rough skinned apples (the rough skin of which may actually contribute to their unique eating characteristics) will probably never be pursued by commercial breeders unless things change a whole lot, which lets hope they do, but it won't be without our involvement on some level. I think Russets are one of the areas that amateur breeders should pursue along with small high sugar apples containing crab genes which have unique flavor characteristics. I’m using russet genes and have my sights set on a red fleshed russet, which has already been achieved by another amateur breeder using my same favorite russet parent, Golden Russet. I’d tell you who it is, but I don’t know that he wants his door beaten down by people asking for red fleshed Russet scions!
I actually believe that the market can be trained or just adapt to love both small intensely sweet and uniquely flavored tiny apples and russets, but markets tend to be conservative. If russets make it into large commercial track breeding programs, it will be because we the people take an interest in them to the point that they eventually find favor and end up in grocery stores. For a large breeding program to invest resources into the gamble of breeding up russet apples for many years, then convincing growers to plant them, and finally seeing if the market will buy them, really makes no sense and it is hard to imagine that happening. You see what I'm saying. They either think they know what we want or are just conservative in their goals for perfectly rational, though not necessarily correct reasons. Narrow goals equal narrow results. Not necessarily bad results, but there is a world of possibility outside of what commercial breeding programs are likely to pursue.
Let me tell you something cool though. I think that we can probably outbreed the professionals, because their criteria are so limiting that they release apples at a slow pace of one in many thousands of seedlings grown. The market also only has so much room. Apples are like brands now that people recognize. New apples have to be tested, planted marketed and then maybe it will be the next Honeycrisp or Pink Lady and maybe it won’t. It probably won’t. But there isn’t the room in that type of market for 25 new apples a year. We on the other hand, citizen breeder/scienceishists gone mad, can plant seeds of apples we just like, make intentional cross pollinations with whatever we please, trade and proliferate the resulting fruits all over the place and just exist outside of the apple industry. We can even take advantage of the good work they are doing and back cross some refined, shiny, disease resistant, high quality apple genes from the big guys with whatever rough and ready, five o'clock shadow sporting lad of a russet we damn well feel like! I mean does she really want to keep doing it with the same pretty boy-band apples over and over anyway when the Sean Penns and Lemmy Kilmisters of the world surely perform far better?
I have been pleasantly surprised at the interest shown in this project. I hear from people who sound as if they have never grown much of anything that suddenly want to make some pollinations and breed a few apples in their suburban lot. That would be so cool! Like I’ve said before, I don’t see this as my effort alone here in my isolated world breeding for success or fame or my own satisfaction. To me this, and efforts like it by people scattered all over the place, is a group effort. I don’t breed apples for me to eat as much as I breed them for you to eat, and even more to inspire a rebellion as just described to take responsibility for ourselves instead of whining along as Monsanto and their ilk spread their diversity killing shadow across the globe gobbling up our potential to be free lumen by lumen. Think about it that way for a second. What is our potential for true human freedom without personal control of suitable and diverse germplasm for growing our own food?
Sure if I hit the jackpot and get something that happens to meet enough criteria to market I could see patenting and selling a variety, maybe to the home market, but I don’t think that will happen and it's not something I think about. I may sell scions for a while of something good that I come up with, but I’ll expect to be put out of business by scion trading and will welcome it. If I get something really good, I would like to see it propagated as widely as possible. On a motivation scale of one to ten money hovers around zero. I’m breeding for the public domain and to assess what is likely required to be successful in the endeavor.
I've invested heavily in this project at a personal cost, but it has been out of great interest an passion. Now we'll start to see what comes of it in the short term (meaning the next 10 to 20 years). I’m using a lot of primitive genes which will probably lower my success rate quite a bit and I may be pretty picky about what I name and release, except for my first apple Bite Me, which I released immediately for other reasons. Then again, I may not. I used to be more of the conservative ilk that wanted to know what every variety was “properly” called and that only the best improvements on existing apples should be released. Now I’m more for the chaos club. Let it all hang out, propagate, pollinate, trade and breed promiscuously. That approach creates life and engagement. If someone somewhere proudly names and sends out scions of something not so great, big deal. More life is more better and engagement, proliferation, diversity and passion are what is needed to subvert the tightening grasp on our food supply and our freedom to be responsible for ourselves.
Go forth and propagate!
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.
Some related videos...
A short video update showing some red fleshed traits in seedlings and the new blossoms in the trial rows. I'm finally going to get some fruit out of these guys! More below...
The seedlings are mostly up now and ready to plant out, though there are still a few stragglers. Many of the crosses I made with Maypole, an intensely red fleshed apple that shows pigmentation throughout the plant, are showing obvious red pigmentation. Not all of them though, some seem to be taking after the other parent, whatever that might be.
One of the seedlings is showing pinker blossoms than the others. I'm hoping that means it will have redder flesh. We'll see in a few months, or maybe many months since it is a Lady Williams cross and Lady Williams won't be ripe for over 10 months! Wow.
Since several people have asked about getting pollen from me. I decided to add it to the store to see if that is a service people might use. Here is the link. I only have a few varieties this year, but If it seems like people will buy it, I'll have more next year of all the varieties that I like and use in breeding.
Here are a couple of videos about very late hanging apples, which I'm always excited about. I broke it into two parts, because, in spite of heavy editing, it's still pretty long. More below.
I'm not good at a lot of things, like remembering people, where I met them, their names, their faces, why I should care who they are and what they think, book keeping... But, one thing I am good at is spotting potential. Years ago when I found out that some apples can hang and ripen late into the winter, I was intrigued. This was potential. The potential to have fresh fruit in perfect condition off the tree at a time when most people in temperate climates are eating fruit out of storage and often already of marginal quality. Imagine a tree that is grafted to many different late varieties ripening through December and January and maybe beyond? That is an awesome idea- which is why I'm doing it! I have a new frankentree started just for very late ripening apples. But, I only know some of what I'll be grafting onto it, and a lot of work has gone into getting this far.
First I started collecting as many very late ripening, late hanging apples as I could find. I spent hours upon hours researching apples to find more of them. Some have fruited and some haven't yet. Now, years later, all that labor is starting to pay off, and not just for me, for you too and anyone else that will listen to me. Here are about 15 different apples that are still hanging on the tree just around the Winter Solstice/Christmas. Some would have been better for sure in early Dec. or even back in late Nov., but some are excellent and a couple are not ripe yet. There is something of a gap between the very latest, Lady Williams, and the ones at their best now, but I'm sure that gap can be filled with apples that are in existence somewhere now, let alone with what could still be bred in the future using the late apple genes that are out there.
Speaking of which, after making this video, I'm even more fired up about breeding for this type of apple. I would guess that the season can be extended even further past Lady Williams coming in at about Feb 1st. I have seen wildling apples here hang until March and still be in good condition, but there was not much else to recommend them unfortunately. I hope to start getting some fruit this year from late variety crosses I made four years ago, like Grenadine x Lady Williams and Grenadine x Gold Rush.
Let me tell you, as soon as I finish this post, I'm going to mosey on out to Frankentree and bite into one of those amazing, crisp, perfect apples that yesterday was covered in snow and last night kissed by a 25 degree freeze, and I'm going to be stoked. I'm sure you'll hear more from me on this topic in the future, but for now, this is a pretty good start.
I'd like to continue work along these lines, collecting, breeding and sharing information. You can easily support me in this and the other development and educational work at no cost to you simply by using my amazon links. If you bookmark this link and use it every time you shop at amazon and I'll make a small commission for sending you there. Thanks for your support. I'm not sure what else to do with myself! I'm already planning more late apple variety breeding crosses to make this spring...
I’ve been interested in how much my blood apple seedlings show red pigmentation in the bark, flowers, wood and leaves. My impression is that the apples with the most red flesh also tend to have more of this coloration in other parts of the tree as well. Bud 9 rootstock is a good example, with very red flesh and bright orange to red coloration in the fall leaves. It also has dark red bark and even red in the wood. Most of my seedlings show only minimal red coloration in the spring and fall and very few have really reddish bark, with none close to the deep purple/red of bud 9. This video shows one seedling that has stronger red traits than the rest. I suppose this trait may be affected somewhat by it’s age and where it’s growing, but I’m pretty sure this seedling is exceptional.
I suppose one could select seedlings by coloration in the new leaves, or in the fall leaves, or in the bark even. I know that Nigel Deacon does that in selecting his seedlings. I’ve decided not to for the time being. I may later when I have gathered information from the fruit of seedlings I have in the ground right now. For the time being, I want to see what happens with all of them. Not all of the best blood apples that I grow have strong pigmentation in places other than the flesh, so by culling most of the seedlings and keeping only the reddest leaved ones, I could end up tossing out something really good and I’d never know. Another reason to keep everything for now is that I have speculated that the expression of the red flesh tends to come with some other traits that may not always be desirable. Blood apples, are still being developed from primitive breeding stock. They have not been refined by long breeding, so there are issues with bitterness, poor cultural traits and texture. I’m not sure, but again I suspect that those traits may tag along somehow with the red fleshed gene expression. So, by culling out the less red seedlings, I may also be culling out some of the best dessert traits. What would you do? Risk growing out everything to see what happens? or select only the seedlings showing the most red? Hopefully this spring will see blossoms in my seedling rows with apples to follow.