Posts filed under Food and Drink Making

Apple Breeding Part 1: Everyone knows you can't do it, right?

applebreeding header

"...growers, shippers and retailers, who have been giving us food that looks great but often isn’t for over a century, have their own agendas."

When writing about apples and their propagation in both technical and popular literature, it seems almost compulsory for the author to assure us that if we grow an apple from a seed, that it will not be the same as the apple that we took the seed from.  We are usually further assured that the chances of  actually growing a toothsome new apple variety bursting with juice and flavor from those little seeds are extremely dismal.  One might imagine, and sometimes we are even subject to descriptions of, the small, hard, green, sour, bitter and worm eaten result of such an experiment!  In the past, I have been discouraged from making the experiment of growing apples from seed by this common knowledge, especially upon learning that modern apple breeding programs cull thousands of seedlings to find one gem worthy of propagation.

I will concede that under many circumstances growing apples from seed may not be the wisest course of action or the most likely to yield the greatest reward.  Who wants to invest in the time and patience required for the growing of an entire tree only to find the secret unlocked from it’s genes by our roll of the dice is some hard green apples for the kids to throw at each other?   Not I, not ye, not no one!  I only know of one apple that is supposed to grow fairly true to seed and that is the Snow Apple A.K.A. Fameuse.  Otherwise the chances are that a seedling will be at least somewhat unlike it’s parents.  But then, this genetic variability is what really makes the apple able to give us the great variety that it offers.

The genes of the apple hold many secrets.  Combinations and mutations of it’s genes have already yielded a remarkable array of attributes.  Resistance can be found to many diseases.  Northern Spy is nearly immune to the wooly aphid and breeders used it to bring us resistant rootstocks.  Some trees do well in wet soil, some in drier soil.  Some require a long chill in winter while others can bask in tropic heat with virtually no chill and not only grow and fruit, but also produce a delicious apple.  And we all know that apples come in a great variety of shapes, colors, and sizes.  Some will ripen in early summer and others can hang on the tree well into winter and even into the spring.  Some must be eaten post haste before they begin to deteriorate while still others have kept in a common cellar for two years.  What most do not know however, is the flavor potential locked within the gene pool of the apple.

Apples encompass an amazingly diverse range of flavors which most people never even have a chance to explore.  banana, mango, fennel, berry, pineapple, citrus, cherry, rose, vanilla, spices, pear, wine, “apple”, jolly rancher’s candy and more all lurk in those genes.  Probably the greatest variety of flavors contained within any fruit.  While most post Red Delicious era consumers are obsessed only with the crunch of an apple, it is primarily the world of flavors contained in domestic Apples which drive the obsession of amateur grower/collectors like me and which makes the roll of the dice when growing out apples from seed seem not only worth the risk, but downright compelling!

I am no expert in the matter, but I have come to think that we have a better chance of ending up with something good from that seed than we are often told.  Maybe the idea that seedling apples are a one-in-a-gajillion chance is one of those ideas that is repeated by one author after another becoming common knowledge with a life of it’s own... just minus the knowledge part.  If the idea interests you, please read on, because previous to the turn of the century the vast majority of apples the world over were grown from random seeds, and we can do better than that.

In the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman) ran around planting apple seeds.  Being a folk hero, he gets all the credit, but lots of people planted seedlings and seedling orchards, or collected seeds from fortuitous trees that bore good fruit.  As a result, American Apple diversity absolutely exploded over a relatively short period.  Most of them, even the named and propagated varieties were just not that great when held up against the best apples out there, old and new, but there is also no doubt that many valuable new varieties came into being from this upswelling of apple culture.

Keep in mind, that Apple breeding is a progressive process in which we build on the foundations laid before, so progress in the field should be continual, and our chances of breeding good apples should increase with each generation.  I am all for preserving diversity, but I’m inclined to preserve diversity worth preserving.  I’m sure it’s uncool to say this, but I don’t think it is worth our while to catalogue and preserve every single heirloom plant out there, Apple or otherwise.  It is at once too daunting and too narrow minded.  Gajillions of varieties have already come and gone before us to get us where we are now.  we need a certain amount of diversity to work with in breeding up new stuff, but we just don’t need it all, and some varieties are simply not worth the effort.  The point is really to move forward in a holistic sort of way.

What I am actually more interested in than mindlessly conserving everything that has gone before is increasing, or at least maintaining diversity.  Sadly, the industrial food supply line is antithetical to the idea of diversity.  If we leave it up to them, we will lose any apple that is not what apple breeders, growers and marketers think we want and is easiest to get to us.  Thus would we lose our lovely russets and our lumpy, bumpy and otherwise unfashionable or uncomely, but delicious, apples.  In order to preserve crop diversity in a way that is relevant, we have to live a culture of food in which those plants are important to our lives.  Apples can still use improving and diversification, and I think that the layperson and fruit hobbyists can have a place in that process.

Here is an interesting piece of history.  At the Geneva agricultural research station in 1898 and 1899 an experiment in the growing of new apples from intentional crosses was made.  The experimenters claimed that up until this time, theirs was an altogether novel idea.  The selecting of seeds from good apples was commonly practiced, but hand pollinating the flowers to cross two specific apples was, if we are to believe the authors, nearly unheard of.  The operators grew what by modern breeding standards was a measly 148 seedlings of intentional cross pollinations using 10 different varieties of apples as the parents.  Of those 148 seedlings, 125 survived and at the publication of  their report “An Experiment in Apple Breeding” in 1911,  just 106 of those seedlings had fruited. After which they proclaimed....

“all will be interested it is certain, in knowing how many of the progeny of these crosses seem to the writers to have sufficient value to name or test further.”

Well yeah! way to work the suspense... drum rollllllllllllllllll-  out of the 106 seedlings, 13 varieties were deemed worthy of propagation and naming, those being Clinton, Cortland, Herkimer, Nassau, Onondaga, Otsego, Oswego, Rensselaer, Rockland, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Tioga, Westchester,  and 14 deemed worthy of further testing, but not worth naming. Wow!, they must have been stoked! At the time apple breeding was in its infancy and few apples had known parents although one parent was often known, claimed or at least suspected.  The report, is detailed and I’m sure much was learned from the experiment regarding the breeding of apples... but times have indeed changed.

Most of those first apples selected at Geneva in their probably overly generous enthusiasm are basically unknown today, with cortland having notably stood the test of time.  It is encouraging though that the apples they came up with in such a small lot were not just plain bad, but about 1/4 of them considered worth naming or at least considering.  From there out, apple breeding became increasingly complex and the goals ever more narrow.

Cortland.  The only apple I know of from the Geneva experiment that has stood the test of time.

The Geneva station remains a full time apple breeding operation using traditional breeding as well as unnatural marriages of bacteria, insects and fungi with apple genes to create GMO apples.  Something I read recently claimed a 1 in 10,000 ratio for seedling selection, meaning that out of 10,000 seedlings only one will be chosen to become a new marketed cultivar. The results of these programs will no doubt be more disease resistant apples that look really “good” on the shelf 6 months after picking. Many of them taste good as well and one can’t really argue with those results.  There is a place for these apples (minus the GMO's in my considerable opinion) and these programs, but the selections are skewed by the intentions of the researchers.

Susan Brown, the head of apple breeding at Geneva breeds to make growers money.  Like most research anymore, these programs are married to industry. While the products are sometimes great, I don’t see the soul of the apple in these efforts.  Some of the most famously flavored apples relished and praised by millions throughout history would never be selected in this paradigm because they don’t look “good” enough or they lack disease resistance.  It pains me to think of all the amazingly flavored apples that must be culled from these programs every year because they don’t meet the very long list of criteria that a modern cultivar has to live up to in order to make the grade in a commercial paradigm. There can be no doubt that out of 10,000 seedlings the one that tastes the most amazing and the one that looks the "best" are not going to be the same apple!  But growers, shippers and retailers, who have been giving us food that looks great but often isn’t for over a century, have their own agendas.  Their criteria are not only flavor, but good looks, storage ability, productivity, and lower labor and chemical inputs.  Oh yeah, and Canadians have been laboring away quietly on a genetically engineered apple which doesn’t brown when it’s cut and is on the fast track to store shelves in the U.S.  Now that's progress!?

So, my objection to modern apple breeding programs is that, while their results may often be very useful to us, their goals are in line with a culture based around supermarket consumers.  What’s wrong with that?  All kinds of things.  First of all, the supermarket consumer paradigm discourages diversity.  Brands are built up as recognizable entities, ideally (but rarely so) with uniform quality.  In a way, that has always been the case, but on a local basis.  These days shippers and marketers cover large areas, global actually, and global diversity is becoming lower as a result.  Another issue is that, cosmetics are a goal that is placed above eating quality.  Sure, breeders are making great strides in growing up apples that look good and taste good, but appearance is and always has been more important.  Thirdly, another important goal is to make money.  Growers have provided us with crappy apples for decades at least, because in the grocery store paradigm they have a dependent and basically captive customer base.  I won’t go on, but let’s just say that, in short, the goals of consumers v.s. producers, packers, retailers, and ultimately the breeders that cater to them, are just not the same, and that we can’t predict the many ways in which that might affect us.  One way though is that the majority of modern cultivars are bred from one of six cultivars deemed desirable by the industry, leading to a lack of diversity and inbreeding as this article points out.

"The author’s analysis of five hundred commercial varieties developed since 1920, mainly Central European and American types, shows that most are descended from Golden Delicious, Cox's Orange Pippin, Jonathan, McIntosh, Red Delicious or James Grieve. This means they have at least one of these apples in their family tree, as a parent, grandparent or great-grandparent.

Six apples as "ancestors" of the 500 examined varieties In 274 species (55% of those investigated) the six "ancestor varieties" are represented twice or more in the family tree, in 140 varieties (28%) at least three times, in 87 varieties (17%) at least 4 times and in 55 varieties (11%) 5 times or more."

H.-J. Bannier, Pomologen-Verein,

I’d like to expand for a moment on the cosmetic issue, because I think it is key.  I love a beautiful apple as much as the next person, but what is a beautiful apple anyway?  In the supermarket consumer paradigm our chances for comparison are limited.  A couple of the apples I’ve seen that I would call most beautiful would be passed over without a thought in a modern breeding program because they are covered with a map of cracked russet (russeting, for those who don’t know is a sort of rough skin layer that covers more or less of some apples).  There is a class of Apples called russets, which are heavily russeted.  While many people might consider them to be less than attractive, I think the vast majority of people in America today have never even tasted one, even though they have been prized in the past as a group for containing varieties of exceptional quality of a specific type.  We perceive our world with expectations and standards that are built up from many sources, judging, accepting and rejecting based on those ideas.  While the uninitiated may view a rough yellow russet apple with suspicion, I think that the russet eating veteran sees these apples very differently indeed.  Besides, heavy russeting is thought by some to contribute to the style of flavor this group of apples possesses.

Egremont Russet Apple

JUST ASK ALBERT! One of my heroes is an apple breeder named Albert Etter.  Albert is the source of some of the apples I’m using in my breeding efforts.  He grew a lot of seedlings but, like the early geneva experiments, he was very encouraged with the results of intentional crosses.  So, without further ado, in the interest of supporting my theory that it is worthwhile for amateurs to try growing a few apples from seeds, here is Albert’s experience as reported in the Pacific Rural Press 101 years ago, roughly contemporary with the Geneva breeding experiments.

”Mr. Etter's Work with Apples. To the Editor: Making good my promise, I am sending you another bunch of my new varieties of apples grown from selected seed. l am not saying much about these varieties yet, because they are too new and untried. Still, it might be as well for those interested to prepare for many new varieties of new and striking characters. I see that the publication of my personal note to you, in your issue of October 7, has aroused an interest in this branch of my plant-breeding work. This work has been under way for many years in a preliminary way, and now all is ready to try out thousands of seedlings. I will not say just how many, because I do not know. But, if facts uncovered as the work progresses justify it, there is ample room and facilities to try out several hundred thousand varieties in the next twenty years. Results obtained so far more than justify my plans for the future, which are to make haste slowly, and sell guaranteed stock under a registered or copyright label."..... “When I had figured out the lines of desirable variation in the dahlia species', as a boy of eighteen, I dreamed of taking up the apple trail. The best horticulturist I knew in that day, an old gray-bearded man, After listening to my dream frankly told me to forget it. The idea of trying to do that which trained men, with all the recorded knowledge of the world on the subject, could not do, or they would have done it long ago!  But I could not forget it.  As I remember, I kept thinking of it until I reached the conclusion that the apple varieties we have at this late day are a harum-scarum lot, to make the most of it, to represent possibly 4000 years of human endeavor. What Is more and worse, as apple breeders, we are making little progress.”  [Mr. Etter's seedlings which we have examined with much interest and have kept on exhibition in our office since their arrival, certainly justify much more than he claims to have attained in his sketch of his preparatory work. They have very striking and novel characters, external and internal. In our judgment he has already attained things which generations of apple-growing have not developed. We are glad to put on record this early record of his work which will some day be looked upon as of great historic interest. — IMs.]

Apple Breeding. —A few seedling apples have already been fruited and there are also 1000 seedling grafts approaching fruiting age on the place and 1000 ungrafted seedlings, which it will take longer to try out. In this connection, Mr. Etter states in a recent letter: "My new apples are looking better every day. One is a Wagener that looks a great deal better than the Wagener and is better flavored, too. The other is a seedling of the Rome Beauty, and is a beauty beside its parent now, and as near as I can judge at this date is going to be considerably better flavored, too. "This apple breeding proposition now looks as though I am on the right idea, and, if such is the case, I will be able to do what I prophesied I was going to do over 20 years ago—produce more and better varieties of apples than the world possesses today. That is a big task, but if I am right, it will be comparatively easy. If I were not right, how could I get seedlings of the Wagener that outclass its parent the first time?" Such success with only a few seedlings indicates that better success will follow work on a more extensive scale, especially as the experience obtained will furnish a guide to future operations. Just here a few words on the origin of apple varieties is not unfitting. Without doubt practically all of our old standard commercial varieties, like the Bellefleur, Spitzenberg and Newtown Pippin, are the result of chance, not design. Seedlings came up by chance, fruited and their merit was recognized. Crossing of varieties for seedlings of merit was hardly done, if at all, and if done was not based on scientific principles. The seedlings of great merit have been carefully preserved and propagated, but the unknown possibilities of new varieties have not been explored. Then also, the joy of discovery of new varieties evidently warped the judgment of many discoverers, and an astounding proportion of the 500 named varieties grown are of as little merit as apples well could be. In fact the average of the seedlings grown purposely on the Ettersburg ranch is fully equal to the average of the 500, and the best of the seedlings is in the class with the best of the 500.  In other words, the new apple breeding is being conducted along careful and systematic lines as compared with the raising of seedlings by chance and then finding which of the seedlings were good by chance also. Of the two methods, theory and results, both indicate that the systematic and scientific one is sure to produce in a short time varieties surpassing those obtained in a haphazard way through many generations.”

Note here several things about Etter’s experiments and comments.

One is that he thought most named varieties were not that great.  My experiments here in growing out and fruiting many varieties confirm this idea.  Apples could stand to be improved.

Secondly, the crossing of apples intentionally using quality parents is much more likely to yield good results.  The explosion of variety in American apples was due to the growing and finding of random seedlings, and that worked tolerably well.  We have a world population of 7 billion now.  If .00001 percent of those grew a dozen apple seeds from selected parents, that would be 840,000 seedlings to pick some great apple varieties from! Exactly what the scientific lines Etter refers to I don't know, but I'm inclined to think that most of his success was due to his strong vision, a willingness to take chances, and taking the effort to collect and compare over 500 varieties before choosing the parents he would work with.

Thirdly, some old learned guy told him not to bother, but he did it anyway!

Albert came up with some excellent apples that are finally attracting the interest of small scale growers and collectors.  The Wickson apple in particular is going viral in the last few years, and deservedly so.

grenadine apple on tree

Having an interest in apple breeding on a small home scale, I have always marveled at the numbers you hear regarding seedling to cultivar ratio like the 1 in 10,000 mentioned above. I'm undaunted though, because when you read older stuff like the Geneva report and Albert Etter’s reports, it is clear that they were not dealing in the thousands to one ratio to produce a fruit very suitable for eating, and they were not uncommonly an improvement on what was already available. That of course was a different time and goals were different, but those goals were more in line with those of homesteaders and foodies of today than most modern breeding efforts.  We already know that increasing commercialization of the industry along with the requisite shift to home economies based on consumerism killed apple diversity which apple-collectors and enthusiasts around the world are now scrambling to save from extinction.  In reading research material on apples from the 19th century, the trend toward commercialization to supply a society moving further and further from the farm is very apparent.  Discussions among growers increasingly placed productivity, looks and keeping abilities above eating quality.  The modern programs can help with that problem and they have by providing apples which will keep well and look good while flavors are steadily improving.  However, taken as a whole, from the breeder to the farmer to the table the industrial food system is a fundamentally flawed one which never has, and never will have, the best interest of consumers and communities in the forefront.  That's not so bad, if we don't neglect our responsibility to maintain diversity, and one way we can do that is to breed new apples building on the work of modern breeders, as well as by using heirloom varieties with special qualities.

And in the meantime, we would do well not to let our apple diversity pass into oblivion.  Stephen Hayes, who is AWESOME, makes the argument that we should not spend our time trying to grow new apples from seed when there are so many heirlooms to be saved from extinction.  But I respectfully disagree.  I think all homesteader types who grow fruit trees should be growing heirlooms, but there is room for experimentation for the geekier among us, and I think we can have our apples and breed them too!  a few apples grown from seed can be grafted onto existing apple trees to bear with very little time investment or, for the more committed, a small growing plot can be kept to grow the new apples out on dwarfing rootstock.

King David.  I great example of good genes waiting to be built upon.

I guess to sum it up, apples could still use improvement, but if we leave apples to the hands of the big outfits with lots of resources they will continue to produce results that cater to the source of those resources.  It is up to no one, except everyone, to preserve apple diversity and move the creation of new and exciting apples forward.  Small scale breeding efforts such as anyone with a tree or two can do in their back yards, are where that battle can be fought.  However, we should not let the apple industry set the standard, because their goals are different.  I guess what I'm saying is that if we don't pursue unmarketable lines of apple improvement, apples will only develop along certain restricted lines.

I would encourage you not to think just in terms of your accomplishments, or lack of in a backyard breeding endeavor, but rather view your efforts as a part of a larger effort.  Any of us may or may not breed apples that are really amazing and worthy of widespread fame and replication.  However, taken together as a whole, we most certainly will!

Two springs ago, I spent maybe two or three hours hand pollinating flowers and produced a couple hundred seeds.  Of those, over 100 sprouted in the greenhouse and were grown out in a small nursery bed.  Last spring I pollinated a few more, and have further plans this spring.  This month, the one year old seedlings were grafted onto dwarfing root stocks and planted in a nursery row.  Next year they go into a trial plot planted close together, and in 4 or more years I may have some results to report.  The total time devoted to this project has not been very great.  In the next installment, I’ll show you how easy it is to pollinate a few apples and grow the seeds out.  I have hopes that I can help nudge over the cliff others equally seduced by the chance to taste brand new apples that have never existed before.  Pollinating a few flowers is the first step.  Yes.... jump.... just do it.

Further reading on Albert Etter and his apples:

Albert Etter's red fleshed apples article by Ram Fishman foremost expert on Etter and his apples.

Informative Greenmantle Nursery page on Albert Etter's apples

From Old Nonpareil to Lady Williams: Apple tasting notes, late season 2012/2013

Line of apples Here are my tasting notes from mid to late season.  The Late season extends quite late here with Lady Williams coming in at the end of February.  For notes on earlier apples and my thoughts on tasting and evaluation in general, see the previous post, Red Astrachan to King David.  I did not review every apple I tasted this season.  If something was really good, I'm inclined to mention it, but I feel I need more time to live with many of them before I make any judgement at all.  Young trees don't always produce exemplary fruit, and it can be difficult to judge when to pick and eat apples.  I also reserve the right to change my mind in the future as I encounter more specimens of various apples and maybe find new benchmarks for comparison.  And, as always, what does well here in sunny (often hot) Northern California might not do so well where you live, and vice versa.  This time around I’ve stuck mostly to apples that I did actually really  like, or had a lot of, and passed by many that were just not that interesting.  Some of these fruits are presented in the order of ripening, and some aren't... if that makes any sense... if that doesn't make sense, I guess I'll just give up and get on with it.


Old Nonpareil:  Light, juicy, pleasing, easy to eat.  Old Nonpareil has been very enjoyable eating this year.  Old Nonpareil has a difficult to describe quality that makes me think of some candy that I can’t remember, if it ever even existed in the first place.  It is not particularly intensely flavored or rich though, and is more along the lines of a light refreshing pleasant apple.  Everything seems to come together pretty well for an enjoyable eating experience.  It has something of a citrus quality, but I’m not sure if that's due mostly to the acidity or actual flavor compounds in the citrus realm.  Either way, citrus comes to mind, and not just to my mind.  Like many old apples, it is not crisp or crunchy.  It is alleged to keep well, but we didn’t have enough to try keeping any, especially since they seem to be prone to dropping from the tree before they are ripe.  The branch is in the shade and this is it’s first year bearing significant fruit, so I’m not sure the fruit is exemplary.  For now I’ll look forward to eating them when I can get them, and will probably graft a branch in a sunnier location for further evaluation.

Wickson:  Hella intense flavor in a tiny sugar filled package.  YUM! This tiny apple is named after then famous California Agronomy champion Edward J. Wickson, who had a large impact on agriculture in the state early in the 20th century.    Albert Etter must have recognized great quality in this fruit to name it after his friend and associate, who was an important figure at the time.  Everyone loves a Wickson.  Early in the season it did taste a bit oddly like crab (it is a crab apple after all), but the seafood element faded as the season moved on.  The latest specimens, though cracked from fall rains, were intensely flavored with insane amounts of sugar.  It is difficult to describe the flavor of Wickson, so I won't try, but it really is awesomely, rich and unique.  The only apple I've had that was close to similar in flavor is Crimson Gold, another Etter variety, which is also delicious, though not as intense.  (edit:  tonia says that if an apple could have umami, it would be wickson.  Adam of Adam's Apples blog describes one of the flavor components as malt.  I know what he means, though I wouldn't say that specifically, and haven't been able to characterize that flavor by comparison to anything else.)  I've heard two people this year say that if they could have only one apple it would be Wickson... one was a fruit expert and one was my mom.  During a talk on apples and apple growing, when asked what trees he would recommend planting Tim Bates said with confidence and practically before the question was finished, "WWWICKSON!".  He also added that when interns stay on the Apple Farm, Wickson is always their favorite apple by the time they leave.  Find one to eat, graft a branch, graft a tree, graft two, Wickson rocks!

Karmijn de Sonneville:  Ginormous cox decendent.  I tasted this Cox’s Orange Pippin/Johnathan cross from September through late October at least.  Most of my notes are very positive, though my memory is not equally positive.  The apple is very tart and that characteristic never mellowed much.  Karmijn de Sonneville had very bad watercore on frankentree the first few years, but seems to be getting over it now that the tree is bearing more regularly.  The tree that I planted of it in the garden orchard had horrible watercore this year and not a single good apple was harvested.  I’m hoping it will come around as the tree matures.

here are some excerpts from my notes on Karmijn de Sonneville:

Oct 15th  riper now.  still very tart, probably too tart for some.  Delicious though.  citrusy with other fruit flavors.  Very juicy, pretty rich, fairly complex.  The perfect apple for people who like to chew on lemons, it has a sensational level of tartness with strong undercurrents of relatively complex flavors.  Add to this a great texture and lots of juice and no wonder the Karmijn de Sonneville is a common taste test winner.

Oct 29th  very good.  Citrusy, pretty tart, yummy coxlike thing.

Grenadine®:  a fun apple that tastes as red as it looks.  Grenadine® is a rather obscure apple bred by Albert Etter of Ettersburg in Humboldt County California.  He was working on red fleshed apples, and this is the reddest of those available.  Grenadine® has one major issue (texture) and probably would not have been released in Etter’s time... and wasn’t.  Still, it is a remarkably flavorful apple with strong berry or fruit punch flavors.  Everyone seems to love it, and I’m quite fond of it myself.  The flesh is very dark pink, bordering on red.  The longer it hangs into early winter, the more intense the flavor becomes, but it also becomes more mealy.  Last year it was not as mealy as it is was this year.  It requires a long season for ripening.  This year it was probably at it’s best compromise between mealy and fully flavored around mid November.  I haven’t tried all the red fleshed Etter apples that are out there, but my guess is that another couple of generations of breeding would have yielded better specimens than are available now.  Greenmantle Nursery maintains a trademark on the name and doesn’t want anyone growing it without buying the trees exclusively from them and signing an non-propagation agreement, thus all the little ®'s.  As a result, the apple is very uncommon, but cuttings of it show up at scion exchanges, and it is not patented.

Grenadine.  Probably the reddest of the Etter red fleshed apples, and possibly the most intensely flavored.  As you can see the juice is red as well, and very delicious.

The apple formerly known as Rubaiyat®?:  Red flesh, red flavor, more please!  This is the Albert Etter apple trademarked as Rubaiyat® by Greenmantle Nursery.  The fact that Greenmantle limits propagation and demands royalties under that name serves as a disincentive to use it.  Perhaps if it had another name it could become popularized and thoroughly assessed by apple collectors and fruit growers, and could possibly even be found for sale now and then.  I had just a few of these on frankentree this year.  Many dropped from the tree prematurely and only one really fine specimen was harvested.  That specimen was, however, delicious!  The Texture is open and juicy with berry like flavors common to Etter’s red fleshed apples.  Grenadine® has stronger flavors, but this one seems to have better texture and is generally a more refined fruit.  I’m reeeeally looking forward to taste eating more of these.

Ruby is very red inside and as delicious as it looks.  Thanks Albert.

Becca’s Crab:  Tiny, crabby, but yummy.  My buddy Becca the farmer sent me some scions of this from North Carolina.  Apparently in came out of a university research orchard or something like that.  She said it made great cider.  I distributed some to other apple collectors and cider makers.  My scions died when a piece of frozen meat was set on them in the refrigerator, but one single bud miraculously lived.  It didn’t even grow the first year, but did the following year and it fruited quite a bit this year.  The apples are about an inch in diameter, beautifully red, round, with a deep yellow/orange flesh.  I ate some in the fall and more later in the December and January.  They hung well without going really soft.  A few were left hanging on January 1st, but many were starting to rot.  I picked them and the few that were still good were delicious.  The late ones had a lychee flavor as tonia pointed out.  The earlier ones were reminiscent of cherries, especially when eaten seeds and all.  It is a little crabby, with a marked astringency and it can also be somewhat mealy, but given a pile of them, I would probably eat a lot.  We’ll see what I think of it after living with it a few years.   If it makes great cider too, which seems not unlikely, I’d say this is a pretty swell little apple.  I may actually graft a whole tree of it.  Wish I had a few to munch on right now.  I wouldn't be surprised if this is a common named cultivar, but I don't know my crabs, so...  Does it look familiar to anyone?

Becca's Crab.  Tasty if a little crabby.

Pomo Sanel:  Local discovery falls short... This apple hung really late.  I picked the last ones on January first.  The texture was still firm.  The latest specimens had some skin blemishes and pitting, but were not rotting or anything like that.  The flavor is fairly rich, but not complex being dominated by a banana like flavor.  Banana not being my favorite, I found them inedible, even though I kept trying to eat them.  Suffice to say, the Chickens got to eat a lot of them.  Too bad because I am looking for late hanging apples.  This is probably an old known variety, but who knows, it might be a local seedling.  It came from a scion exchange and I believe the bag said it was from an old homestead or farm in Talmage.  I assumed that it was named by whomever collected it.  I would not say it was a bad apple at all, but just not excellent and not to my tasts, so I will not continue growing it.

Newton Pippin:  A most praised and praiseworthy apple.  (a.k.a. Newtown Pippin, Albermarle Pippin):  There is a tree of this famous American apple on the property next to us.  I grafted it onto frankentree some years back because the old tree is so decrepit that I figured it didn’t have long to live.  In fact, one of the three trees I took cuttings from fell over and died within a year.  I had a few late harvested apples off the remaining Newton Pippin this year, and it they were similar to other good newtons I’ve had.  There is a strong fruit flavor like jolly rancher candy, sometimes the watermelon flavor and sometimes just generic fake candy flavor.  I’m very intrigued.  I’ve been told numerous times that Newton will not do well here, but I’m not convinced.  (Recent conversations with local growers indicate that it probably does fine here, but that it may take a very long time to come into bearing and is scab susceptible.)  Interestingly, the apples that I harvested off frankentree, which were grafted from the original tree are not nearly as flavorful.  Still, they were quite good and when eaten out of the fridge in late January were of a very welcome quality.  I’m also looking forward to trying a couple of highly rated offspring of the Newtown Pippin- the Virginia Gold (Golden Delicious X Newton) and the New Rock Pippin, an English seedling of Newton Pippin purported to keep extremely well.  Virginia Gold scions just arrived and I’m working on getting New Rock Pippin into the country with the help of apple super enthusiast John Gasbarre of Lamb Abbey Orchards.  The Newton Pippin has an interesting history, but I’ll save all that for another time and place.  for a little more on Newton Pippin check Orange Pippin.

The Venerable Newton Pippin.  A thorough review of the literature would probably show this to be the most praised American apple.  It was still common in grocery stores when I was a kid, but only in a green and very tart state, much Like Granny Smith today.

Hauer Pippin:  Hoped for better, still hoping...  I’ve been really excited to try this apple, but it turns out I’ve been trying it for a few years under the pseudonym of Rose Pippin.  I planted a semi dwarf tree of it on recommendation from a friend in Santa Cruz County who is especially fond of it and knows his apples.  Axel of the Cloudforest Cafe is also very fond of it.  To me, it did not have Wow flavor and it didn’t actually store that well.  The texture after a short time in refrigerated storage was bordering on mealy.  The flavor is hard to describe.  There are some subtle notes of cinnamon candy that I like, but the dominant flavor is somewhat peculiar, very subtle and impossible to nail down.  It’s almost more of a sensation than a taste, like alkalinity or acidity are.  I’ll try this a couple more years and hope that it comes around.  Maybe I have to pick it earlier and store it, but so far, not so good, although it hangs late and is not a bad apple by any means when it is still firm.  I just want more out of it if it’s going to have a whole tree to itself.

More on the Hauer Pippin by Axel Kratel here:

Hauer Pippin Ripens very late and is reported to keep very well, though mine went mealy pretty fast... maybe I need to pick them sooner.

Lady Williams:  Super late and quite tasty, Lady Williams scores more points!  Lady Williams was encouraging this year.  One tree was drought stricken (no water and heavy competition from a huge Poison Oak bush) and had poorer quality apples.  The apples off frankentree were much better.  As usual, they ripened late January, being pretty prime right around Feb 1st.  Lady Williams is a tart apple, but by the time it is really ripe on the tree, the high measure of acidity is balanced by a shit ton of sugar!  It is a very sweet apple.  Flavor is also strong and I guess I would say fruity for lack of any specific descriptors.  The one odd flavor I picked out was on the drought stricken tree, Oregano of all things.  Those fruits were very stunted though.  Lady Williams is a descendent of Granny Smith and the parent of Pink Lady, which seems to be the best supermarket apple out there.  The Lineage is... French Crab begat Granny Smith, begat Lady Williams, Begat Pink Lady...  Lady Williams looks like a keeper for sure since it is not only extremely late, but it is quite good as well.  It requires this long season to ripen though, which would seem to limit its distribution to only a few areas.  It will withstand considerable frost and freezes, but I'm sure there is a limit.  We rarely see temps as low as 20 degrees.

Turkeysong, the Year in Chickens 2012

Chickens have been a constant source of amusement here for the past year and a half or more.  We have been testing out various breeds and just seeing how chickens might or might not integrate into the homestead.  We are learning a lot, but the main product so far has been entertainment!  More on chickens later, but here are a few frozen moments from our year of Chickens.  brrrrrraaaaaaauuk. How many speckled sussex?

tonia with a Speckled Sussex.

Speckled Sussex Chick.

baby Buckeye chicken.  Buckeyes are a very rare heritage breed that we are trying out here.  They are alleged to be good foragers, curious and are supposed to emit a dinosaur like raor

Buffy the Bug Slayer being narcissistic?

tonia and buffy, the biggest and the smallest TLA...  tonia is a sebright bantam and Buffy was a Buff Orpington.

Buffy and tonia's eggs begin hatching...

hatching seabuffs.

Checking out a new sibling.

tonia giving the warning fluff.

awww, too cute to leave out.

Speckled Sussi growing up.

Rondo makes the cut as new head rooster.  Still hoping he develops more personality though...

Buffy wears a bra.  He somehow got bra over his head while sticking it somewhere it didn't belong.  We had to rescue him because he was running around terrified.  Or was that just a ruse?

Not amused.  It used to be quiet around here.

So that's our year in Chickens.  It would be great to hear anyone's experiences with free ranging chickens.  We don't have a dog, or fencing, so we've lost quite a few, but they sure are happy running around all over the place scratching the place up.  The eggs are great too from all those bugs and plants they eat.

Red Astrachan to King David: Apple tasting impressions summer/fall 2012

This has been our best season for apples so far, with something like sixty or seventy of our varieties in fruit.  We are through the early season and into the mid season now.  What I mainly want to do in this post is briefly introduce some ideas on a philosophy of apple tasting and selection, and then cover some of the more promising apples we’ve eaten so far.  I'll include a few notes on some of the less promising apples as well.  I was somewhat remiss in taking photos, but I'll try to do better for the rest of the season.

Some varieties bore only an apple or two, and others in enough quantity to get pretty well acquainted.  Sometimes it takes a few years in bearing condition for the trees to produce exemplary fruit, so most of the varieties that were disappointing this year will be given a stay of execution to prove themselves of some worth before deciding to convert them to another variety by grafting.

It is also a learning curve to figure out just when to pick each variety.  Some should be ripened on the tree and eaten without delay.  Others should be picked early and stored for months before eating.  It takes some time and experimentation to figure out just when to pick and eat the things.  So, in some cases, we were only able to get preliminary impressions, and in other cases, no useful impressions at all.  Further, many of the varieties are buried somewhere in the recesses of Frankentree.  He has too many varieties grafted on to ripen them all really well.  Weaker or poorly placed varieties get buried beneath vigorous branches.  That means that some lack adequate sunlight for really good ripening and color.  I try to keep that fact in mind when assessing the fruit.  Some of the promising types will be grafted out into better locations for further assessment.

Keep in mind that the whole reason I’m doing this is to find good apples; actually, I'm doing it to find the very best apples.  But what is good in one place will not be good in another.  So, some of our rejects might be the best thing ever under different climatic and cultural conditions.  Conversely of course, what is great here might not cut it elsewhere.  Still, reviews like this are a place to start in selecting varieties.  Our climate is dry in the summer and can get pretty hot with temps regularly in the 90's and reliably above 100 for a few periods during the summer.  because it is dry, disease pressure is usually pretty light, but the heat can greatly affect quality in some varieties.

A few notes on tasting.  I've spent a lot of time listening very carefully to vintage vacuum tube audio equipment which I collect and repair, and I think I can make an analogy to apple eating.  My take home message after a few years of careful listening was as follows.  You can sit around and analyze exactly how your equipment sounds, breaking down each variable and measuring by quantity and quality.  But, in the end, if the point is to enjoy music, the experience should be taken as a whole and the overall impression on us should be, well,...  ENJOYABLE!  Simple enough, but easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees as they say.  What I primarily rely on in assessing audio equipment now is not whether the sum of the parts should add up, but rather whether they actually do add up.   The best question to ask is  “do I want to keep listening”?  Is the music compelling?  Do I want to turn it up, leave it on, sit and listen and get lost in the music.  Is there emotive force in the music- does it move me?  Am I tapping my foot?  Or, on the other extreme, do I want to jump up and turn it off.  My overall reaction is what ultimately matters the most if the goal is to enjoy the music.  I’m noticing the same phenomenon in taste testing apples for which I’ll use the term compelling.

Am I compelled to eat the apple?  That compulsion could come from many complex co-factors.  For instance, it could be said that a somewhat mild and understated apple is tame and not very intense in flavor.  If my expectations of that apple are too loaded with comparisons to other apples or if I have an over reliance on a few particular traits which I've identified as ideal in a good apple, I might not notice that it’s just really compelling to eat; that, in it’s simplicity as a fruit, there is a formula that simply works.  Creston is such an apple.  For other imminently edible apples the formula may be quite different.  They may demand my attention with intense flavors.  I might find myself chewing with great intent and sucking at the pieces to extract every bit of juice from them.  Whatever the case, the edibility factor, how everything comes together to make us want to eat an apple, is ultimately the best acid test for apple selection when it comes to eating quality.  Paying attention to whether or not an apple is compelling to eat is the most useful single criteria because it brings everything together under one roof if it’s good, or tosses it out on its ass if it’s not.  Not only can the complex factors that create harmony, or a lack of harmony, in a single apple be difficult to analyze, but trying too hard to do so can disrupt the experience of eating and enjoying a good apple.  Breaking down all the elements into their component parts, while interesting, is ultimately of less real utility than just taking the basic encompassing response of mind and body.  Enjoy the Music!

All that having been said, I will of course still be analyzing apples for flavor components and other details like texture and juiciness, along with edibility.  There are of course other considerations, but my impressions on cultural traits are sparse as of yet, so they are not addressed here all that much.

One thing I’m learning this season is that there are going to be a lot of apples that have high potential here.  Determining those which will find long term favor with us will be a journey.  Quality in these matters are always measured in benchmarks.  Something can come along which resets the benchmark and changes the whole perspective.  Fortunately, with apples there is such a variety of flavor, such a multitude of uses and such a long season, that plenty of room exists on the homestead for variety.  With over 200 varieties currently in residence here and more on the way, I think the long list of suitable apples will be pretty long indeed, and the short list may ultimately prove challenging to draw up.  It will be necessary to live with the trees and their apples for a longer period of time to come to know them well enough for all of that to jell.  Fortunately, the art of grafting allows great flexibility in changing over from one variety to another.  For now, we have some losers and some keepers.  Will the keepers be kept?  or will they get bumped by something better?  Give me another 10 years.

So, lets look at some apples:

Red Astrachan, just edible when it's the only game in town.  This is our earliest apple by a good stretch being ripe here in the second week of July and done by the 1st week of August.  My early impressions were that it was not worth eating.  It is an acidic apple, low in sugar and a little sparse on flavor.  "Thin" describes it pretty well overall.  By the end of the season I had decided I could enjoy eating one when in prime condition and chilled.  It is primarily a cooking apple and is alleged by some to make great apple sauce.  I think that would be with sugar added.  I did a little cooking with it and it seemed good enough I guess.  I would like to replace it with something better in that season, but if it’s the best thing going at that time, I might hang on to it.  I am collecting as many early apples with promising descriptions as I can to fill this niche.  Red Astrachan sets the bar pretty low as a benchmark.  Older literature tends to rank this apple higher than I would, so maybe it has more potential in other climates.

Sunrise, Early and promising, but...  This apple started out promising.  I’m still somewhat interested in it, but by the end of it's short season I was a little cold.  It gets points for being early for sure.  Sunrise is an attractive apple which has some neat flavors and a crunchy texture which should be popular with modern apple eaters.  Flavor hints were green grape, bubblegum (tonia), and later a sugar cane or jujube like sweetness.  All in all, pretty tame flavor profile, but interesting when it was prime.  It is a sweet apple.  I realize that sweet apples lacking in acidity are popular with some people, so those people should take note.  I think it is a very good sweet apple at that season.  Still, without a balance of acidity it falls flat, and I tend to lose interest pretty fast.  If some acidity could be injected Sunrise has a lot of other good qualities considering it's season.  I’ll give it a chance for another year or two, but I’m not super hopeful.

Kerry’s Irish Pippin, new benchmark in early apples.  This old Irish apple was as early as Sunrise, which is just slightly ahead of Gravenstein.  Around here that was second and third weeks of August this year.  It is a small apple with a peculiar line running up the side like a seam.  Like Sunrise, it gets points for earliness but, as one source said, it’s a good apple at any time of year.  I don’t have much to say about particular flavors, but it was quite good, rich for an early apple, fruity, maybe some spice.  tonia says dried mango and pear.  The texture is, firm and fine grained and pleasant to eat, not particularly juicy, and not the texture that modern apple breeders are aiming for and consumers are coming to expect.  All in all Kerry's is the most promising early apple here this year and the new benchmark for such.  Tim Bates of the Apple Farm in Philo is a big fan of this apple and I got my cuttings from him.  Thanks Tim!

Gravenstein, Could be better, should be better.  Gravenstein was not very good here this year.  We never got one that was really prime.  Part of that is due to bird damage with not a single fruit remaining unpecked.  I’m inclined to think that Gravs are great when they are just right, but just before and just after, they are of little account.  That "good then gone" character is typical of early apples in general.  I’m still hoping for better things from our Gravenstein tree, but at this point I’m inclined to continue grafting over more of it to other early apples.  We live not far from West Sonoma County which is famous for growing great Gravensteins.  A few samples from that area last year were somewhat of a revelation, but the climate here is significantly hotter and drier.

Golden Nugget, disappointing, but I'm not giving up yet!  Another apple that ripened very early was the Golden Nugget.  I was excited to try this one as it is a cross between Golden Russet and Cox’s Orange Pippin, two great and intensely flavored apples, and still possibly the most intense and compelling apples I've ever eaten.  It ripened in August which seemed unusual, but I read in a forum somewhere that they can ripen very early.  It was just pretty good at it's best, which was disappointing, but then it is the first year of fruit on a two year old cordon tree, so I don’t want to judge it too hastily until the tree settles in a bit.  The last Golden Nugget I ate was better than those before it, so I'm hoping that I picked it too early or that I just need to store it for a while.  Then again, I didn't pick most of them because they fell off.  It does get points for early ripening and seemed promising for an early apple if it gets its act together.  It is an attractive apple, but not by our warped grocery store standards.

Fiesta (aka Red Pippin), Silly name, satisfying apple.  Fiesta is a newer apple as you can tell by the silly name.  It is a cross between Cox’s Orange Pippin and Idared.  It is earlier than Cox’s here.  I don’t have full notes on the season, but I have down that it was very tasty on Sept 15th.  The apples are on the large side, broadly conical and attractive.  The acid/sugar balance is good to my taste.  Flavors are “red apple”, maybe some green apple and some almost artificial fruit flavors which are not uncommon in good apples.  I don’t mean artificial in a bad way, but that is the description often evoked.  Fiesta is juicy, nicely textured when in prime condition and easy to eat.  It has a good balance between keeping your attention while not demanding it or being overwhelmingly intense.  I like overwhelmingly intense apples, but I also like to just chill out and eat an apple sometimes without having to pay too much attention.  Fiesta is a good fruit for casual eating while still remaining quite interesting if you want to pay more attention.  I’m going to slap a label of very promising on Fiesta and look forward to eating more next year.

Cherry cox, better than old Cox.  Cherry Cox were eaten through much of September and in storage well into October.  The fruits have to be harvested over a long period as they become ripe.  This variety has been a real performer here and has bested the famous old variety Cox's Orange Pippin which spawned it.  It watercored the first year or two, but has settled in and had no watercore at all this season.  Watercore is a physiological phenomenon where some of the flesh and core of the apple becomes saturated looking and generally sweeter.  Some people like it.  I'm not so keen on watercored apples, and the fruit will not keep.  We ate the last Cherry Cox out of the fridge on Oct 17th and it was still pretty good.  Cherry Cox is a nice looking sport of Cox’s Orange Pippin (sport meaning it is a mutation of a single bud on a tree which grew into a new variety).  It is green fading to yellowish with often dramatically broad red stripes.  It is reportedly more disease resistant and longer storing than Cox's Orange Pippin with a taste of cherry.  The Cherry flavor is mild in some and strong in others.  It’s something like a cherry cough drop, but in a good way.  It is on the tart side with rich fruit flavors... strong, but not usually intense.  It is a refreshing apple, lively with acidity while still being plenty sweet, and is good for eating out of hand.  I did notice that it was sometimes hard to figure out when to pick and eat it at just the right stage.  It can get a little bit mealy or granular if it is very ripe, but it can taste a little sharp and raw if too green.  The window between seems small and it is difficult to know when to pick since it ripens over a period of weeks.  Still, that analysis aside, we ate them and ate them some more, in and on both sides of, that window and would eat yet more if we had them.  Because of the flavor as well as our overall desire to eat them in quantity, Cherry Cox seems like a keeper here at Turkeysong .  Add high productivity and precociousness into that equation and it’s a real winner.  It isn't the best apple ever, but it has a lot going for it.

Cox's Orange Pippin, nothing to write home about :(  I had one of these off my mom's tree a couple years ago that really knocked my socks off.  I was hopeful after that, but it has disappointed here consistently.  I think good years for Cox's would be few and far between in our climate and we are probably better off pursing other apples including some of Cox's many offspring, a number of which are reviewed on this page and excellent in quality.

Sweet Sixteen, flavor you couldn't ignore if you wanted to.   Sweet Sixteen is another early to mid September apple.  It was finished harvesting by the end of Sept and that was probably a bit late.  Sweet Sixteen is from the University of Minnesota breeding program and was released in 1977.  It is a nice looking red apple that is intensely aromatic and flavorful.  You can smell a good example from several feet away.  Apples boast a large palate of flavors and Sweet Sixteen showcases that fact.  Early, somewhat unripe, specimens were so intensely flavored of bubblegum and cherry candy, that they were a bit much, especially lacking the sugar and acid to balance the flavor.  Later specimens yielded a somewhat more harmonious and less gimicky flavor with notes of artificial cherry, bubblegum, anise, almond and “red apple”.  These flavors are generally not subtle, but are right up in your face.  It will probably be a bit much for conservative palates causing some upturning of noses, nose wrinkling, grimacing and other signs of disapproval.  On the other hand, it must be awesome for kids and certainly for the more adventurous grown ups among us.  If apples have to compete with the candy isle, which it could be argued that they do if we want kids to eat them in this age of foods engineered to make us want more, then this is a step in that direction.  we’ll be hanging onto sweet sixteen and probably adding a tree.  The birds also like it!

Freyburg, Anise and banana flavored, gourmet Chicken food.   Although it did taste of anise as advertised, and sometimes strongly, Freyburg is sweet with little acidity.  Chuck likes it for that reason though, and other sweet apple lovers might as well.  It can taste anywhere from mildly to intensely anise flavored.  Other flavors are banana, perfume or maybe flowers, and pear.  It has brilliantly white flesh and a sort of creamy flavor and interesting fine texture.  As far as I’m concerned this one is out of the running.  If you like sweet apples, it’s probably a good if not very good apple, but for me the total of the flavors and sugar/acid balance is curious, but not compelling.  Most were picked too early, the last one picked on Oct 22nd seemed like it was probably in just about prime condition.  I said Wow when I bit into it because the anise flavor was so strong... but the chickens finished it.

Egremont Russet, a solid old school English Russet.  This is a famous English russet with a rough, pretty thick and fairly astringent skin.   My notes say it seemed prime on September 22nd, but it ripens over a long season with the last few hanging on till mid October.  Egremont was popular with farmer’s market customers who probably would not have given it a second glance if it hadn't been for the tasters we handed out.  Most of the people who tasted it bought a few.  It is very sweet as many russets are.  The texture is dense, but I wouldn’t say dry or rubbery as some russets tend to be.  The flavor is rich and dense, but not particularly complex or “wow”.  It is sufficiently acidic to be lively in the mouth and the peel is fairly astringent.   Egremont seems to be keeping well in the fridge.  The flavor and texture of the refrigerated apples a month after picking is very good and hardly changed.  The most interesting thing is that the stored specimens don’t taste like refrigerator.  Many apples can go into the fridge for only a week or two and come out tasting like a not so delicate blend of everything in there which is a real buzzkill.  The tree is somewhat prone to early drops and ripens over a long season.  I noticed that the birds pecked at them but didn’t care to eat them, probably because of the dense flesh, so damage remained minimal.   I think we might keep the Egremont, but I hope to compare it to some other russets in the next few years.  My experience indicates that the Golden Russet definitely trumps the Egremont as it is grown here.  I haven’t had any significant quantity of Golden Russets on my trees yet, (blame the packrats who ate one tree down to nubs to build a nest), so I can’t compare site grown apples.  Egremont is also alleged to make very good cider which is a bonus.

Rubinette, more please!  A cross between Cox’s Orange Pippin and Golden Delicious.  It’s hard to find a bad word said about this apple in terms of flavor.  We have been very impressed with some of our 10 or so specimens this year.  It is richly flavored, balanced and fairly complex.  All in all Rubinette is a harmonious eating experience, and that is the take home message for this apple.  It hangs on the tree well, but has to be picked before it over ripens.  The apples are small and the tree is said to be small and a weak grower.  The apples were very nice looking and variable in size from medium-small to smaller.  I have only one branch, but am inclined to graft a tree after tasting this years samples.

Chestnut Crab, Delicious and brightly flavored, followed by a hint of rotten nuts and seafood.  I was excited to try this variety bred at the University of Minnesota in the 1940s.  It grew rather large for us on a two year old oblique cordon and is more like a small apple than a crab.  It is a gorgeous apple with flushes and blushes and light russeting over a translucent background.  The flavor was encouraging early in the season, lively and rich with plenty of sweetness.  The word that came to both tonia and I was bright.  I’d like to live with a larger quantity for a while, but I’m pretty sure I could stuff a lot of them down my face... later they were maybe not so good.  After just a week or two of refrigeration they developed a taste which is referred to as nutty elsewhere... thus the name of the apple.  I would characterize it as odd, more like somewhat rotten nuts and maybe with a hint of seafood.  I didn’t care for that flavor much, though It was still really good with cheese.  Other people who tasted it responded more favorably, but mostly not.  That tasting was on Sept 22nd, so it was probably good for eating to my tastes (pre nut flavor) in early to mid September.

Ribston Pippin, probably not.  I may not have picked it at the right time, but this famous apple was somewhat disappointing.  I had one late specimen ripened longer on the tree than the rest that was promising, but not great.  I’ll give it more of a chance, but I have a feeling that we will not experience the coalescing of attributes that have made this apple famous as it is grown in Britain.

Kidd’s Orange Red, I like the orange, but not the red, next please.  Kidd’s Orange Red has a great reputation.  It is a cross between Red Delicious, the apple that nearly ruined America’s taste for apples, and Cox’s Orange Pippin the darling of Britain, and probably the most lauded apple ever in terms of dessert quality.  Kidd's seems to be pretty popular with apple enthusiasts.  I have had the occasional specimen that made me think I should grow more, but in general I’m not that impressed.  Kidd’s Orange can be intense and has some very good Cox like flavors at times, but sitting right next to those flavors is the “red apple” flavor of Red Delicious.  Some people love that flavor and if you are one of them, Kidd’s is probably worth a try.  I find that flavor unharmonious and distracting in this apple, even if I’m partial to it in some other apples.  At this point I’m ready to throw in the towel.  I’ve had it for a few years and it gets demerits for inconsistency in quality and not suiting my taste.

Not Laxton’s Fortune, but hella good!  It typically takes a few years for an apple to fruit from the graft.  The first order of business when they do is to note whether they appear to be what they are labeled as.  Unfortunately mislabeling is common for whatever reasons.  The branch labeled as Laxton’s fortune on Frankentree does not appear to be that at all.  It is a shiny, red, blocky apple which looks like more of a modern creation.  It tastes like a new creation as well.  In fact, it tastes very much like Sweet Sixteen which it also resembles although I have no Sweet Sixteen left for direct comparison.  If the seasons weren’t nearly a month and more apart, I would suspect it might be that variety.  Anyway, whatever it is, it’s good!  It has a very similar flavor profile and texture to Sweet Sixteen, intense almost artificial flavors of candy and cherry flavoring along with a good dose of red apple flavor.  Think jolly rancher candy... which one?  Maybe a bunch of them mixed together.  we’ve only eaten a couple this year, but last year it was a hit as well.  It is just ripe now in the third week of October, so I may revisit this one in a later post after I’ve eaten them all!  The apples in the picture have writing on them because they are part of a breeding effort.

Suntan, super reputation, so far disappointed, not giving up.  This tree has been somewhat of a disappointment.  Reviews by other growers are outstanding.  Like this one for Stephen Hayes:

“...long keeping apple with a WOW! flavour of tropical fruits and concentrated sunshine. The first time we tasted this apple I ate 5 or 6 non stop until my guts were bursting, it tasted that good. Pineapples, mangos and melons were noticeable among the rich mix of exotic fruit flavours in this delightful fruit.” “Possibly the most underrated apple in England.  Today (9th July 2004) Julia and I shared the last apple from the 2003 season-it was a Suntan and it was STILL CRUNCHY and full of flavour.”

My apple guru Freddy Menge also recommended it from his short must-have list.  I’m intrigued by our suntan, but not wowed for sure.  Part of the reason is that they have watercored very badly the last two years usually fermenting on the tree in the hot sun... sunburn more like.  This year a few did not watercore badly, but most did.  I’m hoping that the watercore will go away as the tree matures as it has on some other varieties here.  The fruit can still be enjoyable to eat and even really good, but good specimens are only occasional and they still taste like they are not up to par.  There is a definite flavor of pineapple, which seems to be somewhat intensified by the watercore at times.  Texture is often poor.  I remember hitting some fractured rock when digging the hole for this tree, so I think it is not in a prime spot.  It seems to be lacking in vigor which is not supposed to be characteristic of this variety.  I’m not going to give up on Suntan too easily.  I’m determined to grow it to perfection here if that is possible.

King David, outstanding and here to stay.  This apple is very recommended by local growers and was on several local's must have lists.  It is a Southern apple that resists heat, making it useful for interior California.  King Davids the past few weeks have been a wonder of Acidity, flavor and sugar packed in a gorgeous remarkably dark red skin that takes a high polish.  Mine are dry farmed for the most part, so they are extra intense.  There is a high degree of acidity, but it is balanced with an equally high, if not higher level of sugar.  Late in the season, the sugars really pour on making it a great apple for hard cider too (higher sugar levels equal higher alcohol levels and apples tend to be low in sugar compared to the grapes used in wine making).  Another feature that contributes to King David’s usefulness as a cider apple is a good measure of astringency in the skin due to tannins.  Again, this character is exaggerated in mine because they are dry farmed, but astringency of the skin is a good character in a dessert apple.  The somewhat strong astringency of King David is appropriate to the intensity of the sugar, refreshing acidity and the saturation of flavor in the apple.  I have had Excellent cider made from King David Blended with a Bittersweet apple called Muscat de Bernay and vinted by my friend Tim Bray.  It was an excellent fruity, crisp and lively cider.  King David is his favorite cider apple.  The Flavor of King David has a good dose of what I always refer to as "red apple", but of a broader richness and complexity than other apples dominated by this flavor.  It is also suffused with a subtle spiciness.  It reminds me of spiced apple juice or mulled cider.  Red Apple isn’t always my favorite flavor, but King David's mix of flavors makes it delicious and compelling.  It is supposed to be a great keeper, but my storage conditions are not ideal, so we will be eating most of the ones we didn’t sell at the Farmer’s Market.   As Tim Bray says, “More King David!”.

I am unimpressed by:  Pinata (pinova), Cameo, Cranberry pippin, numerous unlabeled or wrongly labeled apples and probably others I'm forgetting about.  Some varieties that fruited this year are clearly too young or too few to make a good assessment, so I’ll wait for another year to speak to those.  I hope to post about some late and very late season apples in a future post this winter. (EDIT: I revisited Pinata when a late specimen fell off the tree and was half eaten by chickens.  I had been tasting it for months as the apples held steadfastly to the tree, but they never seemed to change much at all.  That final specimen had a whole bunch of neat flavors though, so it gets a stay of execution for now.)

Fruits of Labor: adventures in pomeography

"Annual vegetables are like getting a goldfish.  Trees are like getting a tortoise that might outlive us."

When we moved here to Turkeysong six and a half years ago, it was a very rainy December.  We moved into a tiny trailer with just a propane oven for heat.  I was rather unhealthy that winter with long continuing complications from Lyme disease, so my physical resources were limited.  But it was an exciting time and full of promise as we embarked on a long held dream.  Bathing was accomplished at the nearby hot springs most of the winter until I built a wood fired bathtub which worked passably well.  Parking was a mile walk down the 4 wheel drive only road, and the winter was so wet that only two trips were made driving in the 1/2 mile driveway before late spring arrived.  I carried office chairs, a desk and sheets of plywood down the half mile drive.   I remember many times walking in at night after bathing at the springs, exhausted, sick, dizzy and weak.  Most days I spent laying down alone in the damp cold miserable trailer feeling ill and tapped out.  The Accommodations were very uncomfortable, but frugality ruled the day and I still knew where my priorities lay.  Rather than move toward better shelter, showers, making the driveway passable or other creature comforts, I started preparing to plant trees and put in a garden.

I don’t get why everyone doesn’t see fruit and nut trees the way that I do, or make them a priority.  Once established they can give so much for the effort expended in establishment and maintenance.  Trees also have a charisma and substance that is of a nature very different than other plants.  You can’t develop much of a relationship with a broccoli plant in one season.  Annual vegetables are like getting a goldfish.  Trees are like getting a tortoise that might outlive us.

Trees currently on the place are 11 Olive, 40 Apple, 9 Sweet Cherry, 2 Pie Cherry, 3 Chestnut, 8? Almond, 9 Carpathian Walnut, 3 Asian Plum, 7 Prune, 5 Feijoa, 2 Loquat, 5 European Pear, 1 Asian Pear, 2 Persimmon, 1 Jujube, 4 fig, 2 chilean wine palm, 1 jelly palm, 1 mulberry and some other odds and ends not counting 55 apples trained as diagonal cordons and a nursery full of trees for next year.  After 6 years of planning, researching, planting, mulching, weeding, training, pruning, and occasionally watering and feeding, we are beginning to see results!

I’ve been delighted to see my efforts growing into something resembling trees.  Since I do almost all of my own grafting, I’m a year, or even two, behind those buying trees in a nursery.  When the young trees come out of the nursery bed the year after grafting, most of them are a single whip, or maiden which is a sapling with no branches around 2 to 5 feet tall, so it is some time before they really take shape and come to a size that suggests they be taken seriously.  The spring orchard, which contains most of the trees first planted here, is beginning to take the visual form of an orchard now with some of the trees being 8x8 or larger which is big enough to support a significant crop.

And this year, on the wings of a warm spring, came fruit.  Weeks of nice weather had bees out and busy pollinating.  The trees were studded with fruitlets thick enough to break branches if they were all left to grow.  I’ve delighted in watching my trees develop, cherishing each phase in their development.  The graft “taking” and starting to grow is the first victory.  A healthy Maiden in the fall is the second.  Tucked in place the next spring they wait to begin the first season in the ground.  Over the next few years of battling weeds, voles and bark beetle grubs they grow larger, more self sufficient and I can usually take satisfaction in the realization of a strong framework of well placed branches.  They begin to bloom, and maybe even set a fruit or two.  One day I look at them and they look something like a tree complete with fruit, being off on the right root and leaving their childhood years behind.

Fruit is good.  I want to eat fruit and juice it and dry it and make alcohol from it, cook it, can it, ferment it and sell it, but this is not just any fruit!  A great share of the energy put into trees here is put into research and planning.  The first year my only real resource besides a few other fruit enthusiasts was a book called Cornucopia.  It is a really cool book with descriptions of food plants, including varieties.  There are a lot of Apples listed in Cornucopia, but even if interested I could not find many of them on short notice and the listing is on the order of hundreds while there are actually thousands of varieties.  This person has catalogued 11,324 varieties of Apples!  No doubt that number includes some repeats under different names, but no doubt that there are also many varieties missing.  I began researching apples in more earnest in the past 3 years.  During that time the amount of information about Apple varieties available in cyberspace has grown tremendously.  The most useful information is often quite old, especially the mid to late 1800’s, such as Dr Hogg’s The Fruit Manual and  up into the early part of the last century like Bunyard’s A Manual of Hardy Fruits More Commonly Grown In Great Brittain, and many more.  I’ve spent untold hours researching apple varieties.  Much of my down time when I’m too tired to work on other stuff has been spent searching for information and sources on hundreds of Apple varieties.  I have fairly extensive data base entries of apple research to draw on and use them regularly.  On top of that go notes about growth, tree health, ripening times and tasting of apples grown here.  Not every fruit grower needs to be as enthusiastic as the likes of me to grow good fruit, but I can tell you that due care in the selection of varieties pays off.

I research whatever I’m planting generally.  I don’t want to leave my decisions up to a nursery owner who may not be familiar with the many varieties of fruits out there.  Also, most nurseries are only able to order a limited number of varieties, even though that is improving with renewed interest in heirlooms.  Mostly I research Apple varieties because I plant more apples than any other fruit or nut.  I’m fascinated by the apple.  I long ago recognized the utility and greatness of the apple as the king of homestead fruits.  It can be dried, sauced, baked, made into juice, cider, apple butter, dried apples, vinegar, brandy, pies and tarts, eaten off the tree or eaten or cooked after storing for months.  There are apples that ripen in July and Apples that ripen in February and probably later... at least 6 months of apples fresh off the tree and I’m confident that this period can be extended.

I’m continually frustrated trying to talk about Apples with people.  Its the same conversation over and over.  “I like (insert grannysmith, golden delicious, pink lady, honeycrisp, fuji or other grocery store apple)”.  “I like a crunchy apple”.   “I don’t like mushy apples”.  The conversation on apples is generally a limited debate.  Its kind of like politics...  “I like the Democrats”... “I like the republicans”... “I like one of the two new guys”... Like I said, a limited debate.  I want to grab people and shake them and try to get them to listen to me when I tell them what they are missing, but by the time I start trying to tell them they are already telling me that they don’t like mushy apples.  Well, almost nobody likes mushy apples, but the range of debate should not be limited to mushy v.s. crunchy and sweet v.s. tart;  the world of apples is so much broader.

I like some of the apples I am already familiar with very much, but what I’m doing now is exploring my options- playing the field so to speak.  I want to expand the season for apples as far as possible in both directions with first rate apples.  That means planting and fruiting a lot of varieties to see what does well here and what suits our tastes.  That means a lot of sampling!  Some of my best memories of last fall and early winter were climbing into bed of an evening with tonia and an apple or two or three or four and doing some tasting.  Sometimes a new one, but always approached as a new one because every one, even off the same tree at the same time, can taste a little or even a lot different.  Over the years here I’ve collected around 220 varieties.  Frankentree alone has about 140 varieties on him.  In total, we have probably 60 or 70 varieties fruiting this year, a new level of apple tasting and eating.  Hell yeah, now that's my idea of a good time!

I hope to be finding time to write more about apples since I put a lot of energy into them and I just like to talk about them; and no doubt I’ll be posting about some of the apples we’re tasting this year as the fruits of labor drop ripe and plump into our hands.  But I suppose that what I really wanted to communicate here is my excitement at finally seeing my plans come to fruition and how worth it all the inconvenience and labor has been whatever the cost.  We are still cooking and scraping by in the same crappy kitchen trailer and sleeping in half finished structures with no real doors or windows, but even if thats the case for another winter, at least we have trees that will be beginning to bear heavily of awesome and carefully selected fruits.  The best time to plant a tree really is 10 years ago, but it turns out that 6 years ago isn’t so bad either.

Some parting advice:

*Take any advice with a grain of salt.

*Plant trees sooner rather than later.

*Don’t plant more than you can take good care of.

*Check with the local nursery, but check more with local fruit enthusiasts.  Follow up leads with internet research.  Many of the best fruits are little known and grown.

*Don’t make caramel popcorn while standing naked in front of a hot wood stove.

*Rarely plant more than one tree of any variety for home use and consider making some trees multiple varieties to span a greater range of seasons and/or tastes.

*Don't discount either Heirlooms or Modern apples.  Many of both are excellent and Unique.  Heirlooms are romantic, but not always superior.  Many of both just plain suck.

*Learn to graft so that you can change trees to new varieties or add to your collection if you find something promising.

*Use the internet to research varieties you are interested in using the terms >> “apple name” apple variety <<.  Orange Pippin and Adam’s Apples are a couple of good current sources.  Google books rocks the older sources.

*Stay tuned for more hot Pomeography!  Including sublimely tempting photos, tantalizing descriptions and verbose romantic ramblings on the virtues and charms of apples!

Mr. Wintertons Remarkable Potato Onion!

This past Spring Kelly Winterton of Utah, an amateur gardener turned onion breeder, generously sent me 8 bulbs of his new Potato Onion the Green Mountain Multiplier.  This newly introduced variety was grown by Mr. Winterton from seeds of the Yellow Potato Onion.  Potato Onions don’t go to seed very often, but some years back his did go to seed and he was adventurous enough to plant the seeds to see what would happen; what happened was new larger Potato Onions in several different colors.  The Green Mountain was the first to be shared out to other people.  Most of the others are still under selection and propagation with one new White variety being offered this year.

Kelly has said that every new variety he is growing from the seeds of the Yellow Potato Onion have been larger than the parent.  He thinks the greater size of the new onions may be due to freedom from virus that the Yellow Potato Onion has picked up over it’s very long career.  Since Potato Onions are grown from divisions instead of seed, it seems plausible that they could accumulate virus.  Plants grown out from seed apparently do not carry on viral infections of the parents, so growing from seed would be a way to potentially “cleanse” the Potato Onion occasionally.   The other method I know of is to heat the plants until the virus dies, sort of a fever.  I’m not sure if the fever technique would work for an onion, but it is used on fruit trees.  The viral theory seems plausible, but whatever the case, the onions are truly large for potato onions.

When I received the bulbs in spring, they were very firm and did not look like they had suffered in storage over winter in the least.  I grew them out as usual without any overly special coddling.  The largest specimens are over three inches in diameter, and there are quite a few pretty large ones.  The Smallest one is one and one eighth inches.  Coincidentally, I also have the largest Yellow Potato Onions I’ve ever grown this year, but out of a pretty big crop, none are quite as large as the Green Mountains.  My larger than usual Yellow Potato Onions are due for the most part to my deliberate planting out of the smallest onions from last year’s crop which makes for fewer, but larger onions.

Results are somewhat preliminary as this is the first year, but the Green Mountain Multiplier also seems to be somewhat more consolidated under the skin than the Yellows.  To explain, the Potato Onion is made up of many “eyes” or points of growth which can be seen if the onion is sliced crosswise.  Each eye is a growing point and can sort of be seen as it’s own plant or division each of which will grow into a new onion also with a number of eyes.  Often, papery divisions will develop in the onion, especially in storage making each onion composed of several which can sometimes be divided before planting.  Thats fine, but it can be a hassle when cutting the onions for cooking purposes because the papery divisions have to be removed.  My early impression when the original bulbs arrived, and were planted, and again at harvesting is that the Green Mountain bulbs have fewer of these papery divisions.  That is a good thing in terms of processing them in the kitchen, and not likely to be a problem for planting.

My Potato Onions have produced seed this year as well, and I’m excited to plant some of them to see what I come up with.  Typically though, reluctance to send up flowers at all is one of the Yellow Potato Onions best known traits.  For instance, I have been growing them for over 10 years and have only seen them flower one other time.  Kelly thought it might be a good idea if the onions produced seed more often so that they could occasionally be purged of virus.  I’m inclined to think that it would be better to retain the Potato Onion’s reluctance to produce flowers and learn to induce flowering when we want it.  As I said in edits to my previous post about Potato Onions, I was trying to get mine to seed this year.  How much of them going to seed had to do with my attempts at forcing them, and how much to do with some other serendipity, I don’t know, but I think that if they do it but rarely, we ought to be able to make them do it more frequently by some sort of manipulation.  Anyway, this is all a segue to say that while a number of my Yellow Potato Onions went to seed this year, the Green Mountain Multiplier did not.  More growing seasons will be required to see just how the seeding (or lack of) trait plays out in the Green Mountian Multipliers.

Of the 8 bulbs Kelly sent me, all survived well and I now have 56 onions for planting next year.  Well, I might eat ONE of them to see how they rate in the flavor department, but 55 anyway.  That increase is an average of 7 per bulb planted.  This will vary, because larger bulbs produce more smaller onions and vice versa, but --- is probably a good average.  In that case 55 should yield around 385 bulbs the second year and if all bulbs were to be planted from there out the numbers would look like:  year 3= 2695 bulbs, year 4= 18,865 bulbs, year5= 132,055 bulbs, year 6= 924,385 bulbs and year 7= 6,470,695 bulbs!  Ok just one more and I think you get the idea- year 8= 45,294,865 HOLY ONION RINGS!  that’s a pretty good increase and not so long to a field full of onions!

The onions ripened early and were harvested ahead of my other potato onions.  That in spite of being planted later than some of the Yellows. Kelly says that the Green Mountain Multiplier comes in ahead of all his others, so they do appear to be early.

So how can you be the first one on your block to possess the promising Green Mountain Multiplier?  I’m growing all of mine out for at least another season before I do anything with them, and probably longer.  I’d like to concentrate on multiplying them as much as possible for now.  I have a feeling they will become more readily available over the next decade or so as numbers increase.  In the meantime, you can contact Kelly, but they will probably be in very short supply.

Kelly’s success with the Green Mountain Multiplier is encouraging and seems to point the way for further development.  More on that point and on my potato onion seed experiments in some future post!

Update June 28th 2013:  This year I planted all of the Green Mountain Multiplier bulbs I had on the Winter Solstice.  They were plenty hardy and grew well.  Surprisingly, they are already dying down and most are ready to lift and cure in the shade somewhere.  That is great news, because it means that I could beat everyone to market with cured bulbing onions!  As far as I know, there is no way to get a regular bulb onions cured down that fast in this climate, though I may be wrong, no one does it to my knowledge.  The onions did flower a little, but so did some of my yellows planted at the same time though, oddly, not in the same bed.  I will probably continue to propagate most of the bulbs, though I may run out of room unless I expand somehow.

Update, September 7th 2013:  Just sorted through the Green Mountains.  I didn't cure them very carefully this year, but just stuffed them in some baskets in the shed without any trimming, leaves and all (not recommended).  I still didn't lose that many to rot, maybe around 20.  The total bulbs I have now, not counting rotten ones, the few I've eaten and one I gave to a neighbor to plant, is 390 bulbs.  That means that if one is separated from other bulbs in the cluster enough to easily break it off for planting, I count it as a bulb.  That's uncannily close to my estimate above of 385 bulbs in the second year, when starting with 8 bulbs.  I'm not totally sure how many I planted, but it was probably close to 55.  There does appear to be less internal bifurcation (internal dividing of bulbs leaving a papery sheath between) than on the yellow potato onion, but I'll be making a close count of that later.  The onions flowered quite a bit actually.  A rough count indicates that something less than a third of the harvested bulbs have flower stalks.  Also, the flower stalks appear, in many cases, to be coming through the center of the bulb.  That could be bad news for keeping ability.  I'm thinking that planting time has a big influence on flowering here, so I may wait to plant, at least most of them, until close to spring instead of on the winter solstice as I did this year.  Some of my yellow potato onions planted at the same time also flowered, though oddly not the ones planted right next to the GMMs.  I haven't done a close taste test yet, but otherwise, the GMM does seem to be superior, or equal, to the yellow potato onion in all other ways.  If it has a propensity to flowering that cannot be controlled though, and/or if the bolted onions don't keep, that could be a deal killer.  I could try to eat up the bolted onions, but that's a hassle.  Most of the bolted ones are not marketable either.  I'll need a couple few more years to assess their tendency  to (or not to) flower.

Update, August 30th 2014:  This year onions planted in the fall or winter (I actually can't remember when I planted them, but either around the winter solstice, or in the fall.) bolted heavily producing large quantities of flower stalks.  Onions planted in the spring however produced no significant amount of flower stalks.  The Yellow potato onions seem to be similar, but I planted those in both fall and at the solstice and they still only produced a fairly small number of flower stalks (which BTW, failed to self pollinate for the second year in a row).  Kelly Winterton says that the seed grown shallots and onions will take years of vegetative propagation before the flowering trait will eventually be suppressed, but I'm not sure what he's basing that claim on.  If I can suppress the flowering by simply planting in spring, then that's works for me, though I'm not sure how that will play out in other climates.  By way of contrast though, I picked up a variety called copper shallot in trade from an onion grower.  It looks quite a lot like a yellow potato onion, but larger with a pink tint to the flesh and copper colored bulbs.  It's quite nice and a little larger than the yellow potato onion.  I planted that one in the fall and it produced only two weak flower stalks.  Almost total lack of flowering is still a primary goal in my breeding efforts.  It might be nice to be able to induce flowering for breeding purposes, but for the most part, I don't want to see flower stalks.  It may simply be a catch 22 that we want to breed new varieties with increased vigor from seed, but don't want the offspring to produce seed.  If spring planting will consistently avoid flowering, maybe that will have to be good enough though, or perhaps Kelly is right and they will eventually cease flowering if propagated vegetatively for long enough.  My own potato onion breeding trials are underway now.  I planted the first lot of seedlings in the ground late and many did not go dormant in the fall.  Those that did go dormant were saved over in storage and spring planted this year and most of those did not flower.  Those left in the ground which grew on through the winter flowered prolifically and were all discarded from the trials.




Biochar in 19th Century Europe and North America: A partial review

(The comments in this article have been slightly updated and the title changed since first publishing.  The original title was: Some 19th Century References on Biochar Use in Europe and America, which was just sort of lame.)

Biochar, the promising expedient of adding charcoal as a soil amendment, is often represented as a recent discovery of a very ancient technique originating in South America.  But, the research I've been doing lately shows that its use probably has more of a history than we may think and may have been gaining momentum among European and American horticulturalists in the 19th century. I will present all of that research here after a short introduction.

As a keen experimenter, super geek and infoholic interested in what are now mostly considered archaic arts, I find myself frequenting online archives of old books to find knowledge on various subjects.  The most searchable and useful of these that I know of is the arm of our big brother known as Googlebooks.  This is an astounding tool for the type of research I do!  Wow!  I have collected over the last 2 and a half decades any interesting books I can find on various archaic subjects such as glue making, argiculture, electricity, casein, animal fats, tanning etc... Those few books have been hard won by perusing used book stores, flea markets, junk shops and yard sales, but in the end often amount to little in the way of information when I go to consult them on this or that subject.  Sometime a couple of years ago I ran across a reference to something called  biochar.  I had always wondered if charcoal might be either useful or detrimental when added to soil, so I looked into it a little.  I found a collection of enthusiastic experimenters making claims about the greatness of adding specially burned charcoal to the soil.  I was intrigued by some of the evidence, but it was all good news, which generally raises red flags for me and I was hesitant to jump in with both feet preferring to wait a bit for more research and more information, both old and new, to become available.  The information available on the net has exploded since then.  In the meantime, I’ve instructed everyone in the house to pick the charcoal out of the fire in the morning before relighting it and have also salvaged charcoal from campfires and brush burn piles and we have accumulated enough to start experimenting. Researching some other subject last year, I ran across a 19th century reference to putting charcoal in potting soil.  Having recently discovered that I could search a gigantic array of books by century, I did a short bit of poking around on the subject of using charcoal as a fertilizer (or fertiliser as the archaic spelling goes) and came up with quite a few interesting looking references.  I determined to go back and collect some of them systematically and have now finally done so.  I used the search “charcoal fertilizer” and spent many hours systematically sifting through 35 pages of results collecting snippets with references and URLs.  Presented below is sort of a reader’s digest version of what I thought were interesting sections.  I cut out a huge amount of material and anyone more interested might consult the Long PDF version and possibly also follow the URLs to see if anything else of interest is missing, or to view the broader context of the publication or discussion.  Also note that spelling is somewhat dicey.  I did a quick correction, but the text recognition software often makes mistakes.  If you plan to quote this material, I highly recommend that you consult the original references rather than relying on my selection of material and spelling correction. Having read this material, I’m ready to jump into char with both feet now and hoping to get started post haste.  What interests me the most I suppose was the enthusiasm of people with first hand accounts.  I feel and hear the same enthusiasm and indeed the same claims from biochar proponents now, only many of these older accounts were borne out of greater personal experience by farmers fit to judge the matter and sometimes over a longer period of time.  Another thing that interests me in the material is the repeated claim that everybody was privy to the fact that charcoal has a positive effect on plant growth as well as the claims of its widespread use.  These claims may be somewhat exaggerated, but my feeling is that there was a small boom going on which had gained some little momentum.  So what happened?  That is a question worth asking, but which is not going to delay my haste in beginning to make and use char here at Turkeysong. There was a debate about the action of charcoal and the role of carbonic acid which I’ve mostly deleted.  Also, the size of the charcoal that should be used is in debate.  I’m leaning toward powdered or at least very fine charcoal, but that remains to be determined.  Just how far a rootlet can penetrate a lump of charcoal is beyond my knowledge, but it would seem that smaller particles would give access to a much greater area. There are also, I noticed, many references to burnt clay as a valuable soil amendment.  This claim interests me a great deal.  For one, it would be possible, and probably easy, to add some clay or soil to a charcoal burn to make use of the heat to vitrify the clay.  I plan to look into this concept more and, if it seems promising, experiment along with doing charcoal burns which could produce burned clay and possibly lime at the same time. Some seem to claim that only charcoal burned in a certain way qualifies as biochar, these men were using whatever plain old charcoal they had or could get and, produced by the same slow smoky creosote producing methods that had always been used and are still mostly used the world over today.  That to me does not mean that charcoal burned more carefully, cleanly and thoroughly is not better than traditionally produced charcoal, I wouldn't know for sure, but rather that it is clear that regular ol’ charcoal works and that we might accordingly all do well to call this claim into question.  I feel at this point that we needn’t worry overly much about the source of our charcoal unless it is from a toxic industrial process which may be contaminated with toxic metals or chemicals.  It would seem likely that charcoal made by one or the other method would have more beneficial effects due to a greater total surface area or some other factor, and that we might go out of our way to “do it right” when setting up to burn our own.  However, there may be many situations where burning a brush pile in a manner which yields some charcoal might be the better choice over something more inconvenient or too high tech.  Intelligent adaptation always wins over dogma. I hope some people find this information useful and inspiring.  It is from the 19th century only.  I have not followed up any references mentioned and probably will not.  I got what I need out of it for now and have other things to do besides sit in front of a computer, such as applying the knowledge I’ve gleaned.  It would be interesting however to search in other languages of Europe and Asia.  A friend told me that in the sixties he knew loggers in Humboldt county that would burn huge brush piles and then bury the charcoal with their bulldozers to make lush gardens.  His claim is that they were after the charcoal specifically.  Another friend just told me that charcoal is or was buried in gardens in Japan.   Another friend from Guatemala claims that it is used there as well.  I’m sure there are interesting references and anecdotes from all over the world if one seeks them out. ________________________________________


The American wheat culturist: a practical treatise on the culture of wheat ... 1868

Charcoal Dust As A Fertilizer. Charcoal is composed almost entirely of pure carbon; and when small fragments are exposed to the influences of the weather, they undergo very little change during a long term of years. Still the roots of growing plants will lay hold of the small pieces of charcoal, and appropriate the substance contained in the coal to the growth and development of the stems, leaves, and seeds of grain, fruit, and vegetables. Experienced chemists assure us, charcoal, and particularly charcoal dust, has the power of attracting and fixing large quantities of ammonia, a substance which enters largely into the formation of useful plants, and of retaining this fertilizing material when buried in the soil, until the fine fibres of the roots of growing plants require it for promoting their growth. Charcoal has the power of attracting and retaining other gaseous substances besides ammonia, which are highly beneficial to growing wheat plants, as well as grass, vines, trees, and shrubs. Every observing farmer who has been accustomed to raise wheat cannot have failed to notice the luxuriant growth of cereal grain round about the places where charcoal has been burned, even more than thirty or forty years ago. The growing stems of wheat that are produced on such old charcoal-beds are seldom affected with rust; and besides this, the straw is always much stiffer than that which grows where there is not a dressing of charcoal. Before charcoal can promote the growth of plants of any kind, the particles must be thoroughly decomposed, and reduced to a liquid condition. For this reason, previous to the application of charcoal dust as a fertilizer to any kind of soil, the coal should be run through a mill that will reduce the small pieces to fine powder. And even when charcoal is thus finely comminuted by some mechanical means, the action of the fertilizing matter on vegetation will be very slow. .......... R. Ranson, Ashtabula County, Ohio, writes, touching pulverized charcoal, as follows: "I tried another experiment in 1860. My lands are coarse or loose gravel of rather poor quality. I sowed an acre of winter wheat (the blue-stem) preparing my ground as follows: "The field was sown with barley in the spring previous ; yield small (eighteen bushels per acre). I turned in the stubble the last week in August, harrowed it over, then took about eighteen bushels charcoal crushed fine, and top-dressed a strip through the middle of the acre over about one-third of its length; I then sowed on my wheat broadcast and harrowed it over twice. The result was, the heads when ripe were at least twice as long as where no coal was put on. I harvested all together; the yield was forty-three bushels. I think by applying about fifty bushels of coal to the acre as a top-dressing, made fine by grinding in a common bark mill, it would increase the yield at least four hundred per cent., if the soil is poor. "He further states he used burned clay and ashes in the fall of 1860, at the rate of about one hundred bushels of burned clay, taken from a fallow where timber had been uprooted several years by heavy winds. The soil on which the timber grew was burned together with the old roots and clay entwined, and perhaps some muck; the whole, ashes, clay and muck, after being burned as above, were hauled off in a wagon and put upon the wheat field as a top-dressing, and harrowed in with the wheat. The land was poor quality of gravel; the yield was about five hundred per cent. over the remainder of the field where no clay was put. I think there is no fertilizer ahead of this as a top-dresser." See Mixing Soils, second volume of Young Farmer's Manual. ___________________________________________

A Dictionary Of Modern Gardening”, by George William Johnson, David Landreth, 1847.

Charcoal Soot, a chief constituent of which is charcoal, has long been known as a very effective fertilizer; and burning has still longer been known as a mode of reducing stubborn soils to prompt productiveness. But both these sources of fertility might owe their efficiency to other causes than their affording carbon to plants; and it is only within these very few months that anything like a general knowledge has been diffused that mere charcoal is one of the best of manures. The fact has been known for many years to individuals, as, for example, to Mr. Barnes, of Bicton; but it is only very lately that gardeners generally have learned, and I am happy in being able to join my voice to that excellent cultivator’s in announcing, that - charcoal is a most efficient manure to all cultivated plants, especially to those under glass. Heaths, rhododendrons, cucumbers, roses, orchidaceous plants, hydrangeas, camellias, melons, and pine apples, have been the subjects of extended and most successful experiments. The advocates are too well known to require more than naming, for among them are Dr. Lindley, Mr. Barnes, Mr. Maund, Mr. Snow of Swinton Gardens, Mr. Stewart of Stradsett Hall Gardens, and Mr. Rivers. I think no cultivated plant would be unbenefited by having charcoal applied to the soil in which it is rooted. The following communication from Mr. Barnes shows, that carbonized vegetables are a better manure for onions than even bone-dust. “A piece of ground that was cropped with coleworts last autumn, (1843,) was cleared early, and the refuse trenched in during the winter. 95 feet in length and 10 feet in width, was planted with small onions on the 14th of February, which onions had been sown the second week of September in the previous autumn. They were planted in rows one foot apart, and six inches from plant to plant - with the intention of drawing every alternate one for use through the summer - but the whole nine rows did not get entirely thinned. The following is the weight when ripe for storing on the 1st of August. “Five rows grown where 4 lbs. of bone-dust to each row had been sown in a drill drawn 3 inches deep and filled up, and the onions planted over it - producing 420 lbs. weight of onions - each row yielding from 82 to 88 lbs. “The other 4 rows had applied to them of fresh dry charred refuse and ashes, made from the garden rubbish-heap, two common buckets full, weight 14 lbs. They produced 366 lbs. of onions, the rows weighing respectively 99, 89, 95, and 83 lbs. The last row being injured by a row of red cabbage growing near. “Many of the foregoing onions, which were a mixture of the Globe, Deptford, and Reading, measured in circumference from 14 to 16.V inches, and weighed as many ounces. I weighed 12 together, that turned the scale at 12 lb. 9 oz. I can only fancy what a wonderful saving and benefit it would be to the country, to char the refuse of old tan, chips, sawdust, ditch scourings containing sods, weeds, bushes, and refuse. By keeping the surface of the earth well stirred, no crops appear to suffer by drought that are manured by charrings, but continue in the most vigorous health throughout the season, never suffering materially by either drought or moisture”. On spring sown onions and on turnips, Mr. Barnes finds charred or carbonized vegetable refuse equally beneficial. Three rows, each 95 feet long, of the white globe onion, manured with bone-dust, weighed 251 lbs.; whilst three similar rows of the same variety, and grown under precisely similar circumstances, but manured with char-rings, weighed 289 lbs.


Charcoal As A Manure 1860...........

Liebig gives the results of a series of experiments by Lukas on the use of charcoal as a manure, which seem to corroborate his opinion. From the facts which these chemists, however, adduce, it is evident that the beneficial action of charcoal, as a fertilizer, depends upon the presence of other substances besides carbon. Liebig notes (Organic Chem., p. 62) that "plants thrive in powdered charcoal, and may be brought to blossom, and bear fruit, if exposed to the influence of the rain and the atmosphere. Plants do no not, however, attain maturity under ordinary circumstances in charcoal powder when they are moistened with pure distilled water instead of rain or river water. Rain water must, therefore, contain within it one of the essentials of vegetable life; and it has been shown that this is the presence of a compound containing nitrogen; the exclusion of which entirely deprives humus and charcoal of their influence on vegetation.  It is ammonia, to whose presence in rain water Professor Liebig thus refers, in whose valuable work (p. 207) the experiments of Lukas will be found. From these we learn that in a division of a low hothouse, in the Botanic Garden at Munich, a bed was set apart for young tropical plants; but instead of being filled with tan, as is usually the case, it was filled with powdered charcoal, the large pieces of charcoal having been previously separated by means of a sieve. The heat was conducted by means of a tube of white iron into a hollow space in this bed, and distributed a gentle warmth, sufficient to have caused tan to enter into a state of fermentation. The plants placed in this bed of charcoal quickly vegetated and acquired a healthy appearance. As always is the case in such beds, the roots of many of the plants penetrated through the holes in the bottom of the pots, and then spread themselves out; but these plants evidently surpassed in vigor and general luxuriance plants grown in the common way; for example, in tan. M. Lukas then gives a list of several of the exotic plants upon which charcoal appears to have produced the most beneficial effects. It appeared also to promote the rapid germination of seeds. He then proceeded to try the effects of charcoal when mixed with vegetable mould, all of which answered very well. "The charcoal," continues M. Lukas, "used in these experiments was the dust-like powder of charcoal from Firs and Pines. It was found to have most effect when allowed to lie during the winter exposed to the action of the air. In order to ascertain the effects of different kinds of charcoal, experiments were also made upon that obtained from the hard woods and peat, and also upon animal charcoal; although I foresaw the probability that none of them could answer so well as that of Pine wood, both on account of its porosity and the ease with which it is decomposed. The action of charcoal consists primarily in its preserving the parts of plants with which it is in contact, whether they be roots, branches, leaves, Ac., unchanged in their vital power for a long space of time, so that the plant obtains time to develop the organs for its further support and propagation. ........In moist charcoal the seeds of the gardener are found to sprout with remarkable quickness and certainty, but after they have sprouted they do not continue to grow well in charcoal alone." - (7. W. Johnson's Modern Agricultural Improvements.) - J., in Cottage Gardener.


Effect Of Charcoal, On Flowers 1875

All red flowers are greatly benefited by covering the earth in their pots with about an inch of pulverized charcoal. The colors (both red and violet) are rendered extremely brilliant. Yellow flowers are not affected in any way by charcoal


The Cultivator  By New York State Agricultural Society, 1853

Experiments with Charcoal. We have been favored with the following extract from the forthcoming Report of the Survey of Essex County, by W. C. Watson, Esq., which will be read with interest: Enormous masses of dust or debris of the charcoal, accumulate about the iron works of the county, and create incumberances and deformities. It has been annually spread in vast quantities along the highways, constituting an admirable material for roads. An incalculable amount has been cast into the streams. The attention of men of observation and sagacity has been, within a few years, drawn to the use of this ingredient as a fertilizer. Experience has established its exceeding utility. In the midst of the disastrous drouth of last summer, while crossing a field in Moriah, occupied by Mr. Richmond, in pursuit of some Durham cattle I wished to examine, I observed a lot with its surface deeply and singularly blackened. -Upon inspection I found it thickly strewn with pulverized charcoal. The field presented a rich verdure, strongly contrasting with the parched and blighted aspect of the adjacent country. The following detail of this experiment, supplied at my request, attests the value of this material as a fertilizing principle. "The soil is loamy. The charcoal was applied on four acres of dry land, and one acre of moist soil, by top-dressing. The amount used was about one thousand bushels to the acre, spread on so as to make the surface look black, but not to incumber or obstruct vegetation. It was applied in September and October, 1850, at an expense by contract, of forty dollars. It was procured at a furnace, from a mass of pulverised charcoal left as useless, and was drawn one mile and a half. The effect was immediate. The grass freshened, and continued green and luxuriant after the surrounding fields were blackened by the early frosts. Although the last season had been so unfavorable for vegetation, Mr. Richmond realized one-third more than the ordinary yield of hay, and sufficient to repay the whole outlay. He thinks that he cut nearly double the quantity of grass upon this lot, that he did upon any similar meadow on his farm, and that the quantity of the hay is improved." The Hon. J. S. Whallon has made the most decisive and valuable experiments on this subject.  His operations were extended through several seasons, and were observed with great intelligence and discrimination. The result amply sustains the conclusions derived from the preceding experiment I may add that a similar application has been made under Mr. Whallon's supervisor upon another tract in Elizabeth town on a soil of lighter texture and with entire success. In this instance the charcoal was applied chiefly to a crop of oats. The action of this substance seems to be effected by its physical combinations and its chemical affinities. It attracts the rays of the sun and unites with the fertilising gasses of the atmosphere; it absorbs moisture, and combines as a new constituent in the formation of the soil. Almost imperishable, it must remain indefinitely, with no exhaustion of its properties, a perpetual invigorating agent in the earth. The succeeding extract from a communication of Mr. Whallon, elucidates his experiments and views on this very important subject: “I began the use of it in the year 1846, and first employed it as a top-dressing on a strong clay soil, which was plowed in the fall of 1845. I spread on about fifteen wagon loads of the dust to the acre, after the wheat had been sowed and harrowed one way. I was surprised to find my crop a heavy one, compared with my neighbor’s, raised on the same kind of land. The wheat was of better quality and yielded four or five bushels extra to the acre. I have since used it on similar land, sometimes mixed with barn-yard manure, and sometimes alone, but always as a top-dressing, usually on land seeded for meadow. ‘ The results were always the most favorable. I find my land, thus seeded, produces more than an average crop of hay and always of the finest quality. “I have also used the dust on loamy and interval land, with the potato crop. During the series of years in which the rot almost ruined the potato crop, I scarcely lost any potatoes from that cause, and supposed it was owing to the coal dust I used. My manner has been to drop the seed and cover it with a small shovel-full of the dust, and then cover with earth. In this way I have used all the coal dust I have been able to save from the coal consumed in a forge of five fires, and which amounts to about 250 loads per year.” In the colder regions of the Adirondacks, charcoal dust has been used with great advantage. The note of Mr. Ralph presents the experiment in tho following language: “As a top-dressing for meadows, charcoal dust and the accumulation of ashes and burnt earth left on old charcoal pit bottoms have been used here with remarkable results, and I judge from the trials which have been made, that this application has added at least one-third to the hay crop, where it has been used. It was remarked during the past very dry season, when vegetation was almost burnt up by the long continued drouth, that those fields which had been dressed with this substance were easily distinguished by the rich green color of their herbage.”


The farmer’s magazine 1850

PEAT CHARCOAL. TO JASPER W. ROGERS, ESQ. TO THE POOR-LAW COMMISSIONERS OF IRELAND. Gentlemen,—In consequence of my being in temporary charge of the Workhouse Infirmary of this Union, I have had the opportunity of seeing your circular of the 16th instant, No. 61,763, 1849; and I beg to state—and I trust that the information will not be considered unacceptable — that your recommendation of the employment of peat charcoal as a deodorizer has been, at my suggestion, anticipated ; and, according to my directions, fully carried into effect, at the workhouse here, since the 3rd of May last, with the most gratifying and satisfactory results. Having been called on that day to attend a meeting of the Board of Health, held at the workhouse, I was at once struck with the intolerable and sickening effluvinm which, arising from the sewers, cesspools, and privies, pervaded every part of the establishment; and which, with the chlorine, which was being evolved in every direction for the purpose of correcting it, formed a compound of villanous smells, which no stomach but one accustomed to it could for a moment tolerate. Your very active and efficient inspector, Captain Hanley, told me that he had done everything that could be thought of, and had spared no expense to try and have the nuisance abated, but that all his exertions were useless. I then begged him to send down and purchase a few loads of peat charcoal, which were selling at the market; and having told the master how to employ it, the suggestion was at once adopted, and though the material was not of the best description, nor “ recently prepared,” in a very few hours the most delicate and practiced nose could not have detected the slightest offensive odour. Since then the master, with very praiseworthy attention, has had a large pit of the charcoal prepared every week, and by its occasional use through the grating of the sewers, and by sprinkling it over the nightsoil in the privies, the workhouse is, as far as entire freedom from every noxious and offensive effluvinm, a model to every other in the kingdom. In every respect the results have been most satisfactory. Instead of paying from five to ten pounds, every half year, for having the privies cleansed; and having itself and the whole surrounding neighbourhood at the same time poisoned for weeks by the intolerable stench ; the establishment has that task now performed by the paupers, without the slightest reluctance on their part;—and the contents of the sewers, cess-pools, and privies are now collected into inodorous and innoxious heaps, or mixed with the other refuse of the workhouse until removed by the contractor; which, before, he absolutely refused doing, but which he now considers the most valuable portion of what he contracted for. But the efforts on the health of the inmates of the workhouse are very far more satisfactory. I find that the numbers registered during the half year ending 25th March last were 353, of these 132 (or one 26 ll-13ths) died during that period. In the half year ending 29th September last, the numbers are respectively 4,262 and 68, or a mortality of one in 62.23-24ths, and of these 68.23 died between the 25th March and 4th of May—a period of little more than five weeks, before the charcoal was employed, while during the last four weeks in which I had the temporary charge of the Infirmary and Fever Hospital but three deaths have occurred; one from Phthisis, one from Variola, and the third, a poor bed-ridden idiot, from Chronic disease of the bowels. Giving the utmost credit to all the officers of the establishment for the extreme cleanliness and order which prevails throughout, the difference in the mortality of the two periods is so striking, and even startling, that I feel I am not assuming too much in attributing it principally to the improved and healthy state in which the atmosphere is maintained. It must also be recollected that the latter was the period during which cholera was so prevalent, and, though some rapidly fatal cases occurred in the town and neighbourhood, not a single one presented itself in the workhouse, where it was most likely and most dreaded to prevail.


Country gentleman, Volume 33 1869

"NEW" FERTILIZER FOR GRAPES. It is interesting to observe how "old things become new," and how old methods and receipts are periodically revived. Many years ago there was a great stir made about the value of the pruning of the grapevine as a fertilizer for vineyards. Those of your readers that have read Liebig's Agricultural Chemistry will remember how emphatic hoe was in advocating the value of such matters. The California Farmer has lately been impressed with the importance of returning to the soil all the prunings and other waste matter; and the American Journal of Horticulture and some other periodicals give their endorsement of the system. That the prunings, finely chopped up and well plowed in, would be of value there is no doubt, although there are some drawbacks which have not been taken into consideration. Thus it has occasionally been suspected that decaying wood is apt to induce disease in the roots of vines if in contact with them. But the great difficulty is the labor involved. In this country of expensive labor we cannot afford to hire men or even boys for the purpose of cutting up our waste prunings. It is not impossible, however, that a very strong and powerful machine like a straw-cutter might be used. One such machine would serve a whole neighborhood and would reduce the cuttings to such a condition that they could easily be plowed under without any difficulty. Still after all it is a serious question whether it would pay. Our impression is that the benefit to be derived from the use of chopped up cuttings has been greatly over-rated. We tried the plan once, selecting out the smaller shoots and cutting them up with a straw cutter, while the larger we cut with a small hatchet. We applied the prunings of ten vines to the roots of five, and then we invested the amount which we thought we ought to have for our labor, in charcoal which we applied to the remaining five. We thought the charcoal produced the best results. Since that time we have disposed of our prunings of all kinds by converting them into charcoal and at the same time burning with them a quantity of heavy clay. The greatest difficulty is to make the heap sufficiently compact to allow it to be covered conveniently. This we accomplish by means of a few stout hooked stakes. After all the rubbish from the fall, winter and spring prunings, has been collected together, we lay a few stout branches or poles on the top. These poles are then pegged down by means of two or three hooked sticks applied to each pole, and in this way the mass is rendered so compact that it is easily covered with sods and similar matter. The heap after being kindled is allowed to smoulder away, more earth being thrown on as the fire progresses. Several days generally elapse before the work is finished, but at the end of that time we find ourselves in possession of several tons of material of the very best kind for fertilizing vines or any kind of fruit trees. It consists of a mixture of ashes, charcoal and burned clay, and our present opinion Is that there are no better fertilizers for fruit trees, and especially grape vines and peach trees, than just these three articles. As for the shoots and leaves which are removed during the summer, the proper place for them is the compost heap. In many parts of the country the cheapest plan no doubt is to go to the woods and make a lot of charcoal or buy the refuse of the charcoal heaps, and in that case of course the easiest way to get rid of the prunings is to burn them. Under any circumstances we are in favor of subjecting most of the prunings of our gardens or orchards to fire. We thus get rid of a great many Insects and their nests. The prunings of the apple, peach and plum trees; of currants, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, &c, should all be brought together in one heap and treated as described. The quantity which thus accumulates is astonishing, and still more astonishing is the amouut of clay which it will burn.


The Plough, the loom, and the anvil, Volume 2, 1849

YET MORE OF PEAT CHARCOAL AS A DISINFECTOR AND FERTILIZER. “I then stated what I do now, that the fertilizing power of peat charcoal can scarcely be over-estimated. It acts upon all that the soil produces—I except nothing: and, to use the words of Dr. Lindley, in reply to a correspondent, (although the learned doctor was at first a doubter,) ‘ Use it for your onions, but it is good for every thing.’ (Hear, hear.) My own experiments have proved its value beyond a question, but I shall give you a few particulars of those made by two- gentlemen of large landed property in Ireland, who, immediately after my first publication on the subject, entered into correspondence with me, and closely followed out my “proposition—Henry Newton, Esq., Mount Leaster^ county Carlow, and James Russell, Esq., Danlivey House, county Donegal—and I beg to say that both were strangers to me until my publications came before them. Mr. Russell commenced his experiments in 1846. He tried it with all the usual farm produce except wheat, with uniform success, and as a top-dressing for grass land he had fully borne out all I had stated in that respect; but his trial on a field of four acres with potatoes in 1847, was very remarkable. They were planted in ridges, or, as termed here, ‘lazy beds;’ one-half the field manured with farm-yard manure, the other with peat charcoal only, about a handful thrown on each seed. The result was more than a double crop from the charcoal; and he informed me that he was himself so astonished at the fact, that he requested Lord Donegal to see and vouch it. At my suggestion he planted oats the next year On the whole field without any further manure, and he assured me the increase on that portion manured with charcoal was nearly in the same, ratio as the potatoes. Now, what is the cause? Simply this. The charcoal lay on the land throughout the winter. Every shower of rain that came brought it ammonia and common salt in abundance. This continued for the winter months, and when spring came, every grain was rich in nutriment, while it held moisture besides, to give it to the seed at once, and stimulate it into growth. Mr. Newton was most anxious to tell you these facts himself, but he arrived in London too late for our last meeting. He brought potatoes, of which I will tell you the history. In February last he planted a large field in drills, manured as usual, not then having charcoal; but in. April he got some, and, before the potatoes being earthed, he top-dressed a few yards at the foot of all the drills as far as he had charcoal. He authorizes me to state that the result was not only very nearly a double crop, but that there was not a taint in one of them, while all the rest of the field was more or less diseased. (Hear, hear.) I regret extremely that he was unable to “wait for the present meeting; but he also authorizes me to say he has now a crop of Swede turnips that cannot be exceeded, to use his own expression. Yet they were not sown till June/. No rain came for a month after; all the crops in his neighbourhood failed, and his were only manured with peat charcoal. In short, he has fully proved its value for all plants; like me, he excepts nothing. But I must tell you his reply to my inquiry as to his experience of its value for grass land. He said,1 Nothing can exceed it; and there is little or no labour in using it.’ My friend Fenwick swears by it, and he declares he will write his name on the best grass in the country with black charcoal, and it will be the greenest part of the field in ten days.”


A cyclopedia of agriculture, practical and scientific: in which ..., Volume 1 1855

As a fertilizing application by itself, charcoal can never be injudiciously used, if the supply of the article is abundant. The qualities that make it valuable to manure, render it equally so to soil in cultivation, as a storehouse of the food of vegetation; while its physical properties may be made useful when it can be applied in sufficient quantities. For garden purposes, its special and peculiar effects upon the health of diseased, and the vigour and beauty of all flowers and plants, make it an acquisition much appreciated..... ...We are not, however, without direct experiment upon the subject of charcoal as a manure, beyond that which has been furnished by ancient authority or indirect practice. The American publications give many striking experiments with it. "It is frequently used for Indian corn at planting, also on grass land, and we have generally noticed that its effects were very favourable."—(Albany Cultivator, 1844, p. 142.) In a trial by Mr. Pell, recorded in the same Journal (1844, p. 183), land which had been manured with charcoal powder produced seventy eight and three-fourths bushels of wheat per acre. Some equally striking evidences of the fertilizing power of charcoal are given by Mr. IHepburn, of Jersey Shore, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. Many precise experiments with vegetable charcoal, and also with other carbonized substances, upon farm crops, have been made during the last few years, to a few only of which we are now able to refer. In an experiment made in 1841, by Mr. Fleming, Barochan, fifty bushels of wood charcoal increased the crop nearly three tons per acre:— In an elaborate experiment with twenty-eight substances, as top-dressings upon the hay crop, in 1842, by Mr. Maclean, of Braidwood, Pennicuik [Trans. High. Agr. Soc., July 1843, p. 30):— Nothing . . . yielded 125 per acre. 
Carbon . . 8 cwt." 230" 
Animulizcd carbon 8 cwt." 170" 
Soot . . 80 bus." 200" Upon a crop of white turnips, carbon was again tested in 1842, with success:— 30 carts of dung per acre . . . yielded 19 4 15 do., and carbon . . .5 cwt. " 21 9 15 do., and sulphate of magnesia 2" "19 10 15 do., and nitrate of soda. . H" "20 5 15 do., and common salt . . •" "25 4 15 do., and sulphate of ammonir. } '• "19 3 15 do., and gypsum . . . 3" "18 15 In this trial, it will be observed that five cwt. of carbon produced two tons, five cwt. of turnips more than an extra fifteen loads of dung, and exceeded all the other dressings except salt. Upon Oats, the crop dressed with carbon, Mr. Maclean states, "made considerable advances over the undressed portions." An experiment with charcoal, by the Earl of Essex, upon turnips and carrots, in 1844, serves to show the striking influence of charcoal pushing on vegetation. In this trial, No. 1, nothing; No. 2, charcoal and salt; and No. 3, charcoal alone, were sown on the 3d of June. The drought being severe, Nob. 2 and 3 vegetated quickly, and grew rapidly, while No. 1 appeared to make no progress. On July 17, the Earl of Essex exhibited a plant from each plot, which plants, he states (Jour. Roy. Agr. Soc., vol. v. p. 280), bore the following proportions to each other:—. "No. 1. Just coming into rough leaf. "No. 2. Eleven inches long, from end of root to the head. "No. 3. Twenty inches long, and as big as my little finger at the crown of the root, and very vigorous." Six acres of carrots were also sown by Lord Essex with charcoal, "the ground at tho time being dusty, and no rain falling for many weeks." Upon which trial he comments—" Carrots, under any circumstances of rain, <kc, seldom come up in less than four or five weeks; mine, in spite of the drought, were up in three weeks, and held their own during the drought." The sources from which charcoal, for farm purposes, may be obtained, and the several processes connected with its preparation, are subjects of agricultural importance. The supply of pure vegetable charcoal, through the ordinary commercial markets, can only be obtained at a price which excludes it from the list of purchased manures. It may, however, in a great majority of cases, be imported or prepared upon the farm, at a price that makes it an acquisition. The districts where timber is in abundance, or where clearings of wood are in progress, abundant supply of waste wood is not unfrequently at hand, and may be prepared very cheaply. Upon our own farms, we have, in a majority of instances, in the branches of useless trees, in the roots and branches of hedges which may be removed, and, failing these, in the loppings of trees and hedges, and other vegetable remains, material enough for the manufacture of a valuable stock of vegetable charcoal. The ordinary process of preparation is as follows:—.... ....."In the spring of last year," he remarks, "I collected a quantity of peat for various purposes, and part of it was charred, or burned. This mixture was applied to land about the beginning of May, to a sandy soil, for a crop of Swedish turnips. The quantity used was at the rate of at least 200 bushels per acre. We tried it against well-made stable manure, in a state like mould, to cut well with the spade, which was applied at the rate of about twenty tons to the acre, and spread into drills. The plants grew well in both cases. We tried to ascertain the amount of produce per acre from each manure, as late as the middle of January 1846; for, from the mildness of the season, the turnips till then appeared to be in a growing state, each plant having had about two square feet to grow upon. The surface was kept flat, and the ground chiefly worked with the Dutch hoe. The weight of bulbs fit for use, manured by the peaty mixture, was upwards of forty tons per acre; while those produced from stable dung weighed only about thirty tons."


The Farmers' cabinet, and American herd-book, Volume 11 1847

From the Farmer and Mechanic Comparative Merits of Charcoal and Barn-yard Manure as Fertilizers. In the year 1788, my father purchased and removed upon the tract of land in Hanover township, Morris county, N. J. The land, owing to the bad system of cultivation then prevailing, was completely exhausted, and the buildings and fences in a state of dilapidation. The foundation of the barn was buried several feet beneath a pile of manure, the accumulation of years: little or none ever having been removed upon the lands. Even the cellar, beneath the farm-house, was half filled with the dung of sheep and other animals, which had been sheltered in it. The former occupant of the farm had abandoned it on account of its supposed sterility, and taken up the line of march for the Valley of the Miami, along with the first caravan of pioneers who accompanied Judge Symmes. The barn, before referred to, was removed to another situation soon after its foundation was uncovered, by the removal of the manure to the exhausted fields; and its site, owing to the new arrangements of the farm, became the centre of one of its enclosures. During the seventeen years which I afterwards remained upon the farm, the spot could easily be found by the luxuriousness of the grass, or other crops growing thereon; though the abatement in its fertility was evident and rapid. On revisiting the neighbourhood in the autumn of 1817, I carefully examined the corn crops then standing upon the spot, and was unable to discover the slightest difference in the growth or product, upon that and other parts of the field. This was about twenty-eight years after the removal of the barn. Upon the same farm and upon soil every way inferior, were the remains of several pit-bottoms, where charcoal had been burned before the recollection of any person now in the vicinity, and most probably, judging from appearances, between the years 1760-70. These pit-bottoms were always clothed, when in pasture, with a luxuriant covering of grass, and when brought under tillage, with heavy crops of grain. Eleven years ago I pointed out these facts to the present occupant, and his observations since, coincide with my own, previously made; that they retain their fertility, very little impaired, a period probably of about seventy or eighty, certainly not less than sixty-five or seventy years. Here then is an excellent opportunity of observing the comparative value of charcoal and barn-yard manures, as a fertilizer of lands. The former has not, after at least sixty or seventy years exposure, exhausted its powers of production, while the latter lost its influence entirely in twenty-eight years, and most probably in much less time. I have since had many opportunities of’ observing the effects of charcoal left in pitbottoms, upon vegetation, one of which only,. I will relate. The last season, in the northern part of Ohio, was one of uncommon frost and drought . In May, the wheat fields, when promising a luxuriant crop, were cut off by frost;—especially in the valleys, and very much injured in the high lands—which was succeeded by the most severe drought ever experienced in the West. The moiety which escaped both these scourges, was afterwards very much injured by rust. Near the village of Canton, upon a farm on high ground, which had been mostly cleared of its timber by its conversion into charcoal, it was observed that upon the old pit-bottoms, the wheat grew very luxuriantly—was clear of rust—and had ripened plump in the berry; while in the adjacent parts of the field it was short in growth, the stem blackened with rust, and the berry light and shrivelled.. The hint has not been altogether lost upon some of the farmers in the vicinity, and some of them are preparing to make an application of charcoal upon their lands; the result of which, when fully ascertained, I shall be happy to communicate to the public, especially if the facts above stated succeed in attracting the attention of agriculturists. Lewis Vail


The New Jersey Farmer Vol. II, No. 1, September 1856  By Orrin Pharo

CHARCOAL AS A FERTILIZER. For two years past I have used some fifty loads each season of refuse charcoal, and being fully convinced that it pays, I wish to recommend it to my brother farmers. I have tried it on grass, corn and potatoes—hare tried it alone and in the compost heap, and in all situations it has proved faithful to its trust. As a top dressing for grass, it gives a green color and luxuriant growth.. Applied to half an acre of early potatoes the last summer, the yield was 75 bushels of as fine healthy potatoes as could be desired, that sold readily for one dollar per bushel, and yielded the best profit of anything raised on the farm. The virtue of charcoal mainly consists in its absorbing power. The purity of the air around a charcoal pit has long been known, and the colliers, notwithstanding their smutty appearance, are robust men. The secret of this purity of the air and the health of the colliers, lies in the fact that charcoal absorbs from the air the ammonia and other noxious gasses, unsuited for our lungs, but just the food for plants.— Every good housekeeper knows that if her boiling meat gives forth an unsavory odor, a piece of fresh charcoal put into the pot will not only sweeten the air, but will remedy that taint of the meat. In the same manner it acts when applied to the land. It absorbs from the air those gasses offensive to the nostrils, but the main food of plants. And this it will do, not once only, or for one season, but very possibly for a century. Where an old coal-pit has been burnt, the land never seems to wear out, and the first settlers point to the coal bottoms that are fifty years old, still by their exuberant vegetation marking well the spot where the wood was converted into coal. A fertilizer so lasting is well worth some expense at the outset. But where can we get it? some may ask. If any charcoal pits are burned in your vicinity, the bottoms will furnish three or four loads each of refuse charcoal, mingled with burnt soil. The latter is highly valued also as an absorbent.— Around furnaces and blacksmith shops, the waste charcoal also accumulates, and in many instances may be had for the carting. It may be found also around engine houses, thrown out from locomotiv«s. If none of these resources  are at hand, then use the best substitute possible, which is muck, or swamp mud, and double the manure heap by composting, and if the crops are not doubled, then my experience is vain.— Country Gentleman.


The horticulturist and journal of rural art and rural taste, Volumes 18-19 1863

BY FOX MEADOW. If Mr. Bright should ask Dr. Lindley for his opinion of the use of charcoal in the soil, (vine borders,) he could refer him to thousands of instances of it as an effective fertilizer, and especially to those plants grown under glass. Heaths, Rhododendrons, Cucumbers, and Melons, Onions, Roses, Orchidaceous plants, Camellias, Hydrangeas, Pineapples, and a host of other plants, have been the subjects of extensive and successful experiments; and we will vouch our word for it, that Dr. Lindley would tell friend Bright that charcoal may, with decided advantage, be applied to almost every known plant in cultivation.


Waste products and undeveloped substances: or, Hints for enterprise in ... 1862

Apparently, however, much remains to be done before the delicate chemical processes required to obtain many of the valuable chemical products alluded to can be made commercially useful; but the employment of peat charcoal as a manure or fertilizer, as well as a valuable disinfecting agent, is now established, and is extensively used


Friends' review: a religious, literary and miscellaneous journal, Volume 38  edited by Samuel Rhoads, Enoch Lewis 1885

Charcoal In Horticulture.—Not only florists but the growers of small fruits in Europe are making use of charcoal for promoting the growth of the plants they cultivate. It is not claimed that the charcoal is in any sense a fertilizer. It is an inert substance, and one not liable to pass into a state of decay even under the most favorable circumstances It endures longer when exposed to the action of the elements than any of the metals, except those that are ranked as precious. When it forms a union with the oxygen of the air it forms nothing but carbonic acid, which, though highly useful to plants, is obtained from the air without the trouble of producing it. It contains considerable potash and some lime, which the roots of plants will appreciate. Its principal use, however, consists in storing up moisture, fertilizing elements contained in water, and various gases, as ammonia, and giving them out as the wants of plants require. A barrel of freshly burned charcoal will absorb nearly its own bulk of soap-suds or liquid manure without presenting the appearance of being wet. The roots of the plants will pass between the pieces of charcoal, and will often penetrate them, and in so doing will be in a position to appropriate the substances in the pores. Charcoal is very desirable for placing in pots or boxes in which house plants are raised. It will retain many of the bad odors that are likely to arise from most fertilizers. It is also very desirable for garden beds, in which roses, annual flowers, and edible vegetables are raised. It is an excellent substance to bury in the ground where grape vines are planted. For placing in pots, boxes, and garden beds, it should be tolerably fine. For grape vines and large shrubs it may be in the form in which it is taken from the kiln, or is usually found in the market. For these purposes it should be buried quite deeply. Persons who sell or use charcoal often have considerable that is too fine for keeping up a fire, and will dispose of it at a nominal price. This will be very suitable for use in the house, or flower, or vegetable garden. Persons who have large graperies will find it to their advantage to burn their own charcoal.


Southern planter, Volume 3 1843

CHARCOAL AS A FERTILIZER. It will be recollected by our readers, that in our last two volumes we have published several able papers upon the virtues of charcoal as a fertilizer of the soil, and of its supposed efficacy in the preservation of wheat from rust. One of these papers, by Judge Hepburn, particularly points out cases in which lands which had been dressed by charcoal had grown wheat free from rust, when wheat grown on other lands, contiguous, which had not been so treated, had suffered greatly from that cause. We allude to these circumstances now, with a view of introducing the subjoined paragraph to the notice of our readers ; by which it will be seen, that in France the same virtues have been ascribed to charcoal as in our own country. Of the precise mode of action by which this exemption from rust is produced, we are not prepared to speak positively ; but will claim permission to observe, that it may be owing to the very great affinity which charcoal is known to possess for ammonia, and the reluctance with which it gives it out after having once absorbed it. If the opinion which is now gaining strength and consequence, that the cause of rust is plethora, and that ammonia is one of the chief aliments or food of plants, be correct, the preventive properties of the charcoal may arise, first, from its absorption of ammonia as formed, and, secondly, from its yielding it slowly to the wheat plant in the last stage of the maturing of its stem, thus, as it were, hindering it from feeding to that degree of excess productive of repletion, and the consequent disruption of the stem of the plant. At all events, as the rust is one of the most disastrous diseases in its effects, to which the wheat crop is subjected, we think that the use of charcoal to a limited extent, by way of experiment, is worthy of the consideration of every wheat grower. If it should, on trial, fail of the anticipated efficacy, it can do no possible injury either to the grain or to the soil, and may be beneficial to the latter, in supplying it with silicate of potash, a substance of vast importance to all grain crops, and especially useful in giving strength and elasticity to the straw. With these remarks we will direct attention to the following paragraph : Charcoal As A Fertilizer.—We have been astonished at the enormous increase of the wheat crop in France within the last eight or ten years, and have devoted some attention to the investigation of the subject. It appears that charcoal—an article that can be obtained here for a tithe of its cost in France—has been extensively used, and with marked effect, in fertilizing the wheat lands in that kingdom. A correspondent of the New Farmers’ Journal, an English print, states that during a sojourn in one of the central departments of France he learned that some of the most productive farms were originally very sterile; but that for a number of years their proprietors had given them a light dressing of charcoal, which had resulted in a large yield of wheat of excellent quality. Since his return to England he has tried the experiment upon his own lands with the same happy effect. The charcoal should be well pulverized, and sown like lime, after a rain or in a still, damp day. Even in England, the writer says, “the expense is a mere trifle, in comparison with the permanent improvement effected, which on grass is truly wonderful.”— He states one other very important result from its liberal use. “I am quite satisfied that by using charcoal in the way described rust in wheat will be entirely prevented; for I have found in two adjoining fields, one of which was coaled and the other manured with farm-yard dung, the latter was greatly injured by rust, while that growing in the other was perfectly free from it.”—Buffalo Commercial Advertiser.


Fruit recorder and cottage gardener, Volumes 7-8 1875

[Charcoal renders the soil light and triable, gives It a dark color, and additional warmth for early crops. The bed whereon charcoal has been burnt is always marked by a most vigorous growth of plants when it becomes effectively mixed with earth. It contains also small quantities of salts of potash and other fertilising salts. It absorbs both carbonic acid and ammonia from the air. and yields them to the roots of plants. It is most marked in its effects on plants which require abundant nitrogen. As it is indestructible, its beneficial effects last as long as it remains m the soil, sup. [.King the rootlets of plants with carbonic.acid, which Is renewed as fast as abstracted. Its good effects Begin to be seen when the dust is applied at the rate of forty bushels per acre. Charcoal is invaluable for destroying the odor of decaying animal matter, retaining the gases in its own substance ready to yield them up fur the use of plants. Hence, the best application of this substance is not directly to the soil, but to compost it with putrescent animal matters, urine or night soil, of which it will absorb all the odor and fertilising gases given off during their decomposition. Composted with the last named substance, It becomes Poudrette is second only to guano as a fertilizer.

ln striking cuttings or potting plants, fine charcoal is a valuable substitute for sand, plants rooting in it with great certainty. Plants will flourish in powdered charcoal alone with considerable vigor, and, added to the other materials used in potting, it is found greatly to promote healthy growth in most plants.)


The American farmer: devoted to agriculture, horticulture and rural life  By Maryland State Agricultural Society 1861

Charcoal and Some of its Uses. There are various opinions afloat in regard to the value of charcoal as a fertilizer. As an absorbent of ammonia, carbonic acid, &c, it certainly has scarcely a superior. It is also pretty well ascertained, that it readily yields up for the use of the plant, the substances thus absorbed. But there are two features connected with its use which have always commended it to my favor. One is its mechanical effects upon the soil, rendering it more open and friable, and consequently more easily worked, and more open to the action of the atmosphere. The other is the warming effect produced where it is applied in any considerable quantity. A dark soil, we all know, has the power to a greater extent of absorbing heat than a light-colored one. This, in many locations, is a great desideratum. Many plants which it is desirable to grow, but which, for the want of a sufficiently warm soil, is next to impossible, may be cultivated by the use of charcoal. Its carbon yields no food to plants, consequently, even if applied in large quantities, it can do no harm, unless it renders the soil too light and open; not a very likely result. In gardens, therefore, I esteem it highly, and have found it, for the purposes briefly named above, most excellent.—Farmer and Gardener.


British husbandry: exhibiting the farming practice in various ..., Volume 1  1847

A still better mode, when the quantity and quality of the manure, as in a farm, is an object. is to mix the gypsum with a considerable proportion of either charred peat, burnt clay, or any other substance containing a portion of charcoal; for by this plan the whole of the urine, of at least the shed-fed stock, is not only entirely preserved in the pores of the charcoal from putrefaction, but when carried on to the field it is gradually and steadily emitted, and becomes the food of growing crops. Of the use of charcoal as a fertilizer I shall hereafter have occasion to speak, and for these purposes an impure variety is profitably attainable, either in charred peat or refuse tanners’ bark, or even in the charred matters of clay on moist farms. Whatever doubt there may exist of the value of charcoal, in its tolerably pure state, as a manure, there is I am convinced, from the result of my own trials and observations, none as to its value for the purpose of forming a bed on which the ordinary manure of animals is prepared.


Annual report of the Commissioner of Patents, Part 2 1855

Charcoal powder acts mechanically in absorbing ammoniacal gas, and also by its color in absorbing the heat of the sun’s rays, and retaining the heat by impeded conduction. When the charcoal is burned only to brownness, then it acts also chemically, being in a condition to form humus, and to undergo oxidation by the action of the atmosphere. Charcoal is undoubtedly a powerful fertilizer, and one of great duration, as is shown by the continued fertility of places where the aboriginal inhabitants of New England built their camp-fires more than two hundred years ago, while nothing peculiar to those spots can be discovered beyond the admixture of large quantities of charcoal and clam-shells with the soil.


Farmers Magazine  By Joseph Rogerson 1848

PEAT CHARCOAL THE BEST DEODORIZER. In 1845 we brought before the public the facts which had come to our knowledge of the value of peat charcoal in its natural state as a fertilizer of the soil. It was then doubted, because Liebig and his followers had laid it down that all plants were indebted to the atmosphere for the carbon they contained—in fact, that inhalation gave to the general structure their mass of woody fibre, amounting, when converted into carbon, to from 40 to 50 per cent, of the whole. We doubted this assumption; and since, our doubts have been set at rest; for the Royal Agricultural Society offered a prize for an essay on the subject, and almost every farmer in the country now knows the value of charcoal as a manure, and that which was smiled at then, is not only admitted, but practised now. We feel no small gratification in having been the first to draw general attention in England to this most valuable fact; and we feel the same as regards the extraordinary value of peat charcoal as a deodorizer—but not only a deodorizer, hut the producer of a manure, the value of which we believe there is scarcely any means of estimating.


Ohio Cultivator vol. 3 No. 1 Columbus, Ohio, January 1, 1847

Charcoal as a Fertilizer. Mr. Bateham:—Sometime since there was an enquiry in your paper, respecting the use of charcoal as a fertilizer. I have one word to offer on the subject, which is this: some 15 or 20 years since, while owned by another individual, there was much coal burned on my farm while in the act of clearing the land. The land since that time has undergone much tilling, with little or no manure and not much rest until lately; and notwithstanding the time that has elapsed, the places where the coal pits were burned, produce the best of crops of every kind whenever the fields in which they are found are tilled. I am so much pleased with it that I wish my farm was covered I 3 or 4 inches thick with pulverized charcoal. I think the benefits of it could never be exhausted. Respectfully,


Journal: Appendix. Reports, Volume 6 1874  By California. Legislature

I sowed, on May sixteenth, six seed grains which had been steeped twenty-four hours in urine, and then coated with charcoal dust; and the same number similarly steeped, but not dried with charcoal dust. From the former, on May twenty-first, nine plants had come up; on the twenty-second, thirteen; and, on the twenty-third, two more, making fifteen in all. From the latter there were, on the twenty-first, five plants; on the twenty-second, eight; on the twenty-third, thirteen. It thence follows that the seed kernels treated with charcoal dust produced more and stronger plants than without. That fifteen plants should be produced from six kernels (planted one fourth inch deep) is in consequence of the size of the capsules. A large seed capsule may produce five plants; only a single plant sprouts from a very small one.


Agriculture: twelve lectures on agricultural topics: delivered before the ...  By Alexander Hyde 1871

CHARCOAL AS A FERTILIZER. We have all noticed that where a charcoal pit has been burned the soil remains good for a long time. On the mountains of Berkshire we have seen white clover growing luxuriantly on the bed of an old charcoal pit, making an oasis in the desert of ferns and briars that surrounded it, and on inquiry we found that the coal pit must have been burned half a century ago. On digging into this soil we discovered the charcoal with little if any appearance of decay, and promising to do good service for half a century more.


American journal of agriculture and science, Volumes 5-6 1847

PEAT CHARCOAL. The use of charcoal as a fertilizer is generally well known. Its expense, however, often precludes its use. To cut down a forest for the sake of the charcoal it would furnish for agriculture would undoubtedly be bad policy. As a substitute, however, for the ordinary wood charcoal, it is certainly important for many to know, that peat charcoal will prove an excellent substitute. In some respects it may be regarded as a superior article to wood charcoal, inasmuch as it will be obtained in a state of fine subdivision, and consequently in a state to operate to the best advantage. Most persons are perfectly familiar with the effects of charcoal upon vegetation. The great desideratum is how to obtain it in quantities, and at a rate to make it an object in husbandry. Surely no one can afford to buy coal, not because there is so much expense in making it, but on account of the value of the materials of which it is formed. Peat however, is a material lying in a waste, useless as it is, and in order to make it valuable, it is only necessary to raise from its half submerged condition, and char it


Annual report  By North Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station 1887

Last year we investigated a ease and found, on inquiry at Washington, that the government had given a man a patent on a method of making a “complete fertilizer,” the whole of which was to cover a large heap of pine-needles partly with earth, and then set fire to the pine-needles and burn them, as charcoal is burned. When they had burned all they would, you were told to mix the earth and charred mass together, which was your fertilizer.


Commercial relations of the United States with foreign countries  By United States. Dept. of State, United States. Bureau of Foreign Commerce 1872

The first day of our trip, we saw the farmers engaged in burning stocks of millet, &c., in heaps of earth, as it is done in the manufacture of charcoal, in order, we supposed, to bring out their fertilizing properties. It a very likely then, that, in China, they have known the value of charcoal as a fertilizer long before us, It’s use for that purpose being among us of a recent date.


The Gardener’s monthly and horticultural advertiser, Volume 9 Refuse Charcoal. 1867

The refuse charcoal, obtained from the rectifiers of spirits, from the Railroads where wood is burned in locomotives, from old charcoal beds, &c., is a very useful material in the garden. As a mulching about fruit trees I consider it very valuable. It keeps out frost in winter: it keeps the soil loose and moist in summer, and it does not afford a harbor for mice or insects. In the soil, it assists to promote moisture in a dry season;........ It is an excellent mulching for Strawberries, in winter or summer.


The farmer's friend: a record of recent discoveries, improvements, and ...  By National Art Library (Great Britain) 1847

FERTILIZER. By Cuthbert W. Johnson, Eso., F.R.S. I Hardly deem it necessary to prove to any one the value of charcoal as a valuable manure; and if it was necessary to obviate the suspicion that there is any difference in the effect produced by the use of charcoal-ashes and the impure variety of these ashes afforded by peat, I am readily supplied with the means of doing so by a recent report by Mr. Peter Mackenzie, of West Plean, near Stirling. He tells us that he has been for some years past trying experiments with peat, charred peat, and peat-ashes, as a substitute for stable manure, and for many kinds of crop grown by farmers and gardeners. He remarks,—“ In the spring of last year, I collected a quantity of peat for various purposes, and part of it was intended to be charred or burned. It was not so well prepared for burning as I wished, a good deal of moisture being in it; however, a good fire was made of wood to begin with, and as the peat dried it was drawn to the fire, and in this way was kept burning for two weeks. It required little watching, only once or twice in twelve hours. The partially dried peat was drawn to the fire, because it was intended to have a quantity of charred peat and ashes mixed together, and in order to obtain both, the fire was kept in a smothered state to char the peat (let the farmer mark the distinction). It commonly burst through in some parts, and there supplied the ashes. When we had a quantity to begin with, the unburnt peat, and the charred, with the ashes, were all well mixed together; at least one-half of the mass was unburnt peat.” This mixture was applied about the beginning of May, to a light sandy soil, for a crop of Swedish turnips. The quantity used was at least at the rate of 200 bushels per acre. “ We tried it,” continues Mr. Mackenzie, “ against well-made stable-manure in a state like mould, cut well with the spade, which was applied at the rate of about 20 tons to the acre, and spread into drills, like the peaty mixture. The plants grew well in both cases. We tried to ascertain the amount of produce per acre from each manure, as late as the middle of January 1846; for, from the mildness of the season, the turnips till then appeared to be in a growing state, each plant having had about two square feet of surface to grow upon. The surface was kept flat, and the ground chiefly worked with the Dutch hoe. The weight of bulbs fit for use manured with the peaty mixture was upwards of 40 tons per acre; while those produced from stable-dung weighed only about 30 tons.


Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, Volume 6  By Royal Agricultural Society of England 1933

(on peat charcoal as a fertilizer...) I have previously mentioned the power of charcoal as a fertilizer in hastening the germination of the seed, and on this account alone charred peat may with great advantage be used as a manure for root-crops. Its manner of application maybe broadcast by hand, or with the shovel; this may be better performed by means of a broadcast drill, or by drilling in rows at the same time as the seed by the common manure-drill. For the latter purpose it. is a cheap and excellent substance for mixing with the more expensive artificial manures previous to their application, such as guano, bones, super-phosphate of lime, &c. &c. Ashes are frequently added to artificial manures; but an objection to their being used in a dry state (which by the way is the only state in which they can be applied by the generality of drills) is this: that, should dry weather follow the sowing, the dry ashes, being under the seed, will retard its germination. It is perhaps hardly necessary to mention that the charred peat will require to be sifted before it is drilled. The large pieces that will not pass through the sieve can be pulverised by a rammer, or by drawing a garden-roll over them. The quantity used per acre will of course vary with the circumstance of the crop: when drilled in rows, with or without the addition of other artificial manure, the quantity need not exceed * Mr. Crosskill of Beverley has constructed an excellent implement for sowing manures, which, I believe, has been approved by the Royal Agricultural Society. from 20 to 40 bushels per acre; when drilled broadcast, from 100 to 150 bushels will not be a very expensive dressing. I have never made any very careful experiments with peat charcoal in comparison with other manures; but if we maybe allowed to judge from appearances, the results are evidently satisfactory. As an instance, on July 2, 1845, 40 bushels per acre of peat-charcoal were drilled with green-top Aberdeen turnips on a light sandy loam, the previous crop being rye and vetches mown for soiling. The young plants appeared above ground in a short space of time, and were singled out within a week, as soon as turnips of a quicker growing kind that had been drilled twelve days earlier with 14 cwt. of guano mixed with peat-ashes per acre; this was on the same description of soil, the previous crop being rye fed off with sheep, and the land then manured with 15 cartloads per acre of farm-yard dung; the other, in addition to the peat-charcoal, had been folded. The crops were good, but the cost of the peat-charcoal was barely one-half that of the guano, without taking into consideration the extra dressing of farm-yard manure.* Cirencester, Nov. 28, 1846. * The crop of turnips to which the peat-charcoal was applied in 1845, was fed off late in the spring of 1846; the land ploughed and subsoiled, and on May the 9th drilled with Belgian carrots; the seed being mixed with 2 bushels per acre of powdered wood charcoal: notwithstanding the dry weather the carrots came up well. The produce was about 1200 bushels per acre, and each bushel of carrots weighing 3 stone 3 lbs., will give upwards of 24 tons of roots per acre, exclusive of the tops. The only manure, besides the 2 bushels of charcoal, being the folding of the sheep while feeding the previous crop of turnips.


The Journal of agriculture, Volume 1  By William S. King 1851 

ON THE USE OF CHARCOAL. BY COL. M. P. WILDER. I notice in the last number of your valuable periodical the request of Mr. Trimble, soliciting advice as to the advantages of charcoal, and the best method of using it as a manure. I reply with pleasure, but my experience has been on a limited scale, and my operations confined rather to the garden than the farm, on account of the difficulty of procuring it in sufficient quantity for the latter purpose. My attention was first drawn to the influence of charcoal, by the wonderful experiments of Baron Von Liebig, in the propagation of plants, and the facility with which cuttings were rooted in this substance. Its use became very general in Europe by amateurs and cultivators of plants, and for a time it was considered a great fertilizer. Chemists soon, ascertained, however, that its chief virtue consisted in its great porosity, being able to absorb 90 per cent, of its bulk of ammonia. As a medium for storing up the volatile portions of manure and compost heaps, and for absorbing the ammonia which descends in the snow and rain, it has probably no superior. But what renders charcoal still more valuable is its power of holding in reserve those subtle elements, and yielding them up only as they are wanted for the purposes of nutrition, and as the vital force of the root searches for food. It will therefore readily be perceived, that charcoal is not only valuable as a component part of manures, but that its influence, when applied alone, is highly beneficial. Instances similar to those quoted by Mr. Trimble, where large crops had been obtained from lands on which charcoal pits had been burned years' before, are frequently witnessed. In this vicinity a farmer has annually, for the last eight years, harvested extraordinary crops of hay on these charcoal lands, without the application of any manure whatever; and from the indestructibility of this substance, I know no reason why he may not continue to do so for the next twenty years to come. One of the most striking illustrations of its efficacy, when applied alone, that has come to my notice, was the experiment made by Mr. Hayward, of Sandusky, Ohio, many years since, and which, if I am not mistaken, was published either in the last volume of your Farmer's Library, or the first volume of The Plough, the Loom, and the Anvil. The facts I think were substantially as follows: — Mr. H., having prepared his coal by grinding in a mill, set apart seven lots of land for experiments, the soil and cultivation being precisely alike on each, except as it regarded the application of charcoal. The result was, that on the lots where fiftly bushels of coal were applied, there were twenty-five bushels of wheat obtained, while on those lots where there was no coal applied the crop was only five or six bushels. It will be borne in mind that there was no other manure administered to the crop, and that consequently the fertilizing properties must have been imparted by the ammonia which was stored up in the coal. This experiment was very satisfactory, but not more so than many others which we have witnessed, particularly in the application of charcoal to fruit trees, plants, and garden vegetables; and I have yet to see the first instance where charcoal formed a part of the compost, that vegetation did not grow luxuriantly,producing the increasing and quickening effects described by Mr. Trimble. In fact, it is no unusual circumstance to notice the roots of trees and plants either clasping pieces of charcoal, or piercing them through with their fibres. The best method, where any considerable quantity is to be used, would undoubtedly be to grind the charcoal, and I should prefer that one half at least should be as coarse as Indian corn. As to the amount which may be applied to the acre, I think Mr. Hayward’s experience will furnish a good criterion, although I have no doubt a larger quantity than fifty bushels to the acre, for the first dressing, might produce an increase of the crop. If charcoal is to be applied alone, and without manure, the time is not material, except that should be well incorporated with the soil, either by ploughing in, or harrowing, but not deeply. Mr. Trimble describes his soil as being “ generally a strong yellow clay based upon limestone.” Charcoal will no doubt prove valuable on these lands, but more so on light soils which allow the salts of manure to leach through; for clay is also a substance which holds securely the volatile portions of manure, and when made fine by the frost or otherwise, is a capital ingredient for the compost heap,


Good housekeeping, Volume 2 1886

When the baskets have been selected, cover the bottom to the depth of two inches with little pieces of charcoal which serve a threefold purpose,—that of fertilizer, purifier and drainage. The dust of charcoal is excellent, beside, to mix with the earth for growing plants.


American desert (The Western garden ..., Volume 1, Issue 2 - Volume 5, Issue 2 1893

Palm culture is not nearly so difficult as most people imagine. Nearly all the finest sorts thrive well in good, fibrous, yellow loam or soil composed of rotted sods, sand and old, well-decayed manure. A sprinkling of charcoal added to this will help to keep the soil fresh and sweet for the tender young rootlets.... ....I like to use broken bits of charcoal for draining all my pots, because when the roots reach down to it they feed upon it greedily, the tiny fibers clinging all about it; and then, too, the charcoal keeps the drainage and bottom soil sweet and healthful for the roots. My experience has been altogether with wood charcoal....


The Horticulturist and journal of rural art and rural taste, Volume 24  edited by Andrew Jackson Downing 1869

Charcoal, already well known to be of inestimable value as an absorbent or disinfectant, and likewise containing abundance of nutritious food for growing plants, has also a remarkable influence on the color of flowers. This fact is too well known to gardeners to require much repetition. A few years since, a New-Haven gardener tried the experiment of the use of charcoal on the health of plants in pots in his greenhouse, and said that he could not possibly see the advantage of continuing under the old system without it. " The result of my experience is, that, when not using charcoal in growing roses, they have been more or less subject to mildew, and the roots of the plants more apt to be injured by fungus, whereas with the free use of that material they are not liable at all to be attacked. " And besides, when treated in this way the plants are remarkable for their freshness and beauty; the flowers are so much improved that they seem as though they had been “dipped in colors native well”. We observe that the subject is again being discussed with practical interest in France, and we quote a paragraph from the Revue Horticole, of appropriate effect. “ A correspondent of that journal says that not long ago he made a bargain for a rose-bush of magnificent growth and full of buds. He waited for them to blow, and expected roses worthy of such a noble plant and of the praises bestowed on it by the vender; but when it bloomed, all his hopes were blasted. The flowers were of a faded hue, and he discovered that he had only a middling multiflora, stale colored enough. He therefore resolved to sacrifice it to some experiments which he had in view. His attention had been directed to the effects of charcoal, as stated in some English publications. He then covered the earth in the pot in which it was, about half an inch deep, with pulverized charcoal. Some days after, he was astonished to see those which bloomed of as fine a lively rose-color as he could wish. He determined to repeat the experiment, and therefore, when the rose-bush had done flowering, he took off the charcoal and put fresh earth about the roots, and waited for the next spring impatiently, to see the result of this experiment. When it bloomed, the roses were at first pale and discolored, but, by applying the charcoal as before, they soon assumed their rosy-red color. He then tried the powdered charcoal in large quantities upon petunias, and found that both the white and violet colored flowers were equally sensitive to its action. It always gave great vigor to the red or violet colors of the flowers, and the white petunias become veined with red or violet tints ; the violets became covered with irregular spots of a bluish or almost black tint. Many persons who admired them thought they were choice new varieties. Charcoal has no effect on yellow flowers.”


Growing huge leeks is just a big ego trip!  So here's how to do it!

admiring the leek
admiring the leek

1)  Select a huge variety:  Scratch that.  Select a number of huge varieties.  Products, you may have noticed, are not always as advertised.  So, grow several to find one that preforms.  Also, do you want length or girth?  Usually you will be trading one for another to some extent.

2)  Select a variety that is hardy enough for your climate:  Leeks require a long season to grow big.  If you have extreme winters, leeks may not survive in open ground, but select a hardy one anyway and you can cover it a bit to keep it alive and growing.  (See Eliot Coleman's Four Season Gardening for techniques to keep your garden growing through the winter in cold climates).  The short varieties seem to be the hardy winter types.  My favorite, Bulgarian Giant, barely survives winters here in the low 20's, but plenty still make it through and I select seeds only from those.  Very cold climates will probably dictate growing the stubby flag types unless significant protection is used.


3)  Start early and keep 'em movin':  Leeks grow slowly, so start your leeks in January, February at the latest.  They are also tough and they will survive considerable neglect and crowding.  But, if you want big leeks, keep them growing by thinning and transplanting into a new flat  once they get big enough to really select out the largest ones.

4) Hand Select the Seedlings:  I've planted large, v.s. small starts in separate batches to confirm that indeed selecting large seedlings does make a difference.  Whether the effect is one of genetic potential or environmental circumstances is open to question at this point and would require a different and worthwhile experiment.  I start by sprinkling the seeds in a pot and sifting 1/2 inch of soil over them.  Use good flat mix.  Its hard to find good flat mix and better to make your own from some tasty homemade compost.


5!  Thin early:  I'm ruled by practical concerns like food production, so I plant leeks as close as 6 inches and up to 8 inches apart in every direction (i.e. in a wide bed on a grid pattern in staggered rows as opposed to traditional rows).  However, I start thinning the small, stubby and crooked leeks to eat in early summer.  If you want the super largest plants ever, you should plant them farther apart in the first place.  I'm a fan of equidistant grid spacing in wide beds, so I would probably go with 14 inches apart in every direction.  If planting closer as I do, thin early so that the plants are well spaced by late summer.

6)  Keep feeding those suckers:  Leeks have a hearty appetite.  top dress them with blood, fresh manures, compost, seaweed, coffee grounds, or whatever ya got.  Liquid fertilizers will go a long way too.  If you do any of your own slaughtering, blood mixed with water will please your leeks greatly.  Urine mixed with water will rock them into orbit.  Any manure teas should also be good.  Feed them something at least every month or so.  I don't dig my beds, but if you do you would probably want to dig a bunch of stuff into the soil like manure or compost etc... but don't rely on that to get your leeks through their long growing season, keep feeding them...

blood fertilizing potato onions
blood fertilizing potato onions

7)  Grow for as long as possible:  No matter what you do, leeks take time to get their biggest.  In the spring they will bolt, so they can't keep growing forever.  The longer you can grow them though the bigger they will get until they decide its time to go to seed in the spring.

8)  Save your biggest leeks for seed:  Don't eat your biggest leeks!  You can transplant them if they are in the way, then let them go to seed which will take most of the rest of the season.  Try to save at least six plants just to prevent inbreeding.  When the seed heads are pretty dry, pick them and dry them further and put them in a jar in a cool place.  If you do this for a number of years you will have a strain that is adapted to your environment and tastes!  And hopefully huge!

SEE ALSO: Leeks:  Size does matter!

Growing Lemongrass

I wanted to offer my experience with growing lemongrass for the benefit of anyone living in a similar climate. Lemongrass is often viewed as a tropical plant, but I've lived at 1800 to 2000 feet for the past 10 years or so and have grown lemongrass outdoors for most of that. In that time I've never lost a plant and I give them no protection in the cold seasons. I've heard other people say they mulch them in the winter, but it hasn't been necessary here. I have some snow most years but it usually melts off within a day or two.  There are lows in the 20s every year. The lowest temp I remember is around 20 degrees F, but that was measured well above ground level and I'm sure it was much colder right on the ground.  Light frost heaving and shallow freezes are common, but deep freezing of the ground is a rare occurrence. I'm not sure how cold of a climate lemongrass can be grown in, but I'm sure a lot of people who could grow it don't because they think its too cold. If one were to mulch it heavily I'm sure the region could be extended to considerably colder climates than this one. In areas where temperatures dip too low for mulching to be effective, the plants could be potted up and brought in for the winter. I potted mine up and moved them into the greenhouse for one or two years before before my friend told me his plant survived outside near Mariposa.

The plants do freeze back to the roots every year, and they also sprout back very late in the season. It takes some extended hot weather to wake them up and get them going, which is somewhere past June. Since it takes a while to get going in the summer and doesn't grow super fast, there is a limited season for fresh lemongrass from mid/late summer into late fall or early winter depending on the year. Not to worry, to solve that problem I harvest jars of the basal shoots to freeze when it gets cold in the fall. I trim the shoots down to just the more useable parts and stuff the jar full of them. I just used some to make a thai style curry and they were great. When the plants freeze in the winter, I cut the shoots back to stubs and wait for next year.

If you want to grow Lemongrass, plants are sometimes available in nurseries. A possibly easier and cheaper way to get a lemongrass plant though is to buy a shoot of fresh lemongrass and plant it. If the shoot has any roots on it, it will probably grow. Thats how my clump started years ago and has grown on ever since by divisions. Mostly though I don't divide it unless I'm giving starts away. Each year a I toss a little compost on it and otherwise it gets the same treatment as the average other stuff in the garden. I've never seen anything besides me eat it and it doesn't appear to suffer from any disease whatsoever. It is pretty much trouble free.

In cooking I find use for Lemongrass in coconut milk curries, fish and fowl coconut milk soups and marinades among others.

Interstem Grafting of Apples: small trees, big roots

UPDATE:  See my video series on Interstem grafting apples here!
UPDATE: See my video series on Interstem grafting apples here!

In which I use the tricky manipulation of grafting 3 different apple varieties together to create trees that are small yet drought resistant

Grafted trees sprouting
Grafted trees sprouting

Inter-stem trees sprouting on in the nursery row.  Note two bandages on each tree.

A long time ago fruit tree grafters selected certain rootstocks that would create smaller trees for small gardens and special purposes like espalier training.  Dwarfing rootstocks are naturally small varieties of trees that confer their diminutive size to the fruit varieties grafted onto them.  Early grafters had to make due with a limited selection of these dwarfing stocks, but these days there are ever smaller and more improved dwarfing rootstocks selected for size, rooting characteristics, disease resistance and ability to confer early fruiting to the variety grafted to them.  Some of these modern stocks make trees of only a few feet in height.  Last year I picked apples in a 30 year old orchard that had been grafted onto the dwarfing rootstock Malling 7.  The trees were only about 7 to 8 feet tall making picking and maintenance very easy.  These trees were also heavily loaded with fruit.  One drawback to using dwarfing rootstocks is that they tend to be shorter lived than normal sized fruit trees.  I'm planting trees for posterity and not just for myself, so I usually gravitate toward larger and healthier stocks.  After observing these ease of handling with these small trees and noting that they seemed to be doing well after 30 years I figured maybe there was a place for some dwarfed apples here.

Dwarfed trees may tend to be shorter lived, but they bear at a younger age and can give higher yields per acre when planted at closer spacings.  That's a nice advantage.  I decided to put in a group of dwarfed trees grafted to varieties suitable for hard cider making.  First I looked for a good dwarfing stock in the 9 to 12 foot high range and decided on the newer Geneva 30 rootstock.  Alas, everyone seemed to be out of it because it was late in the season.  Then I got onto the idea of using an inter-stem.

In inter-stem grafting (also known as double working and interstock) a normal sized vigorous rootstock is used for the roots of the plant, a second variety of dwarfing rootstock is grafted on top of that, and the fruit variety to be grown out is grafted on top of the dwarfing inter-stem.  The result of this strategic placement of genetic materials is a fruit tree of the variety you want, dwarfed by an inter-stem but with a full sized root system to feed it.

The conditions in this area are essentially a wet-ish Mediterranean climate.  We get plenty of rain each year, but it stops completely for the summer months at which time it can be very hot.  Even when it rains in the summer, which is very uncommon, the quantity is never enough to really soak the ground enough to water a tree.  Vigorous healthy drought resistant stocks are best under these conditions.  For the bottom rootstock I chose m111 which is very slightly dwarfing but drought tolerant while also being resistant to heavily waterlogged soils and the pest wooly Aphis.  It is a rootstock long tested by service and the one I have used almost exclusively here so far.  For the inter-stem I used bud 9 which should make a tree averaging in the 8 to 12 foot range.

One of the drawbacks to grafting interstems is that two years are supposed to be required to grow an inter-stem tree, but that turns out to be untrue.  First you are supposed to graft over the interstem onto the lower stock, and the next year you add the fruit variety you want on top of that.  The apple is an easy fruit to graft and with the great success I've had grafting apples in general I decided it would be worth a try to graft all three pieces together the first year.  I did a quick internet search was emboldened by finding that someone else reported doing just that very successfully... that discussion thread is here on the Home Orchard Society site.

One issue with grafting in general is that you are working with a stick that has no connection to the ground at all until the graft heals and therefore no way to replace any water that it uses up in trying to grow or loses to evaporation.  After grafting this stick to the rootstock it slowly begins to form callus tissue which links up with the callus tissue from the healing rootstock to form routes for food and moisture to flow into the scion allowing it to grow on.  The time between making the new graft and the healing and uniting of these tissues between stock and scion is a dangerous one for the scion.  When grafting the interstems and the scions both at once there are two of these unions to heal before the scion receives nutrients and water.   In light of these considerations I used a simple technique that I've been playing with for a few years to protect scions from moisture loss.  That technique is simply to paint the scions, and in this case also the interstems, with grafting "wax" to slow the loss of moisture.  I've used Doc Farwells grafting wax which is essentially a thick yellow paint that remains somewhat flexible.  I try not to paint over the buds or, if so, then lightly.  It seems to work.  I used primarily whip and tongue grafts... a little on that here.  Unless the scion and stock size were very different in which case I used cleft grafts.  I prefer the whip and tongue generally as it is stronger and less liable to break if disturbed.

Healing cleft graft
Healing cleft graft

Out of 23 trees double grafted this year I lost only two, one of which died completely (preventable if I hadn't been pulling off all the suckers as they came out) and one on which the top died, but the bud 9 stem is sprouting and growing up again so I can re-graft it next year.  Both probably failed due to poor scion wood, so if I would have had better scion wood, I think I would likely have gotten 100% take. They're generally growing well too except a couple that, again had really poor scion wood and are having a hard time getting off the ground.... and may not really.   Still, totally acceptable, and improvable, results.

interstems growing in July
interstems growing in July

UPDATE FALL '10.  The interstem trees in the nursery bed are considerable larger than the trees that are on just bud 9 roots.  This would indicate, as I hoped, that the larger root system cancels out some of the dwarfing effect.  That is fine with me since the bud 9 trees would probably be a little smaller than I wanted, and I was actually hoping this would be the case.  I have not looked closely yet to see if there is a correlation between interstem length and dwarness, which some sources say there is.

I had to buy bud 9 rootstocks to get the interstems I needed, and after grafting the bud 9 interstems onto the m111 roots I grafted the left over bud 9 roots to some select dessert varieties and a few more cider varieties that I want to test out.  I'm not sure exactly what I'm doing with the bud 9 trees yet, but I'll probably plant them only a couple feet apart in a long row and train them each to a single stem wired to a trellis and grown only a few feet high.  This arrangement should give me a little laboratory of very early bearing trees to test out interesting varieties.

I saved a few inter-stem stocks for varieties, like Harrison, that I want to grow but was unable to acquire this year.  Once I can test some of these varieties in my climate and see if they suit my cider making tastes, I can rework the trees to other varieties as needed, grafting on whichever ones I find most suitable, or even just testing other new types that I acquire through trading or scion exchanges.  The new inter-stem trees should be ready for the ground this coming winter/spring.


Interstem tree varieties as of 7/10 (this list has greatly changed as of 3/13) King David 2 Wickson 2 Ashmead's Kernel 2 Muscat De Bernay 2 Dabbinet 3 Yarlington Mill 2 Marmora Gold 1 Harry Master's Jersey 2 Court Royal 1 Tale Sweet 2 Kingston Black 1 Stoke Red 1 Somerset Redstreak 1 Ellis' Bitter 1 Muscat De Dieppe 1

EDIT Feb 2013:  These trees have done very well.  The ones that I got into the ground and grew out right away are over head height and some bore fruit last year.  They seem quite vigorous.  A few were grafted over to other varieties which has delayed them.  Many will provide a framework for grafting over to other varieties this year as I've changed my thinking on what I want out of them--- which is more dual purpose and dessert apples and less specifically cider apples.  I may post a follow up at some point (WHICH I HAVE HERE).  I have also done more interstem grafts and they have generally gone very well grafting all three parts at once.  As an experiment, I did an interstem graft, and then stacked another 5 varieties on top of that just to see if they would take.  Although some grew more than others (varietal dependent) all 6 grafts healed and grew!

Read the 4 year update here!

An Experiment in Using Winter Bulbs to Create Fruit Tree Under-Stories

An experiment to see whether narcissus or other early growing and early dormancy plants will form a suitable plant guild for control of weeds, soil improvement and moisture management under fruit trees in a Mediterranean climate.