Why the Southern Apple

On the way to kickstarting an industry of apples in the Southeast I have had to consider what an indigenous apple, actually looks like. They say you have to have some idea about where you’re going before you step off so I’ve certainly considered this a bit. I know one thing about it.

It’s Tough

No, not the difficulty of the project of building tasty apples from seed, but the actual apple itself has to be tough. It may come to surprise some, but your fruit trees have to stand outside in nice weather, and bad. Just remember this:

You go inside when it rains, its cold, or it there is a hurricane. Fruits must live outside.

This is supremely why I will not use dwarf rootstocks, ever. Nor will I advocate for their use.  Isn’t this behavior dangerously close to stealing from future generations? Regardless, plants have to deal with reality, while we deal with abstract ideas, like spreadsheets.

For an actually sustainable and indigenous food system to work life forms must be more adapted to actual earth conditions, than ones modeled on excel. The alternative is a continued race to the bottom, globally.

Today, the Apple’s is Ripe

There has never been a better time for a return of apples growing in the South. There is quite a lot of land throughout the southeast that could immediately be put into apple production today. If people planted apples with similar enthusiasm as they do with crape myrtles the changes in quality of life could be measured as extreme. Yes there are other fruits I am interested in working with on a large scale, but one at a time. (cough: chestnuts, mulberries, honey locusts, others…).

But why spend anytime on the apple?

While others may be interested in figs, apples as a species are just impressive. They have an established record across the genome of having ripe fruit from June through December. Heck, it seems they don’t even seem to mind heat. The real cherry on top is that I believe due to the genetic variability that is often cited as a reason NOT to plant from seed, is actually a strength that gives seedlings the power to out surpasses any use of clonal varieties. Although, we’ll let future tell us which produces with less inputs.

Let’s not forget what the apple can do. The apple can be used as alcohol, vinegar, all the way up to great tasting fruit. Fresh local apples, at any time of the year, is THE 21st century grocery food. I have talked to enough people by now to stake my claim on two facts.

1. Local Fruit is Going to Dominate the Future 2. People Like Apples

Does anybody still believe that humans of tomorrow or going to eat fruit that is half ripened, shipped thousands of miles away, covered in chemicals and has been sitting for a year? Seems reasonable enough to believe that the internet has popped the lid off of that genie.

The worst part about this “extreme” statement is even if you get industrial products fresh they’re still, fruit half ripened, covered in chemicals, and come from thousands of miles away.

I’ll pass for now, and keep working on the apple.
Back to it.

Notes and Thoughts on Apple Pruning Paper

Disclaimer: Scientific papers can, at times, be exceptionally hard work decoding their practical value. That is why I take notes on papers for future reviewing and understanding without having to return to the original texts. These notes are provided purely as a service to others and of my community while I do studying myself. The following notes may appear to be raw (because they are), and there is no expressed warranty regarding them. Following the notes are personal thoughts at the time of the reading, provided first as a service to myself, then also as a service to others. These too may appear to be raw and unpolished (because they are).

How young trees cope with removal of whole or parts of shoots: An analysis of local and distant responses to pruning in 1-year-old apple (Malus ×domestica; Rosaceae) trees

Click here for paper

Notes

  • Two types of prunings conducted on 1 year old apple trees that were then examined after 2-3 years of growth.
    • Heading
    • Thinning
  • Each tree started as a multi-limbed tree, although no limbs had side branching
  • 5 Tree Tests Performed. All tests used the same pruning technique in summer as they did in the following winter.
    • Control – No pruning at all.
      • After first pruning:
        • Longer limbs
        • Side branching on limbs
      • After second pruning:
        • Some longer limbs, not as much.
        • Much More side branching
        • Occasional new “limb” produced on 1st limbs.
    • Heading Cut performed half way down tree
      • After first pruning:
        • The cut area produced NEW buds and grew a multi-trunked top with one ever so slightly taller
        • Longer limbs
        • NO side branching on limbs
      • After second pruning
        • Main limbs grew longer than control
    • Heading Cuts performed half way (or more) down side shoots
      • After first pruning:
        • Buds near cuts grew longer in a slightly different direction
        • Not as long as the control or the single heading cut.
      • After second pruning:
        • Main limbs grew longer than control
    • Thinning Cut performed on 50% of all lateral shoots (branches)
      • After first pruning:
        • Where unpruned limbs existed, they grew longer.
        • Pruned areas grew back, only slightly.
        • NO side branching on limbs
      • After Second Pruning
        • More growth and side branching occuring on now larger limbs
    • Thinning Cut performed on 100% of all lateral shoots
      • After first pruning:
        • Grew back in the pruned locations but shorter in length.
        • NO side branching on limbs.
      • After second pruning
        • Cut growth returned by about 3/4
  • Conclusion Section
    • Earlier summer pruning likely maintains root and top growth balance, vs pruning at the end of summer.
      • Was shown that there was no invigorating effects seen a second year, unlike the trials conducted here. (Via winter pruning)
    • Competition may have been occurring between vegetative and flowering components. Floral differentiation was not occuring in autumn as was expected. Instead vegetative growth was occurring.
    • When thinning cuts were performed the main trunk remained a smaller diameter leading them to believe it was from new shoot formation draining resources.
    • Branches are not independent entities from the overall tree as seen from the growth effects stimulated by pruning far from where it occurred.
    • Possible that thinning cuts delay developmental processes, due to plant focusing on replenishing limbs.

Thoughts

  • Does summer prunings that are composted in place, or go through the gut of an animal produce an ecology that keeps plant decay tidy and clean, possibly taking residence where “diseases” might otherwise?
  • Winter pruning likely removes minimal if any life force from the tree as it is being stored in the roots. When the tree is bursting forth with new growth its sucking in the roots’ energy and sending it out the top.
  • Thinning cuts seem to remove the most amount of will from the plant to branch and fruit.
  • Heading cuts on the overall tree do not seem to impact negatively the lower branches, only forcing the creation of new shoots in the center competing for the top.
  • This may validate Dave Wilson’s techniques of backyard fruit culture, that really keeping the top canopy down in summer will keep a tree in check, but still allowing it to develop.
  • Thinning cuts appear to actually be effective at thinning out inner branches, but very ineffective for keeping height in check.
  • Heading cuts appear to be effective at diffusing energy from a single stem into multiple. At the right times (early summer and later summer) this likely slows down the race for size of the plant.
    • Note: Heading cuts are specifically cuts where any specific length of a plant is cut by at least half. The cut, really heads it back.
    • This diffusion of energy makes the plant more bush like.

Captain Davis’ Next Apple

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A fully and completely ripe Captain Davis Apple

What was Captain Davis thinking when he carried apple seeds across the south to Mississippi? During a long journey along the Piedmont from Greensboro, North Carolina to Kosciusko, Mississippi he certainly must have considered what was in his hands. It must have been an adequate enough fruit to peak his interest. Our ancestors must have had a longer view on the world if they were willing to hold onto seeds over a great journey, and then plant them one day with no guarantee of great returns.

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Kosciusko, MS circa 1920

“These seeds, will produce delicious fruit, to be savored for generations.” he might have said. Or maybe, he was just thinking “man this fruit is amazing, I’m keeping these seeds”. The stories of history rarely contain such a context. Since his discharge from the confederate army on April 26th, 1865 generations have come and gone, and yet his legacy still remains starting from the simple act of saving seeds, carrying them and putting trust in them to grow.

Did he know after his passing, ancestors would carry on his name by passing sprouts coming from roots? Or maybe that people would know his name starting from underground trading rings? It is not likely, but yet this is where the story exists today.

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Captain Davis apple seedlings

Nearly 200 years in the future in 2016 dozens of new descendants of the work of Captain Davis will begin their leg of the journey. Seeds from the Captain Davis apple, born in Mississippi are being sown for future generations. Will these seeds produce a delicious fresh eating apple? How about an apple for juicing and pressing into cider? The seemingly randomness of apple seeds says we may get just about anything we can imagine.

Come summer 2017 these trees will emerge and begin to grow into the fruit trees of the future. These seedlings will turn into juvenile trees across the southeast starting their journey, coming from a great legacy. So, the story of Captain Davis will live on.

 

The Extinction of Permanent Southern Culture

I have not yet written on the topic of the wholesale disappearance of southern culture in the last 100+ years but it’s starting to take a toll on me personally, of which I’ll be getting out as I continue on. The disappearance and continued extinction of the south’s most valuable agriculture treasures, it’s trees has become the biggest “obsession” of my life as I become more and more inundated with a reality that is so completely encompassing yet so oblivious to so many. “What extinction and what southern culture are you speaking about?” You may be wondering. I am referring to the continued extinction of decades and centuries of hard work of producing trees that produce food for humans and animals throughout the southeast.

Yes, I am well aware that in many localities across the nation have had similar fates to the rise of factory farming and global agriculture, however, the south seems to have lost the most. I am currently not aware of if anybody has done the work on quantifying just how many productive species have been lost, or the amount of acreage that has now been converted over, but what I do know is that the delegation of food cultivation to the Midwest through corn and soy production and tree crops to the Pacific Northwest has left the South completely without real permanent tree crop production, or even the knowledge of.

What an excellent read!

“Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture”: A Southern Culture Artifact

There are more people by the day who have read the book “Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture” by J. Russel Smith written in the early 20th century. This book is held up as documented proof of sustainable agriculture at it’s finest and the best possible solutions for producing it. I can certainly understand why, as it is one of the most belabored and long winded volumes available containing a shockingly large amount of anecdotal testimony on the subject of the value of trees that produce food for both human and animal consumption. There is no doubt that this book has it all.

But what may be illuding people who have read the book, is that the entire book is a reference to culture created throughout the southeast. Nowhere else. What may further shock those who have read this book, is that this culture is just about completely gone. The book focuses around the development and finding of the most productive cultivars of naturally occurring trees throughout the southeast. The persimmon, the pecan, the mulberry, and more.

Most people who live in the Southeast have never seen, a persimmon or a mulberry. Heck most people have never even HEARD of persimmons, yet depending on where you live, may be growing right next door. While many of these native trees still barely live on (with fewer and fewer tracts of land to call home), the cultivars and the improved varieties that required many man hours to find and/or create, are evaporting into thin air, leaving the current south with minimal options for developing their own permenant food scapes.

Hicks Everbearing Mulberry

I did something this morning that I know I shouldn’t have, but did it anyway. And that was visiting the ultimate time killer, facebook. On there I was greeted by a post by Eliza Greenman about the “Hick’s Everbearing Mulberry”. I had never heard of this variety so I read on. Apparently this variety of mulberry produces a continual heavy crop of mulberries for months on end and originated in the south. This tree was used for the purposes of hog fodder (my #1 favorite system) and could fatten up summer hogs in no time.

Quick google searches lead me absolutely nowhere. Further reading of the post made it quite clear that this gods gift to man variety may be down to just a handful of trees in a single location, completely absence and devoid from cultivation throughout the southeast. If I can get my hands on such a variety, I would replicate it beyond all belief and return it to it’s rightful status as a well known southern favorite.

Just another point to drive me further.

The Dula Beauty. Apples from the Coastal Plains of NC. Available at Big Horse Creek Farm.

Southern Apples: Where are you?

My work with southern apples has shown me just how much we have lost in the south.  Lee Calhoun the author of the amazing book “Old Southern Apples” believes that over 80% of all apples from the south have now gone extinct. Extinct being, not a single tree left of that variety, and therefore the work and time to develop those apples, is no longer recoverable. While those may be gone, the reality is the rest have gone into complete niche obscurity to the point where the southeast is completely ignorant that people not that long ago grew unique apple varieties for the south, and relied upon them.

The public has sadly become so ignorant about southern apples that the only apples that anybody has ever heard in the south are two from Israel, one from the bahamas,  New Zealand and Australia.

Seriously? That is really what is remaining of the legacy of the south’s agriculture?

I am sure there are more communities throughout the south that have heard of apples growing in the south, particularly throughout Appalachia, however, to say that these are the only places would be just completely and totally mistaken. Take for instance the Dula Beauty apple from Lenior County, North Carolina. If you have ever been out to eastern North Carolina you will get very familiar with the coastal plains of the south, which is an extremely inhospitable place typically for growing trees.

It can often be seen that I focus on the southern apple. But I must say that the apple is one but many of my focuses, as I am concerned with returning permanent culture to the southeast. All of these trees and their heavenly cultivars are at risk, and when we need them more than ever, I would like to salvage what I can and make available.

What about Citrus?

“What about citrus?” You might be saying. Sure there is the citrus industry here, but a quick look in history will show the lack of permanence of this type of agriculture as just in the 20th century alone entire farms were wiped out at least 3 times due to freezes. When will the next one be? I wouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t far away, mother nature is always ready to pounce. I do find it very odd that people are continually fascinated with trees that are marginally hardy enough to survive in any given area, which can be seen by the obsession people have here about buying citrus trees. For “industry” I suppose that is the boom bust speaking and for home owners having what is “forbidden” and “unique” perhaps is the tantalizing factor. I certainly have fallen into that trap, losing at least 4 Key Limes in one year. (They were cheaply discounted, give me a break).

Now with the outbreaks of major debilitating diseases such as citrus greening these monocultured orchards are now highly in question. Yet again. Why not use what has worked historically instead of pandering to the US’s obsession with drinking a sugary yellow beverage.

Permanent Food Systems of the South

I could go on and on about different species that have been lost or are becoming increasingly difficult to find, but I’ll save those for other posts. Lastly I’ll state that this topic has enthralled me to the point where I am taking action on it to reverse this trend. I see the writing on the walls everywhere that the south, which used to contain plentiful agriculture and food, has been reduced to a veritable food desert and is really one bad year away from being in a very nasty place (millions of people, no food). I am in the process of writing a book about this very subject that I am currently titling “Permanent Food Systems of the South”.

If there was ever a time now to move with action to protect the assets and valuables that will provide us food forever, now is the time.

 

Why the Reverend Morgan Apple is a Beacon of Hope

banner
“Yes, They grow here.” was written on our banner for a reason.

I find myself often educating people that apples used to been grown throughout the entire southeast. There are numerous apple varieties from areas that are the absolute opposite of where you’d expect apples to be growing. Although I’d say at this point it’s probably fewer everyday.  Having said this I understand that it is certainly part of the territory when you are trail blazing that you’ll come across so many confused and at times skeptical people. It is more often the case that people share what others have said about something rather than taking a risk themselves.

This is why normally I don’t let others’ concerns worry me because rarely if ever does it come from experience, just what others say and think. Having said that, even though I don’t say it out loud, sometimes I stop and wonder with some concern whether or not our apple project may not work out as well as I envision it.

In my moments of doubt, out of the nebulous blue will facts bubble up to the surface that stop me dead in my tracks and reignite the fire contained inside. One such fact is that the Reverend Morgan apple exists.

O’ Praise be to da Reverend Morgan Apple

Never heard of the Reverend Morgan apple? Here is apple hunter extraordinaire Lee Calhoun’s write up on the Reverend Morgan apple in Old Southern Apples.

This southern apple is not old, but its quality and adaptability to warmer areas of the South make it worthy of preservation. It originated in 1972 in Houston, Texas (Zone 9) and is named for Rev.  Herman T. Morgan (b. 1894), the Methodist minister who first grew this apple. It is believed to be a seedling of Granny Smith and seems to be resistant to several apple diseases.

One thing I know people would say regardless of background, is that Houston, Texas is not “apple growing country”. Simply and without any further evidence needed, is that belief shown to be completely incorrect. What seems to be the case, is that when many think of whether something can or can’t grow somewhere, is whether the conditions are conducive for a large mass produced commercial operation of a monoculture product, such as apples, like you might see in the Pacific Northwest. Context is key, and for most people whether or not that fact is true, is irrelevant to most people’s lives.

Reverend Morgan at Big Horse Creek Apple Farm in North Carolina.

The Reverend Morgan apple teaches us a very valuable lesson that nothing in life is set in stone, and that it’s only through our efforts and that of nature will something exist. A good example is that apples have been grown throughout the mountains of North Carolina (no surprises here) AND it’s coastal eastern swamps, where nothing else grows. There has never been a better time to turn around the loss of the southern apple than today. What amazing prospects of growth, it has nowhere to go but up!  This is why I am growing over 130 apple varieties right now and will begin a breeding program as soon as reasonably viable and can be worked into all of the crazy we have going on.

The next time I get the question asked “Can the apple be grown here?”

I will reply emphatically….

Yes!

 

How I Came to Know of Reverend Morgan

The first I had heard of the Reverend Morgan apple was poking around on Big Horse Creek’s website some years ago. I was searching for apples by state and eventually searched for Texas and low and behold the Reverend Morgan showed up. “An apple from Houston?!” I said. Incredible to think about, but looking back it showed my ignorance of the power of natural selection and the connection’s humans have with it. (We have immense powers to create and facilitate nature)

I looked deeper and deeper for this apple and came across a number of different websites that either had it for scion or carried it at some point in time. While I was able to secure a single tree a year ago, as I have sought enough material to do something with it became harder and harder. This year alone I had a scion order in for three different locations and all of them turned me down which means sadly I will be unable to bring any to market. That may knee cap some of our work at Bonnie Blue Farms and Nursery but that’s only for a year. We have three young trees that we are growing out and will propagating off of this year giving us boat loads of this fruit for 2017 and beyond.