Pest, Disease & Damage
The Joy of Tasting at the Hayloft Tent
By John Bunker
In 1993, needing something to spruce up the brand new Fedco Seeds tent at the Common Ground Country Fair, we assembled three modest displays. One featured assorted potatoes; the second, tomatoes; and the third, apples. The displays were a hit. They drew people into the tent and introduced them to varieties with which many fairgoers were unfamiliar.
The tomato and potato displays were repeated only a few times over the years, but the apple display continued to grow. It became an annual magnet for those hoping to learn about Maine apples and to identify the old trees that still dot the landscape from Kittery to Fort Kent.
Over time an increasing number of fairgoers demanded to go deeper, under the skin, into the flesh – to taste the fruit itself. So in 1998 we held the first annual apple tasting at the Fair. It was a guerrilla event. We didn’t really advertise. We had no tent. We just put a table out in the open, cut up apples and handed them out. People loved it. We began to advertise the tasting, and the crowds grew. We began to vote for a winner. We laughed and hooted and hollered and tasted and voted. Winners were ceremoniously declared and crowned, all in fun.
A few years ago the display and tasting moved to the Hayloft Tent. There you can expect to see at least 150 varieties in the apple display, most of which come under the category “Apples You’d Find in Old Maine Orchards.” The display has become the premier spot in northern Waldo County to ID apples every third weekend after Labor Day. Volunteer identifiers are on site all weekend, waiting to help.
Then on Friday and Saturday afternoon, we taste. A crew slices and dices as fast as possible while we attempt to entertain and educate about the next contestant. We all squeeze under the tent, especially during rains or to avoid the hot sun. Otherwise the crowd spills into the adjacent open space like a 1968 Grateful Dead concert. We taste, we yell out words of approval or disdain and we vote.
The tasting does have limitations. Because apples ripen progressively from early August until well into winter, we are limited to those that are perfect in late September. We also taste only fresh-eating “dessert” fruit. Pie, sauce and cider apples have to wait for another day, but that’s OK. Seeing which apples people love is endlessly interesting, as is noting that some years one variety or another excels right at that perfect moment to knock all the others off the victory stand.
Four varieties have been the biggest winners over the years: Canadian Strawberry, Chestnut, Cox’s Orange Pippin and Whitney Crab. They represent a nice cross section of the history of apples. Canadian Strawberry is a rare old Maine heirloom that Roy Slamm of Solon brought to me at the Fair in Windsor many years ago. Chestnut is a modern apple from the University of Minnesota breeding program. Whitney is a classic American heirloom crab, and Cox is the “foreigner,” one of the best-known apples in the world.
Over the years we’ve also tasted vinegars, fruit leathers, pears, plums, grapes, other fruits, sauerkrauts, herbal wines, kombucha, fermented cider and local beer. This year no alcohol will be served at the Fair, but at the Hayloft Tent we will host a two-hour discussion and panel on Sunday afternoon about the role of alcohol in the small farm economy. And of course we’ll do apple tastings. On Friday at 4 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m., we’ll slice them up and pass them out. You’ll get to taste, comment and vote. And one of these years before long, all of the apples at the tasting will come from the Maine Heritage Orchard, MOFGA’s premier educational preservation orchard. Stay tuned!
Companions Blooming in the Orchard
Volunteer Days are back!
We've had a few email inquiries about volunteering lately-- and the answer is yes! You are welcome to come and help out at the orchard. Jen and Laura will help you get acquainted with the orchard, and set you up on a project. We are typically at MOFGA Monday through Thursday 8-4 each week. Our hours vary depending on the sprays and indoor work we balance with time spent in the orchards. Because of this we can not accommodate volunteers on a regular schedule just yet.
Typical work we will be doing with volunteers: This time of year there is plenty of mulching, weeding and seeding to to. We weed about a 3' circumference around each young apple tree, to keep the area available for the young tree roots to grow. As we weed we check for borers and general tree health. After weeding we covering the area with wood chips. Perennials get mulched with wood chips or hay. The other side of the pond that was flattened and terraced last year is an ongoing stabilization effort. We are adding biochar, mulch & various seeds to the area to build up the soil. It will eventually also be planted with fruit trees and more woody and herbaceous companions.
Email us at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or call/ text Laura (207)629-7200 to get in touch.
Cheers to spring!
-Laura, Jen & John
Topworking at Müller's Fruit Farm
Saturday May 12, 2018
Changing McIntosh and Cortlands to Sweet Sixteen (1973, Northern Spy x Malinda) developed by the University of Minnesota Breeding Program. Mid to late season, best for fresh eating. Highly flavored.
Planting Day 2018 was a success!
Thanks to all of you who came to help. With over twenty volunteers of all ages we planted 35 apple trees, dozens of herbaceous perennials, seeded red and crimson clovers, and removed all of the tree guards. A great start to the growing season. The bulbs we planted last fall are now up and blooming, and the orchard is looking very alive. Feel free to stop by the orchard any time this spring or summer. It's always open!
The scionwood exchange 2018
by John Bunker and Laura Sieger
If you were wondering about the steady stream of traffic in Unity on Sunday, it was the mass of humanity descending upon MOFGA for the annual Seed Swap and Scion Exchange. Attendees came from most of the New England states and a couple Canadian provinces, friends of all ages.
According to Jack Kertesz of the Maine Tree Crop Alliance, it was the thirty-fifth exchange (or so)! The first Exchange was held in a small state office in Augusta with about a dozen folks in attendance. Roughly the same number of us set up the Exhibition Hall at 7:30 AM for this year’s event.
Doors opened at 10 AM and in rushed many die-hards. Over the course of the next five hours several thousand feet of scionwood (more than 200 varieties of apples, pears, plums and cherries) were taken away by over 500 attendees. All the scionwood was given away for free. A few hundred bundles of rootstock also left the hall, sold by Fedco Trees.
Expert Fedco volunteer grafters (Delton Curtis, Jacob Mentlik, Jesses Stevens, & Seth Yentes) grafted trees as a fundraiser for the Heritage Orchard. Attendees paid $10 per tree. They selected the scion of their choice from the piles of scionwood spread down the long tables, and their prefered rootstock, donated by Fedco. We raised nearly $600 dollars to support our work preserving Maine’s apple heritage.
Meanwhile at the other end of the Exhibition Hall, thousands of seeds were given away. There were displays of Maine grown wheat and corn sponsored by the Maine Grain Alliance. Throughout the day there were workshops on seed saving, tree crops and grafting. It was another fun and wild day, a great way to spend the last Sunday in March when the days are getting longer, the snow is still deep and the mud is starting to rear its ugly head. Mud season is just around the corner!
COMING UP: SEED SWAP & Scion Exchange 2018
Join us for Maine Tree Crop Alliance & MOFGA's annual seed swap and scion exchange in Unity on March 26th, 2018.Bring seeds, nuts, or scionwood and take some new plant material home with you.
There will be scionwood for many varieties of apple, pear, plum & cherry. Fedco will have rootstock and grafting supplies available for purchase.
There will be workshops for grafting fruit trees, other trees, growing nuts, & more.
The Year In Review: MEHO 2017
by John Bunker
January 2018 – The Maine Heritage Orchard is beginning to wake up after a winter of huddling under the ice and snow. Meanwhile the Heritage Orchard crew was out pruning and traveling the Maine countryside collecting scionwood for spring grafting. As winter waves its final goodbye, we’ll gather on the last Sunday in March for MOFGA’s Seed Swap and Scionwood Exchange. Fedco grafters will be on hand to graft you a tree of your choosing, the proceeds of which will go to support the orchard. There will be piles of scionwood and seeds for the taking as well as workshops to attend and grafting supplies for sale. It’s a wonderful way to celebrate the coming of spring.
When the snow was too deep or the wind too chilly to be out in the orchards, we spent many hours getting to know the brand new seven volume set entitled, The Illustrated History of Apples in the United States and Canada, written by Daniel Bussey. For thirty years Dan systematically and meticulously transcribed and compiled over sixteen thousand apple descriptions using hundreds of historic sources. Kent Whealy of JAK KAW press then spent seven years editing the massive text. “The Illustrated History” will be the most important book on apples ever published in English. There has never been anything like it. This is the book for orchardists, researchers, historians, nurserymen, collectors and dreamers. It is the ultimate apple reference encyclopedia. Seven volumes, 16,350 descriptions illustrated with 1,400 magnificent historic USDA apple watercolors. Your local bookstore won’t have but you can go to jakkawpress.com or call 884-567-5888 to get your own set. It’s surprisingly affordable.
Not long after we clean up the exhibition hall and the Scion Exchange is history, we’ll begin our own spring grafting. We made several exciting new finds last fall including ancient trees in Ogunquit, Cape Elizabeth, Hallowell, Brooklin, Fairfield and Aroostook County. You can still find old apples trees everywhere in Maine! Those and several dozen others will be grafted this spring. Some of the resulting young trees will eventually be planted in the Heritage Orchard. Others will find homes in the yards of “Tree Stewards” throughout the state and beyond. Not only are we saving our endangered plant heritage, we are also reintroducing these varieties to communities throughout the state.
Last summer we began renovation of another four acres of the gravel pit on the opposite side of the central pond. That earthwork was completed by mid-summer. Cover crops were planted shortly thereafter, and major planting will begin this spring. (see photos below). On Saturday April 21 we will host our fifth annual planting day. With the help of volunteers we’ll be planting more apple trees and companion plants in the orchard. It’s a perfect opportunity to learn to plant trees, meet other tree enthusiasts and find out more about the Maine Heritage Orchard. We’ll begin at 9 AM and go all day. We’d love to see you and the whole family.
There will also be other volunteer opportunities throughout the 2018 growing season. Come join orchard manager, Laura Sieger and others. For more information, go to mofga.org or send us an email to email@example.com. Weekly volunteer days at the orchard are a great way to see our innovative orcharding techniques in action. We are working to create a productive ecosystem and mentor a new generation of orchardists. Hope to see you sometime soon.
How to collect scionwood
trim your twig or branch of the desired variety back to the branch collar
snip off the last years growth to keep, leave the rest behind
secure the twigs with duct tape or a rubber band
label the bundle and store double or triple bagged (air tight seal)
keep scionwood cool (but not freezing) in a refridgerator or cellar
use the wood for spring grafting from March through May
Pruning your fruit trees
The time has come to prune your fruit trees!
The best time to prune, according to CJ Walke, is while the tree is dormant and when temperatures are no longer likely to dip below 0ºF at night. Fruit trees have a harder time healing a pruning cut that is exposed to subzero temperatures because the cold can slow or interrupt the healing process. The wound can be susceptible to winter injury, and this may become the perfect place for harmful fungi (such as black rot) to colonize and grow in the spring.
Read more about the two basic kinds of pruning cuts in Walke’s article “In the Orchard: Planning for Pruning” in The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.
Notes from the Maine Heritage Orchard: Fruit Swaps
by John Bunker
October 2017 – In the autumn of 1852 a farmer named N.T. True of Bethel, Maine packed up and headed for the Oxford County Agricultural Society fall fruit show, bringing along 5 specimens of an apple known as Bethel Belle. True set the apples out on a plate for everyone to see and taste. Another farmer, James Grover, also of Bethel, brought along Jine Sweet. Perhaps they drove over together in the same wagon. Orison Ripley of Paris, brought six apple varieties, including Craft’s, Dr. Brooks, Sheepnage, Spear Sweet, Striped Sweet and Squash. John Robinson of Greenwood brought Belnap Sweet, Fall, French Sweet, Georgiana and Roxbury Sweet. We can guess that it all made for a great way to spend a fall day in Maine.
For most of the ensuing 165 years farmers from one part of Maine or another have gathered at fall or winter events to meet one another, learn the latest orchard growing techniques and bring their apples to show and taste. Hundreds or even thousands of talks have been given. Strategies have been laid out to address the latest insect and disease challenges. Awards have been given out for the tastiest pie and showiest plate of apples. That day True’s Bethel Belle was considered “worthy of propagation.”
A new twist of the old fruit show was re-invented twenty-five years ago by long-time MOFGA volunteer, Jack Kertesz. Jack called the new event, the Fruit Swap. His reincarnation of an old idea was to get fruit and nut growers together to share the full range of the woody edible crops being grown throughout Maine. Displays were improvised on paper plates. A potluck lunch was always included in the agenda. Each year one or two speakers were featured. The venue was a large upstairs classroom at Unity College.
The Fruit Swaps drew enthusiastic crowds as well as some wonderful local speakers, many of them the elders of a generation of horticulturists and orchardists now gone by. Roger Luce of Newburgh, Gladys Gould of Blue Hill and Francis Fenton of Mercer all came to share their decades of experience with a largely much younger crowd. Occasionally contemporaries would also give talks, like the year Steve Page came to answer questions about his ground-breaking “Orchard Almanac,” one of the books that led to the current success of organic apple growing.
By the time MOFGA moved a few miles from Unity College, the Fruit Swap was in a bit of a lull. Everyone was busy in October and it was hard to get us all together in one place. For awhile it appeared as though the Fruit Swap would be no more. But the event was a great idea. It served a valuable function for everyone interested in growing woody plants. With a tradition of nearly 200 years, it was one that wouldn’t die.
In 2001 a group of us got together from MOFGA and the Maine Cooperative Extension Service with the intent of getting the Fruit Swap going again and doing so at MOFGA and at Highmoor Farm in Monmouth. On Saturday November 10, 2001 The Great Maine Apple Day was born. It was a hit. We had a good crowd at the MOFGA exhibition hall. Dozens of varieties of apples were shown and tasted. Dozens more were “ID’ed.” It felt like 1852 all over again. A personal highlight was meeting George Stilphen who attended and gave a talk. It was George who published The Apples of Maine, originally a 1909 University of Maine thesis by Richard Bradford cataloging all the apple varieties being grown in Maine at the time. The “Bradford Thesis” as we all knew it is one of the great works in historic apple identification.
The Great Maine Apple Day alternated from MOFGA to Highmoor Farm for the next four years. By moving the show to Monmouth every other year, we were able to make the event more accessible to those living west of Augusta. But Highmoor’s facility was not heatable and one year we all nearly froze to death as temperatures hovered below freezing all day. After two tries at Highmoor, The Great Maine Apple Day returned to MOFGA for good.
It’s been a good run. Depending on the apple crop, you might get to taste as many as 60 or 70 apple varieties any given year. There’s a pretty good chance that our team of apple identifiers can ID your mystery apple. The upstairs MOFGA library is packed all afternoon as speaker after speaker share their knowledge. A few highlights over the past fifteen years have included apple collectors Lou and Sue Chadwick from Massachusetts, Eliza Greenman who has more recently gained notoriety with her “Eat Ugly Apples” campaign, and Claude Jolicoeur, author of The New Cider Makers Handbook. Perennial favorite speakers have included Mark Fulford, Tom Vigue and Jack Kertesz. Jack still comes every year. It wouldn’t be the same without Jack chatting and answering questions all afternoon.
The speakers this fall reflected the changing face of MOFGA. That’s a good thing. Years ago MOFGA spoke to a generation that is now reaching the elder status. Meanwhile, a younger group has found MOFGA and is stepping up to the plate. This years line-up included 6 speakers of that new younger generation. Abbey Verrier and Laura Sieger spoke about fruit exploring. Aaron Parker and Jesse Stevens spoke about permaculture and a range of more unusual crops. Angus Deighan and Justin Glover spoke about cider making. Meanwhile, attendees flocked around the displays and the long table of apples to taste. There was Opalescent, King of Tompkins County, Gray Pearmain, Taterhouse and several dozen others. It was a good Sunday afternoon in October. Alas, however, no Bethel Belle.
And so a tradition rolls on into the future. In the evening, if we can stay awake that long, we open up another one of those old Maine Ag Yearbooks and read about the old shows of so many years ago. Much information about our agricultural heritage can be found in the old books. They are wonderful. You can often pick them up in used bookshops for a few dollars each. Trees of many of the apples introduced and displayed in those shows can now be found at The Maine Heritage Orchard just off the fairgrounds at MOFGA in Unity. The collection now stands at just under 300 varieties of historic apples and pears with more being planted each year. If all goes well, one of these days we’ll locate an ancient Bethel Belle tree hunkered down out back behind an old barn somewhere in Maine. N.T. True will be happy if we do.
Maine Heritage Orchard Reprints 2009 Apple Shirt
by Laura Sieger
Fall 2017 – For years people have been asking if there are any more of the Common Ground Fair t-shirts available with the 2009 apple design. They’ve been sold out for some time, and there has never been a re-printing of any past Common Ground Fair shirts, until now! The Maine Heritage Orchard committee has been working with Liberty Graphics to re-print the design as a fund-raiser for the orchard. The front will be the same design of the 2009 t-shirt and fair poster, and on the back it will say “Maine Heritage Orchard Preserving the Old, Exploring the New.”
The shirt’s design and the inclusion of the new slogan illustrate the importance of both preserving old varieties and exploring new technologies in orcharding and land reclamation, the goals of the Maine Heritage Orchard. We have preserved apples from all sixteen of Maine’s counties, including the apples featured on the shirt. There are many old Maine-grown favorites planted in the orchard including Wolf River, Yellow Bellflower and Tolman Sweet. There are some extremely obscure varieties which may be ancient seedlings— Sand Hill from Waldo county, Robinson-Pemaquid from Lincoln county, and the Ghost Apple from Kennebec county. A handful of the historic varieties planted are varieties whose scionwood comes from the USDA. These will be used to compare some of our recent finds to some known varieties. As of April 2017 we have planted nearly 270 varieties.
In addition to exploring the state for old trees, we are practicing new orcharding techniques in the reclaimed gravel pit in Unity. We plant trees on terraces and incorporate companion plants among the orchard understory. We involve MOFGA apprentices and interns in putting old depleted land back into production, making unwanted land more desirable.
Recently I sat down for a conversation with John Bunker, the shirt’s artist and director of the Maine Heritage Orchard. I asked John about the design. Early in his effort to save old Maine apples, Bunker told me he decided that he needed to learn the geography of Maine, and he would do that by learning the counties. He then had the idea that because apples are grown in every county, he should learn which varieties originated in each county in addition to which varieties were historically grown there. That led to the idea of the shirt that would include sixteen varieties, one that originated in each county.
One of John’s goals in choosing the apples was to have the result be visually striking. The idea was not to have a bunch of red apples. All apples are intriguing in part because of their range of colors shapes and sizes. He said that Black Oxford was the most obvious choice when it came to selecting varieties that originated in each of Maine’s sixteen counties. The next easiest choice for him was Kavanagh, a large and iconic russet from Lincoln county. These two varieties are featured in the center.
There were some counties, such as Lincoln, Oxford and Aroostook, where it was easy to decide which variety would represent them, but others were more of a challenge. Some counties had several varieties that originated there. Somerset county had Gray Pearmain and Thompson, but then the variety called Somerset of Maine seemed to be a more fitting choice. An old apple called Aunt Penelope Winslow seemed like it would have been the perfect fit for Knox county, but Aroostook’s Dudley Winter, Franklin’s Deane, Penobscot’s Red St Lawrence, Washington’s Collins and Somerset’s Somerset of Maine were all red and stripey, so for visual diversity he went with another North Haven variety, Cora’s Grand Greening. This is not an apple whose name appears in any book, but is a fantastic huge yellow ribbed variety that was likely planted by a woman named Cora Ames, a farmer and midwife who tended the farm on the north end of the island over 150 years ago.
Sagadahoc was tricky in a different way. Bunker said, “I couldn’t find any apples that originated there although I did come across one reference to an apple called Givens.” He based the painting for this variety on a vague physical description of the fruit. It was only last fall that he and I got a bit more information on the Givens apple, and we may now be closer to finding the actual fruit.
The new shirts will be available at Maine Apple Camp in August, and at the Common Ground Country Store at the fair. They will also be available online through the MOFGA store. All proceeds will go towards the Maine Heritage Orchard. The Maine Heritage Orchard committee hopes that we’ll see you at the fair. Stop by the Hayloft tent to see the display of many of the apples we’ve preserved. Bring you apples for us to identify. We’ll have apple tastings and talks on bee keeping, fermented foods, hard cider, vinegar and more. Look for us—we’ll be wearing the shirts that say “preserving the old and exploring the new” on the back.
Compost Day 2017
A large group of enthusiastic volunteers & orchard crew readied the young trees for winter. We prepared the ground for the 2018 spring tree planting, planted hundreds of bulbs around existing trees, and spread over three hundred bales of mulch hay on the newly renovated area. The first steps have been made to stabilize the clay-heavy soils for future fruit tree plantings. There will be more renovation efforts this summer. Regular Wednesday volunteer days will begin again this June.
Thank you very much for your support this year. We appreciate all you do to make the Maine Heritage Orchard a success!
Enjoy the cold weather and mark your calendar – our annual Tree Planting Day will be Saturday, April 21. Join us to celebrate Earth Day at the orchard. Lunch & cider will be provided.
Building the Mycorrhizal Connection
By C.J. Walke
Summer 2017 – As spring rolls into summer, we should see young, month-old fruitlets on our trees, slowly swelling with growth in the sunlight of our longest days of the year. Nutrition for that growth is centered in the soil, where we look to build a biologically active ecosystem for soil microbes and plant root hairs to exchange water and nutrients, supporting each other. Essential to this healthy exchange is the vast hyphal network of mycorrhizal fungi that colonize root systems, connecting plant to plant beneath the soil and creating a community like none other on Earth. As organic farmers and gardeners, we would do well to support this microbial magnificence and share in the benefits of a healthy soil.
I've been reading Michael Phillips' recent book, "Mycorrhizal Planet: How Symbiotic Fungi Work with Roots to Support Plant Health and Build Soil Fertility," which gives a thorough account of current research and knowledge on how healthy fungal soil communities support the health of us all. We've known for decades that mycorrhizal fungi are beneficial in the soil and have the ability to expand plant root systems by 10 to 100 times in the search for water and nutrients, but what I'm finding most interesting in Phillips' book is the role mycorrhizae play in supporting complete photosynthesis and efficient protein synthesis.
We'll start with the simple sugar glucose, which is formed through the transformation of carbon dioxide and water using light energy from the sun that is absorbed by chlorophyll. Photosynthesis. Glucose is the basis for creating more complex sugars (polysaccharides) and other carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates, such as starches, are stored in plant cells as stable forms of energy that can be broken back down into simple sugars when the plant needs energy.
Sugars and nitrogen are the base materials needed to synthesize amino acids, and amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Many insect pests lack the specific enzymes needed to digest complete proteins, so they feed on sources of incomplete proteins and soluble amino acids in plant sap. Fungal pathogens source their nutrients from simple sugars in plant cells as well as from soluble amino acids in plant sap. So insects and diseases are searching for nutrients from simple forms of organic molecules but cannot easily access nutrients from complex sugars and complete proteins.
Enter mycorrhizae. When mycorrhizal networks are strong and functioning efficiently in the soil, plant root systems have ready access to the macronutrients and trace minerals needed for complete photosynthesis and protein formation. In turn, plants send more carbon sugars to their roots, and that carbohydrate energy is needed by soil microbes to flourish. As this symbiotic relationship of mutualism gains momentum, we see what Sir Albert Howard spoke of nearly a century ago – healthy soils support healthy plants, and healthy plants are less susceptible to pests and pathogens.
Beneath the Trees
To support these mycorrhizal networks in our soils, we need to minimize soil disturbance and promote methods of non-disturbance, in both orchard and garden. Deep tillage tears apart fungal connections and pulverizes soil structure, and although it may be a necessary evil once in a while, it should not be a regular method of choice. Beneath trees, tillage would clearly damage tree roots and lead to death or decay, so non-disturbance is key, and we need to build soil from the top down.
Mulches are an excellent choice for minimizing soil disturbance, since they suppress weed growth while also retaining moisture in the soil for tree roots and microbes. Hay or straw in a thick layer will get the job done, but be mindful of potential weed seed in mulch hay, which is not much of an issue on the orchard floor but could bring a host of issues into your garden. Ramial wood chips, made from limbs 2 1/2 inches in diameter or less, recycle tree nutrients as they decompose and feed soil fungi. The decomposition layer where mulch meets soil is where the action happens and where evidence of biological activity can be seen.
Cover cropping, where grasses and/or legumes grow for weeks or months, minimizes soil disturbance until the cover crops flower and approach seed set, when mowing and, sometimes, incorporation are necessary. Yes, the dreaded tillage! But in dwarf apple tree cultivation, cover crops suppress weed growth and keep the soil root zone more open and accessible for tree roots, as well as for mycorrhizal networks. Legumes help build nitrogen levels in the soil (remember those amino acids and proteins), while grasses produce ample organic matter. Both can be mowed and used as mulch, rather than being tilled under.
I have a row of dwarf apples growing on each of the long sides of my rectangular half-acre garden plot. Those trees are mulched heavily with wood chips. I do run the BCS tiller around the garden perimeter to keep pesky quackgrass at bay, but after that tillage I sow different cover crops or mixes to compete with the grasses that try to creep back in. In spring I may use oats and field peas along the edge, which I eventually mow and rake toward the trees as additional mulch. Buckwheat will follow to shade out weeds and provide food for beneficial insects, adding more mulch when mowed. Then I sow another round of oats, which grow into the fall, winterkill and protect the soil until spring returns.
When I want to add nutrients to the soil beneath the dwarf apple trees, I incorporate amendments during one of these mowing and mulching cycles. Before mowing one of these cover crops, I walk the row of dwarf trees and sprinkle amendments along the drip line of the trees, adding quantities recommended from soil analysis. I make two passes through the cover crop strip with the cutter bar on the BCS machine, which lays the crop down nicely. Then I walk back along the row with a fork or rake, and mulch the cover crop material along the drip line of the trees, covering the newly spread soil amendments. The decay cycle of the fresh mulch provides soil microbes with a boost of food sources and activity while incorporating the rock powders into the soil.
Healthy soils grow healthy crops. By mulching, cover cropping and incorporating rock powders, we can build healthy soil under our fruit trees, making our fruit crops less susceptible to insect pests and disease pathogens. It's certainly not a cure-all, but I can't wait to see the look on that sawfly's face when it stings one of my young fruitlets, spits in disgust at the taste of complex carbohydrates and complete proteins, and decides to move on.
Maine Apple Camp
By Todd Little-Siebold
Summer 2017 – MOFGA's Maine Heritage Orchard Committee is organizing the first-ever Maine Apple Camp on August 18 to 20, 2017 – a 2 1/2-day event at Camp NEOFA in Liberty to bring together fruit enthusiasts, cidermakers, food entrepreneurs and heirloom fruit conservation advocates to brainstorm ways we can all help bring back Maine's traditional iconic fruit.
The gathering will take place at a traditional lakeside camp setting where the Maine Fiddle Camp has operated for several years, and through workshops, small group meetings and informal conversations, we hope to build momentum to bring back the thousand or more traditional varieties of apple and pear that used to grace orchards and yards all over Maine.
Maine probably has one the highest levels of biodiversity of these traditional heirloom fruit because of the multiple waves of introduction of fruit from the 17th to the 20th centuries. Some, such as the Baldwin or Red Astrachan, may be familiar to a number of Maine residents; however, rare and lost varieties are scattered across the state in relict orchards and dooryards from Aroostook County in the north, where French and Canadian apples appear, down to York County, where early 17th-century orchards were established by English colonists.
The Maine Apple Camp will introduce participants to the diversity of American apples with author Dan Bussey of Seed Savers Exchange. Bussey has spent decades documenting the tens of thousands of apple varieties grown in the United States. He will discuss the process of writing his seven-volume history of American apples. Maine's own John Bunker will address efforts to track down, document and preserve the varieties that survive across the state today.
Program tracks for the camp are Conserving Heirloom Fruit, Artisanal Cidermaking, Heirlooms in the New Food Economy, and Polyculture and Organic Orcharding. Cidermakers from around New England will share their expertise on everything from varieties that make great cider to how to make the best ciders with wild yeast. Conservation advocates will lead workshops on tracking down, researching and identifying lost and forgotten varieties.
The idea is to build expertise that can lead to rediscovering varieties that are patiently waiting for us to find them. Also, we will have folks supplying us with all the food we want and showing how heirlooms can reappear in produce sections and value-added products.
Sessions will cover everything from community orchards to MOFGA's conservation efforts at the Maine Heritage Orchard. The organizers hope that participants with all kinds of interests will come together to plot and plan how to make the Maine heirloom fruit renaissance even more successful.
Registration includes all meals and lodging in the camp's cabins or campground as well as participation in workshops and sessions. Register at MOFGA's online store (www.mofgastore.org). A final program will be available in early June. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Flash Grazing Pigs for Pest Management
By C.J. Walke – Spring 2016
Organic growers face numerous challenges with pest management, regardless of the crops grown, and look to crop rotation, biological controls and carefully timed applications of approved materials to target the pest at hand. Organic tree fruit are vulnerable to many insect pests over the course of the season, whether those pests emerge at bloom or midsummer and whether one or multiple generations look to feed on developing fruit.
Managing dropped fruit is an effective cultural method of impacting orchard insect populations, since drops often contain pest larvae, but it is also time-consuming for the grower. However, research in recent years is showing that flash grazing pigs in the orchard can help interrupt insect life cycles and add other benefits to the orchard ecosystem. Flash grazing uses a high concentration of livestock to graze a paddock over a short period of time.
Most of this research has been conducted by Michigan State University faculty and graduate students at organic apple, pear and cherry orchards in Michigan. They have focused on disrupting the life cycle of plum curculio in the orchard by flash grazing pigs during the "June drop" period.
Curculio adults emerge before apple bloom to mate and lay eggs on or near developing fruitlets. By late June, affected fruitlets start to drop from the tree, often containing curculio larvae or other internal fruit feeding pests. This is referred to as "June drop."
The life cycle of plum curculio depends on the infected fruit dropping to the ground so that the larva can exit the fruit, burrow into the soil, pupate and emerge later in the summer as an adult. In the Northeast, this new generation is not believed to breed in late summer but continues to feed on developing fruit, leaving feeding stings and scars. It then overwinters in leaf litter and ground debris to emerge the following spring and continue the cycle.
The studies focused on rotating groups of hogs through the orchard over the course of two to three weeks during "June drop" so that they could feed on drops and root in the soil. The numbers of hogs used in the studies varied, but roughly two dozen pigs grazed a 1-acre paddock for three to five days. The pigs consumed 99.8 percent of all drops. At harvest, ungrazed sections of the orchard had three to five times greater plum curculio damage on fruit than grazed sections. Researchers also examined fecal samples and confirmed that curculio larvae could not survive the pigs' digestion process.
The primary concern with integrating livestock and crops in certified organic systems is that organic growers must observe the manure waiting period of either 90 or 120 days, depending on whether the crop contacts the soil. For tree fruit, 90 days must pass between the last application of manure and the first harvest of fruit, since the fruit is not in direct contact with the soil.
The challenge is that this 90-day period from "June drop" means that summer apples (Red Astrachan, Gravenstein, William's Pride) cannot be part of this system, but winter apples with a later harvest (Golden Russet, Northern Spy, Black Oxford) will fit. Fall apples will vary depending on harvest date. To set some dates, if you remove pigs from the orchard by July 2, you will have 90 days to harvest on October 1. (Please confirm this with your certifying agency before setting plans.)
Smaller, diversified orchards may have trouble implementing such a plan because varieties may be inter-mixed and buffers would need to be established and maintained. (This is another question for your certifier.) However, in orchards with larger, single variety blocks, growers will have an easier time establishing paddocks and maintaining buffers.
Another benefit to flash grazing pigs in the orchard is that it may manage pests other than plum curculio. Plum curculio was the focus of the Michigan research and one of the most difficult pests to control in organic orchards. European apple sawfly larvae and first generation codling moth larvae are also common in "June drop" apples, so some control of those pests will coincide with plum curculio activity.
If pigs are grazed post-harvest, later in the fall, then the manure waiting period is not an issue and orchardists will reap additional benefits. Drops and culls will still exist for the pigs to clean up, and late fall grazing will also offer disease management benefits, especially with apple scab, since the scab fungus overwinters on infected leaves and fruit on the orchard floor.
Even though the manure waiting period is not an issue in the fall, flash grazing (rather than longer-term grazing) should still be used to minimize manure buildup beneath the trees so that excess nitrogen, which could interrupt the hardening off process and winter dormancy of the trees, is not a problem. And throughout the system, moving the pigs frequently limits pigs' rooting and avoids damage to tree roots.
Flash grazing pigs at these specific times can have solid benefits toward managing insect and disease pressures in the organic orchard. Some of the research also focused on feeder pig growth and calculated nutritional benefits when incorporating flash grazing into the hogs' diet. This research shows that the process benefits both the orchard fruit and the feeder pigs. For more information, follow the links below or search for "flash grazing pigs MSU."
C.J. Walke is MOFGA's organic orchardist. You can contact him at email@example.com.
Maine Heritage Orchard Update
By Laura Sieger
February 2017 – In 2016, MOFGA's Maine Heritage Orchard (MEHO) had another successful year. In April we planted 55 more heirloom varieties that were new to the orchard. From June through October MOFGA apprentices Nick Libby, Kelsey McGrath and I led a weekly volunteer day at the orchard. We weeded around each tree, planted additional orchard companions, and did a lot of watering. Most of the trees and companions seem to have fared well, despite severe drought. Insect pests were plentiful; we manually removed many from leaves and twigs, and recorded the damage in our journals for comparisons in future years. Eventually we will use a comprehensive, holistic orchard health regimen, applying neem oil to the trunks of young trees to defend against borers, and later a mix of fish, kelp and effective microbes to promote healthy tree growth while discouraging disease. We'll apply kaolin clay in spring and summer to protect developing fruits from a variety of pests.
A few years ago this area was a gravel pit stripped of almost all life. Now most of the orchard is covered with vegetation. The clover we seeded in 2014 was lush and filled with buzzing bees all summer, and many of the woody companion plants – elderberries, blueberries, willows, etc. – are doing well.
On the last 2016 workday – our annual Compost Day in October – we prepared sites for 30 new trees with a mixture of soil amendments and compost and then put tree guards on all 230 existing trees. In November we put the remaining guards on trees in MOFGA's North and South Orchards for protection from voles, which often girdle fruit trees in winter when food is scarce. We recommend using tree guards every year until fruit trees are mature. Plastic spiral guards cost about $1 each; a section of screening tied tightly around the trunk with string also works. Be sure to remove tree guards, whether plastic or screening, in spring.
Later in the fall we collected fruit and visited old orchards around Maine. We have been identifying varieties and discovering new candidates for planting in the orchard.
We have also been working with Jesse Watson of Midcoast Permaculture Design on a plan to shape and terrace another large section of the MEHO site. Renovations should occur this summer. We will seed the newly shaped terraces with ground cover, including clover, and starting in 2018 we will plant the terraces with rows of fruit trees and hundreds of companions.
This spring we will plant another 30 trees, including Royal Sweet propagated from Rollins Orchard in Garland. The majestic, wide and spreading tree stands in a field near a former farmhouse on the Rollins property. Seeing that Royal Sweet tree for the first time in 2014 was one of the best fruit exploring trips that year.
In November 2016, John Bunker and I visited an ancient seedling tree in Down East, Maine, that reminded me of the Royal Sweet's wonderful spreading shape and enormous size. The owners, who live down shore of the Bagaduce River, named the tree "Grasslings," and we fell in love with this beauty. Bunker and some friends returned in December to collect several bushels of Grasslings fruit for cider.
A few of our fruit exploring trips last fall were more specific historical missions. We were searching for apples for which we have names and records but whose fruit we have yet to see. We poked around on old farm roads in Bowdoinham and Topsham for an apple called Givens. After meeting some wonderful people who led us to the historical society, we were shown a book that was mostly a transcribed diary from an 1800s grafter named Abraham Preble. We searched for clues in it and have been asking around to find out if anyone has seen an ancient tree with purple-red conic apples hanging on late in the season. On another of our fall fruit exploring adventures, we searched for the Blake apple and found several candidates at two old Blake farms in Brownfield. Blake is a wonderful pale to bright yellow with hints of green and nice patches of netted russet – a delicious fresh eating and cooking apple once popular in Gorham and points west.
The trees we plant this spring, like all others previously planted at MEHO, will be just over 2 years old. We collect scionwood in the winter, graft trees in early spring onto standard-sized, hardy Antonovka rootstock to preserve the varieties for a long life, then grow them in a nursery for two years. We dig them in fall and store them through winter to be planted in April. They should still be going strong in 150 years. Dwarf and semi-dwarf trees have a much shorter lifespan.
Our stewardship program "backs up" each variety growing in the Heritage Orchard. For $50 you can purchase a steward tree to plant wherever you like – in your yard, at a historical society, at schools. Your duplicate tree can provide scionwood if anything happens to its MEHO twin. Steward trees not only help preserve varieties but reintroduce them in their original communities and, we hope, will make them commonplace again.
To learn more about apples and other fruiting plants, come to the annual Seed Swap and Scion Exchange at MOFGA on Sunday, March 26. Also, grafting classes will be held this spring at MOFGA and elsewhere in Maine. Find details under the "Events" tab at www.mofga.org. You can also join us for MEHO's fourth annual spring tree planting on Saturday, April 22, at MOFGA's Maine Heritage Orchard from 9 a.m. to noon.
The First Heirloom Apple Collection: Thoughts From The Heritage Orchard
by John Bunker
Winter 2016-2017 – Now and then someone asks me the date of the first heirloom apple collection. I usually say 1934 – and I usually attempt to define an heirloom apple. After all, if you don't know what an heirloom apple is, can you know the date of the first heirloom collection?
The term "heirloom" has been applied to plants only in the last few decades. Before 30 or 40 years ago, objects could be heirlooms but plants couldn't. They were just plants. In the orchard, they were just apples. Distinctions were rarely made. By the mid-20th century, new introductions were preferred, while older varieties were mostly forgotten or discarded or purposely destroyed. Then came Seed Savers Exchange, MOFGA, Fedco and similar organizations along with a recognition of the value of plants that predate modern agriculture, and the need to differentiate between modern varieties generally available in the trade and those traditionally grown many years ago and passed from generation to generation within families or small communities.
So what is an heirloom apple? At the beginning of the 19th century, Maine had few roads and thousands of small, diversified, subsistence farms. The railroad had yet to be invented. The only tractors in Maine had four legs; the only engines in Maine were powered by water, and there weren't many of them. Nearly everyone in Maine lived on some version of a farm, and every farm had an orchard. Johnny Appleseed with his tin pot hat and his sack of apple seeds was just doing what everyone else was: planting apple trees from seed. Most of the apples they grew were small and sharp and bitter. They made good cider but weren't much good for fresh eating or cooking. Public agricultural institutions then were as scarce as a good grafted apple tree. The USDA, land grant colleges and the Maine Pomological Society did not exist yet.
By 1800 the notion of the selected apple variety and the grafted tree was still rare in Maine, but farm families wanted winter storage apples for their root cellars. With Hannaford and Shaws and the Belfast Co-op Store being over 100 years away, there was great incentive to do it yourself. Farmers were already planting lots of apples from seed. They needed only to become observers. Many did. When an apple showed promise, farmers passed it around town by grafting. One seedling apple kept until May; another made a great pie; another ripened in August or baked well or made great sauce. New varieties were born every year through observing, selecting and, by the few who knew how, grafting. Those grafters became popular, often traveling from town to town in spring, custom "top-working" seedling trees into grafted varieties. By midcentury Maine had many dozens of local, named apple selections. Every observant farmer was a potential apple breeder – and not just in Maine. From Fort Kent to Georgia and out to the Mississippi River, farmers were selecting, naming and passing around apples. By midcentury thousands of American varieties existed. No one will ever know the true total, but it may have been as many as 20,000.
By 1900 the railroads were well established. Mainers were leaving the farms for the factories. Those who remained on the farm were specializing. The seedling cider orchards were long gone, replaced by the small grafted orchards of local and regional varieties, which were themselves being replaced by the commercial orchards of the future. Farmers stopped selecting apple varieties. That job was now entrusted to college professors who bred the apples of the future in test plots at universities.
In 1927 a group of New England Cooperative Extension officials created a list of seven preferred apples with the goal of encouraging growers to raise these seven commercially viable varieties and get rid of all the rest. The apple industry in New England then was at a tipping point. The commodity model was assumed to be essential to the modern industrial world of the new century.
Then came the winter of 1933-34, the most recent "test winter," when Mother Nature largely rid New England of its old apple varieties. Temperatures fluctuated from extremely warm to extremely cold, sometimes within less than 24 hours. Vast areas of water along the Maine coast froze. Terrible storms combined severely low temperatures with huge amounts of snow. The plant world suffered tremendously. Millions of apple trees died that winter in New York and New England. It was tragic – and a terrible mess to clean up. Chainsaws were not yet in use.
The spring of 1934 saw the first Maine "tree pool," through which the state sold commercial apples to growers at cost. This was also the year that McIntosh took over the top slot as the preferred commercial apple variety. It was also the height of the Depression, and millions were unemployed. To generate work, thousands of men were hired to cut down apple trees, cleaning up the mess of the terrible winter and ridding New England of old, unwanted varieties, thus setting the stage for the modern commercial orchard.
But even Mother Nature and the federal Works Progress Administration couldn't rid New England of its old apple trees – a stubborn bunch. While many did succumb, many others did not. They were aided by a few orchardists and enthusiasts who did not bite the modern apple bullet and who saw value in the old varieties. Rather than allow them to pass away, they tracked them down and preserved them on their farms.
Among those champions of old apples were Lothrup Davenport of Massachusetts; Wendall Mosher of Jay, Maine; Ira Glackens and Henry Converse of New Hampshire; and Fred Ashworth of New York. These orchardists decided to protect the old varieties for future generations. They communicated with one another by snail mail. All had nurseries, all grafted and all knew the value of the varieties that had been selected and named by farmers generations ago. They were like the baton passers in a relay race. The scion snipped from an ancient tree and grafted onto a young rootstock was like the baton passed from one generation to another.
With these orchardists appeared the first heirloom apple collections, most of which are now gone. Lothrup Davenport's still exists at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Massachusetts. Visit it if you can. Around the country other collections have appeared in the past 70 years – some huge, some small, none inclusive but all of value. Together they protect our rare genetic heritage and preserve it for future generations.
Next time you go to your favorite big grocery store, try this experiment. Ask the produce manager for a good pie apple. Explain that, as we all know, apples ripen in a progression from August until well into winter. "Please recommend a good August pie apple, one in early September, one in late September, one in early October, another in late October and a couple of good winter pie apples." See what the manager says. Those who don't call security and escort you out will probably just shrug their shoulders and say, "Sorry."
But fret not. The Maine Heritage Orchard (MeHO) at MOFGA has come to the rescue. The orchard grows excellent summer, fall and winter pie apples, sauce apples, varieties for apple molasses, apple cake and fresh eating. Honeycrisp, get out of the way. The MeHO features the best fresh eating apples in the world.
If all goes according to plan, the MeHO, now in its fourth year, should be around for another couple of hundred years or so. It features nearly 300 varieties traditionally grown in Maine, and we're adding more every year. These heirlooms have been collected from ancient orchards in every county of the state. The Maine Heritage Orchard is not just a museum of obsolete plant material of the past. With the generous support from many donors and volunteers, the MeHO collection will serve future orchardists for many generations to come.
Maine Heritage Orchard Welcomes Volunteers
By Cammy Watts
September 2016 – Bees are not the only things buzzing at MOFGA's Maine Heritage Orchard (MEHO) this growing season. The 280 apple trees planted over the past three years are putting down strong roots and sending up new shoots. The hundreds of herbaceous companion plants covering the ground between the trees are spreading and preventing soil erosion and runoff. The woody shrubs, such as elderberry, that were planted on the terraces are producing their first crop of fruit. And birds and insects that fled from the site when their habitat was stripped away are now visible again in the grasses and darting from tree to shrub.
The orchard is living proof that Nature abhors a vacuum. Plants are rushing to fill the empty spaces.
However, it takes a village of dedicated apple enthusiasts to gently guide this natural succession while the apple trees are young. The newest additions to this group of orchard stewards are Nick Libby, Kelsey McGrath and Laura Sieger, who are planting, watering, mowing and weeding the orchard this summer. They are there weekly and would love to have individuals and groups from camps, businesses, churches and schools join them for an hour or a day. They happily lead tours and answer questions about heritage apples, orchard care, companion planting and the new section of orchard that was terraced this summer on the far side of the pond. These stewards will guide even the most novice volunteers through orchard planting and maintenance; they love volunteers who want to get their hands dirty. Days and times of volunteer opportunities are posted in MOFGA's Bulletin Board.
You don't have to volunteer or call ahead to visit the Maine Heritage Orchard; the gate in the imposing-looking deer fence is always unlocked, and everyone is welcome and encouraged to enter. The stewards are creating a path through the orchard so that visitors can wander easily along the terraces. Eventually this will connect with the Unity-to-Belfast Hills to Sea Trail so that hikers will be able to access the orchard from both sides. So whether to volunteer, stroll quietly or watch nature reclaim the hillside, stop by the orchard. Just remember to close the gate behind you.
Get Juiced at the Hayloft Tent
In 2015 Maine experienced a banner year for apples. Trees in orchards, dooryards and hedgerows, along roadsides and deep in the woods were loaded with fruit. Even in town walking was difficult without slipping and sliding over red, gold and green apples that littered the sidewalks. Resourceful Mainers took advantage of this bounty and filled crates, barrels and pickups with as many apples as possible. How did they keep this fruit? When another harvest like 2015 rolls around, what can you do with the rest of your apples once you have dried, sauced, stored and baked as many as your cellars and freezers can hold?
These and other questions will be answered at the Hayloft Tent at the Common Ground Country Fair this year. Learn about the juice of the apple in all its forms – how to make it, who can sell it and what to do with it. Explore the latest innovations in apple presses and grinders, and learn how to make your own. Join a discussion on regulations affecting the production and sale of sweet cider for commercial and home producers. Find out how to turn sweet cider into vinegar or hard cider. Taste local ciders as Maine cider makers share tips for starting a hard cider business. Novices and pros alike won't want to miss cider celebrity Andy Brennan of Aaron Burr Cider in New York, who will discus cider-making basics and the joys of tracking down wild apples for cider.
The Hayloft Tent will have plenty of other offerings, such as orchard care, beekeeping, permaculture and edible landscaping. Sample kombucha, mead and beer produced by highly entertaining local brewers. Learn about apple varieties for the home orchard and then vote for your favorites at the popular apple tastings on Friday and Saturday afternoons.
The only thing missing at the Hayloft Tent this year will be apple enthusiast and expert Don Johnson, who passed away last spring. Don, who grew 100 varieties on 1/2 acre of land, brought bushels of his apples to the Fair each fall and delighted in handing them out to fairgoers. He was as generous with his knowledge as with his apples, and he will be missed.
If you don't have time for a talk or two, at least drop by to wonder over John Bunker's amazing apple display at the Fedco Trees booth outside the Hayloft Tent. John and his regular crew of apple crazies will be there to interpret, identify and discuss all things apple and fruit related. Pick up a “wanted poster” to help them find rare apple varieties. They look forward to seeing you there.
The Search for Harpswell's Heritage Apples
By Abbey Verrier
Summer 2016 – Apples have been chasing Robert McIntyre from the time he was a little boy and his father cut down a healthy apple tree.
"It didn't have apples that I was interested in, but it sort of made a mark in my mind," said McIntyre. Years later, as a professor at Bowdoin College, he was living in Brunswick with his wife and children. Late each year his family traveled to Chicago for the holidays while he stayed behind to grade papers, later driving to meet them – going north through Maine, into Canada, and then west to Chicago.
He would stop and gather the apples, a pile accumulating on his backseat. He might have snacked on them, but mostly, the apples were a curiosity.
"I would often think, 'Oh, these are really interesting apples,' but it was all sort of abstract."
Another time, his neighbors in Brunswick decided that a couple of old apple trees in their yard had to be cut down. McIntyre persuaded them to keep the trees alive by pruning them himself. He had never pruned before but let intuition lead the way.
"Suddenly they went back to producing apples, and that gave me the sense that apple trees were extremely forgiving and responded to very little attention by consolidating their resources." The experience spurred him to buy and plant his own heritage apple trees.
He moved to Harpswell in the '90s. He had always admired the town for its architecture, but now that he lived there, he was seeing ancient apple trees, remnants of old orchards, everywhere.
"There was one particular tree at the Harpswell Neck Fire and Rescue that looked really, really old and which I discovered had truly wonderful tasting apples," he says. The "Firehouse" apple catalyzed a new passion. What was the variety? McIntyre checked with staff at Highmoor Farm, the research orchard for the University of Maine, where the groundskeeper said, "Oh, nobody here knows anything about old apples. You have to find John Bunker."
Bunker called it a Baldwin. McIntyre and his wife, Dorothy Rosenburg, were not convinced.
"There is universal agreement among people who have tasted them [Firehouse and Baldwin] at the same time that it's a little bit different," said McIntyre. "It looks like Baldwin, it tastes mostly like Baldwin, but it seems to have a better flavor."
To Bunker, Firehouse and Baldwin were synonymous, and any differences could be attributed to terroir (environmental effects). Then Bunker's wife, Cammy Watts, tasted Firehouse and agreed: The flavor was unique.
So investigation into the true identity of the Firehouse apple was reopened. We haven't solved the case yet, but Firehouse was planted in the Maine Heritage Orchard last spring.
For McIntyre, Firehouse was just the beginning of his apple explorations around Harpswell. Two years later, he was ready to share his discoveries with the community. He, Rosenburg and a friend, Sharon Whitney, created Harpswell Heritage Apples. They enlisted someone to graft four ancient varieties they had discovered around town, sold the young whips and donated the profit. Eight years later they're selling more trees than ever, offering a mix of varieties that McIntyre grafts from ancient trees around Harpswell as well as some popular Maine heirlooms, such as Black Oxford. Trees sell for $65 per sapling. They also sell a fertilizer mix and, for $2, Robert will come to your house and plant the tree for you. Last year they donated $1,600, with all proceeds going to such local organizations as the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust, the Harpswell Coastal Academy or the town's pre-kindergarten program.
"It is something that could be done anywhere in Maine," says McIntyre. "You just link it back to the local schools or aid for the homeless or nutrition programs or whatever and people pay enthusiastically."
Hang out with McIntyre and other amazing people by getting involved with the Maine Heritage Orchard. We host weekly volunteer days all summer. We'd love to see you! For more information, visit www.mofga.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Abbey Verrier is the Maine Heritage Orchard research assistant.
Trapping Orchard Pests
By C.J. Walke
Summer 2016 – In my March-May 2016 MOF&G article, I wrote about orchard pest thresholds and the use of traps and trapping methods to capture and monitor pest populations to know whether pressures are reaching limits that will significantly decrease fruit quality or yield. Even in small plantings, traps can provide helpful information about pests in your orchard ecosystem. Traps are also useful in young plantings that have yet to fruit or are in their first years of fruit bearing but have not yet reached marketable yields. Collecting and retaining this information will highlight trends in your orchard system and help establish methods of pest control before populations escalate.
Many sources offer pest traps (a couple are listed at the end of this article), but your decision on which to use will be based upon pricing relative to the quantity of certain traps; upon availability – supplies may run short during the flowering and fruiting seasons; and upon location – whether you prefer to purchase online or to visit a physical store. Pricing and quantity can affect decisions, since buying in bulk will typically save money – but depending on your orchard scale, you may need to purchase multiple years' worth of traps to realize savings, or some products may not be available in the smaller quantities you desire. Availability is also key, because if you wait until the growing season, some supplies may have run out.
White sticky cards can be used to trap European apple sawfly. The white of the card mimics the white of the apple blossom, which attracts these pests. When they land, they become stuck. These cards should be hung before bloom (a little late for this article) at eye level on the south side of the tree where the sunlight is strong and the trap is highly visible.
Yellow sticky cards can be used to trap apple maggot fly (more details on this pest below). The adhesive on these cards contains a food attractant that makes the trap more inviting. This attractant is not found in Tangle-Trap (also mentioned below).
Red ball traps are used in a similar fashion to trap apple maggot flies in midseason and should be hung in trees by July 1 and monitored twice per week. These traps do not come with the sticky substance applied, so you need to purchase Tangle-Trap (also called Tanglefoot) to coat the spheres. One ounce of Tangle-Trap should cover three traps. These plastic traps come in reusable and disposable models. The former must be cleaned of flies and coated with new sticky material at least once per season. Disposable models cost less but seem wasteful. Trapping can be enhanced in larger plantings by hanging an apple essence lure near the traps, but this does not seem necessary in smaller plantings. Recommendations are one to two traps per dwarf tree, two to four per semi-standard and four to eight per standard.
Pheromone wing traps work well for monitoring codling moth activity in your orchard when used with a codling moth lure. The lure – the pheromone essence of a female codling moth – attracts males into the trap. When they land, they stick to the bottom of the trap, similar to what happens with the white sticky cards mentioned previously. The white sticky bottoms of the pheromone wing traps can be replaced if the trap fills with moths, since we see a couple of generations of this pest each year, but the lure must be replaced midseason, as the pheromone essence runs out. These traps should be hung before bloom, at eye level in the tree for easy inspection. Only one or two are needed per acre.
Most of the traps mentioned above can be replicated in a homemade model for less cost, but with a little time and effort. You most likely won't be able to make your own pheromone essence or Tangle-Trap; those would still need to be purchased. I have heard from people who used other types of sticky materials (pine tar and grease), but these have strong odors that may ward off pests. I have talked with some people who make their own white sticky cards from white paperboard or painted cardboard scraps, but these do not hold up well in wet weather and need to be replaced frequently.
You can make your own codling moth traps with empty half-gallon milk jugs or 2-liter soda bottles, apple cider vinegar and molasses. In an empty gallon jug, place 2 cups of apple cider vinegar and 1/2 cup of molasses, then fill with water and mix. Cut a hole in the side of the soda bottle so that you can pour in the mixture and moths can enter. Pour in a couple of inches of the mix. Hang the bottle upright in the tree, tied by the top. Codling moths will be attracted to the odors. Hang these traps from early May through September in easily managed locations so that you can remove moths and refill the sweet mixture.
Red ball traps can be replicated in a few ways. Painted plywood scraps can be cut into 6-inch x 6-inch squares and painted on both sides – yellow with a red apple-sized circle in the center. Coat the red circle with sticky material. The yellow color seems to make the red more visible to apple maggot flies. These flat boards are much easier to clean than the ball traps. I recommend still using the apple essence lure.
Real apples can be used as well. Coat them with sticky material and hang them from the tree with a scrap of wire, then compost them instead of cleaning. Some people say this is the true use for a store-bought Red Delicious! When coating, leave the top and bottom of the apple clear so that odors don't get trapped by the sticky material. Run a scrap of wire up through the center of the apple and hang the fruit from the tree.
The first time I tried using real apples, I bought a 3-pound bag of conventional Red Delicious and used them all in the orchard, in addition to red ball traps. After a couple of weeks, I noticed that the real apples had only a couple of apple maggot flies on them, but the red ball traps were covered, even where I wasn't using an apple essence lure. I had heard of many people using this method with success, so I wondered what I had done wrong.
After a little research and talking with a couple of experts with far more experience than I, we determined that the conventional apples were most likely sprayed with a "synthetic produce quality enhancer" after harvest to slow ripening in storage. That product was most likely still present when I hung the apples as traps. So I removed all of those apples, bought a bag of organic apples, hung them as traps, and they were covered in just a few days. (For more on synthetic produce quality enhancers, which are not allowed by the USDA National Organic Program, research SmartFresh Technology.)
Organic Growers Supply http://fedcoseeds.com/ogs/
Great Lakes IPM http://www.greatlakesipm.com/
Evergreen Growers Supply http://www.evergreengrowers.com/
One of Many: A Maine Heritage Orchard Volunteer
By Abbey Verrier and Angus Deighan
Spring 2016 – A few years ago, Rudy Kelly and his girlfriend, Phoebe Barnes, were driving to the Common Ground Country Fair when they got a call from Kelly's Uncle Tommy. It was important, so they turned around and headed back to Mount Desert Island. When Kelly's father was a child, the family portrait was always taken in front of an apple tree that grew by the house. The house was now gone, and the land sold. Tommy was the only surviving relative who knew were to find that tree, and he was dying. The old man, "riddled with cancer," led Kelly through the woods, undeterred by the new "Posted" signs. Eventually they came upon the old foundation, and next to it, the tree.
"It was just like the picture," says Kelly. "It really hasn't changed. It's old, needs a little work."
Like his father, Kelly was born on MDI. His mother went into labor during the Great Fire of 1947. The flames that would ultimately consume 17,000 acres of MDI made it impossible to travel, so Kelly was born at home. He got his first skiff when he was 9 years old. He and his friends made and set out their own lobster traps for extra cash. As they got older, they would have clam bakes on the small islands off the coast and would sneak into the dock workshop for a game of pool. In the autumn he could often be found lying under an old apple tree at the end of his grandmother's driveway, eating apples until he felt sick. To this day, he remembers them as the tastiest apples he's ever had.
Like so many in his generation, his childhood group of friends was broken up by the draft for Vietnam. Although they all made it through, they did not all return to MDI. Kelly spent most of his adult life out West, working as a cowboy, and then as a policeman near the Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, not long after the Wounded Knee Incident of 1973 – a dangerous and violent time. After working with Native Americans and becoming life-long friends with many, Kelly is still shocked that our nation as a whole has chosen to ignore the problems of poverty, substance abuse and suicide that haunt Pine Ridge and many other reservations.
"President Clinton apologized," he says. "There's no one that can apologize for what you did wrong or what your grandfather did wrong. I'm not going to apologize for what my great-grandfather did or didn't do. It has no meaning. Let's put some teeth into it and let's fix the problem. This is a bad thing. We need to do something."
When Kelly was out West, he discovered that he loved to run. He retired early and moved home to Maine, where he continued to pursue his passion for running and, of course, apples. He's clearing land in Tremont, by himself, where he will build a house and start an apple orchard. He's already planted three or four trees – one he grafted from the old family portrait tree that Tommy showed him before he died.
Sadly, the tree at the end of his grandmother's driveway was cut down by the new owners, so he will never be able to propagate it. Now he searches for that variety in John Bunker's apple display at every Common Ground Country Fair. Kelly admits that the memory of its unrivaled flavor could be a product of childhood nostalgia. Still, an hour-long drive home from the dentist in Blue Hill can turn into a three-hour stop-and-go sampling of roadside apples. He still hopes that the next apple he bites into will be the one.
Regarding MOFGA's Maine Heritage Orchard, Kelly says he "was astonished to see so many volunteers of all ages working so hard, 'specially the younger people, everyone taking time out of their own lives for this project – helping transform this piece of property from an eyesore, a wasteland, into something special and beautiful like an apple orchard, something people can enjoy for hundreds of years. Oh yes, I definitely wanted in on this. These were my kind of people. I encourage everyone who reads this to come out this spring and volunteer a little of their time to help make this special and important project reality. I know I'll be there."
Please join MOFGA for the next planting day in the Maine Heritage Orchard on April 23 from 9 a.m. to noon. Bring work gloves and a shovel!
Abbey Verrier is the Maine Heritage Orchard research assistant. Angus Deighan has spent many hours planting and tending the orchard.
Huey Coleman and Filming the Maine Heritage Orchard Documentary
By Abbey Verrier
In April 2014, Huey Coleman arrived at MOFGA's Maine Heritage Orchard, camera in hand and ready to film. It was our first planting day, and a big group of volunteers was eager to put 102 apple trees into the ground. For us it was the moment this piece of land became an orchard. For Huey it was the beginning of a 1-1/2-year project documenting and learning all about apples, the heritage orchard and the revived culture surrounding both.
Huey's filmmaking career began during his days at Colby College where, under the guidance of art teacher Abbott Meader, he became interested in film. A few years later he finished his first documentary, "Grace: A Portrait of Grace DeCarlton." Grace, a silent film actress and dancer, was then 93 and living in Portland. Huey recalls that while she looked like a little old lady on the street, she danced as elegantly as a woman of fewer years. Huey continued to do a series of documentaries on elderly artists. Perhaps best known was his film "In Good Time, The Piano Jazz of Marian McPartland," which won the Manny Berlingo award for best documentary at the Garden State Film Festival in 2011.
Most of Huey's projects have been Maine-based. In fact, when he teaches film, he tells his students, "local is good." His last documentary shot in film rather than digital was "Wilderness and Spirit: A Mountain Called Katahdin." It includes the first recorded footage of the Katahdin 100 Sacred Run of the Penobscot people, an annual tradition in which Penobscot Natives journey from Indian Island to the base of Mount Katahdin by canoe and foot. Huey filmed them from the banks of the Penobscot River and by motor boat.
He and his camera even trekked to the top of Katahdin to capture the first AT through-hiker, Earl Shaffer, climb the mountain on the 50th anniversary of his historic hike.
Like all of Huey's films, the heritage orchard documentary eloquently bridges past with present. In the film we see a generation of farmers – John Bunker, Russell Libby, Tom Vigue – pass their life's learning onto an influx of aspiring young homesteaders. In an interview, Rowan Jacobsen, author of "Apples of Uncommon Character," remarks, "What you're seeing with the young people going into farming is that they're doing it to save society. They're trying to be the people who plant the seeds for a new generation that really makes things better." The film illustrates this sentiment with images of people at the Common Ground Country Fair, excited to learn about agriculture. We watch folks run along the orchard terraces with buckets full of compost and fertilizer. We see them grafting trees at Super Chilly Farm in Palermo and apple tasting at the Great Maine Apple Day. Interviews with experts in orchard polyculture and fungal influences in the soil give us the full picture of orchard care.
Help us care for these fruits that have nourished us through the generations. Watch the heritage orchard documentary here, and then join us in April for our third planting day.
Huey's current film in production is on another big apple fan. Watch for "Henry David Thoreau: Surveyor of the Soul," set to debut on Thoreau's 200th birthday in 2017.
And if you were wondering, Huey's favorite apple is the ‘Trailman'. His wife, Judy, grafted a tree of the variety just last year. They look forward to its first fruit.
Abbey Verrier is the Maine Heritage Orchard research assistant.
To Spray or Not To Spray
By C. J. Walke
This is often the unasked question that arises when I deliver library presentations or teach hands-on workshops on growing organic tree fruit. I can see the look on people's faces change when I mention the backpack sprayer, as if a dark storm cloud has shadowed their sunny afternoon. We choose organic methods to avoid synthetic chemicals on our food and broad spectrum, pervasive pesticides in our environment, most of which are applied via some type of spray mechanism, but it's what you put in the tank that makes the sprayer evil. Or beneficial.
Although the spray tank can contain a concoction to deliver death and destruction, I prefer to view the sprayer as a vehicle for delivering nutrients and boosting health in the orchard or garden ecosystem by applying materials that are not easily slung with a shovel or dumped from a bag. Many nutrients and beneficial organisms come in liquid or granular form to be mixed with water and topically applied to the tree canopy and leaf surfaces. And yes, the occasional teaspoons of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) or spinosad get mixed in to keep the lepidopteran (moth or butterfly) larva and sawfly slugs in check, but that is only a fraction of the time spent with the sprayer on your back.
Foliar feeding can benefit all crops, when the proper materials are applied at the correct time. Plant leaves can absorb nutrients through minute pores between leaf cells, called transcuticular pores, as well as through stomata on the underside of leaves, which allow the flow of carbon dioxide, oxygen and water in and out of the leaf. When leaves absorb dissolved nutrients through their stomata, they can then translocate those nutrients to where they are needed within the plant. Research suggests that uptake of certain nutrients can be 10 times more efficient through leaves than roots.
It's important to remember that long-term, stable fertility lies in the building of biologically rich soil – feed the soil, not the plant – but boosts of nutrients can be applied when plant needs are high. In addition to nutrients, beneficial microorganisms, such as effective microbes, can be added to the orchard ecosystem through a spray mixture. (See my articles "Life in the Phyllosphere" in the winter 2014-2015 MOF&G and "Building Health in the Orchard" in the fall 2014 MOF&G.)
In the orchard we can apply materials such as raw neem oil and hydrolyzed fish in the spring to give trees a boost of nutrients as they wake from their winter slumber and strive toward bloom; at the same time those materials provide food sources for our fungal allies, the mycorrhizae. In the summer we can apply calcium and silica in the form of comfrey and nettle teas to enhance fruit development and ripening, while strengthening the waxy cuticle of the fruit surface to reduce summer diseases, such as sooty blotch and fly speck. And in fall, we can come back to fish and oils to speed decomposition of scab-infected leaves and smother insect eggs or fungal spores waiting to winter over and induce infection or infestation come spring.
At markets I often see signs on stands that read "no spray," "unsprayed" or "low spray" as a reassurance to customers that the crops being grown and the food products being offered have not been coated with nasty chemicals before reaching our plates. Of course this is of valid concern, but for absolute assurance, the MOFGA-certified organic label is the best choice. I often wonder if that unsprayed apple would be a little crisper or the flavor slightly sweeter if it had absorbed foliar foods or had the company of beneficial microbes. Personally I am more concerned about what could be shot from a spreader, such as synthetic fertilizers or municipal sludge products, or spliced into a gene, but that's a different article.
As organic farmers and gardeners, we often describe what we do by declaring what we don't do (of which I am guilty), but I think we need to turn that conversation around to explain what we are doing. We are recycling nutrients and minimizing waste through composting and creativity; we are building and conserving soil by reducing tillage and cover cropping; we are raising our animals in the sun and on grass so that they can live their days as they should; and we are trying to live on the earth in a way that ensures our children and our children's children have a world of opportunity before them and perpetuate our existence.
Fruit Exploring and the Heritage Orchard
By Abbey Verrier
Fall 2015 – For the past four years, I've spent my fall seasons driving through Maine's countryside, one eye on the road and the other scanning the landscape, searching for apple trees. I started doing this while apprenticing with John Bunker and Cammy Watts on their homestead in Palermo. John has been searching for old apple varieties grown in Maine for the last 30 years. To find an apple tree that is 50 years old is good, but the ones we covet are the really old trees, those planted before 1900. The trunks of these trees are huge and even to the unpracticed eye are undeniably ancient. We once visited a 'Tolman Sweet' in New Sharon so old that all the core wood had rotted, leaving only a living shell of a trunk large enough for three people to fit inside. Usually the tree's grandeur is enough to justify our visit, but what we're really looking for is forgotten fruit, varieties that are nearly extinct. These are apples that were discovered and propagated by the ex-Europeans who invaded Maine long before it became a state.
Back then Maine was a bustling latticework of farm life where everyone was excited about apples. Each community had its own favorite varieties. Today we mainly purchase and eat dessert varieties, apples we consume fresh and raw, but in the old days people had an apple for every season and every use. Even without modern refrigeration, families enjoyed fresh apples 8 to 10 months of the year. Those they didn't eat fresh they preserved and consumed year round. Not only did they grow apples for fresh eating, they also cultivated varieties that were best when baked in pies, that kept in storage all winter, and that, when pressed into juice and fermented, made superb hard cider. Back then apples were eaten in pandowdies, sauce, apple butter and even molasses. Each county hosted agricultural fairs where farmers would display their best fruit for cash rewards. Over time this culture slowly faded, and hundreds of these wonderful apple varieties were forgotten.
Where are all the heirloom apples now? With help from Maine's most ardent fruit explorers, MOFGA has created a 10-acre preservation orchard on the MOFGA grounds. In three years we've transformed a depleted gravel pit into a terraced hillside lined with apples and pears, berries, native shrubs and perennial herbs. In the last two years, volunteers have planted 175 apple varieties on site. Next spring we'll plant 50 more. Eventually the orchard will be home to more than 500 heirloom apples. Huey Coleman's newly released documentary details the creation of the Heritage Orchard and its many components. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6of4-mhlSA4)
Although we've come a long way in preserving Maine's heritage apples, work remains to be done. As the fall season unfolds, why not do some fruit exploring of your own? You'll see apple trees everywhere, especially this year when every tree seems to be full of fruit. They grow along roadsides, streams and fields and even in the middle of the forest. Stop your car and try them! Collect them! Throw them into a pie! One of the many long lost varieties could be at your feet, just waiting for you to notice.
When you're at the Common Ground Country Fair, stop at the Fedco Trees display to meet the Maine Heritage Orchard committee. As always, we'll display an amazing diversity of heirloom apples. We'll help you identify your fruit samples and hone your apple-seeking eye. Right behind the Fedco Trees display, in the Hayloft tent, we'll have talks on new models of orcharding and agriculture all weekend as well as apple tastings on Friday and Saturday.
Maine Heritage Orchard Update: A Successful Spring Planting
By Abbey Verrier
Summer 2015 – The 2015 spring planting week at the Maine Heritage Orchard was an incredible success. It began on April 15 when a group of sophomores from Mt. View High School spent a day in the orchard with MOFGA's Jason Tessier, planting nearly 500 native woody shrubs. A few days later, on the big April 19 planting day, 40 volunteers ages 8 to 80 planted 75 historic apple trees as well as another 600 native shrubs. The shrubs, which will act as perennial companion plants in the orchard, include highbush cranberry, American plum, black pussy willow, highbush blueberry, elderberry, nannyberry, juneberry, chokeberry, pagoda dogwood, silky dogwood, redosier, winterberry, witch hazel and clethra. Each species will contribute to the orchard ecosystem for many years to come.
The depleted soil in the orchard is in some areas mostly sand and in others, full of clay. As the site was once a gravel pit stripped of its topsoil, our focus is to select plants that will prosper in and improve poor soil conditions. Redosier dogwood, nannyberry and chokeberry will help stabilize the wet, erosion-prone slopes on the southeastern end of the terraces. Highbush blueberry and highbush cranberry planted on the dry slopes of the north fence line will do the same. We planted America plum and 'Ruby Spice' clethra, a beautiful shrub that attracts pollinators, near the front gate of the orchard. After planting his hundredth cranberry plant, one volunteer proclaimed that he would be back in a few years to pick his share of the berries for a good pie. We can indeed envision a time when volunteers will come together not to plant but to harvest the berry shrubs now scattered throughout the orchard.
This year's batch of apple trees went into the ground with a healthy dose of fungal inoculant, compost and mineral rock powders. In some areas the ground was still hard with frost, a challenge that people took on with vigor. I won't forget watching a group of Colby College students all tackling one hole, digging and chiseling until their tree had enough space to spread its roots.
With the spring planting, the heritage apple collection has expanded to 175 different apple varieties. That's 175 heirloom apples that were cultivated in Maine before 1900. Some, such as the 'Stowe' and 'Rolfe' apples, actually originated in Maine (Perham and Guilford, respectively), while others, such as the 'Blenheim Orange', 'Drap d'Or' and 'Charlamoff' (from England, France and Russia), were imported to New England and migrated to Maine sometime in the 19th century. Every variety in the orchard has its own story, flavor and use. Explore our directory of apples at mofga.org to learn more about each. Or, better yet, come visit us. The best time to see the scope of the Heritage Orchard project is now, throughout summer and early fall, when the trees and shrubs are at the season's peak. Come check it out and get involved. Weeding, fertilizing and other maintenance tasks are ongoing, and we'd love to have you join us any time.
News and Tips from the Maine Heritage Orchard
By John Bunker
March 2015 – Spring is just around the corner. If you haven’t done your pruning and scionwood collecting, now is the time to hop to it. Fruit trees throughout Maine will soon be waking up. You can almost see the buds swelling. On Sunday, March 29, fruit lovers from throughout Maine will descend on the Exhibition Hall at MOFGA for the annual Seed Swap and Scion Exchange. (See the article on the MOFGA page of this MOF&G.)
Once the snow is gone, be sure to remove the screening or plastic tree guards from around the trunks of your young trees. Voles and mice shouldn’t be a problem from May to October. The trunks like to breathe, and leaving material around the trunks attracts the dreaded apple tree borer.
Springtime also means tree planting. On Sunday, April 19, volunteers will plant the next batch of historic apples in MOFGA’s Maine Heritage Orchard. If you’d like to join us, please do. The orchard is just down the road from MOFGA’s fairgrounds. There will be signs. You can’t miss it. Bring a shovel and work gloves. Bring the kids. Bring the parents. Bring your friends. But don’t come too late. We meet at 9 a.m. By noon 80 more trees should be in the ground. You don’t need to be an expert. We’ll teach you how to plant.
In April we will also distribute another 200 “stewardship trees.” We’re offering these apple trees through the Fedco Trees catalog this year. The stewardship program was devised to make “back-ups” available of all the rare varieties in the orchard. Sixty percent of the purchase price of each tree helps fund the Mane Heritage Orchard. You receive a tree to plant wherever you like. This helps put the varieties back into communities around Maine. We don’t want the Heritage Orchard to be a museum. We want it to be a vehicle for repopulating Maine with a wide diversity of classic fruit.
As a Heritage Orchard steward, you also receive a form to complete noting where you planted your tree. In doing so, you become a keeper of the genetics. While a good number of the old varieties can still be found in sites around the state, many are becoming extremely rare. Each year more of the old trees are dying off. The early November snowstorm last fall took down hundreds of old trees. Some heritage varieties are close to extinction. In a few cases, MOFGA now has the only remaining specimen. If an orchard tree in Unity dies, we may ask to obtain grafting wood from your stewardship tree so that we can propagate new trees.
Consider joining the stewardship team. Purchase a tree – or several! Support the orchard project and plant an heirloom in your orchard. For more information on the stewardship program, see page 19 of the 2015 Fedco Trees catalog or visit http://www.fedcoseeds.com/trees/. And don’t forget, we’d love to have you join us in Unity on April 19 for the next tree planting day. You can always learn more about MOFGA’s Maine Heritage Orchard by visiting www.mofga.org (under the “Home” tab and then the “Maine Heritage Orchard” link) or by emailing email@example.com.