Bloom & Seasonality // Scouting Season

BLOOM

Flowers are opening. Bloom is here. Pollinators are putting on their work clothes and getting busy. The bud set on apple trees ( wild and cultivated) that I have observed thus far in 2017 is formidable. After 2016, a rebound “off-year” for tree fruit, the trees focused a lot of energy on producing flower buds for 2017. This year, they have begun to emerge in an abundant show of pink & white. Crabapple trees are among the most eager to bloom, showing themselves first, whereas late bloomers are often (but not always !!) the larger, later season apples.

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This old gnarly pippin that long ago sprang up behind the barn at Small Ones Farm carries small, squat, dumpy crabapples, somewhat resembling Rainier cherries in color (yellow with red blush). We call this tree the Royal Tanenbaum crab, because it a huge regal tree that offers something in the ballpark of 20 bu. of tannin bombs. Very reliable annual bearer, gearing up for another go round the fruit production wheel.

WILD APPLE FORAGER’S GUIDE REPRESSING 

A third pressing of The Wild Apple Forager’s Guide has just come in! Just in time for Spring scouting.

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3rd edition, featuring new cover artwork & expanded wild apple scouting log. Hot off the printing press.

 

Buy Now Button  — The Wild Apple Forager’s Guide, full color, soft cover handbook.
Buy Now Button —  Gnarly Pippins 9″ x 15″ back patch, screen printed, by Folded Edges Wares, artwork by me! ON SALE, only 2 left.

 

 

GRAFTING SEASON UPDATE

The last two workshops far exceeded any expectations I could have held! NOFA Massachusetts came our farm, all twelve students showed up ready to learn, and left with their very own trees, as well as the knowledge and skills to support a lifelong obsession with grafting.

Many folks in the pomosphere assume that grafting season lasts only as long as dormancy, plus a couple weeks. However, the reality is that you can really viably graft onto trees up to 30 days after a tree reaches full bloom. So! Seeing as we are just now hitting the beginning of full Bloom, the end of May is our cutoff deadline for grafting and propagating.

There’s only 1 grafting workshop slot left! I have taken a student on for a guerrilla grafting trip where we’ll focus on grafting edible pears onto P. calleryana, also known infamously as the Bradford or Callery Pear, commonly found in parking lots, heavily landscaped areas, and as a volunteer or weed tree anywhere within a 30 mile radius (maybe more?) of where it has been planted. Reach out to me directly via email at matt.s.kaminsky@gmail.com to reserve this spot. It will be a small group lesson: me, two students, and a whole lotta pear! You will gain the valuable skill of learning to convert these ubiquitous garbage trees into fruit producing powerhouses. This is really vagabond orcharding 101.

Whenever you’re grafting, especially topworking, you ought to make damn certain that you check up on your grafts and maintain them for optimal growth the first few seasons. This will ensure optimal growth and earlier fruit production on your new trees. The most important things to remember is to singularize shoots so that you can focus all the energy of the tree’s growth into one (or two, if you’re a scaredy cat like me) bud, which will eventually transform itself into the branch you’re replacing, or in bench grafting, the central leader of the tree.

SOME WORDS ON SEASONALITY 

Each year, there is a thought process that occurs to me during the time in Spring when the trees are beginning to push forth leaflets, bringing out their flower clusters and exposing blossom buds. I glance the calendar, look at the trees, glance the weather forecast, look at the trees….look at the trees some more, and worry accordingly.

Early Spring in New England always carries the possibility of late frost events; drops in temperature that can seriously affect the quality and viability of tree fruit crops. Frozen blossoms become brown & wither, dropping their reproductive parts and reverting to vegetative growth. So, in this time of blossoms opening, we keep our fingers crossed, make sure to knock on some wood every time bloom is brought up in conversation, all the while making sure to enjoy the magical environment of wild apple groves in bloom.

Based on temperature and climate data collected at our weather station this season, bloom this year is coming two weeks earlier than “normal.” Of course, in this brave new age of climate change, I am constantly adjusting my understanding of climate normality, which is already crooked here in New England. This is problematic for notions of seasonality, and settling on a reliable orchard-year calendar. Luckily, the bottom line for a forager is: when the time comes, it’s time to get out there and explore, scout, & gather. The grace of this method of reaping food is that we, as foragers, are not married to a single piece of land harboring a single food production system. In the rawness of natural, no-intervention apple production, there will be something to gather, somewhere.

This jagged seasonality we’re experiencing year in and year out has potentially significant impacts on the bearing patterns of trees. It can be dangerous for locking into biennial flower production. Here’s an example: 2015 marked a mast year of fruit production on the eastern seaboard that has not been matched since 1998 (loosely speaking, a 17 year cycle for act-of-God tree fruit seasons like that one). 2016 was very slow due to a bumper crop the previous year, and an extreme winter chilling event after 2 weeks above 60F, though lots of fruit buds were produced. 2017 is a heavy blossom year, and if things go well ***knock on wood*** we will have another bumper crop, thus hazarding the fruit bud set for the previous year, if no action to thin the crop is taken. This cycle can continue, potentially being broken by the intervention of weather events or human intervention.

This is not a big deal for cidermakers, since cider doesn’t have a liminal shelf life, whereas eatin’ apples will turn themselves to sauce in the meantime. The surplus of cider that can be made in a good apple year should balance out the difference through the off-year, hopefully giving the producer an extra year of aging to mellow and smooth the beverage….but who doesn’t want apples every year? Global warming challenges our mental discipline as well as the resilience of our ecosystems. This is a tough learning curve.

2017 will be much more forgiving than 2016 to the apple forager, so make certain to grab your field guide, get out there and start marking and logging your trees for Fall forage. You will congratulate yourself with loads of free fruit in the coming season.

Love to all, happy spring, see you soon.

Matt // Gnarly Pippins

The Waning Season //\\|//\\ Reflections

2016 has been wild: for all those who will read this I sure that assertion is true for different reasons. For reasons personal, climatological, meteoroligical, political, and otherwise, I don’t think any of us will ever forget about this season. Now that the growing season is surely over here in Western Massachusetts, with 4 inches of snow falling on frozen solid ground this morning, we are about to enter Winter, the new year, and pruning season in the pomosphere. 

This year, apple trees in my region faced the most intense mid-season conditions in recent memory. The alternate bearing pattern (on and off years) of unmanaged or wild apple trees was very pronounced this year, with very few wild apple trees bearing in much of lower New England, with the exception of some crabapples. Also, the 3 month-long drought during Spring and Summer’s hottest months caused many trees that did bear to abandon the exercise of ripening, and drop fruit early. For these reasons it took quite a bit more effort to locate bearing wild apple trees this year.

The apples I foraged, due to the lack of rainfall, were generally smaller and more intensely flavored that they are in normal seasons. That intense flavor is reflective of the work of foraging this year: each tree bearing fruit was such a diamond in the rough, such a boon since they were all so few and far between, that the explosions of flavor waiting beneath the fruit’s skin compensates for the extra effort it took to find such trees.

All told, the season’s forage for Gnarly Pippins totaled approximately 60 bushels. Not bad for nickel & diming apples here and there on roadsides, often far from familiar ground. Of those 60 bushels, about 30 went for cider, and it’s all bubblin’ away in the cellar now. The more intensely flavored apples promise a finer apple cider, more flavorful and higher in alcohol naturally. Stay tuned in 2017 for events that will I will be serving cider at. Bottling will commence beginning in May ’17.

This year, the first edition of The Wild Apple Foragers’ Guide came out. Only 30 copies were made, originally printed in mid-November. About a month after the release, there are only 4 copies that remain. A reprint is inevitable in January: with updated cover art& design, and extra goodies in the back to make the foraging experience richer (i.e. worksheets for logging wild apple tree finds, among other things.)  Thank you to all who bought or received copies, your enthusiasm and support makes this all happen. The last 4 copies are going on sale- 25% off for them holy days gifts. Turn one of your beloved kinsfolk into an apple foraging master for $15 + free shipping.

Workshops

In 2017, I will be leading workshops in the Spring and Fall on pruning & grafting apple trees, and guided foraging trips in the Fall. The calendar of these workshops will appear in the first month of the new year, but the story with these workshops goes something like this:

Winter/Spring Pruning Workshops:  These will take place in Amherst & Shelburne MA, where we will learn as team how to care for both abandoned, overgrown apple trees, as well as necessary pruning for apple trees that are in pretty good shape.

Spring Grafting Workshops: Learn how to graft apple trees, both bench grafting (young trees of a single desired variety), and topworking (changing the variety of an existing tree). Topworking workshops will take place in cultivated orchard plantings, as well as in public spaces where we will practice “guerrilla grafting” as a team of badass gnarly pippins, changing the variety of inedible landscape trees to delicious edible apple and pear varieties.

Guided Foraging Trips: Come the harvest season, I will lead guided foraging trips for groups of 3, where we will do a 2 day, 1 night camping/foraging trip to areas that are rich in wild apple resources. In addition to foraging and hauling a killer harvest around, we will enjoy a wild apple + hard cider themed feast by partnering with farms and cideries local to the area we’re foraging in. Camping or overnight in a nice locale with a second day of harvesting. Each participant will be sent with an equal share of the harvest, probably 10-15 bushels of wild apples that are the fruits of our collective labor.

Wild Apple Cidermaking Workshops: With the apple harvested gathered on the foraging trips, I will lead workshops on pressing and fermenting phenomenal hard cider made from the truest cider apples around. This will include lessons on choosing blends of fruit, pressing, and initiating fermentation.

This represents a pretty full calendar of workshops & events, so I sincerely hope that all of you can join for some of those come the New Year.

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All photos copyright Matt Kaminsky 2016

Wild Apple Photo Gallery – All photos available as high quality mounted prints with handmade applewood print holders. Buy Now Button

The photos in this slideshow represent some of the most memorable moments of the 2016 apple foraging season — a very challenging year for trees and fruit explorers alike. They have all been printed on 11×16 matte photo paper and mounted on black composite photo board for a clean and seamless finish. A handmade photo holder made to hold the photo upright on any flat surface are included with the purchase of any print. 30% off for the holidays from original gallery pricing. $40/ea. + shipping…or barter! Just note which image you’d like in the “Notes for Seller” window in the purchase screen.

The Wild Apple Foragers’ Guide – The last 4 copies of the wild apple field guide are on sale to try and move through the inventory before the holiday comes. 25% off – $15/ea. + free shipping…or barter!
Buy Now Button

Gnarly Pippins backpatches –  Buy Now Button $8/ea…or barter! Now on sale 20% off for them holy days gifts. Pick one up for your wild apple kinsfolk.

A closing story on Gnarly Pippins Merch

Yesterday, at a market event that I staffed for Carr’s Ciderhouse of Hadley, MA, a neighboring vendor caught a glimpse of the back of my vest, emblazoned with a Gnarly Pippins backpatch He stopped me to mention that he thought it was hilarious and offered his interpretation on it. He thought that it was my personal take on the expression “bad apple.” I thought it was awesome that somebody offered a comment on it at all, since most often, people are totally bewildered as to the meaning of the patch.