GREETINGS ONCE AGAIN
Hello my dear friends! Happy new year and happy new decade. I hope all of you had great celebrations during the holiday season and have begun making new year’s resolutions that involve planting and caring for trees, and one another. First off, I want to say loudly that I have a lot of love for all of you out there, whether you’re reading this or not. The global political dynamic has taken frightening shifts from an already-frightening state in the past days and weeks, and it’s important now that we all reassure one another that we will show compassion and love for one another, Solidarity with those who are struggling right now, solidarity with those are facing tyranny. I am not alone in feeling ashamed of the actions of my own government. A big part of my Autumn was attempting to bring folks together with love. I have the power to do that through fruit and trees, and I urge you all to bring people together with love in any way that you can. We’re all in this together.
It has been a very long time since I posted on here, which I apologize for. The radio silence has been for good reason, I assure. It’s been a very busy Fall and start of Winter, and I have a lot of great things to announce to you all. It is Winter now. Harvest is gone, cider is bubbling away, and the time to sharpen the shears and ready the saws has come. We are in pruning mode, planning and dreaming of the return of Spring, and fattening up on the previous season’s stores. A deep smile. Scionwood orders are officially open, you’ll find more information further down in this blog post.
2019 was a banner year for apples, both wild and cultivated, throughout the eastern United States. When large populations of apple trees across wide geographic spans crop heavily, it constitutes a “mast year.” Mechanisms of inter-tree communication and tracking of environmental factors aligned, and apple trees far and wide went bonkers. Statistically, this was the largest regional apple harvest since 2015, another historic mast year in the same decade.
Here in my little pocket of New England, I managed to bring close to 600 bushels of apples in, most of which were wild, but a few special orchards with cultivated apples captured my attention. Many of the mother trees in the Gnarly Pippins catalog gave big crops of beautiful, disease-free fruit. Some of the mother trees in the catalog did not produce any fruit at all, which is also OK. That just means that next year, when the majority of biennial-bearing apple trees are in their “off year,” these select few will be “on.” A handful of NEW wild varieties were added to the Gnarly Pips catalog, either as part of the list of varieties being offered as scion wood, or as varieties being integrated into a period of observation to determine disease susceptibility and bearing habits. The most promising are Acorn Pippin, Boisvert Bitter and Muscadet d’Haydenville, both of which you can read about in detail in the section below.
Biennialism is a fickle character, and a hassle to deal with in uncultivated situations. However, it is part of the rhythm of foraging, the spirit of nomadism, and the greatest reason for a tree’s harvesters to return with saws and shears during the dormant season, prune the tree tenderly, and give back to the tree the gift of renewal, just as the tree gave you the gift of fruit the Fall before.
Such a bountiful year is a great occasion for all apple lovers and enthusiasts, not only for abundance, but also for documentation. Many apple trees which I’ve never seen produce a crop before delivered fruit this year. This is of particular importance for apple trees, both wild AND cultivated, nearing the end of their life which haven’t been documented. This Fall, I was able to map and identify a large handful of veteran trees in historic orchards which represent treasure troves of orchard and apple history which are extremely old, and at risk of collapsing and/or dying. Among the most exciting of such discoveries were two cultivated, unidentified varieties found growing in orchards in Heath, Massachusetts, a remote hilltown with rich orchard history, and an aging and declining population of farmers and orchardists. A curious variety of apple, unlike any other I can identify, appeared in two different residential properties in town, suggesting a place-based variety of local origin. I am provisionally referring to it as Rose of Heath (syn. Heathen Rose). It is bizarre: extremely perfumed, foam-flesh, readily bruised but very good keeper, very late season harvest, strongly conic profile, pink stripes over a porcelain white base color. More research is needed to determine its status as to cultivated or uncultivated.
It was uncovered that the sick, old, bifurcated apple tree in the center of town is a Transcendent Crab. It is really on the brink. Another discovery was that an old homestead orchard which I pruned in early 2019 on the western end of town was discovered to consist almost entirely of Baldwins which certainly exceed 90 years, an extremely rare find given the history of Baldwin in the 20th century in Massachusetts (see this post for details on this topic). This orchard of 22 trees produced 130 bushels of fruit in the same year as year 1 renovation pruning. It was absolutely unbelievable. Another orchard, which consisted mostly of known heirlooms of extremely old age, also had two conspicuous suspects: a true sweet variety (no acid) growing in two places on the property. These two trees match no variety that I have been able to track down with the help of other apple sleuthers. I am provisionally referring to this one as “Sweet-1,” which is the name I assigned to these two trees on a map of the varieties of Dickinson Farm. Altogether, 2019 was the most complete year of apple harvesting of my short life. I feel so full from all that this harvest season gave me and mine.
2019 was also the debut of a new project and appendage of Gnarly Pippins. This Fall, I hosted the 1st Annual Wild and Seedling Pomological Exhibition as part of Franklin County Cider Days. Many of you reading this now were a part of this event in some way, whether via sending your favorite wild apples through the post to be displayed in the event, or by volunteering to help with organization and setup at the event itself. The event was a wild success. We registered 126 individual varieties in the post from 32 fruit explorers and foragers located all across the continental United States and Canada. The people who took part in this are a diverse crew: folks considered apple royalty, as well as folks just starting out with their apple journey. All submissions were featured side by side at this event. Every single apple (or pear) submitted was put out for tasting at the event, where attendees recorded tasting notes and reviews of each one. The enthusiasm that I discovered in all of you beautiful apple people for sharing the literal fruits of your labor was so inspiring, and really, REALLY, shows where the culture of apples is, and where it is going. It also feels like a big moment because we are turning the page on a decade, which means that we are beginning a new chapter, beginning to reinvent the culture of apples, cider, and growing; to mold the dominant mindset among this community. I feel that it was a brilliant show of hands. This was the pilot year for this event, but I can guarantee you that it will be an annual occurrence now that we’ve had such a blast with the premier. Thank you all and kudos!
I am currently working on finishing up a handbook which is a compendium of varieties from the event. It is a pomological text with visual accompaniment in the form of photographic portraits of 69 varieties of apples. This work is a collaboration between myself and William Mullan, also known as Pomme Queen, whose work is stunning. This book feels like a necessary accompaniment to this event. At risk of sounding pretentious, I should point out that there has not been a showcase of only wild & seedling apples assembled in our era. Given that such a large community of folks is taking part in the common pastime of documenting wild and seedling apple and pear varieties, naming and propagating them with [bio]regional identity in mind, we are all participating and witnessing a shift in the culture as a whole. Having a physical print product to memorialize this event is important for posterity. For every year that this event is held, we will produce a print-only handbook like this one. Pre-orders for this book will open this Winter. Stay tuned on here and on Gnarly Pippins Instagram page for the official announcement.
2020 SCIONWOOD ORDERS OPEN
The time has come! I have updated the webshop to include scionwood by the foot, or in bundles for the 2020 season. There are 16 varieties to choose from. It is a slightly different selection of varieties than I offered last year. Several new varieties have been integrated which have replaced a few not being offered this year (due to supply shortage and poor quality growth in the fruit-heavy 2019 season). If you don’t see the variety that you were hoping to get, please contact me!
Wild apple scion wood is ungraded. It comes from wild apple and pear trees that have not been regularly managed under anthropogenic tree care practices. Therefore, the scion wood you receive in those varieties may have a range of caliper, anywhere from ⅛” to ⅜”. Variability in scion caliper does not negatively affect the viability of the scion wood or likelihood that your grafts will be successful. Working with scions from wild, uncultivated trees will only contribute to your skill as a grafter.
Pricing: Scion wood is sold by the foot or by the bundle. (1 ft. of scion wood = 12 inches of viable scion wood. A bundle is 6 feet of scion.) From one single foot of scion wood, you can make 3 to 5 grafts. The price of a bundle is $5-$6 cheaper than buying the equivalent quantity by the foot.
- Wild apples – $5/ft.
- Wild pears – $6/ ft.
Ordering: Visit the Gnarly Pippins web shop (Menu –> Shop) to find wild apple scion wood by the foot or by the bundle. If you’re interested in ordering multiple varieties, you will have to add the desired quantity of each apple variety to your shopping cart individually.
Shipping: All scion wood orders will ship on or before April 1, 2020. All orders must be placed by March 31, 2020. $10.00 flat rate shipping, rush shipping to anywhere in the lower 48 USA. No international shipping available. Local pickup in Western MA is free.
Questions / Comments: Please direct any additional questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The source trees for all of the scionwood (original mother trees and young planted trees of each variety are pruned at the time of scion collection by Matt Kaminsky. All varieties are in process of ex-situ conservation efforts to improve quality and availability of scion stock for future use. A curtailed description and a photo of each variety can be seen on the webshop page. Read full descriptions of each variety below and see which you’re most excited about ahead of placing your order:
ACORN PIPPIN – Juicy, aromatic bitter. 1 to 1.5 inch crabapples, late to very late season harvest. Fruity, somewhat tropical flavor with unique bitterness. Prolific bearer, highly edible, recommended for cider and eating.
BEAUTY OF THE QUABBIN – Bitter, sub-acid apple suitable for cidermaking. Discovered by Al Sax and Matt Kaminsky as part of the Lost Apples of the Quabbin Project. Crimson striping over pale yellow base. Late September. (MA)
BOISVERT BITTER – medium sized aromatic bitter fruit. Slightly sweet with strong aromas of willow twigs and aniseed. Long tannin and pleasant and deep bitterness. Good keeper. Recommended for cider blending, fresh eating, and culinary use. Late September. (MA)
DEERSKIN RUSSET – Yowling sharp. High acid with moderate tannins. Good keeper apple. Cider, baking, storage. October harvest. (VT)
ED’S WINTER – Fruity, high tannin variety. Subacid to sharp acidity. Extremely persistent fruit hang onto the tree until late Winter. Very fine quality cider, best quality ice cider. Stores exceedingly well, becomes very palatable a few months after harvest. Late Oct – Dec. (NH)
FOOTRACE – Sharp when picked, bittersharp after sweating. Savory and formidable acidity. Cider and baking. Early Oct. (ME)
HAT AND SHOES CRAB – Culinary / roasting crab with some russeting. Prolific annual bearing crab good for storage cooking (esp. whole roasting.) Shakes well. Long harvest window Sept – Oct. (MA)
JUICY JUICY PINEAPPLE – All-purpose yellow fruit with overwhelming tropical pineapple flavor, cleaving flesh. Dessert, culinary, anything else. Mid September harvest. (VT)
MUSCADET D’HAYDENVILLE – Full bittersweet crab, annual bearer. Lipped variety, mid-October harvest. (MA)
NAILBITER – Aggressively bitter variety. High tannin, moderate and complex acidity. Large sized, striking red-orange fruit with firey orange russeting. Keeps very well. Mid-October harvest. (VT)
OLD FERTILE – Lovely, high quality bittersweet cider apple. Yelllow fruit with broken russeting. Spur habit, annual bearer, high brix. October. (VT)
QUEEN CRAB – Electrifying, juicy, subacid to sharp round to oblong crabs with moderate tannin. Long harvest window spanning late September to middle November. Recommended for cider and all-purpose use.
THORNTON BRASS – Supremely well-balanced bittersharp with strong cherry notes. Jazzy flavor and very attractive apple. Prolific bearer. Makes a very fine SV cider. Early to middle October. (NH)
THORNTON PEARLS – Cluster-bearing, full bittersweet variety, excellent for cider. Stores very well, slow grower and early to bear. Mid-October harvest. (NH)
TROUSERS PEAR – Excellent-quality bittersharp perry pear. Green with red blush. Early-to-bear for a pear. Sweats to a butter pear-like eating quality, presses well without rice hulls. Late September. (MA)
WALTER’S FAVORITE – Large yellow apple, complex flavor profile. Bitterness and grippy tannin combine with citrusy, melon-like notes to make a full and captivating flavor. Cider and all-purpose. Early to middle October. (VT)
UPCOMING GNARLY PIPPINS EVENTS
I’ll be appearing at some great forthcoming events over the course of pruning and scion season. See below to get details and find out how to attend!
NOFA MASS WINTER CONFERENCE – Saturday, January 11, 2020, Worcester State University. This is a huge honor, folks. I’ve been attending the NOFA conferences since I was a teenager. I would fill up notebooks of lessons I’d take away from the speakers delivering workshops and lectures each year. It always represented a huge “dreaming” moment each year for me, trying to envision my agricultural future with a huge community of folks sharing their knowledge and experiences. In 2017 I was fortunate to be asked by NOFA to give an on-farm workshop on fruit tree grafting. That was a fantastic experience. This year, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be delivering a workshop at the NOFA Winter Conference, an even bigger honor! My talk is entitled Renovating Old Apple Trees and Planning Orchards for the Future. I will be discussing the ins and outs of bringing derelict apple trees back to life, and touch on what it means to plan an orchard in a climate-uncertain world. This will engage with topics like planting format, rootstock and varietal selection and analysis, alternative approaches to understory management, and much more. Check out NOFA’s Website to find the schedule for the Winter Conference this Saturday, and make sure to get your tickets as soon as possible! Time is running out.
HILLTOWN SPRING 2020 SEED AND SCION SWAP – Sunday MARCH 8 2020, Cummington Community House in Cummington, MA.. This annual event is put on by the Hilltown Seed Saving Network. This event actually hasn’t formally been announced yet, but I will be coming to speak about climate resilient fruit trees. A small-town gathering in the beautiful hilltowns of western MA. Come hang, bring seeds and scions with you, and join in on a discussion on the future of orcharding in our region.
Thank you for taking the time to read such a huge and long blog post folks! I hope you gained something good from it and found a few things to get excited about. Stay tuned in here and Instagram for updates on Proceedings from the 1st Annual Wild and Seedling Pomological Exhibition, announcement of Springtime grafting workshops and more!
Love you all
Matt // Gnarly Pips