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.


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.


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


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.




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 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.


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


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