Happy New Year all ye knights and devotees of Pomona! I apologize, as I do every time, for being quiet for so long on here and on social media. It’s been a busy end-of-season, scrambling to wrap up the innumerable loose ends around our silvopasture farm, as we bided our time before this long-awaited first snow in the Connecticut River Valley. A few days ago, the first real snowstorm of the year fell here. A blessed moment, finally a moment’s rest for this weary farmer — and all my colleagues. Blessings to you all out there reveling in this moment, with the harvest stashed away, cider bubbling on, the trees now dormant, empty boxes stacked, electric fence rolled up tight, and all the other ephemera of the growing season packed up tucked away for now. Good work everyone —

This might be the best that it gets. A heavy blanket of snow and a bluebird day. Perfect pruning weather

Surprise, not but two days later, the 10″ of standing snow cover is going to be topped with a fat steamy double scoop of rain; 2.9″ to be precise. The temperature during this storm front subverts the norm for the Winter season – up near 50°F surpasses the delicate threshold that apple trees – and hundreds of other deciduous plant species – utilize in maintaining dormancy and dictating phenological processes.

These foggy conditions are more of a January commonality than they used to be in New England. This is overlooking the heartnut orchard at Preservation Orchard at noon on January 2nd, 2023, a lovely 41°F.

NATURAL CLOCKS

Forgive the limitations of my language in articulating this concept, but clocks and time are seeming like an amazing proxy to the phenomenon of climate disruption on plants that we are witnessing right now. This applies to all temperate plants but I am considering the apple tree specifically. These trees evolved special mechanisms to respond to their climate over eons of cyclical meteorological influence: when to break bud, bloom, when to form a terminal bud, defoliate, when to send sap downward to the roots, when to bring sap up into the twigs. These internal mechanisms are not physical, palpable objects, but rather programmed genetic schematics.

I recently had the pleasure of seeing the inner workings of an old-fashioned mechanical pokcetwatch. Impossibly precise, the function of each piece is so specific, and crucial to the functionality of the whole. It is an unbelievable thing to observe an analog watch, with its gears, springs, coils, and bevels all working in symbiosis toward the whole. Each one of its mechanical components tuned finely to respond in precise minutes and seconds. The gears, springs, and coils and the like are all fixed forms. Static. They do not change shape inside the watch. They simply move in their prescribed cycles according to the laws of physics, and, of course, time.

In this way, apple trees are natural clocks at their best; timekeeping devices which are calibrated to a reference timekeeper. The internal mechanisms of the apple tree, its fabulous phenologies, are, at their best, calibrated to an absolutely reliable rhythm of temperate seasonality. Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter Spring, Summer, Fall. However, when the reference timekeeper is not adhering to a fixed form – the metaphorical gears inside of the tree are not moving according to the absolute rhythm anymore. They are forced to respond to a more suddenly changing input. Time is changing, fluid, ungrounded. Trees are changing, ungrounded, and unsecured in telling the time. For a timekeeping device, this is not good.

Boisvert Bitter adorned with snow. One of my most reliable timekeeper apples. FT5 – extremely late.

The date of the first snow is gradually migrating later and later in the calendar year. All of the precipitation that has fallen until the first week in January now in our area has been rain. Mostly on soft ground. This is an enormously problematic trend for cold adapted ecologies. There are many effects that this has on timekeeping reference material in both cultivated and uncultivated settings:

  • INSECTS – Springtime pests will hatch or become active early. Certain insects that are not typically able to overwinter will be able to survive milder Winters.
  • PHENOLOGY – Bloom times are affected by whiplash weather patterns, typically with injurious effects to tender, frost-sensitive flowers and fruitlets.
  • HYDROLOGY – Higher liquid mositure in soils will correlate to trees more readily mobilizing sap flow due to higher soil temperature and cold being readily dislodged from soil because there is no insulative blanket of snow to keep ground consistently cold longer. Springtime, usually correlated with higher soil moisture content, can also begin with drought conditions due to predominant form of winter precipitation being rain and running off immediately, whereas snowmelt is a slow/steady release of water.
  • PATHOLOGY – Higher winter temperatures, rain falling on snow, and tepid moisture in the air induces fungal and bacterial pathogens and mildew to be more present in the environment. Fireblight, for example, can only be spread at certain temperatures and when trees’ vascular systems are vulnerable/open enough for transmission. With whiplash weather, the conditions are right for more rampant and frequent infections. Apple scab, spread by fallen leaves and fruit infected with Venturia inaequalis, readily spreads via sporulation in rainfall above a critical temperature. It is usually springtime rains which can spread scab, but those rain events will occur more frequently throughout winter, increasing the amount of inoculum that is in the environment.

The above listed factors are all time keeper references that influence the trees. Weather markers are the batteries – or the manual winding – necessary to propel a clock’s arms forward. They are in flux. In order to resist the changes occurring in the weather, a tree must be insanely resolute. It must defy millions of years of evolution and its own genetic programming in order to adapt to this more rapidly changing input from our unpredictable weather. I can’t believe that we are seeing such pointed effects already. And I honestly can’t believe that there are any apple trees that can continue to keep time in these conditions. It’s amazing. Trees are amazing.

Harvesting apples on Unquomonk Mountain on December 16th, 2023. Unusually late time for apple trees to have anything left to give.

Now that we are into January, it is time to think about scionwood, pruning, and getting dormant season work done. I have seen tons of orchardists beat me to the punch on listing their scionwood for sale. For a moment, I felt like I was late, and that I needed an explanation to justify why I was taking so long to get mine listed for sale. The truth is, my sheep were grazing on open pasture until January 5th. I dumped my last bushel boxes full of fruit out into the cider press two and a half weeks ago. Trees in my area are still in the process of entering deep dormancy (it is a process, just like of the gears inside a watch making a full revolution, not a lightswitch). I’m not late getting my scionwood order form up, the natural clocks I’m using to keep time in the orchard just experienced the final hour of the day being the longest that it’s ever been!

SCIONWOOD ORDERS ARE LIVE

On that note – it’s time, folks. I have already received a bunch of inquiries about scionwood, and I appreciate the passion you’re all approaching this orcharding business with. You’ll see now by hopping over to the webshop that you can now place orders for scionwood for grafting varieties in the Gnarly Pippins catalog (and some choice outside selections from the Wild and Seedling Pomological Exhibition). As usual, scionwood is for sale by the foot ($5/ft), or by the 6ft bundle ( $25/bundle – six linear feet for the price of five).

Dormant scions taken from the Thornton Brass mother tree.

Scionwood is sent through the mail via USPS priority mail, and ships within the now-discredited United States of America for a flat rate. Scionwood ships out Apr. 1, 2024, unless special request/arrangement otherwise. I make every effort to accomodate specially requested ship dates. After all, time is fluid and changing nowadays, as everyone’s orchard clocks are reading different…

GNARLY TREES FOR SALE

Big news here is that I am finally listing grafted 2-year old whips for sale via my website. I am proud of my little tiny nursery and the advancements in these past few seasons. Selling scionwood is great, but if I am serious about getting these unique seedling varieties out into the landscape, this is one of the most logical ways to do it! Scionwood is live now, gnarly trees will go up for sale on 1/15! Trees will ship

Here I am gripping a bundle of Bae Red trees which were budded onto Budagovsky 118 (B118) rootstock. This is one of my favorite rootstocks. Highly adaptable, it is tolerant of a wider range of soil conditions than many others I know. It produces a good, strong, self-anchoring tree that stands roughly 60%-85% of seedling size (depending on soil, scion, and pruning of course), and will begin bearing earlier than other large-format rootstocks.

The nursery is comprised of raised container beds called air-pruning beds. They are a 16″ deep container raised up off the ground, with a mesh bottom. The mesh bottom encourages lateral bushy fibrous root growth on trees, which will transplant better than trees with a vigorous taproot (as is common with Antonovka and seedling rootstocks).

POMOLOGICAL SERIES VOLUME 3 IS IN PRINT

Yes, that’s right! My upcoming book, made with the help of my brilliant collaborator and friend William Mullan, Pomological Series Volume 3 is currently being printed in London UK. I am so unbelievably excited to mail out all the pre-orders. The cover is a close up of the volcanic-looking skin of Gill’s Intrigue, an amazing bittersharp pear variety which you can purchase scionwood from over on the webshop.

70 new apple and pear varieties introduced

If you haven’t already pre-ordered a copy, you can do so here. We need some more orders to close our funding gap, so please consider purchasing a copy to look at and learn about some amazing novel apple and pear varieties from fruit explorers all around North America who are collectively creating a new pomology.

Photo by William Mullan 2023.

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION

Life has a way to demand full attention at anything in order to do a good job. Half-assed is going OUT with the passing of 2023, and full-assed is IN for 2024. That’s a reminder that I need very regularly. There is no half-hearted farm work worth doing, no half-hearted activism, no half-hearted loving or half-hearted listening. Do everything you with a full heart. Go into the orchard with a full heart and a head of f***ing steam, and do good by it.

And finally — Let me not finish this blog post without making it very clear that GP stands with Gaza and hope Israel’s government officials rot in hell. End the genocide. End the occupation. End U.S. support for genocidal war crimes, and end the horrid destruction of homes, land, and agriculture. It is pure evil.

This image by JAAFAR ASHTIYEH taken in 2009 has me slain. Israel has been uprooting olive orchards where they seek to build illegal settlements since 1967. History did not begin in October 2023. Imagine if someone came into your orchard, cut your trees back to stubs and built a house on it while you were being held at gunpoint. END THE OCCUPATION. This nightmare must end.

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