Hello again all my pome devotees! I’m sorry for the long period of silence since my last post. In the time since then, we’ve been through the tail end of harvest and cider pressing season, pruning season, Springtime springing, lambing season, grafting season, planting season, and now we’ve landed once again in Summer. Woof! Always something to do on the farm and in orchardland.
It has been an interesting and, at times, rough, few months here. We’ve seen many challenges on the farm; many months of hard decisions happening at fast paces. We had personal injuries from a livestock guardian dog-in-training not work out for our orchard-dwelling herd of sheep, and a concussion that my partner sustained — both leading to ongoing periods of physical and emotional recovery. Despite the hardship, there still is positivity floating around. There are some big announcements coming in this post! At times during this process, I have felt that there is a figurative ‘knot,’ which had been loosening gradually. Now, I believe the knot has come unfurled and is rearranging itself in another type of loop. I suppose that’s just life working itself in its mysterious and taciturn ways. Learning and growing is the goal. Spending time working in the orchard is my method of healing and coping. Engaging with the orchard in a more spiritual way has been important in these past few months. I have always considered the orchard a healing space but now am coming more into the rhythmic, practical relationship of treating the orchard as a whole, sacred space of worship. I am not evaluating my hours spent in the orchard at Preservation Orchard based on a financial exchange for labor. I am spending a lot of the Summertime hours in the orchard for the purpose of self-betterment, experimentation, learning, and healing. It has afforded me a lot of time to sort out some big discussions and musings, as well as lay the groundwork for some big announcements to Gnarly Pippins which I want to share with you in this post.
BUT FIRST! Announcing….
2nd Wild and Seedling Pomological Exhibition
Listen up! The second pomological exhibition of exclusively wild and seedling apples will be taking place on Friday November 5th at the Ashfield Community Hall in Ashfield, Massachusetts from 10AM-7PM. This is an exciting opportunity to taste over 100 wild seedling accessions of the genus Malus and Pyrus from fruit explorers across the continent. It is hard to articulate how amazing the first event turned out. As an attendee of the exhibition, you will be able to taste a multitude of varieties of unique fruit, contibute your tasting notes, and vote on the best varieties of the year across several different classes of fruit as well as help decide a ‘best in show’ variety. As a contributor to the exhibition, your fruit will be put on display, and your submissions will be credited to you in the publication to follow. There will be awards, courtesy of Gnarly Pippins, given to the folks whose submissions are voted ‘best’ in any of several classes of fruit. As many of you know, the volume Proceedings from the First Annual Wild and Seedling Pomological Exhibition (2020) reflected the debut of this event. This upcoming installment of the exhibition, similarly, will have a publication associated with it, and will feature the brilliant photographic work of William Mullan in support of the outstanding efforts of apple and pear enthusiasts who submit to the event. The timing of this event overlaps with the weekend that Franklin County CiderDays will be scheduling its Cider Trail in our region of Western Massachusetts. Come on Friday for the exhibition and witness new directions in pomology, and stay for the weekend to visit to all the fantastic grower-producers, orchards, ciderhouses & taprooms that Western Massachusetts has to offer.
Disclaimer! As an event where things will be consumed, it is going to be restricted to those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. If you have not been vaccinated (by choice or by circumstance), you will be allowed to submit apples to the event but you will not be able to attend the event in-person.
Even though the 2019 debut of this event was quite successful, there are some improvements to be made. Given the date of the exhibition happening in late Fall, after most varieties of fruit have been harvested, I feel that the exhibition skewed in favor of representing mid-season and late season varieties, rather than acknowledging varieties which ripen early in Fall or even late Summer. These early ripening varieties will likely be out of season once the exhibition date rolls around, however, these can nevertheless be shipped earlier, shortly after harvest, and may be included in the publication. Additionally, I want to dedicate more energy to eliciting fruit accessions from womxn & BIPOC fruit explorers and land stewards who have relationships with wild/seedling apple and pear trees. Utilizing the resource of wild tree fruit is a human tradition, and as such it is important that we include & foreground those less-often-credited fruit explorers. It is vital to recognize the complete spectrum of people who are doing this important work of documenting noteworthy varieties of wild apples and pears. Voting on varieties of is going to be another shift this year. Voting on best in several classes may seem vain, but I believe it will be a welcome addition to the event. For the audience to provide consensus on the most remarkable varieties shown, it will provide information about our collectively desired traits in fruit nowadays. Nominating superlatives in each exhibition year will also help spur interest in propagating these best novel varieties among entrants and attendees, which will in turn only improve the quality of pome fruits being grown across our entire region.
HOW TO SUBMIT TO THE SHOWCASE
– Send an email to MATT@GNARLYPIPPINS.COM with the following info:
- Your name + a farm name or cidery name (optional), and the town and state that you come from.
- The name(s) of ALL apples and pears you plan to submit (even a provisional name will do, e.g., “Sarah’s Big Green” or “Stonewall Sweet). Call it exactly what you refer to the apple or pear as. The maximum is 6 varieties per entrant.
- A brief description of each apple or pear. Include information about the physical attributes of the apple, flavor, what it’s used for, the town and state that the mother tree is from, if it’s been grafted and grown ex-situ (in any instance other than the original tree), and any other tidbits that you think are interesting or important. They will be evaluated using a pomological rubric to register all the esoteric information about the physical characteristics, so don’t get too hung up on that stuff. What I need from YOU is the background of the apple. All the info you can give that someone wouldn’t know by seeing and tasting it.
– Plan to set aside enough exemplar fruit! We need a minimum of 6 apples or pears of each variety, but having 8 or 10 of each variety is much better, since we hope to have many attendants viewing and tasting small samples of each, while also having enough to photograph each one (perhaps the “nicest,” whatever that means) and document its characteristics across a modest sample size.
PLEASE CONTRIBUTE ! This exhibition needs YOU in order to be great !
If you plan to attend the event on FRIDAY NOVEMBER 5th, then submissions need to be in hand by 9AM on that day. If you can’t be there in time, or do not plan to come to the event but still want to have your favorite wildies recognized, then I ask that you please mail / ship your apples or pears through the mail to Gnarly Pippins HQ the week before the event. When you send your email to me with the above listed information, I will reply to you with the shipping address!
Please note that ‘repeat’ varieties that were sent in for the 2019 Pomological exhibition are very much welcomed to be featured in the exhibition and tasting event itself, but will not be included in the forthcoming publication of ‘Proceedings…’
TIPS FOR SHIPPING APPLES & PEARS
It is possible to ship fruit safely! Here are a few very basic tips if you don’t know where to start:
- Find a container that your exemplar fruits will fit in. If it is a rigid container, make sure that any empty spaces are filled with padding to prevent bruising (bubble wrap, crumpled brown paper, packing peanuts or some other type of packing material).
- Apple seasonality is very variable, so send your varieties through the mail shortly after harvest. Early season varieties with poor storage quality should be sent quite soon after harvest, while later season varieties which keep better may be sent the week prior to the event. Be This is a suggestion, not a requirement! We want the fruit to be as close in condition to how you’d normally be using it, right?
- Plan to ship early in the week (Mondays & Tuesdays are ideal) so the apples don’t get stuck in a postal warehouse over the weekend. Monday November 1st, 2021 would be the best day to ship! All accessions of fruit will be refrigerated upon arrival until the event.
- Ship fast to minimize transit time! It can be expensive to send things like this through the mail in a hurry. However, the US Postal Service is often the cheapest and most reliable if you can work on their schedule. Priority mail from USPS is a great go-to. Their boxes will fit your apples with ease, and 1-3 business days is well within the desired time window. Aim for 2 days transit time, 3 is OK too.
OK SO LET’S DO IT, YEAH? Any questions, contact Gnarly Pips directly via email, the contact form on this website, or via social media. Now! Onto something different.
The orchardist // the whimsical specialist.
What makes an orchardist? In my opinion, an orchardist is someone who applies their natural inclination towards curiosity, willingness to learn, willingness to work, desire to know, and, frankly, a healthy bit of naivety, towards a collection of fruit or nut trees. The willingness and desire to learn anything. An orchardist must be willing to become a specialist in every topic regarding & tangentially related to agriculture. The orchardist must also be the entomologist, the meteorologist, the toolsmith, chemist, woodworker, ornithologist, plant propagator, builder, mechanic, arborist, laborer, landscaper, entertainer, and much more. In my case, grazier, shepherd, and silvopastoralist are all a part of my experience as orchardist. They must be devote themselves to becoming a specialist across many fields of study in order to understand how to care for an orchard. I have been ruminating on this for some months now after experiencing moments where I am puzzled by my own entanglement in the minutia of these specialties.
In these moments there is a sudden interrogation; while we wonder what on Earth the link is between one’s love for fruit trees and cider and what happens to be in our hands when the thought occurs: “how did I get here?” An erstwhile kiddie pool filled to hazardous weight with raw seaweed, translating research published in foreign languages about training livestock guardian dogs, trial & error of how to freehand peen a scythe blade, understanding the life cycle of the brown marmorated stinkbug, hundreds of tags cut out of recycled vinyl siding (awaiting a hole punch) to write tree labels on. These are some of the familiar scenes that come to mind when, reassuring myself, as a proud student of the trees, I remember that it’s all for apples and cider. There is something whimsical about it, a person so devoted to the work of producing tree fruit that their commitment carries them toward and into things which seem entirely separate from the work of fruit growing. Freewheeling away in other [slightly less beloved] specialties is necessary to the work. From an outside point of view it may be easy to see that these things all relate somehow. Maybe not! From one’s own point of view, it can be difficult to remember that these tangents are all part of the bigger picture, that it’s all a part of the process of thinking holistically. But recall, this is a big part of what makes an orchardist — being a whimsical specialist, pursuing information from waaay out there and tying it back to give concrete meaning to the passion which is at the center of it all; the wellbeing of the trees. That’s what grounds the orchardist.
One thought that I’ve been meditating on is our relationship with the terms “farmer” vs. “farm worker.” We can redact the same inquiry to “orchardist” vs. “orchard assistant” or “orchard worker.” What makes us one or the other? Typically, the binary of whether an individual owns land has determined the title. For example, a farmer is someone who owns the land which is being cultivated, not necessarily someone who is engaged with the work of cultivating the land. It’s that person who is believed to make and implement decisions on the farm, who is designated the ‘farmer.’ I think it should be obvious why that is problematic. I do not own land. I, therefore, would not be able to consider myself an ‘orchardist.’ But then why would someone who owns land containing an orchard be considered an orchardist on that merit alone? Is the fact that a person can possess enough capital to purchase land containing an orchard the threshold which makes them eligible to call themselves an ‘orchardist’? Or, alternately, is it the process of observing, engaging, protecting, and upholding the wellbeing of the orchard that makes them an orchardist? What did they learn, do, practice, and rehearse to become an orchardist, if not for the latter? You cannot buy that title. It must be earned by paying it forward in discipline to the apple tree.
This discussion applies, more pressingly than towards people like myself, to the vast majority of the agricultural workers who maintain orchards in our country. Though they almost never own the land they manage, the workers who maintain the orchards in our region are just as much (and possibly moreso) the ‘orchardists’ as those who own the property. These workers are extremely talented & hardworking. They have crafted a detailed and intimate understanding of working with the land and the plants they deal with, and, quite often, do the majority or the entirety of the work in the orchard including pruning, spraying, harvesting, the whole nine yards. It’s common for these workers to know the intricacies of the farm better than the people who own it. Many of the orchard workers in the New England region are migrants from central America and the Caribbean, especially Jamaica and Haiti. It is common for these workers to develop a long-term relationship with an orchard where they will stay year-round, or return each year in continuity, in some cases for decades and through changes in land ownership. In this context, we observe the problematic aspects of using the language of ‘farmer’ in relationship to the [often] white landowners and ‘farmworkers’ in relationship to the [often] people of color managing every aspect of the growing. This is racist and colonially-derived terminology, which doesn’t reflect the true dynamics of work in the orchard. The white landowner who doesn’t put in the long hours in the bush, handling the trees, communing with the orchard itself, is considered the ‘orchardist’ or ‘farmer’ when the workers, who are members of the global majority (people of color) are demonstrating a deep knowledge and proficiency of orchard care in perpetuity, while being categorically considered “farm workers” vis-a-vis “orchard workers” or …”assistants.” When you pick apart what it means to be an orchardist, it begins to seem backwards that we use terminology following the “farmer & farm worker” hierarchical structure when it should rightfully be reversed. There, of course, is a necessary partnership between workers and property owners in order to create a successful operation within the framework of economy and land ownership that our society functions in. (There is a lot to say about how structural racism and the legacy of white supremacy has resulted in this dynamic of legal land ownership, and there are people who can speak about it more completely and eloquently than me. I recommend listening to the ‘99% Invisible’ podcast episode titled ‘Mine!’ to dive into the history and more general implications of this, not specifically relating to orchards.)
My main point in discussing this is to call out an ingrained racist/colonialist practice that is all too present in our little innocent world of apple growing. My secondary point is that we should work on altering our notions of ‘ownership’ beyond what can be physically possessed. In the case of what it is to ‘own an orchard,’ I truly feel that ownership is complex; it’s emotional, relational, historical, unfixed & fluid. An orchard’s caretakers, though these roles can often transient, assume responsibility and therefore physical stake in the use of its fruit, scions, etc. The assumption of such responsibility and the acts of caretaking for an orchard coalesce into the same feelings of belonging that actual, physical ownership results in. It is not enough to simply own the land containing an orchard. It must be cared for, observed, respected, tended. It is normal for orchardists to rotate and shift over time in a given setting — the notions of responsibility and ownership shift over time as well — in many cases spanning generations or multiple human lifetimes.
Food for thought.
Summer crop update:
Baby aplets, fireblight insanity
The apple crop at the orchard where I’m stationed, Preservation Orchard (Hadley, MA) is starting to take shape. So far, we have reason to be cautiously optimistic. However, it bears noting that this season has been, and promises to be, anything except normal ! So far, 2021 has given us a very early start to Spring, and brought extremely hot, humid, and wet/stormy weather along with it earlier than we typically see in our region. When this weather falls within the blossom period for fruit trees susceptible to blossom blight, the effect is, of course, fireblight insanity. To make matters [considerably] more interesting, brood X of the periodic cicada native to North America emerged this year. It is a landmark year for entomologists, as this emergence of brood X is the largest ever measured (there are estimated hundreds of billions of periodic cicadas out there). While cicadas don’t feed on the trees in the ways that typical pests do – there is still reason for concern. Cicadas feed on the sap of trees and other plants when they emerge. They puncture woody stems of plants and drink the fluid they can get out. They have evolved ovipositors, so they can lay their eggs inside the tree as well. This puncturing + sucking/feeding from the tree weakens the lignin structure of tender growing shoots and spreads fireblight via trauma if the Erwinia bacteria is present. For Malus populations all over the affected range, fireblight has been rampant in 2021, even in varieties which display resistance! What a great opportunity to look at climate resilient apples. These ‘hellscape’ years offer great foreshadowing of what’s to come as human-caused climate change becomes increasingly dire (despite the fact that cicadas are a regular, naturally occuring phenomenon of native insects). These are the best years to observe what varieties of apple are surviving and thriving amid the chaos. This is the original thesis of Gnarly Pippins’ selection of place-specific wild apples, I’m glad to report that all the trees in the Gnarly Pippins catalog appear to be living their best lives, quite a few of whom are producing a fantastic crop this year.
At Preservation orchard: golden russet is at the top of the pack. Excellent fruit set following a year of heavy pruning and orchard cleanup. No fireblight strikes at all, and the fruit is sizing early due to the heavy rainfall. GoldRush is moderate. Seems that the weakened trees are susceptible to roundheaded apple borer. No fireblight observed, crop is looking okay. White Jersey, one lovely apple right here. Nothing fool hardy about growing an early ripening bittersweet to blend with all those early sharp crabs (despite being a British-originating variety!) Some fireblight has appeared in this block, but White Jersey in generally unbothered by the occasional occurrence of fireblight, showing more tolerance to FB than the majority of European apples. It is quite healthy in comparison with Dabinett, our last variety.. It’s like a murder scene out there. Fireblight everywhere under the development of an absolutely bonkers heavy apple crop. Oh boy… Can’t WAIT to fill the gaps in this block in with Gnarly Pippins trees, currently growing in the nursery!
This is also an exciting season, because it will mark the first harvest of varieties from within the Gnarly Pippins catalog from trees that have been propagated ex-situ (other than the mother tree). Photos below show two out of the four GP seedling varieties (Ed’s Winter, Nailbiter, Thornton Brass, and Pinkie Pie) putting on fruit in the topwork block at Rose Hill Farm in Red Hook, NY, photos courtesy of my dear friend and head orchardist Kevin Clark. We are also expecting two varieties (Ed’s Winter and Old Fertile) to develop at least a small number of apples at Preservation orchard this year. Exciting! We will get to monitor the differences between fruit from the mother tree and those from grafts of the original trees.
Gnarly nursery update
The Gnarly nursery is alive and well at last! I am growing grafted trees in elevated ‘air-pruning’ beds this year, the first experiment year with this new system of growing that has been popularized with nut tree growers. This style of raised bed has several key advantages for me: you can make your own soil media mix to favor the type of tree you’re growing, and it is much more space-efficient, allowing a large number of trees to be grown in a limited area. This helps practical nursery management tasks to be quicker, especially weed control and watering. It doesn’t change the fact that when you get 9 inches of rain in 3 weeks and a thunderstorm every afternoon it is difficult to keep up with pruning and shoot selection as well as cover spray for potato leafhoppers! In any case, there are 275 trees growing now, some of which may be available for sale, bareroot & dormant, during the time that Gnarly Pippins scionwood is available for mail order in early 2022. Stay tuned!
The sheep will graze on, we will party on, the world will keep turning, the apples will keep growing. Until next time, my friends!