July 2011

Earlier in the spring we had a post that covered a little on grafting.  This past March Matt and Ashley grafted 25 apple trees using a EMLA 7 rootstock.  They started with both the saddle graft and the whip and tongue styles.  Soon it became apparent that the whip and tongue was easier and more comfortable to work with. When doing the winter pruning we saved scion wood from some of our less common, unpatented apple trees.  Below are pictures of some of their successes now 90 days later.  Considering this was their first attempt and with no formal training, I believe their results were exceptional.  They have 18 good grafts out of 25 for or 72 percent success rate. We were unable to find any correlation between variety and success rate.  Hopefully next year these will be ready to sell and expand our inventory selection.  The varieties are Cox Orange Pippin, Liberty, Grimes Golden Delicious, Gibsons Golden and Empire.

  Here is a picture I took in early June, 3 months later to show how the little trees look. The green is a sealer so the graft union doesn’t dry out


Planning an orchard is easy.  You have a number of the same kind of plant or trees and it is a simple matter of determining how much space you want between rows and how much between plants.  But what do you do if your plants are a mixture of vines, shrubs and trees and you primarily have 1 or sometimes 2 of many varieties and species?  You plant them in a random order however you like and call it a “Food Forest”!!  That way people will think you have  divine inspiration and a plan that is on a higher plane than the average Joe! 

We have many plants that are rare, unusual or native fruiting plants that we are starting to grow out for evaluation.  These will first be evaluated on their ability to easily grow here and then on their fruit production for taste , utility and quantity of production.  This “Food Forest” will then become our germplasm repository where we will get cuttings, scion wood or in some cases seed from these “Mother” plants. The majority of these would be a wonderful part of a perennial edible landscape but not be suited for commercial or orchard production. 

We have dedicated a half acre to this Food Forest and are just starting to plant about 20 % of it this year.  We hope to complete about half of it next year and finish it within 4 years.  Then we will fill in holes and gaps as we run across plants that catch our eye.  Let’s take a look at some of what we are planting this year and that we hope to have available for sale within a few years.

Japanese Rasin Tree – a deciduous tree that has a tropical look.  It is unusual in that when the fruit is ripe, you throw it away and eat the stem!  The peduncle swells and tastes like walnuts and raisins.  In China they are made into a beverage called “tree honey” that is said to neutralize hangovers. That could always come in handy!

Two different type of Hazelnut hybrid both of which should be immune to eastern filbert blight.

Sequin Chestnut – a smaller tree species chestnut that is resistant to chestnut blight and more adapted to alkaline soils.

Rabina Mountain Ash – a medium size tree to 12’ that was a selection from the wild in Russia with a non-bitter, sweet-tart, tasty and nutritious fruit

Ivan’s Belle – A hardy small tree that has fruit the size of a cherry, eaten fresh and useful for wine and preserves.  Dark green leaves are very attractive on this rare hybrid of Mountain ash and Hawthorn.

Illinois Everbearing Mulberry – Unbelievable flavor, hardiness and production. At 2’ tall ours was producing fruit.  These will give enough fruit for the birds and you. They are reputed to be favored by our feathered friends and  keep them away from your cherries.

Lavalles Hawthorne  not often known for it’s fruit and Douglas or Black hawthorn

Breda Giant Medlar – Popular in Europe since the middle ages but uncommon in the USA.  A small 8-10 ft tree with long, dark green tropical looking foliage.  White flowers and chestnut colored -2” fruit.  They are collected late in fall after the first frost and are too hard to eat. The term “bletting” is applied only for this fruit.  This means they need bletted by sitting out on a cool counter for about 2-3 weeks.  They then soften and you can scoop out the pulp that has developed a spicy cinnamon applesauce flavor. 

Che fruit – sometimes called manadarin melon berry, another fruit tree grown for centuries in China, but exceptionally rare here.  Very early to bear often in just a year.  The chewy 1” red fruit has a taste like a cross between mulberry and fig, of which they are related to both. They seem extremely hardy here as our survived the last winter freeze as 12” tall trees, but very little is actually known about their culture.

Utah Serviceberry – a native Juneberry growing to about 6’. Used as an ornamental and edible landscape plant.  We will also try to cross this with a commercial juneberry to get a standard fruit that is better adapted to our climate.

Mexican Elderberry – anothernative of the Southwest. With lower water use than the standard elderberry,  this fruit is good for landscaping and edible use.  Wine, juice, pies and pastries or mix with other fruits for jellies.  Can be grown as tree or shrub.

Pallid wolfberry – A western USA relative of the “Superfruit” Goji berry.  A xeric plant appearing to have many of the same benefits.

Wild Sour cherry – a pure sour cherryseedling  selected from the wild.  Reputed to be better than the standard-bearer the man-made Montmorency cherry.  Being a seedling grown on it’s own roots you can play George Washington and chop it down.  Since it isn’t grafted onto a different rootstock like modern cherries, it will grow back true to form.


Part of our mission is to develop and promote rare and unusual fruit varieties and we expect to be able to offer many of these in the future.

You may already be familiar with Goji Berries or Wolfberry, if you keep up with the latest in the world of nutritional supplements. Goji Berries have been receiving a lot of press recently for the reported health benefits and high levels of antioxidants that have been linked to this exotic fruit from China.  They are considered one of the “SuperFruits” for their nutrient density. The fruit, leaves, roots, bark and seeds have been used by the Chinese for at least six centuries. This makes it somewhat surprising that there is very little information on the culture of wolfberries. However, there is tons of propaganda out there on the merits of various drinks, supplements, and other health food related products.  I will leave it to the reader to research these potential health benefits and determine their validity.  I have read you should not take if pregnant or if you have a cold or flu, unknown as to which part of the plant this refers to since the leaves are also widely used for tea.

Their amazing nutritional analysis has been well documented, it’s just that not many long term studies have been done to determine if these known beneficial nutrients will play a role in curing or reducing disease.  There are many anecdotal stories from China and other countries swearing by the benefits of this Super Food.   Personally I like the flavor which to me resembles watermelon with a bit of citrus and I think that a wide range of  fruits in the diet is always a plus.  The usual way of getting these is dried from a health food store in a small package.  In this form they resemble red raisins, maybe a little larger and taste similar.  I enjoy them but if you are like me you certainly can’t afford the premium price they bring.  So why not grow your own?!

The Goji Berry plant starts out life growing like a vine but then turns into a shrub form.  This is similar to honeysuckle or ivy. Commercially in China they are grown and tied to a stake to about 6 foot height and then left cascade down like a waterfall.  The spacing is usually 4-6’ apart in the row. I can tell you that they love the heat and often really don’t start to put on the growth until July and August.  Even though they love heat they are able to withstand extreme cold in the winter.  Ours went through this last winter (down to -35f) and had no loss of branches or growth of any kind.  This plant is very drought tolerant once it is established and also loves a high ph in the 7.5-8.2  range, truly a rarity.  All of these factors make it a top 5 fruit plant for New Mexico!

The flowers are a white or light purple , very pretty and small only about ¾” across.  They start blooming in June and keep going through October. The berries when ripe are about one half to three quarters of an inch long, tear drop shaped and about one half inch wide or about the size of a jumbo peanut. They are red or red orange, very juicy and soft.  Some articles recommend laying down a sheet and shaking the plant to harvest.  All of the pictures I have seen show hand picking as the harvest method and that is what we do.  The fresh fruit doesn’t store long which is ok since it produces a continual crop.  Just pick what you need, toss on top of your breakfast cereal and enjoy! Of course they can be frozen for later use in smoothies or juice or many items that you would use berries for.  Also chocolate covered seems popular.   They can be air or sun dried and saved this way.

The Goji is a very easy plant to grow, requires no soil preparation or alteration, shows no disease problems or insect problems and loves full sun here.  The berries are reported to contain 13 percent protein and are loaded with antioxidants. They also contain more iron than spinach, more vitamin C than oranges, and more beta-carotene than carrots. What more could you ask for?   I think every homestead needs a couple of these to help round out your diet and provide some variety.  We have 2nd year plants about 12″ tall in 1 gal containers ready to go.

Below is a listing from Wikipedia for the nutrient analysis

Micronutrients and phytochemicals

Wolfberries contain many nutrients and phytochemicals including

  • 11 essential and 22 trace dietary minerals
  • 18 amino acids
  • 6 essential vitamins
  • 8 polysaccharides and 6 monosaccharides
  • 5 unsaturated fatty acids, including the essential fatty acids, linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid
  • beta-sitosterol and other phytosterols
  • 5 carotenoids, including beta-carotene and zeaxanthin (below), lutein, lycopene and cryptoxanthin, a xanthophyll
  • numerous phenolic pigments (phenols) associated with antioxidant properties

Select examples given below are for 100 grams of dried berries.

  • Calcium. Wolfberries contain 112 mg per 100 gram serving, providing about 8-10% of the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI).
  • Potassium. Wolfberries contain 1,132 mg per 100 grams dried fruit, giving about 24% of the DRI.
  • Iron. Wolfberries have 9 mg iron per 100 grams (100% DRI).
  • Zinc. 2 mg per 100 grams dried fruit (18% DRI).
  • Selenium. 100 grams of dried wolfberries contain 50 micrograms (91% DRI)
  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2). At 1.3 mg, 100 grams of dried wolfberries provide 100% of DRI.
  • Vitamin C. Vitamin C content in dried wolfberries has a wide range from 29 mg per 100 grams to as high as 148 mg per 100 grams (respectively, 32% and 163% DRI).

Wolfberries also contain numerous phytochemicals for which there are no established DRI values. Examples:

  • Beta-carotene: 7 mg per 100 grams dried fruit.
  • Zeaxanthin. Reported values for zeaxanthin content in dried wolfberries vary considerably, from 2.4 mg per 100 grams to 82.4 mg per 100 grams to 200 mg per 100 grams      The higher values would make wolfberry one of the richest edible plant sources known for zeaxanthin content. Up to 77% of total carotenoids present in wolfberry exist as  zeaxanthin
  • Polysaccharides. Polysaccharides are a major constituent of wolfberries, representing up to 31% of pulp weight.

Many of my readers complained that they were having trouble visualizing the 7 Layers of a food forest.   This is not set in stone and it is not an exact science, it is just a way of categorizing a plant by size and some by function. 

 I am adding this picture from the net as a representation of the 7 layers. Differences in geography and climate will dictate what works best in a given situation and which plants can be used. A “Food Forest” can be as small as a single tree which is underplanted, known as a guild.


This picture is a better Artist conception

 Planning is key since the “Forest” will be with you a long time.  Drawing it out on paper first is probably the best bet.  However many things look good on paper that don’t work in real life, also a drawing is usually like a floorplan and 2 dimensional.  You will have to visualize your forest in 3 dimensions.  The trees will have different shapes, columnar, pyramidial, vase, round depending on the species and space must be adjusted accordingly.  This is, of course, just a plan. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that you can’t control nature and all plans are merely evolutions of a design in progress.



 I have never seen a rabbit girdle an apple tree like this in the summertime.  Usually it is done in the dead of winter when they are starving and snowfall has covered all the food supply.  The continuing drought is taking its toll on the local vegetation so I can understand and see that there is absolutely nothing at all for them to eat.  Our little farm must look like all-you-can-eat night at Golden Corral to the local herbivorous fauna.  Now, the old me would have probably solved this situation by camping out with the .22 and dispensing some East Mountain Justice to any lagomorph that stuck his wascally wittle ears up.  But the new rehabilitated and reformed, organic, green permaculturist that I am, understands that we should always plant a little more for the wildlife and that this is part of the Balance of Nature.  We try to attract a varied population of organisms and each has its place. And with some bark sealer maybe we can save this tree.  

 Still…….. I don’t think I will shed any tears when Mr. Coyote completes that whole “Circle of Life” thing.

What is a “Food Forest”?  

 It has been defined as a permaculture forest garden that mimics the architecture and beneficial relationships of a natural forest. Food forests are designed and managed ecosystems that are very rich in biodiversity and productivity.  The food forest concept is a cornerstone of permaculture that instead of using the standard 2 dimensions, maximizes space and returns by utilizing all 3 dimensions.  Trees are often left out of the garden picture, and if they are there are at all it is usually because they were there in the first place. But, as Toby Hemenway points out in a great article on the subject:

“Trees have an unmatched ability to produce soil-enriching leaf litter, fill the earth with humus-making roots, quell temperature swings, hold moisture, arrest erosion, and offer tiers of wildlife habitat. And you can’t beat trees for productivity. An acre of apple trees can yield 7 tons of fruit, and an acre of chestnut trees may offer up 10 tons of protein-rich nuts–without annual replanting.”

Whether you call it a food forest or an edible forest garden, the benefits of gardening with trees should be considered. The primary goals a forest garden can help you achieve are:

1. The seven “F”s  – High yields of diverse products such as food, fuel, fiber, fodder, fertilizer, ‘farmaceuticals’ and fun.

2. A largely self-maintaining garden.

3. A healthy ecosystem.

4. Carbon sequestering.

What is Edible Forest Gardening and how do we design it?

It is a gardening technique or management system that simulates a woodland ecosystem but substitutes edible trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals.  Fruit and nut trees are the upper level, while below are berry shrubs, edible perennials and annuals.  Companions or beneficial plants are included to attract insects for natural pest management while some plants are soil amenders providing nitrogen and mulch.  Together they create relationships to form a forest garden ecosystem able to produce high yields of food with less maintenance.

Often the 7 layers approach is often mentioned in design of a Food Forest.  Within this practice, the positioning of species depends on many variables, including their requirements for shelter, light, moisture, good/bad companions, mineral requirements, pollination, pest-protection, etc. The seven layers consist of:

  • Canopy trees – the highest layer of trees. These are generally full size fruit and nut trees.  30 foot and taller.  Choices might include Persimmon, Standard Apples and Pears, Pecan, Mulberry and Chestnut trees
  • Small trees and large Shrubs – mostly planted between and below the canopy trees .Hazelnut, Elderberry Plums, Paw-Paws, Cherries and Almond
  • Shrubs – which are also shade tolerant. Including  common species like currants [Ribes spp] and berries [Rubus spp], plus others like chokeberries [Aronia spp],
  • Herbaceous perennials –  several of which are herbs and will also contribute to the ground cover layer by self-seeding or spreading. These  include Comfreys [Symphytum spp], Balm [Melissa officinalis], Mints [Mentha spp], Sage [Salvia officinalis],
  • Ground covers –  mostly creeping carpeting plants which will form a living mulch for the ‘forest floor’. Some may be herbaceous perennials like creeping Thyme, others include wild gingers [Asarum spp], Strawberries (Fragaria) cornels [Cornus canadensis], Gaultheria spp, and carpeting brambles (eg. Rubus calycinoides & R.tricolor).
  • Climbers and vines –  These are generally late additions to the garden, since they obviously need sturdy trees to climb up. Including the likes of Akebia and Kiwi
  • Root zone or rhizosphere –  Which  takes in  account of different rooting habits and requirements of different species, even if root crops are not grown much.

Permaculture food forests rely heavily on “polyculture” versus monoculture production. Polycultures can be understood as dynamic, self-organizing plant communities composed of several species. In this approach plants are grown in groups known as “guilds” which support each other through various different functions. Guilds are a harmoniously interwoven group of plants and animals that are of benefit to humans while also creating habitat for other organisms.

It helps to understand the concept of a food forest by looking at what kinds of relationships can exist around a single tree. For instance, below an apple tree you could plant white and red clover to help fix nitrogen and  comfrey to act as a dynamic accumulator which brings up nutrients from deeper down and makes them available to the other plants. Tulips, chives and daffodils will use nitrogen in the spring when it isn’t wanted by fruit trees. These plants will also attract beneficial insects by flowering through the seasons and repel unwanted pests.  Most will help to suppress grass at the tree’s base. All will work in harmony to benefit each other, and the apple tree.

Although not all plants are directly edible by humans, they all function together to bring in the larger cycles of nature to create a healthier permaculture food forest landscape.

So edible forest gardening is the art and science of putting plants together in woodland-like patterns that forge mutually beneficial relationships, creating a garden ecosystem that is more than the sum of its parts. You can create a beautiful, diverse, high-yield garden and if it is designed with care and a deep understanding of ecosystem function, you can also design a garden that is largely self-maintaining.

Why make a Food Forest?
The benefits of creating a permaculture food forest are many! The most obvious one might be that if properly planned out, a permaculture food forest practically runs and maintains itself.  It creates a habitat for local wildlife, pest control, pollination and wildlife viewing opportunities. Since permaculture food forests do not require chemical fertilizers or pesticides, they produce much healthier foods and products. These benefits might include products such as fibers, fuels, green manure, materials for crafts, food for domestic animals and can help reduce water usage in the garden.  By it’s nature of not tilling the soil and replanting you are saving and sequestering carbon.  This concept has been studied and researched here for about 25 years and has shown that food production per acre is can match current “conventional” farming while at the same time repairing the earth

How you garden is a reflection of your world view. This more harmonious approach to nourishing people also provides nourishment for the earth. It allows you to achieve a means of more independence from the more destructive modern agricultural methods, while at the same time providing you with a more direct relationship to and deeper understanding of the interdependence that is required to support all life.

This article was written by Brandy Cowley-Gilbert co-owner of Just Fruits and Exotics Nursery, and is a member of the University of Florida IFAS Leon County Extension Advisory Committee.

 Life in a Food Forest

  Have you ever wondered how a forest supports all the plants and animals that live in it, without any help from mankind, while we gardeners work so hard, and spend so much, to produce one tomato?  Pondering that question has sparked several related gardening movements, including permaculture, food forest gardening, and edible forest gardening. These movements are based on mimicking the natural processes and beneficial relationships within a natural forest. They spring from a desire to live a little lighter on this earth, and take their cues from Mother Nature.

Think about how a forest evolves. It begins with an open piece of ground. The first plants to colonize are the annual native weeds and grasses. After a few seasons these pioneer plants support a colony of worms and soil bugs that convert their rotting leaves into rich organic matter that begins building soil. Their flowers attract insects and their seeds attract birds and animals. The birds and animals bring with them the seeds of longer living plants like blueberries, wild plum, crabapple and persimmon and nut trees. Over time these larger stronger growers work out their place within the forest. The taller nut trees colonize in groups, while the shorter, sun loving crabapple, wild plums and blueberries find life on the edges of the forest. The grasses and wild flowers become the pioneer force on the outskirts, building new soil to continue the advancement of the forest. If a tree is blown over in a wind storm, or a fire wipes out a section of the forest, it is soon healed by the pioneer plants and the process continues. It is the co-working of the group that makes a forest thrive; the plants and animals working as a whole create a guild that sustains them. And notice, nobody has tilled, irrigated, or fertilized anything.

We can use this model to create beautiful gardens, full of plants to feed ourselves, while creating habitat for beneficial insects, pollinators, small farm animals and wildlife. By creating guilds of plants and animals that we as humans find useful, and following the same practices that a forest uses to create rich soil, we can avoid the back breaking labor of tilling and weeding our gardens. These guilds are just groups of plants that work well together; a guild can be a food forest that covers acres, or a 2×6 flower bed in your back yard.


This weekend while we performed the morning weeding ritual, we encountered huge quantities of a new bug we hadn’t seen before.  About ½” long and slightly green, this elongated and skinny little guy was a fast mover.   He seemed to be only on certain weeds stayed hidden in the shade.  Any weed that had them though had 30-50 of them on it!  This was definitely in the “invasion” category but we were unable to discern any damage caused by them. 

An email sent to Lisa Dennisson  with the USDA NRCS  Lisa.Dennisson@nm.nacdnet.net  gave us lots of info.  Lisa is the “Glenn Haege” of Estancia Valley agriculture.  For those of you who do not know who Glenn Haege is,  he is America’s Master Handyman.  He has a nationally syndicated radio show in which people call in with all kinds of questions about home repair, from painting to plumbing to siding and he always knows the best way to fix it, the best product to use and the store where you can get it that is closest to your house! 

But if it has to do with agriculture or  farming in our valley Lisa knows the answers.

To quote what she told us : Those are Blister Beetles, called that because of the caustic substance they secrete when they are crushed.  They are cyclic, and it appears that this is going to be a bad year for them as I have had several people complaining about them already.  They are drawn to Pigweed and Kochia, but will also decimate tomatoes, peppers and many species in the nightshade family.  They can do damage to fruit/vegetables also, but I tend to find defoliation is the biggest problem.  Try Diatomaceous Earth on areas that you absolutely want to protect, but that will take out the good critters too.  Blister Beetles have no natural enemies, and the birds don’t eat them because they taste bad. 

I don’t doubt anything she said but I do want to know how they know if they taste bad?  Who was the first person to test this out and why?   Are there people whose job it is to taste bugs? and how bad does it have to be to taste bad to a bird?  C’mon birds will eat worms all day long and I don’t particularly think much of the flavor of those.

As she said they will decimate Pigweed and as far as I am concerned that is a major benefit to us as they seem to grow anywhere you water. 

What about the blisters?  Here is a photo from the internet.  Can’t you just picture this fellow feeling something on the back of his neck and swatting it.  It then releases its stuff and blisters him. Ouch!!

We also spoke with Dr. Tessa Grasswitz,   tgrasswi@nmsu.edu  the Urban/Small farms IPM Specialist (505) 865-5163.  Her job is to help citizens with insect pest issues and is always quick to respond to our inquiries.  She has a doctorate in Entomology and certainly knows her bugs.  She had this to say on the subject:

“As adults, these particular blister beetles tend to be attracted to flowering legumes – mainly alfalfa; but they will also aggregate on weeds such as sliver nightshade. Again, however, it is usually the flowers that attract them the most. They are beneficial in that the larval stages parasitize grasshopper eggs, but they become a problem as adults when they aggregate in alfalfa fields because they contain a toxin (cantharadin) that is poisonous to livestock; the beetles can get caught in the crimper when the hay is cut, and even the dead remains can be fatal to livestock – particularly horses. They are not usually pests of fruits or vegetables. Both grasshoppers and flowering alfalfa fields are attractants for them.  The other thing to bear in mind about blister beetles is that their name arises from the fact that if you handle them roughly, their defensive secretion can cause nasty burn-like blisters on the skin. Do be careful with them!

From Wikipedia about cantharadin (the chemical they can secrete):  “Horses are highly sensitive to cantharidin: the LD50 for horses is approximately 1 mg/kg of the horse’s body weight. Horses may be accidentally poisoned when fed bales of fodder with blister beetles in them”

We felt this article was important not because of the detriment to our plants, but the fact that if they are here this might be an issue for those of you who are horse owners.  If these pests are in large numbers in the valley and you feed local alfalfa this could be problem.  I do not know if this is a problem for other animals or just horses. 

 Maybe in the crowd of blog subscribers we have a livestock vet that can help us out to learn more?