Food Forest

One of the hardest things about growing tree fruit is thinning it. It goes against ones nature to grow a tree and put all that time and effort in just to pull off fruit before it is ready to eat. It is also one of the more important aspects to growing Quality Fruit. We usually will thin a little when apples are about nickel size and then wait for the “June Drop”. June fruit drop refers to the natural tendency of fruit trees to shed some of their immature fruits. Fruit trees will set more flowers than they need for a crop to offset losses from weather or other cultural factors. According to Purdue University Consumer Horticulture, “Only one bloom in 20 is needed for a good crop on a full-blossoming apple tree.”

What Causes June Fruit Drop?

Fruit trees set fruit so that they can produce seed. Too large a crop will strain the tree’s resources and result in smaller fruits, possibly of lesser quality. So the tree protects itself and its seed by thinning the crop, once it senses weather and growing conditions are stabile. We have found that mother nature still leaves way to many apples on the tree so we must go through and manually thin the crop, hand picking into 5 gallon buckets. We like to do this when they are smaller than a golf ball.  By collecting the fruit instead of leaving it on the ground, we help to break the life cycle of fruit damaging insects and pest. This is one part to IPM or Integrated Pest Management.KIMG0080.JPG

Why Thin The Fruit?

  1. 1.Bigger Fruit Less fruit means that those that are left will develop to be bigger
  2. 2. Better Fruit By thinning you will increase the sugars (brix level) and have more nutrient dense produce
  3. Annual Bearing  Many trees will become biennial bearing if allowed to carry a big fruit load. Big crop now then no crop next year. It is natures way of achieving balance.
  4. Health of the Tree. Many branches cannot take the weight of a fully developed apple load, especially the tip bearers which have fruit primarily on the ends of the branches

Here is a picture of a young apple that would have snapped off branches if it were not supported7-23-13 Little apple tree support

While this tree is not overloaded look at the support required!


Matt Scott-Joynt/M and Y Newsgency Ltd 23/09/13: Paul Barnett (40) examines one of the two hundred and fifty different varieties of apple that grow on an apple tree in his garden in Chidham, near Chichester in West Sussex. Paul has been grafting different kinds of apple onto the tree since 1989.

Thinning is as much an art as it is a science.  Start by removing the smallest, misshapen, bruised or those with pest damage. Apples grow in a cluster of 4-5 which should normally be thinned to 1 or 2. As a rule of thumb it takes 40-50 leaves to support 1 apple.


Hugelkultur is an old German concept/word meaning “hill-culture”. Wood is buried under topsoil (either in a hole or right on the ground) and as it breaks down, it holds lots of moisture and provides sustained nutrients for plant growth. Some more awesome benefits of Hugelkultur is that it greatly increases the available organic matter in the soil over time and for those of us with alkaline soils, which are mainly found in the more arid areas (which coincidentally is where water retention is greatly needed) the hugelkultur bed will release negative ions as it decomposes which will increase soil acidity.

Many people are using these beds for vegetables, but they are great for Fruit trees and windbreaks since the decomposition leans towards the fungal side and not as much the bacterial side as in compost.  This is more natural for trees and bushes, whereas compost is more natural for grains, grasses and vegetables.

The basic concept involves digging a trench and putting logs covered with branches and then covering that with smaller stuff such as straw, weeds, compost etc. that will provide an initial nitrogen source. The mound is covered with the soil that you dug out.  You can dig a pit, trench or just start at ground level with your mound. This is a great way to turn an old stump into a benefit.  Water will be retained by the wood acting as a sponge for roots to tap into while also releasing nitrogen and other nutrients to feed the trees. The soil is loose because of voids left by the decaying wood and gives great aeration for your newly planted trees and bushes. Because of this your trees and bushes will send down deeper roots, quicker and be much less susceptible to drought. Once established the amount of irrigation water required is substantially less than normal.  Combining this method with swales to capture our scare rainwater and snowfall and you have a win-win for your trees.

There are lots of good resources on the internet and several great videos to show and explain better the concepts and actual application.  Below I have listed a few:

Here is a Youtube that is a good and simple introduction

This one explains more how it saves water

This page is tremendous!  It show tons of good photos and different methods in action and also tells best and worst types of wood to use.

With our last post we showed some older pictures from planting pecan seed in April. Now that we  are  almost in July, they are starting to emerge.   I think its a good idea to become familiar with how a pecan seed germinates and grows in its natural environment. At left is a photo of a germinated pecan. To germinate, the seed must first imbibe enough water to swell the kernel and crack open the shell.  As the seed starts to grow, a vigorous tap root is the first structure formed. Shortly thereafter, a smaller, wiry shoot develops and grows upwards, poking through the soil surface. In nature, a new pecan seedling will invest most of it energy in growing a massive, deep tap root. Above ground, first-year pecan trees rarely grow more than  8-12 inches in height and produce only a hand full of  leaves. This growth pattern is the tree’s way of ensuring seedling survival. Between fires, floods, grazing animals and brush hogging, seedling pecan trees often lose above ground parts. By storing a massive amount of plant energy in the tap root, a pecan tree can easily replace a lost top with a new sprout.

Caution and Constant are the words when weeding young pecan trees

Caution and Constant are the words when weeding young pecan trees


Several types of trees are planted or started from seed.  They may go on to be rootstock for other, better quality varieties or they may be grown for their own merits.  This is a process planned well in advance.  In early we fall we received our pecan seed.  It was sourced from the northernmost range of the cold hardy pecan in Iowa.  We then needed to cold stratify the seed.  Seed Stratification is explained by the following:

— A type of imposed dormancy found in seeds is internal dormancy regulated by the inner seed tissues. This dormancy prevents seed of many species from germinating when environmental conditions are not favorable for survival of the seedlings. There are several different degrees or types of internal dormancy. One type of internal dormancy is “shallow” and simply disappears with dry storage. Many vegetable seeds display this type of dormancy. No special treatments are necessary to overcome this kind of dormancy.

However, another type of internal dormancy requires special treatments to overcome. Seeds having this type of dormancy will not germinate until subjected to a particular duration of moist-prechilling and/or moist-warm periods.

Cold stratification (moist-prechilling) involves mixing seeds with an equal volume of a moist medium (sand or peat, for example) in a closed container and storing them in a refrigerator (approximately 40oF). Periodically, check to see that the medium is moist but not wet. The length of time it takes to break dormancy varies with particular species; check reference books to determine the recommended amount of time. This type of dormancy may be satisfied naturally if seeds are sown outdoors in the fall.

The problem with planting in the fall is they easily become food for squirrels and gophers!  We soaked the seed 24 hours in warm water to start the breakdown of the shell and then kept in the fridge at about 34 degrees in damp peat moss.  In early April we planted our pecan seed.

Planting is rather straightforward.  We pulled existing weeds and rototilled the 50 foot row.  After that we added about 2” of compost and rototilled again.  A rake gave us a nice smooth seed bed to plant in.  These were placed horizontally at 6” spacing.  Placing vertically on Pecan, Hickory and Walnut gives a poor germination rate.

After planting we replaced the drip tape and mulched with straw about 3-4” deep.  Pecans and many nuts will germinate and grow roots for a few months before actually starting any upward growth.  Almost 2 months exactly and we are seeing the first tree break ground!  We will field grow these for this year and containerize in the dormant season for sale or to use as understock for grafting.


After rototilling 3" of compost is added

After rototilling 3″ of compost is added


Seedbed is raked and ready to plant

Seedbed is raked and ready to plant

You are never to young to plant a tree

You are never to young to plant a tree

Time to put that knowledge to work!

Time to put that knowledge to work!

We have raised and sold Goji plants ( Crimson Star cv) for many years now.  The benefits of this China native are many healthwise and they are considered one of the superfruits. Culturally we find them easy to grow and one of the few berries or plants that do fine in a high (8+)  ph. Fresh or dried these plants have a lot to offer and should definitely be part of a permaculture plan.  In our research we have found very little information on how care for and grow for best production.  The normal method is to stake the plant with a 5-6′ pole, training it upward and then cascading down.  Similar to many weeping trees. This appears to be done mainly for harvesting convenience, since most of the berries will be chest high.

As I was reading an article on cordon training currants and gooseberry for higher production, it came to me that goji would lend itself to this just like grapes, kiwis and blackberry.  So off to another project!  We had an empty 25′ row in an old bramble berry section and I added 6 new plants, 5 foot apart.  As with many of my projects, things came up and no trellis was added last year, so I made a commitment to get it done this spring.  The plants had made decent growth last year but were really taking off now and starting to get weedy with many new stems or trunks coming from the ground and several suckers.

I decided to set my first wire at 16″ off the ground and add additional wires at every 12″, so we have off ground 16″, 28″, 40″, 52″ with room to add one more at 64″ as growth dictates.  This will allow main branches to go left and right about 30″ with a central trunk or leader.  Similar to a 4 arm kniffin system in grapes except with 8 arms.

4 more plants to tie and train and then we will watch the progress over this summer and next. I am hopeful that by pruning for production like grapes and hardy kiwi that not only will we get a larger crop, but also a neater and easier to pick one!

In  response to the Guess the Mystery Fruit on the facebook page

The medlar, Mespilus germanica, is a member of the rose family and is botanically somewhere between a pear and a Hawthorne. It is a small, deciduous tree of about 20 feet in height and width with a broad crown and heavy foliage although in New Mexico 10-12 feet is more usual. The branches may be contorted or very angular. It is hardy to USDA zone 4 to 9 and grows wild in temperate regions of Europe. It is reported to be indigenous to southwest Asia and southeastern Europe and was introduced to Germany by the Romans. It is said that Medlars were taken to North America by the Jesuits in the 1800s and introduced to South Africa in the 17th century.

The foliage is quite showy in the fall with yellow or red leaves. The fruit, if left on the tree creates winter interest. The leaves are 2 to 6 inches long and 1 to 1 1/2 inches wide, alternate, elliptic, dark green in the upper surface, “hairy” and grayish beneath. The leaf margin is entire, serrated at the apex. The trees dense foliage hides the branches. The solitary flowers appear at the tip of the growth of the year, depending on the location from late April to early June. The five petaled flowers are 1 to 2 inches wide, pinky white and look to me like something like a wild rose. Medlars are self-fertile and if pollination should not occur, the Medlar can set fruit parthenocarpically, that is, without any pollination whatsoever. Of course this bypasses late freeze problems.

The fruit is round, one to two inches in diameter looking somewhat like a brown, over-grown rose hip with a calyx on its crown. The fruit is open at the bottom exposing five seed boxes. Very similar in appearance to large hawthorne fruits

They can also be cooked into jellies and jams as they are high in pectin. “But it has long been regarded as a dessert fruit for connoisseurs. Prof. Saintsbury in his classic book on wines, “Notes on a Cellar”, declared that “the one fruit which seems to me to go best with all wine, from hock to sherry and from claret to port, is the Medlar – an admirable and distinguished thing in itself, and a worthy mate for the best of liquors”.

Francesca Greensack in her fascinating book “Forgotten Fruit” said, “the lingering, slightly sweet, slightly winey flavor makes the Medlar seem like a natural comfit”. She also mentioned “roasting them with butter and cloves as a traditional winter dessert” and recommends jelly made from them “as an accompaniment to game”.”[3]

Medlars like moist but well-drained soil, and full sun and adapt to soil fertility. Medlars can be grown from seed or grafted or budded onto pear, quince or hawthorn rootstock. There are about two dozen cultivars at the National Clonal Germplasm repository of the U.S. department of agriculture in Corvallis, Oregon and others growing wild in Europe. They are considered easy to grow but a bit difficult to start from seed. They work well as a potted “patio” tree if left outside and exposed to winter conditions. The tree fruits as early as three years, producing a good crop.

Medlars must be “bletted” before eating.  Bletting is the ripening process that must be undergone by a limited range of fleshy fruits. American persimmon is another and sometimes quince and “Sorbus” species. Some fruits are sweeter after bletting, others can only be eaten raw once bletted. The process is simple, wait for a hard frost and pick the fruit. At this point it is very astringent, hard and starchy, not really edible.  Then store in sawdust or straw somewhere cool for 3-4 weeks.  Now is where bletting occurs. Most fruits would spoil or decay and ferment.  Due to an enzymatic action medlars will convert the starches to sugars and soften the fruit while turning it to a dark brown pulp from whitish.  It also decreases the acids and  tannins that cause the astringency. How to tell when it is ready?  When the fruit is the consistency of  jello in a balloon. They can be eaten raw as described by spooning out the mushy pulp which hardly seems a workable idea due to the small size.  I suggest using the “vampire method” where you bite the skin and suck out the contents.  The flavor is like apple sauce or apple butter with cinnamon. Of course they can be used in baked goods or jellies, wines and all sorts of other items.

* Some of the above (the boring stuff) was plagiarized from Dave’ garden website with additions by the editor of this blog

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.

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