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Monogenetic cultivation..... sustainable food forest with unsustainable genetics?

 
Amedean Messan
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Location: Melbourne FL, USA - Pine and Palmetto Flatland, Sandy and Acidic
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As the title says, how is it possible to develop a naturalized food forest when almost all the perennials available of cultivars are produced by unsustainable methods further thinning genetic stock. When I generate a plant list for a food forest, the annuals are more viable but when I get to the perennials (specifically trees) the story changes. It takes years for a lot of these plants to develop fruit and the average farmer has a lifespan of just 70+ years or so I can understand why they take shortcuts because long living organisms evolve slowly. With natural habitats depleting, so is the genetic food database and we are growing on a dependency of a thinning gene stock.

My Ideal Food Ecosystem

When I think of a food forest the image in my mind is that of an ecosystem that supportive of ideal outputs, all the while being able to self-propagate with minimal human interference. Because the ecosystem is tailored to human interests, inevitably it will require human inputs but I want to draw a line on the sand to where this interference is limited to occasional thinning and pruning. My struggle being that I have a future focused mentality is that I do not see a consistent product through time when the plants will not propagate desired characteristics.

The Apple Comparison

This dilemma is well understood with apples. Planting heirloom apples from seed gives poor desirable results. There are exceptions, such as the Antonovka X cultivars popular in eastern Europe where seed produces viable offspring at a minimum of 90% success rate. This is a rare example, but particularly true in the America's the vast majority of available stock are of thin genetic lineage. I cannot expect a true food forest to self propagate with such poor genetic stability. Other species under my radar is the pawpaw. Thankfully there is not yet a dependency on unsustainable propagation just yet. Peterson's Pawpaws has a decent list of cultivars where they can be reproduced from seed while still achieving desirable fruit characteristics. But for every other tree or shrub, I have to do thorough investigation in order to cleanse myself of a practice I increasingly view as harmful. This is no light task indeed.

Shortcuts Have A Price

Not planting from seed is a sin against nature IMO. A farmer is an evolutionary artist guided by close observation and unsympathetic disdain for undesirable traits. They breed their animals to desired standards which are only limited by the farmer's patience. One thing regarding these animals is their relatively short lifespans. Because trees have such a long reproduction cycle, it is extremely difficult to manage the evolution of an organism particularly when its reproduction cycle is near or greater than your own. To this problem, we have formed a dependency on shortcuts. So to this dilemma, if I were to create my ideal food ecosystem that will carry my life memory - this will require much more thought and extensive research, networking and travel for strong genetic stock.

Edit Note: Changed original thread title to focus on monogenetic cultivation and exclude hybridization concerns.
 
julian kirby
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I agree with you insofar as the needs of a diverse gene pool. However, I feel that clonal propagation is a beautiful and wonderful thing. Plants evolved in a way that allows them to grow roots from the stem because at one point in time their environment was conducive to this behavior. Some of the benefits of clonal propagation are: the ability to keep a beautiful/productive/delicious specimen alive for more than one season, sharing a beloved plant with friends, more plants to sell, and most importantly as a reforestation tool; cut a tree down, root branches, replant. As for grafting, I have little knowledge, but being able to graft a cutting onto existing root stock or another plant sounds more efficient than cloning. as for hybridization, if you grow more than one variety of something, there is a chance that they will breed and make "your" gene pool bigger, whether the resulting offspring show excellent traits really depends on the parent stock though.
I wish you great luck on your quest, May the road rise to reach your feet!
 
Kay Bee
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Location: Jackson County, OR (Zone 7)
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I think it is a lot about expectations... if the person planting the food forest wants the forest to produce large, juicy, sweet apples with the flavor that they have become accustomed to, planting a grafted variety is probably the best way to go. If they are more interested in basic cider production, planting seedlings from several types of apples will get them what they want just fine. If they want a particular type or flavor of cider, then planting grafted varieties is probably necessary.

However, there are a lot of fruit tree types that will produce reasonable similar fruit to the parent from seed. If a person planting a food forest were to emphasize stone fruits, or nuts, the seedlings of these types of trees can continue to replicate similar qualities of the initial plantings in future generations.
 
Brenda Groth
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it never hurts to plant a seed if you have the land for it..we have accidentally grown some lovely fruit trees from seed because we had bait piles for hunting 30 years ago when hubby hunted deer and cause we tend to throw out our pits and seeds and stuff..in the field so they don't sprout in the garden, thus in the field we now have lots of fruit trees growing.

3 of our lovely accidents have survived well and are giving us beautiful apples..not same as the parents..but nice apples..we have peach and plum also growing and some cherries that have not yet produced fruit but we are waiting..as well as a lot of tiny seedling fruit trees that we'll find out what they are someday.

as for the clones..I love clones..

when I prune my grapes for better production..i'll often stick some of the prunings in the soil here and there along fencelines, in woods, etc..and sometimes they'll grow and give me new grapevines of my favorite grapes..seldom do I get any from seeds of rotted grapes though..wonder why?

I have read that you can actually take cuttings from fruit and nut trees and root them off rather than just grafting, but I haven't tried that yet..hope to some day when I remember to do it..that would be a neat way to get some great fruit if it does work...obviously digging up suckers works well for lots of fruits as well...and some nuts like hazelnuts.

often the baby so called "seedlings" you buy are really just rooted cuttings..sometimes not very well rooted cuttings either..

as far as self sustaining permaculture..from things just dropping and reseeding themselves..some do..some do not. Plums are very very prolific at reseeding themselves around a plum tree..apples sometimes will..nuts nearly always will esp if a squirrel helps them out..but all too often we just keep things way too clean under our fruit trees, so we don't get the babies sprouting..if you go to an abandoned orchard often you'll find juvenile trees growing at the drip edges of an old fruit or nut tree.
 
Amedean Messan
pollinator
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Location: Melbourne FL, USA - Pine and Palmetto Flatland, Sandy and Acidic
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julian kirby:

I agree with you insofar as the needs of a diverse gene pool. However, I feel that clonal propagation is a beautiful and wonderful thing. Plants evolved in a way that allows them to grow roots from the stem because at one point in time their environment was conducive to this behavior. Some of the benefits of clonal propagation are: the ability to keep a beautiful/productive/delicious specimen alive for more than one season, sharing a beloved plant with friends, more plants to sell, and most importantly as a reforestation tool; cut a tree down, root branches, replant. As for grafting, I have little knowledge, but being able to graft a cutting onto existing root stock or another plant sounds more efficient than cloning. as for hybridization, if you grow more than one variety of something, there is a chance that they will breed and make "your" gene pool bigger, whether the resulting offspring show excellent traits really depends on the parent stock though.


I think we are in similar lines of agreement. All these techniques of propagation are beneficial when not abused to scale. Your pointers on hybridization are spot on as far as diversifying the gene pool. On another note, I modified the title to correct my focus. My concern is depleted gene pool and over-dependence on select strains. I heard a story regarding Mexican farmers and corn where the farmer would scatter seed on the outer parameters of his field to allow nature to selectively improve a naturalized strain. That partnership with nature and man allows evolution to influence the strain and not produce a vulnerable, human dependent plant which requires more work. The trouble is that now these wild regions are are diminishing to a scale where evolution is slowed.

Mono-cultivation leads to reliance on genetic engineering

The trend is to buy a piece of land, clear it, then go to your local Lowes Home Improvement or other large scale nursery provider where your neighbor may have the exact same clone/grafted plant. To put into perspective, if all the land was to be divided evenly to the human population then each person would receive roughly 4 acres of land. At this scale there is little room for natures role of independent gene strengthening. People have a habit of giving a leg up to beneficial species but this creates an unbalanced evolution requirement for man's input. This is where vigor becomes depreciated and humans have to play an active role in protecting these species. This is why peaches and apples are difficult to manage, why domestic cattle are more fragile than their vigorous wild counterparts, why pinapples or bannanas cannot self propagate and so forth. Here is a historical projection regarding the banana in a snipet from wikipedia:

wikipedia:

While in no danger of outright extinction, the most common edible banana cultivar Cavendish (extremely popular in Europe and the Americas) could become unviable for large-scale cultivation in the next 10 to 20 years. Its predecessor 'Gros Michel', discovered in the 1820s, suffered this fate. Like almost all bananas, Cavendish lacks genetic diversity, which makes it vulnerable to diseases, threatening both commercial cultivation and small-scale subsistence farming.[48][49] Some commentators remarked that those variants which could replace what much of the world considers a "typical banana" are so different that most people would not consider them the same fruit, and blame the decline of the banana on monogenetic cultivation driven by short-term commercial motives.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana#Historical_cultivation
 
julian kirby
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Brenda, I have 0 experience with hardwood cuttings, but if you do try it wait till after the trees start budding and have a few sets of leaves, from what I've been told that makes it a lot easier.

I will argue with you Amedean, that in regards to disease, I'm gonna say about 50% of a plants susceptibility to infection is based on environmental factors the other half is genetics. you can grow a plant that is highly susceptible to fungal infections in soil amended with neem meal and it can confer protection from a plethora of pests and infections. http://www.greenstone.org/greenstone3/nzdl;jsessionid=22574BA99E15534EE182EAB7C3B6198C?a=d&c=envl&d=HASH01462dfbcb8f8d8b5899d364.7.np&sib=1&p.s=ClassifierBrowse&p.sa=&p.a=b
My neighbor's oak tree is infected really badly with powdery mildew, and my 1st raised bed is under it, the grass underneath the tree in both their yard and ours is infected, none of the flowers, vegetables, fruits, or berries showed a sign of it the bed was amended with crab shell, neem meal, kelp meal, alfalfa and espoma garden tone.
In my aunt's garden which is probably 100 yards away and has a pine tree near it, her squash, cucumbers and tomatoes suffered from PM (listed in order of worst affected) until I got her to stop hoeing up her weeds, then only the squash suffered. the section of her garden I used was amended with kelp and neem meals and diatomaceous earth PM was nowhere to be seen. What I grew in my patch was chard, beats, turnips, hot peppers, garlic chives and bunching onions.
I know that buying the neem meal isn't sustainable, but an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure.

What the Mexican farmers you heard about are doing is a great idea and should be practiced as often as possible. Nature can select for more traits quicker than we can.

Sorry for being so antagonistic in my writing style, helps me convey thoughts better.
 
Marc Troyka
pollinator
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Location: East Central GA, Ultisol, Zone 8, Humid
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julian kirby wrote:
What the Mexican farmers you heard about are doing is a great idea and should be practiced as often as possible. Nature can select for more traits quicker than we can.


In terms of disease resistance, maybe, in terms of food quality, no.

I agree that there's a serious growing need for genetic diversity in orchard trees. Bananas are a special case in that the only marketable cultivars are sterile; otherwise the seeds are very large and intrusive, with other orchard trees it's just laziness and to give hybrid breeders endless business. Apple trees don't take that long to breed OP, and it's entirely possible to meet or exceed the quality of hybrids with OP cultivars.

As far as cultivated species go, the only one I'm aware of that takes very long to reach fruiting age is monkey puzzle, which takes 50 years to finally go to seed. Everything else is 15 years or less.
 
Amedean Messan
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I will argue with you Amedean, that in regards to disease, I'm gonna say about 50% of a plants susceptibility to infection is based on environmental factors the other half is genetics. you can grow a plant that is highly susceptible to fungal infections in soil amended with neem meal and it can confer protection from a plethora of pests and infections.


This is not the focus of what I am trying to illustrate. What I am trying to communicate here is that there is a such thing as unsustainable reproduction of plants. If I am to invest in a food forest, I also have to consider the long term projections which also factor variability from reproduction quality. Biodynamic design is one element but I see the reproduction cycle as a neglected fundamental process that should include natures natural processes. This is why I mentioned the Mexican farmer story. There is such a thing when people subsidize the process too much and the result is man guiding the evolution of an organism to form a dependency on human inputs. Reducing inputs and maximizing outputs is paramount in permaculture design. In mathematical terms, it can be described as a ratio of efficiency.
 
julian kirby
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Well, the only way for these unsustainable practices to stop is for everyone in the world to stop purchasing from individuals and companies who practice them. there are many reasons for not liking these practices, I don't like the fact that I cant go to lowes/home depot and buy a rooted cutting from a 150 year old tree from the middle of an orchard, the fact that I can't just means that I have to work a little harder to find people who have good stock, and trade them what they want/need for some rooted cuttings and seeds.
I was just bringing another issue into the lack of genetic diversity discussion, and a potential alleviation of the problem.
 
Marc Troyka
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I did some digging into this, and found out that things are not what they seem. Many species of fruit tree such as apples and cherries are self-infertile (with some exceptions). What this means is that two trees with the same parents cannot reproduce, they absolutely require genetic diversity in order to be fertile. This is why you have to plant at least 2 varieties of apple trees in your orchard in order to get apples at all.

A consequence of this is that it is categorically impossible to create a 'stable' cultivar like you would with vegetables. Since new genetics, or at least sufficient variety is required to reproduce, you'll generally hit infertility before you get trees that breed true. There are a few self-fertile cultivars, but the disadvantage of those is that a plant will tend to pollinate itself, thus excluding outside genetic variety. It is possible to force them to cross, but it's an extremely labor-intensive process of cutting off all the stamens on the flowers for one plant as soon as they open. Grapes are bred by this process.

So the situation with apples is interesting. All apple trees, including heirlooms, are effectively F1 hybrids, and the only way to reproduce the trees true-to-type is to clone them, either by layering or grafting. There is a bright side to this, though, in that if you pick out clones of varieties with the genetics you want and then cross them and plant the resulting seeds to fill in your orchard/food forest, you can get unique apple varieties that can't be found anywhere else. Unless you clone a tree you can't get any type-stability, but you can definitely get much better than crab apples in just one generation. Of course, some of the apples (or cherries or whatnot) from seed will not be great, but you still get good-enough odds of getting winners too. Keep in mind this wouldn't work with store-apples, since they may use undesirable breeds for pollinating, sometimes even crab apples.

Trees of Antiquity carries quite a few heirloom cultivars of various trees, which could be used as sources for seed. Big Horse Creek Farm carries more than 350 different varieties of heirloom trees, plus some more recent varieties that have become rare. Many of these kick the pants off of the bland, cardboard-flavored store apples you find today, and they've even got varieties with other desirable characteristics like disease resistance and large fruit size. BHCF also takes custom orders, they have more varieties than they list, and if they don't have something you're looking for, they can probably find it for you.

Not all types of trees are breed-infertile like apples. Peaches, nectarines and apricots aren't I don't think, and reproduce with reliable traits from seed.
 
John Polk
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I started a thread about a year and a half ago about self fertile apples.
There is a list of about 5 dozen varieties that are self fertile...they need no help reproducing.

http://www.permies.com/forums/posts/list/7503#67370

 
Amedean Messan
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Location: Melbourne FL, USA - Pine and Palmetto Flatland, Sandy and Acidic
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I am currently highly interested in developing breeding programs which incorporate Antonovka apples. The Antonovka line is a relatively stable type of apple, in other words, seedlngs are quite similar to the parent. However, it's still a seedling, you could get a great antonovka, or you could get a mediocre one. I have read there is roughly a 90 percent chance of germinating a good quality strain which means I can breed resistance to scab and other diseases without being to cautious of culling the weakest plants.

There are a number of Antonovka selections that have been made and I read mostly from eastern Europeans that there are very good table quality lines available. Unfortunately it is incredibly difficult to obtain these quality strains in the United States. This will require me to travel to eastern Europe to obtain samples unless I make the right connections.
 
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