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Heirloom Fruit Trees?

 
Claire Skerry
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Location: Converse, Texas
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So I have spent a good while trying to find decent heirloom fruit trees I can buy either online or near where I live for a decent price. What I have found is most of them come on dwarf rootstock, which I'd like to avoid if at all possible. Though having one of those and taking cuttings off of it to root wouldn't be to bad.

Any ideas for good businesses to go to or other sources?
 
Jordan Lowery
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If your dedicated grafting is the best choice. A Lot easier to learn than most think. Last spring I grafted 150 fruit trees for 220$ they got planted yesterday. All were old world or wild varieties. So I got better varieties, it cost less and I have healthier trees than those nursery trees.
 
Claire Skerry
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Location: Converse, Texas
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Well the reason I'm searching for non-dwarf rootstocked fruit trees in the first place is I want the tree with it's natural root system. And I'd love to just take some cuttings from heirloom varieties and root them myself, but I wouldn't know where to go for the cuttings. I'm in the suburbs and everyone has the mainstream fruit trees from the nursery if at all, and I'd like some of the tastier heirlooms just not on someone else's rootstock.
 
John Polk
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Try http://www.treesofantiquity.com/

They are not the cheapest, but most are certified organic.
Great selection of some rare heirlooms.

 
Rachell Koenig
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I bought my heritage apple trees from Century Farms Orchard, and I was (and am still) very happy with them.
 
John Saltveit
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Jordan is right. Unless you're talking figs, quinces, medlars or pomegranates, very few will grow from cuttings. Grafting is a skill that you will use all of your life. You can also change over varieties if they don't do well in your climate, don't like them that much, get too attacked by disease or bugs. I also agree with John P that Trees of Antiquity is a great site to find heirloom varieties, they aren't cheap , but they're organic/good quality as far as I've heard.

I think your idea of bigger than dwarf makes sense. With dwarf you have a lot more irrigation issues because the roots are small, deer eat them very easily, they need more propping up so they don't break or fall over, and in general they're a lot more high maintenance. Semi dwarf are sturdier trees (10-20 feet high). I prefer 10-15, so get a named rootstock so you know the advantages of it.
John S
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Adam Klaus
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I can vouch for Trees of Antiquity. Top class operation, with prices to match.

Heirloom trees do have their limitations, in several ways. First, it really depends on what type of fruit you are talking about, but in many cases plant selection has been a pretty good thing. Take apricots, for example. None of the apricots that were availble 50 years ago would win any awards for taste today. No chance. The improvement in apricot fruit, through simple selection of superior mutations, has been tremendous. Even 'Perfection', the standard for decades in the late 20th century, is a total flop by current standards. It is mealy and flavorless when compared to Goldbar, a newer selection. Sure, you could grow Perfection, or even older than it, Patterson, for the nostalgia. But for eating quality, there is no comparison to the modern selections.

Second, tree genetics are not locked in stone. They are constantly shifting over time. The DNA of a two year old tree is not the same as that tree at 80 years of age. We think of genetics as a fixed reality, when in fact it is highly dynamic. This means that trees are not genetically the same forever. My experience with this comes from working with Jonathan apples. The old-style Jonathan is essentially an heirloom tree. It bears minimal similarity to the 'Jonathan' apple trees sold be nurseries. Part of this is disingenuous marketing, and part of it is that the genetics have simply changed over the decades. Plant breeding is not a pinnacle accomplishment, rather it is an eternal process. Nothing stays the same. We continue to have excellent varietals through careful selection, as much as through meticulous reproduction. Something to think about.

good luck!
 
John Saltveit
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I'm trying to understand your statement. Are you saying that if you grafted Jonathan 100 years ago, that tree would stay the same, but a newer grafted Jonathan would change? How?
How many times has my Calville Blanc D'Hiver changed? The variety is 500 years old. From what i've heard, it has always had an outstanding amount of vitamin C. Are you saying that went away, then came back? Does the flavor change over that time as well? The size? The color?

How about Court Pendu Plat? It is said to be from ancient Rome. Same with the lady apple, api.

If Jonathan bears minimal similarity, why would we even call them the same name?

Are you talking about sports and actual differences in their genetics?
I don't really understand, but I'm fascinated.
John S
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Adam Klaus
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John Saltveit wrote:I'm trying to understand your statement. Are you saying that if you grafted Jonathan 100 years ago, that tree would stay the same, but a newer grafted Jonathan would change? How?

The original Jonathan tree would change. Not so much that it would become a Red Delicious, but from a genetic standpoint, if you mapped the DNA of a given apple tree a century ago, and then mapped it again today, you would get different DNA sequences due to the effects of mutations over time. Yes, the tree would still be very similar to its original self, but not identical.

John Saltveit wrote:How many times has my Calville Blanc D'Hiver changed? The variety is 500 years old. From what i've heard, it has always had an outstanding amount of vitamin C. Are you saying that went away, then came back? Does the flavor change over that time as well? The size? The color?

It is changing all the time. Yes, it stays 'mostly' the same, but it is genetically changing. The flavor, size, color, etc, are all changing to some degree over time. As this has been occuring, the individuals selecting grafting material have tried to select their scions from trees that were most like the original type, ideally. In reality, there is always a process of selection occuring every time a scion is selected for grafting.

John Saltveit wrote:If Jonathan bears minimal similarity, why would we even call them the same name?

It still is more similar to a Jonathan than a Red Delicious. The genetic shift happens slowly, but is happening. Scion selection exacerbates the shift. A grower wants an especially red Jonathan, so he selects from a tree or a branch that exhibit that trait. Problem is, other traits have also changed. Over the last 100 years, nurseries have selected their Jonathan stock to color better in climates that were not perfect for the Jonathan apple. In reality, the Jonathan was always a very poorly adaptable apple, that did well in very limited sites. Commercial selection have broadened the adaptability by selecting trees that are more different genetically from the original. Now we have commercial Jonathan apples that 'look like a Jonathan' when grown in an environment that Jonathan's would never have colored red in to begin with. Problem is, those new 'Jonathan' trees are Jonathan in appearance, but not in flavor. Technically, the scions have always been taken from Jonathan trees, hence the Jonathan lineage and name, but genetic drift and unnatural selection have seen a change in the actual genotype of the tree.

My point to all this, dense and meandering as it may be, is that nothing stays the same forever. IMHO, we are best served by constantly evaluating our animals and plants for their expressed traits, and selecting the best. Look at chicken breeding as an example. Over the last century, the American Breed Standards have created many different breeds that look different. They once were all excellent performing breeds, but now they merely look different, and have lost their performance along the way. I believe that farmers in the future will be better served by us propagating the best traits, rather than copying an ideal that is inherently temporary.

I am definitely advocating for open pollination, seed saving, homestead animal breeding, etc. I just think that we should not be too attached to a description from a century ago, when it is certain that the actual original genotype is now extinct. We are chasing shadows at a certain point. And of course, just my 2 cents.

Hope that helps, glad you are interested in the topic!
 
John Saltveit
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This is a really interesting topic. I would make a distinction between someone choosing a distinctive bud sport, and the very slight genetic drift that it would make over time. Usually, if it really is different, it is called Red Gravenstein, Red McIntosh, etc. (Those are real varieties that are different.) I have trees upon which I have noted really different looking bud sports. I have not yet gathered noticeably different bud sports to distribute as scion wood. This is because as yet I have not tasted the fruit and noted the difference. There are many varieties in which people have become disappointed with it over time. Current Red Delicious is pretty flavorless, but red, pretty, crisp, and has great shelf life. I know several people who wanted to go back and find the original of that variety, called Hawkeye from Iowa. Likewise many people are disappointed with the current Gravenstein, and are asking around to see if a variety that someone has maintains the real old flavor. The variety dates to at least the 1600's. Grocery store owners assume that you don't pay attention, and once you bought the apple, they don't care. Most grocery stores are corporate owned.

In general the descriptions, such as 100 year old Beach's Apples of New York hold true for heirloom varieties. Ethically, they are supposed to use a name change, like Red McIntosh instead of McIntosh, Prairie Spy instead of Northern Spy, etc. This is different than for vegetables, because with vegetables, we are talking about gathering seedlings of the plants. With the fruit trees we are talking about bud sports or slight genetic drift over time. One can choose vegetables to be more adapted to your area over time by gathering seeds of the best vegetables. With fruit trees, you don't call it the same variety. Making new varieties from a seedling is the other major way that new varieties of fruit trees are found, besides the bud sports. The seedlings are often referred to as pippins, as in Yellow Newtown Pippin, or Cox's Orange Pippin.
John S
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Adam Klaus
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Good conversation John. I hear you on the sport/scion difference. Thing is, it is subtle. Like you said with gravenstein and red delicious, and I have found with Jonathan, there is something lacking. The qualities that caused these varietals to become renowned in the first place have gone missing over the decades. It's a bummer, but I think, a fact of plant life. They just dont stay the same forever.

In all the fruit testing I have done, the super old, very coveted and classic varietals have never impressed. I was disappointed at first, but now I just see it that nature doesnt want to stay the same, and wont. Those classic varietals were the best in their day, but there are now other varietals that will beat them head-to-head every time. I would say this is true with Apples, Apricots, Peaches, Strawberries, Raspberries, Grapes, and Nectarines, IME. I still love a few of the classics, but there is a lot to be said for new varietals that were selected against the standard bearers of the past, and won in trial after trial.

I sure feel like I am advocating a suprising perspective here, as I usually am all about old-fashioned and heirloom everything. I guess my views on fruit have just been shifting over the past years, and I think that the modern Jonathan apple, and the new Goldbar apricot and Albion strawberry have been the turning points for me.
 
John Saltveit
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What I find is that you have to be careful with varieties. I have had some Gravenstein that just wasn't that great. I bud grafted mine from a tree at my old house because it was the real old school fantastic one. I don't really go with the new=good, old=bad school. My favorites are a mix between new varieties and old varieties.

Why choose older varieties? First of all they have stood the test of time. There are new varieties like Criterion or Pinova that are mostly a marketing ploy rather than a time tested quality variety. Also, as Jo Robinson wrote in "Eating on the Wild Side", most new breeds have bred nutrition out of the fruit. SOme fruit now is so sweet and bland that you are more likely to get diabetes after eating it, not less. Most new varieties are huge, sweet, bland, pretty, and have amazingly long shelf life. Some are made for flavor, but most of those are lacking in nutrition. Many heirloom apples are quite small. The smaller the apple, the more nutrition. Of the 76 most nutritious apples, the first 75 are crabapples. MOst of the nutrition in an apple is in the peel. Bigger apple, less peel, less nutrition. It also makes it a bigger target, and more attractive to pests and diseases. Most heirloom fruits became heirloom fruits because in one particular climate, each year they produced wonderful fruit. Not in every climate, but in one particular one. Heirloom fruit also has particular flavors. Winter Ribston and Calville Blanc D'Hiver are tart because they have a lot of vitamin C- more than an orange! In addition to the flavors, we get more tannins, and more antioxidants. Unusual flavors: anise, lemon, quince, strawberries, mint. I don't want bland, uniform, sweet supermarket fruit. I want specific, unusual, nutritious flavors for my local area.
 
Robert Eiffert
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I'm not so sure about the 'changing genetics' and would like to see something in the orchardist / science literature about it.

Perhaps this explains some of that:
"Although all members of the same clone have the same genetic makeup and can be exactly alike, environmental factors can greatly modify the expression of the genetic character so that the appearance and behavior of individual plants can be strikingly different. An orchard of ‘Delicious’ apples that is pruned, irrigated, sprayed and fertilized properly for high quality productivity will appear totally different from an adjacent abandoned orchard of the same cultivar, yet the plants are genetically identical."

http://homeorchard.ucanr.edu/The_Big_Picture/Propagation/
 
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