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We could be planting fruit trees from seed!l  RSS feed

 
Scott Foster
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This is a rambling post so excuse me in advance.  

I don't have the depth of knowledge that many of the master gardeners on here possess but something has really been bugging me.

I feel like I'm creating a diverse garden with monocultural products.  I'm not sure if this makes sense.  For example, I purchase my bare-root fruit trees from a large online retailer. 

The trees are of high quality but where is the genetic diversity.  Aren't most orchardists and apple growers using the same clones?   Isn't this what we are trying to avoid. 

No doubt one has to start with what they can...I'm not talking analysis by paralysis or requiring so much perfection that the task becomes impossible. 

But shouldn't we give some thought to genetic biodiversity within the species?

     Recently, I read some articles and posts by Joseph Lofthouse and his attempts to get a super strain of corn (landrace) that thrives in a particular area.    He's even created a corn that the skunks don't eat, they grow too tall. 

Why aren't we doing some of this with apple trees for instance?  I have apple trees on the mind because they are the bain of my existence when it comes to disease.

Planting from seed you won't get a granny smith from a granny smith seed but who is to say that over time you can't produce your own apple that is bullet-proof perfection.

 
Also, the issue with the apple trees not producing fruit for ten years isn't necessarily true.  I recently watched a Youtube video where an apple seed produced a tree that had apples within three years.  Even if it does take ten years to fruit shouldn't some of the things we do be for the future.

I understand why we clone, I do it too.  There isn't a better way to plant fifty trees without spending a dime.  

I wonder if I'm missing something...Isn't genetic biodiversity as important as plant diversity.  I focus on planting trios and companion plants but I have to wonder if that is enough. 
 
Mark Tudor
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A combo of needing seeds from some heirloom varieties, and then having to wait years to determine if the fruit produced are spitters or tasty is limiting that if I had to guess. Getting cuttings from varieties that produce well for certain environments and grafting to existing, developed root stock can get a tree producing faster, but it trades time for additional cost.
 
Kyle Neath
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I think the answer to your question is time and space.

If you want to breed tomatoes, you can plant hundreds of them in a decent sized home garden. You can run through an entire generation of tomatoes in one year.

If you want to breed apples, you can only plant two or three in a decent sized home garden. It takes at least 5 years, sometimes up to 10 years to produce fruit. You claim you saw a single tree produce fruit in 3 years, but that is an anecdote — not an average (and breeding is all about large numbers). That same fruit may develop differently if grafted onto another root stock (larger, sweeter, etc). that's another thing about fruit trees — the rootstock affects its disease susceptibility, soil tolerance, height, etc. So really you need to test each of your new seedlings on a variety of different rootstocks, and each of these needs the same amount of space as every other tree. Once you have a good variety, you need to understand it's pollination and chilling hours requirements. Which means planting in a new location and climate — far away from your breeding grounds — to be able to understand it and share it effectively.

This is a lot of time. A lot of space. A lot of time relative to a human's lifetime. Cultivars like Honeycrisp take lifetimes to discover and cultivate. I don't think it's a matter of people not caring about biodiversity, but when the required effort approaches lifetimes, specialization tends to win out.

But I'd say plant away if you have the time and the space!
 
Chris Kott
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You raise a valid point, Scott. I think that the best place for such experimentation is a permacultural homestead. It may be the only kind of operation that could form itself to the activities necessary for producing and disposing of the various categories of edibility. Pigs and chickens get the spitters, anything at all resembling a cider apple gets squeezed for cider, you have your various stages of pie and preserve apple, and then your straight-up crunch into it apple. I think that you have quite the task ahead of you if you want to breed a strain of apple that breeds true 100% of the time, but that is not to say that it's impossible.

If your goal is to provide perennial food sources, I don't think this is the path for you, if it's the only fruit tree project on your property. If not, I think growing fruit trees from strains that breed true from seed is a great idea, and there's a place for a landrace apple tree program there.

Your methodology will be important. I think you would need to keep good records about the source of each seed. I would also be ruthless about eliminating trees with unwanted characteristics. If you are growing in optimal conditions, I would check this with someone who knows apple trees better than I, but you could try the first fruit off each for a season or two, but eliminate with prejudice any that aren't up to snuff.

Also, what do you think of the idea of sourcing the apples for the seeds from places where you could actually observe the tree? It would be better if you could find permaculturalist apple tree people, but even being able to observe characteristics of the trees or the limbs the apples come off of might be very instructive. Also, you could choose trees in microclimates similar to those you intend to plant in. There might be various ways to jumpstart your progress towards a landrace apple (mind you, crabapples come to mind every time I hear that).

-CK
 
Hugo Morvan
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People make new varieties all the time. Bigger ,more colourful, sweeter. Make a new hit apple and you're rich. Humans have diversivied the apple  more than evolution has. Apples originated from Kazachstan from forests. Small fruits with lots of seeds were how they looked.
Apples were small trees so had to stay out of the shades of big oaks and so on. They held up at the forest border or if trees had fallen over they took their chances.
Humans wanted more flesh on the apples so kept those trees and cut down the ones with undesired apples. I don't know when grafting came up. So basicly putting the tree you want on a super strong rootstock to get a lot of nice big apples.
Pretty neet trick if you ask me.
People don't want to waste precious time and space by fiddling with seeds.
Where i am , the soil is poor, but mega companies sell mono culture apples and ask you to change the ground by adding chalk/ fertilizer and chemicals to fight disease. There is a group of old folk trying to get people to take the old apples of the land back that faced less problems and needed less work.
People gone through all the selecting in the past and created this sustainable diversity.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Apples and diversity, interesting question you have posed since for many of the varieties it was a discovery of a tree already growing, with desirable characteristics, that created the variety.

Given that there are some 1000+ varieties of Apple trees already, one must question the need for "diversity". It seems to me that if you want a lot of different species growing on your place, it would be faster and more enjoyable to choose from the hundreds of old, heritage varieties already out there.
Then you would have some great, known starting stock, should you want to roll the dice with seed planting.

I grow apples on their own rootstock, mostly Arkansas Black, a variety we dearly love to eat and is recognized as the longest keeping apple you can grow.
While we started out with nursery grown trees, we can take pruned branches and root them for planting out the next spring, we can also plant true to species seed since this is the only apple tree we grow.

A few notes on apple trees from seed: they will take more than seven years to age enough to produce much of a crop per tree.
From seed trees may or may not produce edible fruit, as others have mentioned.
Seeds from grocery store apples will not be true to species as the commercial growers mix varieties in the orchards for cross pollination and thus you could get just about any cross imaginable.

Nursery stock, other than bare root trees, are usually 7-10 years old when you buy them (not including Walmart, Home depot, Lowe's and other "big box" stores which generally sell 2-4 year old trees in 5 gal. containers).

Diversity is indeed important but, with such diversity as is available in the apple tree world, it is hardly a huge concern, just plan to purchase in groups of two or three, from many different areas of the country and you should get a fair diversity of genetic materials.

Redhawk
 
Scott Foster
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Chris Kott wrote:You raise a valid point, Scott. I think that the best place for such experimentation is a permacultural homestead. It may be the only kind of operation that could form itself to the activities necessary for producing and disposing of the various categories of edibility. Pigs and chickens get the spitters, anything at all resembling a cider apple gets squeezed for cider, you have your various stages of pie and preserve apple, and then your straight-up crunch into it apple. I think that you have quite the task ahead of you if you want to breed a strain of apple that breeds true 100% of the time, but that is not to say that it's impossible.

If your goal is to provide perennial food sources, I don't think this is the path for you, if it's the only fruit tree project on your property. If not, I think growing fruit trees from strains that breed true from seed is a great idea, and there's a place for a landrace apple tree program there.

Your methodology will be important. I think you would need to keep good records about the source of each seed. I would also be ruthless about eliminating trees with unwanted characteristics. If you are growing in optimal conditions, I would check this with someone who knows apple trees better than I, but you could try the first fruit off each for a season or two, but eliminate with prejudice any that aren't up to snuff.

Also, what do you think of the idea of sourcing the apples for the seeds from places where you could actually observe the tree? It would be better if you could find permaculturalist apple tree people, but even being able to observe characteristics of the trees or the limbs the apples come off of might be very instructive. Also, you could choose trees in microclimates similar to those you intend to plant in. There might be various ways to jumpstart your progress towards a landrace apple (mind you, crabapples come to mind every time I hear that).

-CK


Hi Chris,

I currently have four apple trees including a crab and I've got five more bare roots on the way.  One of the trees in the ground is the Esopus Spitzenburg which is an antique but I'm not sure if it's true to seed.  It's an alternate producer and kind of a sickly tree    I would not be depending on these as a food source, they would supplement as biomass.        

I was thinking more along the lines of an experimental mini-orchard.   I like your idea of zero tolerance for unwanted characteristics. 

I'm almost on the New York border and there is a lot of cider goings on in the Hudson Valley.  I visited an orchard up that way and I know the cider maker is fermenting according to French standards using actual cider apples.   I think they are antiques.   The orchard might be a good resource.  I may have to go up this weekend,  drink a draft and see what I can come up with.   They are a pretty big operation but very friendly.  I actually had a pint with the orchards entymologist who was very laid back.  

A seed hunt is in order.    I'm intrigued by using some crabapples too.  I know there are quite a few varieties that are good for different uses.  The one I planted is supposed to be a good eater.

Thanks, Scott
 
Scott Foster
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:Apples and diversity, interesting question you have posed since for many of the varieties it was a discovery of a tree already growing, with desirable characteristics, that created the variety.

Given that there are some 1000+ varieties of Apple trees already, one must question the need for "diversity". It seems to me that if you want a lot of different species growing on your place, it would be faster and more enjoyable to choose from the hundreds of old, heritage varieties already out there.
Then you would have some great, known starting stock, should you want to roll the dice with seed planting.

I grow apples on their own rootstock, mostly Arkansas Black, a variety we dearly love to eat and is recognized as the longest keeping apple you can grow.
While we started out with nursery grown trees, we can take pruned branches and root them for planting out the next spring, we can also plant true to species seed since this is the only apple tree we grow.

A few notes on apple trees from seed: they will take more than seven years to age enough to produce much of a crop per tree.
From seed trees may or may not produce edible fruit, as others have mentioned.
Seeds from grocery store apples will not be true to species as the commercial growers mix varieties in the orchards for cross pollination and thus you could get just about any cross imaginable.

Nursery stock, other than bare root trees, are usually 7-10 years old when you buy them (not including Walmart, Home depot, Lowe's and other "big box" stores which generally sell 2-4 year old trees in 5 gal. containers).

Diversity is indeed important but, with such diversity as is available in the apple tree world, it is hardly a huge concern, just plan to purchase in groups of two or three, from many different areas of the country and you should get a fair diversity of genetic materials.

Redhawk


Thanks Redhawk


I guess the biggest concern I have,and the question I can't answer is why do apple trees have so many pest and disease issues that weren't around 200 years ago.  Part of it could be that I don't have enough biodiversity yet...same issue with the pollinators.  So maybe these issues will work themselves out with time. 


The orchards around here are spraying millions of gallons of toxic herbicides and pesticides on the trees. What changed from the depression era and before?   The trees back in the day didn't get any herbicide or pesticide and they did well...if not they died. 

Though there are many varieties of apples in the U.S. I think most of the new trees being planted are clones.    Do you think most of the early apples were crab apple varieties (the only native) or did Johnny Apple seed create enough genetic diversity with his apple seeds. 

I think I'll try some experimenting and see what happens.
 
Ray Moses
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I second at what Redhawks said there's immense diversity in apples and there's thousands of people out there always trying to find a new strain from chance seedling varieties I know a lady in my local area that developed a cultivar from a chance seedling but it takes thousands of dollars and decades to develop a variety as a cultivar.
 
Ray Moses
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How do you figure that pest of apple trees were not around 200 years ago?
 
Scott Foster
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Ray Moses wrote: How do you figure that pest of apple trees were not around 200 years ago?


I should have been more specific they were not as much of an issue.
 
Scott Foster
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This is a pretty interesting read from Cornell University they touch on the loss of genetic diversity.

[url=http:// Apples in America are a $1.7 billion industry today. Large markets favor industrialized agriculture practiced on a vast scale; the bottom line is consistency and efficiency. This factor combined with changes in American family life, has meant that within a century, the number of apple varieties available has shrunk to a tiny fraction of the 700 plus grown in the this country when S. A. Beach wrote The Apples of New York in 1905.  This loss of variety means a loss of genetic diversity. The genetic diversity of apples has continually eroded from a high of 7000 worldwide commercial varieties described between 1804 and 1904 to the present, when most of the world%27s commercial production is based on two varieties, Red and Golden Delicious and their offspring.]Cornell University Albert R. Mann Library[/url]

And this returns us to the wild apple forests of Kazakhstan, the world's center of apple diversity. Starting in 1989, scientists from Cornell's Geneva campus have organized and led expeditions to these forests to bring back seeds and grafting wood. The genetic diversity found in this material is critical for breeding apple trees with such desirable traits as disease and insect resistance, as well as fruit and tree quality. Promising reports on some of the Kazakh seedlings being grown out in Geneva suggest that the future of apples may lie in their past.
 
stephen lowe
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Scott-

Have you looked at sepp holzer's techniques at all? He talks about spreading the seed containing mash left from pressing apples and cherrys for liquor onto newly formed terraces so that the trees can pioneer and stabilize the slopes. Then you can thin as needed and graft onto any that end up being duds but you also have a great chance to observe the progeny of your local trees.  This might be a process you would look at emulating as a way to quickly introduce lots of specimen that are providing a purpose. In theory you could even just graft canes of the best seedlings onto the lesser seedlings and thus work toward a totally locally adapted tree.
 
Scott Foster
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stephen lowe wrote:Scott-

Have you looked at Sepp Holzer's techniques at all? He talks about spreading the seed containing mash left from pressing apples and cherrys for liquor onto newly formed terraces so that the trees can pioneer and stabilize the slopes. Then you can thin as needed and graft onto any that end up being duds but you also have a great chance to observe the progeny of your local trees.  This might be a process you would look at emulating as a way to quickly introduce lots of specimen that are providing a purpose. In theory you could even just graft canes of the best seedlings onto the lesser seedlings and thus work toward a totally locally adapted tree.


I am not really familiar with Holzer other than a couple of youtube videos.  I've pretty much used gaia's garden, Youtube, and Permies. Holzer and Fukuoka are next on the list.  This sounds like a good way to do it though...I've got the space.
 
Lori Whit
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I think we were inspired by the same video.  James Prigioni, right?  It was really interesting.   
I did some research after watching it as well, you may or may not be interested in some of this. 

https://elizapples.com/2016/03/20/on-their-own-roots/ ; It's worth checking out for the picture of the author standing under a healthy 200-year-old still bearing tree, if nothing else! 
A brief quote:
We were in the hot, humid, zone 7a-8a South which is known for all sorts of rots, fireblight strikes, fungal infections…you name it. And the trees that looked the best were the big ones. All of this observation caused me to believe that we probably have the best chances of growing low-input trees if they are on big roots.

I can grow other crops in the rows between the trees. I can graze animals. I can have a diversified income stream while waiting for the orchard to come into bearing and for the canopies to narrow the rows.


And this has some quite interesting ideas for growing own-root apple trees, lots of technical stuff, and also about keeping them manageable:  https://www.orangepippin.com/resources/own-roots


As well, Stephen Hayes' youtube channel is quite interested for learning about some older English varieties.  I've watched a few so far and learned a lot.  (Note: not permaculture, not my growing region, but clearly a vast amount of practical knowledge to be gleaned regarding apples.)  https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLD4A796C53CC9103F ; (There's a lot here and I've barely scratch the surface...)
 
Scott Foster
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Mark Tudor wrote:A combo of needing seeds from some heirloom varieties, and then having to wait years to determine if the fruit produced are spitters or tasty is limiting that if I had to guess. Getting cuttings from varieties that produce well for certain environments and grafting to existing, developed root stock can get a tree producing faster, but it trades time for additional cost.


Thanks, Mark!

I wasn't really getting the "need seeds from heirloom varieties," until I tried to find them online...everything is bare-root or a seedling.  I will keep looking.  I think when I posted this I was thinking of planting seeds and kind of taking a passive role until the trees get big enough and then just culling.  I like to plant stuff all over and see what happens.  You could say I'm a little sloppy. 

  My intention was not to create a strain of apple that I sell or etc.  I read in an article that the initial  Apple trees brought by the colonists as cuttings, didn't make it because they didn't like the climate. Most of the colonial era apples that survived were planted as seed. 

Hard cider was really a part of the early settler identity. Wine was seen as too French or British and too expensive for most. The orchard was the first activity on a new homestead, even before the house was built.  The average colonist was drinking a gallon of hard-cider a day.  My point is there must have been a lot of stock to choose from so it's no surprise that they came up with some good apples pretty quickly.

I'm guessing those apples could have been akin to the crab as they can make a good cider though not necessarily for eating.  I have no proof of this, just a guess. 

Saving apples by fermenting hard cider was the primary way of keeping apples back in the day so the apples were probably a little different.   It may be a fools errand but I might as well try it.
 
Scott Foster
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Lori Whit wrote:I think we were inspired by the same video.  James Prigioni, right?  It was really interesting.   
I did some research after watching it as well, you may or may not be interested in some of this. 

https://elizapples.com/2016/03/20/on-their-own-roots/ ; It's worth checking out for the picture of the author standing under a healthy 200-year-old still bearing tree, if nothing else! 
A brief quote:
We were in the hot, humid, zone 7a-8a South which is known for all sorts of rots, fireblight strikes, fungal infections…you name it. And the trees that looked the best were the big ones. All of this observation caused me to believe that we probably have the best chances of growing low-input trees if they are on big roots.

I can grow other crops in the rows between the trees. I can graze animals. I can have a diversified income stream while waiting for the orchard to come into bearing and for the canopies to narrow the rows.


And this has some quite interesting ideas for growing own-root apple trees, lots of technical stuff, and also about keeping them manageable:  https://www.orangepippin.com/resources/own-roots


As well, Stephen Hayes' youtube channel is quite interested for learning about some older English varieties.  I've watched a few so far and learned a lot.  (Note: not permaculture, not my growing region, but clearly a vast amount of practical knowledge to be gleaned regarding apples.)  https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLD4A796C53CC9103F ; (There's a lot here and I've barely scratch the surface...)


Yes!  That is the video that inspired me👍🏻🎩 Thanks for the great information and the links I will check them out tonight😁
 
Bryant RedHawk
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The orchards around here are spraying millions of gallons of toxic herbicides and pesticides on the trees. What changed from the depression era and before?   The trees back in the day didn't get any herbicide or pesticide and they did well...if not they died. 

Though there are many varieties of apples in the U.S. I think most of the new trees being planted are clones.    Do you think most of the early apples were crab apple varieties (the only native) or did Johnny Apple seed create enough genetic diversity with his apple seeds. 


Scott, that statement of yours covers why there are so many diseases of fruit trees today when compared to prior to 1945.

Johnny Apple Seed didn't create any varieties he used seeds he kept from apples he ate on his walkabout, at least that is what I gathered from his writings while he was at the farm in Newburgh NY that I lived on in the 1960's.

While it is possible to breed resistant apple varieties, most have turned to grafting as the fast method for achieving resistance (some times this works and others it doesn't really work that well).
I've found that paying attention to the soil and supplying what the soil needs to be a complete, super healthy soil is the way to go about raising resistance in apple trees and pear trees.
I am using my own orchard for this experiment and may have lost the one non-Arkansas Black tree I had this year (the donkey decided to browse that one tree, leaving the A.B.'s alone).

This past season was really a changer on our farm, everything except the figs and persimmons dropped all fruit that had set.

Redhawk
 
Judith Browning
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The orchards around here are spraying millions of gallons of toxic herbicides and pesticides on the trees. What changed from the depression era and before?   The trees back in the day didn't get any herbicide or pesticide and they did well...if not they died. 


This reminded me of something I read that said don't buy an old apple orchard (or land where there has been one) because of arsenic (I think?).  I'm pretty sure this was back in the twenties and thirties...maybe into the forties, that some serious heavy metals were used in orchards.

Found some links to articles about lead arsenate used in apple orchards various places.  One mentions it's use from the twenties through the sixties.

 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I love growing fruit and nut trees from seed. My community is filled with seed grown, food producing trees. There is a robust community of people here who grow fruit and nut trees from seeds. I'm working on tree breeding projects that were worked on by my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents and their peers. I'm in this for the long haul. So what if it takes 15 years for a walnut to bear fruit? The walnut tree I planted 50 years ago is thriving. The walnut trees I planted as seedlings 15 years ago may be producing fruit any year now. I have distributed seed grown fruit and nut trees widely around my community. Some will grow as shade trees, some will grow adequate food, some will grow marvelous food and will form the basis of the next generation.

Last winter, I planted a bunch of apricot seeds. About 20 seedlings are alive this fall. In the spring, I intend to transplant them into a short row, spaced perhaps 2 feet apart. Then in a few years, after they have fruited, I'll select which to cull, and which to transplant, graft, or propagate further. I might even let them turn into a wild apricot hedge. I'm certainly not lacking for space to grow things, and there are plenty of vacant lots around to expand into if I ever felt the need.

As they say, the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree. The same thing applies to growing trees from seeds: Offspring tend to resemble their parents and grandparents. Even if we don't know who's the daddy, there is an excellent chance that a great tree will produce great offspring.

Walnut seedlings




 
Bryant RedHawk
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Sounds great Kola Lofthouse. 

That is similar to what I am doing now, I purchased the starter group of trees and use seeds from the fruits to start more trees.
Sometimes I do some air layering just to get a head start or making use of branches that need to come off anyway.

This next spring I will cut and plant around 15 new fig trees from the three fig trees we started out with.
In the early fall I'll be planting some pear trees from air layers that I have to do this spring since there are some weak trunk joint branches that need to come off.

Redhawk
 
Scott Foster
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Judith Browning wrote:
The orchards around here are spraying millions of gallons of toxic herbicides and pesticides on the trees. What changed from the depression era and before?   The trees back in the day didn't get any herbicide or pesticide and they did well...if not they died. 


This reminded me of something I read that said don't buy an old apple orchard (or land where there has been one) because of arsenic (I think?).  I'm pretty sure this was back in the twenties and thirties...maybe into the forties, that some serious heavy metals were used in orchards.

Found some links to articles about lead arsenate used in apple orchards various places.  One mentions it's use from the twenties through the sixties.

[/quote

I'm guessing it was in the forties that is when pesticide/herbicide use really kicked in.  I was reading a Wikipedia article and I had to stop reading when they started listing the benefits of the pesticides.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pesticide
 
Scott Foster
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:I love growing fruit and nut trees from seed. My community is filled with seed grown, food producing trees. There is a robust community of people here who grow fruit and nut trees from seeds. I'm working on tree breeding projects that were worked on by my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents and their peers. I'm in this for the long haul. So what if it takes 15 years for a walnut to bear fruit? The walnut tree I planted 50 years ago is thriving. The walnut trees I planted as seedlings 15 years ago may be producing fruit any year now. I have distributed seed grown fruit and nut trees widely around my community. Some will grow as shade trees, some will grow adequate food, some will grow marvelous food and will form the basis of the next generation.

Last winter, I planted a bunch of apricot seeds. About 20 seedlings are alive this fall. In the spring, I intend to transplant them into a short row, spaced perhaps 2 feet apart. Then in a few years, after they have fruited, I'll select which to cull, and which to transplant, graft, or propagate further. I might even let them turn into a wild apricot hedge. I'm certainly not lacking for space to grow things, and there are plenty of vacant lots around to expand into if I ever felt the need.

As they say, the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree. The same thing applies to growing trees from seeds: Offspring tend to resemble their parents and grandparents. Even if we don't know who's the daddy, there is an excellent chance that a great tree will produce great offspring.

Walnut seedlings


Very Inspirational.   Your articles are part of the reason I am interested in planting from seed.  Just let nature do the natural selection.   Good luck with the Apricots! 



P.S. I will be ordering some grain and corn from you this winter.


Scott






 
Scott Foster
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Redhawk,

Major bummer about the fruit dropping.  I had blossoms on all of my apple trees this year but they got hammered by cedar apple.  I just came inside from planting out two liberties and some pollinators.  Hopefully, they are as good as they say they are.

There is no way I'm giving up on apples they are just too precious.  There are so many good things you can do with them.

Do you have any idea what caused the fruit to drop?  Too much rain maybe?

I am a firm believer in the soil too...I'm doing everything I can to improve it without spending any cashola.

Regards, Scott

 
Kamaar Taliaferro
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I'm hoping this link will take you to a playlist from the Skillcult channel. It's about this dude's home-scale, amateur, apple breeding project.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SB5-4Nxej2I&list=PL60FnyEY-eJAMOPvU-yyF4JfuW5ocJvC4

A short synopsis of his technique; He collects pollen and cross pollinates by hand the varieties/traits he's looking to experiment with; he then collects the seeds from the apples that grow; he plants those seeds out in high density nurseries; and then he grafts the whips onto (likely) dwarfing rootstocks to speed up their fruit set.

That's a good, if laborious, way of (relatively) quickly encouraging the traits in apples you're looking for. I plan on emulating it once I have the space. I've heard the cider rumblings coming out of Hudson recently as well--I'm on the NY-Ma border. In the future I'd be down to collaborate on some apple breeding madness.
 
Scott Foster
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Great article on the subject.

New York Times
 
Scott Foster
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Kamaar Taliaferro wrote:I'm hoping this link will take you to a playlist from the Skillcult channel. It's about this dude's home-scale, amateur, apple breeding project.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SB5-4Nxej2I&list=PL60FnyEY-eJAMOPvU-yyF4JfuW5ocJvC4

A short synopsis of his technique; He collects pollen and cross pollinates by hand the varieties/traits he's looking to experiment with; he then collects the seeds from the apples that grow; he plants those seeds out in high density nurseries; and then he grafts the whips onto (likely) dwarfing rootstocks to speed up their fruit set.

That's a good, if laborious, way of (relatively) quickly encouraging the traits in apples you're looking for. I plan on emulating it once I have the space. I've heard the cider rumblings coming out of Hudson recently as well--I'm on the NY-Ma border. In the future I'd be down to collaborate on some apple breeding madness.


These vids are very inspiring!  I will definitely be following this cat.  Let me know when you start breeding.   Thanks for sharing this...awesome.
 
Krofter Young
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All of the trees that Johnny Appleseed planted throughout the Ohio River Valley were from seed.  Those trees had the highly valuable random genetics your referring to.  Since then we've done nothing but select for ever sweeter and larger fruit.  In the process, nutrition has gone by the way side.  I've seen the term "spitters" used several times in this thread.  Too bad.  Those spitters are often the most nutritious apples. With diabetes and obesity running rampant (due to deriving ever more calories from carbs (sugars)), we would do well to eat more spitters and fewer of the sickly (literally) sweet apples found in most stores today.  Besides, planting from seed leverages genetics much more powerfully to develop land races and cultivars than planting the same old root stocks and waiting for hundreds of years for that root stock to hopefully acclimate to the soil and climate conditions of any given local.
 
Wes Hunter
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Scott Foster wrote:I guess the biggest concern I have,and the question I can't answer is why do apple trees have so many pest and disease issues that weren't around 200 years ago.  Part of it could be that I don't have enough biodiversity yet...same issue with the pollinators.  So maybe these issues will work themselves out with time.

The orchards around here are spraying millions of gallons of toxic herbicides and pesticides on the trees. What changed from the depression era and before?   The trees back in the day didn't get any herbicide or pesticide and they did well...if not they died.


I've got a book on my shelf titled "Orchard and Small Fruit Culture," copyright 1929, that devotes nearly 100 pages to controlling insects and diseases.  So they were around.

I don't know, but I'm going to hazard a guess that apple trees today aren't necessarily less resilient than they were then, but that apple culture has shifted and so more effort and emphasis is now placed on disease and insect control.  So what has changed?

It's easy to romanticize the past, but I think it's safe to say that the farms of yesteryear were more diverse than they are today.  When it was much more common to run livestock (poultry, sheep, hogs) under one's fruit trees, a burden was certainly eased.  Further, though the concept of production regions (e.g. dairy in Wisconsin, apples in Washington) is by no means new, I assume that particular regions were not as narrowly focused as they tend to be now, so that in apple country, for example, there was plenty of other agricultural production going on, thus mitigating some of the disease and insect risk.

I'd think another contributing factor is the increase in land prices.  Farmland is now not priced according to its productive capacity, it seems, but is valued as an investment or for residential and recreational concerns, in many places at least.  This then puts more strain on the farmer to make money, which could easily lead to a (desperate?) attempt to spray more in order to yield more salable fruit.

And then there are consumer demands for flawless fruit.  If you can't sell your apples because they've got a bit of scab, or a few indentations from insect bites, by gaw you're going to have to do something about it.

Anyway, I don't say this at all to dismiss your overall thoughts, Scott.  I've got a field of about 3 acres that borders my woodlot.  Over the coming couple years, my intention is to plant it (primarily) to widely spaced seedling apple trees.  I figure I'll get some apples for eating, some for cooking, some for cider, and some fit only for the deer and squirrels, which will in turn become apples for me.  I set out about 20 itty seedlings last spring in another location, but they ultimately didn't make it.  Whether they got grazed, pecked, or just outcompeted I don't know, but next spring I'll set them out in a nursery bed first to grow for a year or two before planting out.
 
Scott Foster
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Wes Hunter wrote:
Scott Foster wrote:I guess the biggest concern I have,and the question I can't answer is why do apple trees have so many pest and disease issues that weren't around 200 years ago.  Part of it could be that I don't have enough biodiversity yet...same issue with the pollinators.  So maybe these issues will work themselves out with time.

The orchards around here are spraying millions of gallons of toxic herbicides and pesticides on the trees. What changed from the depression era and before?   The trees back in the day didn't get any herbicide or pesticide and they did well...if not they died.


I've got a book on my shelf titled "Orchard and Small Fruit Culture," copyright 1929, that devotes nearly 100 pages to controlling insects and diseases.  So they were around.

I don't know, but I'm going to hazard a guess that apple trees today aren't necessarily less resilient than they were then, but that apple culture has shifted and so more effort and emphasis is now placed on disease and insect control.  So what has changed?

It's easy to romanticize the past, but I think it's safe to say that the farms of yesteryear were more diverse than they are today.  When it was much more common to run livestock (poultry, sheep, hogs) under one's fruit trees, a burden was certainly eased.  Further, though the concept of production regions (e.g. dairy in Wisconsin, apples in Washington) is by no means new, I assume that particular regions were not as narrowly focused as they tend to be now, so that in apple country, for example, there was plenty of other agricultural production going on, thus mitigating some of the disease and insect risk.

I'd think another contributing factor is the increase in land prices.  Farmland is now not priced according to its productive capacity, it seems, but is valued as an investment or for residential and recreational concerns, in many places at least.  This then puts more strain on the farmer to make money, which could easily lead to a (desperate?) attempt to spray more in order to yield more salable fruit.

And then there are consumer demands for flawless fruit.  If you can't sell your apples because they've got a bit of scab, or a few indentations from insect bites, by gaw you're going to have to do something about it.

Anyway, I don't say this at all to dismiss your overall thoughts, Scott.  I've got a field of about 3 acres that borders my woodlot.  Over the coming couple years, my intention is to plant it (primarily) to widely spaced seedling apple trees.  I figure I'll get some apples for eating, some for cooking, some for cider, and some fit only for the deer and squirrels, which will, in turn, become apples for me.  I set out about 20 itty seedlings last spring in another location, but they ultimately didn't make it.  Whether they got grazed, pecked, or just outcompeted I don't know, but next spring I'll set them out in a nursery bed first to grow for a year or two before planting out.


Thanks Wes!


I get what you are saying.  I would point out that most of the recent information we have regarding growing apples is based on commercial growers.  I'm not hammering Monocultural orchardists but I don't think we need to model our permaculture or food forest efforts on the same information.  We want stuff to taste good or fit the nitch we want it to fill.  Picking apples primarily on how they look and how long they last aren't necessary.   If you wanted to sell say a Russet Apple that's not very appealing to the eye but tastes like ambrosia you would have to educate the customer.  Here take a bite.

  When we talk about creating genetic diversity in an apple, the tree and the pest do the dance of natural selection.  The apple tree and the bug change over time in order to counter the other...it's constant.  What we have done is clone and reduce our apple yields to basically two strains.  By only cloning, we aren't allowing the apple to adapt.  I'm not saying there were no pests, I'm saying the man has come in and changed the game.   By cloning, we are not allowing the apple tree to evolve defenses.  The critter, fungus etc is still evolving.  

How are commercial apples chosen 1. Beauty, 2. Ability to get to the store in great shape.  Taste is the last thing considered when breeding.  I don't have any proof that we are dealing with a lot of disinformation because I haven't actually done it yet.  If I base my assumptions on why we are trying to implement permaculture practices, growing from seed makes a lot of sense.   Most of the new strains of apples that are non-GMO and are tough as nuts (Liberty Apple)  were found by cross-breeding with the apples from the Kazakhstan forests.   By cross-pollinating, planting the seeds and moving to a dwarf rootstock we can test an apple within 3 or 4 years.

I may be full of it.  We shall see.

Check out the video below that was shared with me...



 
Scott Foster
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Krofter Young wrote:All of the trees that Johnny Appleseed planted throughout the Ohio River Valley were from seed.  Those trees had the highly valuable random genetics your referring to.  Since then we've done nothing but select for ever sweeter and larger fruit.  In the process, nutrition has gone by the way side.  I've seen the term "spitters" used several times in this thread.  Too bad.  Those spitters are often the most nutritious apples. With diabetes and obesity running rampant (due to deriving ever more calories from carbs (sugars)), we would do well to eat more spitters and fewer of the sickly (literally) sweet apples found in most stores today.  Besides, planting from seed leverages genetics much more powerfully to develop land races and cultivars than planting the same old root stocks and waiting for hundreds of years for that root stock to hopefully acclimate to the soil and climate conditions of any given local.


We just have to find the seeds
 
Colleen Donovan
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Lots of good replies to this topic already, and I don't want to be repetitive so I'll just share this video that maybe be helpful in seeing when and why you would choose to plant something from cuttings (which of course is a genetic clone) vs. seeds (genetic diversity). Hope this helps! -Colleen

 
Victor Johanson
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Scott Foster wrote:Why aren't we doing some of this with apple trees for instance?  I have apple trees on the mind because they are the bain of my existence when it comes to disease.


Wait...we aren't? Then what are those couple hundred apple seedlings doing in my yard? Most are open pollinated from about 50 different cultivars I got at a local Fairbanks area u-pick last fall, plus some intentional crosses with my own trees, so they should at least have plenty of cold hardiness potential to address what is the bane of our existence up here.

Have you been to http://skillcult.com ? Steven Edholm is growing out all kinds of apple seedlings to get what he wants, and he's done a great job debunking the myth that planting apple seeds is an exercise in futility. The very first seedling he fruited was quite palatable, and he named it "Bite Me" in contradiction to Michael Pollan's assertions in The Botany of Desire that favorable results with seedling apples are a vanishingly small possibility. Skillcult has great videos and resources to help anyone learn the basics of what he's doing so they can take action themselves. It's not that hard.

The apples we find introduced to commerce now need to meet very narrow criteria. Some of them are pragmatic: apples with soft, melting flesh damage too easily for the kind of handling needed for nationwide distribution, so those are out. Others are just dictated by current fashion, with its bias toward apples that are sweet and juicy, with breaking, crunchy flesh. They're quite good in their way, but if you like variety, forget it. I actually found some MacIntosh apples, which used to be everywhere but have been almost entirely displaced now, in the co-op the other day. It was refreshing to experience how distinct in texture and flavor they are from, say, a Fuji or Jonagold. Oh well, at least the Red Delicious monoculture has finally been broken. Good luck finding a pie apple if they're out of Granny Smiths, though.

University breeding programs used to be publicly supported for the peoples' benefit, but now it's pretty much all about corporate funded research grants to further commercial interests. So if the people want things that are of no value to industry, it's incumbent on the people to take matters in their own hands and plant some seeds. A whole lot of the stuff we grow up here was developed by amateurs, because the reality is that no one else is going to pay for it. The University of Alaska used to breed and release cultivars suitable for us, but those days are long gone.

There are advantages to focused research programs, but thousands of citizens individually working and collaborating to improve things in which they're interested can accomplish a lot. Before the 20th century, thousands of worthy cultivars arose in just such a fashion. It's not the crapshoot it's made out to be, and in the worst case an undesirable tree can just be topworked to something acceptable, or used for cider or hog fodder.

So plant some seeds already!
 
Kevin Franck
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"I understand why we clone, I do it too. There isn't a better way to plant fifty trees without spending a dime "


I understand what you mean, but depending on the fruit or nut (or any other tree) it's lke tossing the dice. You could get something fantastic or get a dud of a tree hich produces nothing or very little and low quality. Unfortunately you have to often wait many years to find this out. But I had an interesting experience with a volunteer Pecan Tree nut which volunteered (planted by a scrubJay) back in 2005. In 2006 I left the San Diego California area and moved here to Sweden. The first years growth was rapid and straight as an arrow. It was just in the perfect spot and the straight tall nature of this tree was ideal. I knew it was a Pecan tree, but that was not the reason I let it stay there. It was for ornamental landscape reasons behind a little house in her backyard. It was the perfect tree & only tree for that location. Plus I've always love Pecan's bright attractive green foliage and tey thrive in hot dry climates. The bonus has been it has become a huge producer of very sweet pecans with a thin easy to crack shell and my mum called me to tell me this is the largest crop yet, even all her dogs love them. Not sure if dogs are ssupposed to eat them though. Here is a post I did.

  Pecan Tree Volunteer 

 
Jennie Little
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Do you know about Scott farm in Vermont? They're our local heritage apple orchard.

You'll find them at scott farm vermont dot com (no spaces and add punctuation as you'd expect!)

BookLady
 
S. G. Botsford
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As to apples not running true to type:

Initially apples are wildly diverse.  We've been selecting from that set for generations.  So the offspring of current apples are more likely to be edible.  I suspect, off hand, that they will be noticeably different from their parents.

Commercial apples:

My uncle Bill (Evans Fruit Co, Yakima) grows, I think 6-8 varieties of apple.  His two current biggest sellars are Fuji and Honeycrisp.  I don't remember the other varieties.

Considerations for commercial planting:

* Clings to the tree.  You don't want apples that drop as soon as they are ripe. (a problem with a lot of the northern prairie varieties)
* Variety of blooming times.  If everything blooms at the same time, you can lose your entire crop in one spring frost.
* Variety of ripening times.  You want a long picking season so you can keep your help.  Lately Bill has been planting cherries and apricots to add another month to the harvest season.
* Some bruise resistance.  While you take care, you aren't handling them with kid gloves. A standard apple bin holds about 800 lbs of apples, and is about 3 feet deep.  Apples are poured in from a few inches to a foot up.  They have to be tougher than eggs.
* Attractive colour.  Muddy yellows are out.  It can't look like an over ripe banana.
* Apples ripening at the same time.  You want to pick all the apples in one pass, or at most 2 passes.
* Good size.  Large apples fetch a premium price.  I saw fuji's the size of very small cantelopes.  Size can be modified by how hard you thin the trees.
* Self thinning.  A tree that drops surplus fruit early by itself makes for less work.
* Growth habit.  Influences the amount of annual pruning it takes.
* Pest resistance.  Fireblight is a big one.  I don't remember the others.

Profit margins on apples aren't big.  Overall something like 25 cents a box.


The problem with big trees is the amount of time you spend on a ladder.  There is merit in having the bottom branches 5 feet off the ground.  It makes for easier access for weeding, mowing, and reduces rain splashed fungal spores.

Current practice with new orchards is to make flat trees grown on wire trellises like grapes.  Each row is planted with trees on 3 foot spacing. The trellis is V shaped, with two sets of wires.  Alternate trees go up each side of the V. So each tree has 6 feet of trellis, and is 12 feet tall.  When working the trees, either for pruning, thinning, or picking they have trailers with platforms at various heights.  A tractor pulls the trailer at slow speed.  Works stand still and do the work as they get to the tree.  The trailer is designed to fit the aisle so that you can do both sides of the aisle in a single pass.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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I don't think pests and disease were less of a problem to our ancestors, they just had fewer remedies (and some of their remedies were very dangerous to human health).  Partly because of this, and partly because of the types of apples they were growing (the 'spitters' mentioned above), most apple production went into cider, where the apples don't need to be perfect. 

And I agree that we probably shouldn't be eating so much of the types of fruit that have been developed recently -- high in sugar and low in flavor and nutrition.  Apples are good for you, in moderation.  It's easier to eat them in moderation when they are smaller and more tart or bitter!  I'm not saying we should go away from the modern cultivars, necessarily, though I won't be planting any of the bland apples that are sold at the grocery store.  But for your health's sake, it might be better to eat less of them, or eat some of the smaller, older varieties.

 
Patrick Mann
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I noticed a couple of statements about cross-pollination that are not accurate:
* an orchard of purely Ark Black would produce seeds that grow Ark Black due to lack of cross-pollination
* grocery store apple seeds would not grow true due to cross-pollination

Very few apples are self-fertile, so you're almost always dealing with cross-pollination. Those Ark Black trees most likely get pollinated from other trees that could be miles away.
The seeds express different combinations of the genetic material on every pollination. I believe that includes self-fertile trees. So you always have a genetic lottery, though it's constrained by what's available in the genetic material of the parent trees.
 
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