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Ask a Grower

Posted 5/1/2012 8:34am by Ben Wenk.

I try to answer every question I'm asked - from regular customers to random web wanderers.  But if there is any query that is likely to stand out from the crowd, it's an intriguing question from a web lurker overseas.  We received a comment matching this description (ref. "Ask" vol II) from Prasanjit this week, checking in from India:

Prasanjit said,
4/30/2012 @ 3:23 am

Hi.
We're located in the city of Mumbai, India. We have lawys loved growing our own veggies, and I decided to grow an apple seedling, from the seed of a Granny Smith apple. After it sprouted and began to leaf well, I tried the same with Gala and Red delicious apples too. Now I have 4-5 young saplings, 2 each of GS and Gala, and one of Red Delicious.

I have now begun to realise that I will likely not get a GS apple from a GS sapling. However, is it possible for me to graft between these saplings I've grown from seed, and obtain a GS/Gala/Red delicious apple? Do let me know. I would really love to be able to grow these on our farmland, and atleast receive one type of edible apple from these 5 saplings I'm growing.

Thank you.


seedling rootstock treeThank you, Prasanjit!  It's actually a fairly difficult thing to rear an apple tree from a seed, so you're doing quite well for starters.

For the history buffs out there, grafting has been an agricultural practice for more than 4000 years by some accounts.  Even today all fruit orchards depend on the skilled grafting hand of a nurseryman to provide the trees that feed people.  The same is true for any number of nut trees, grape vines, and a whole slug of ornamental trees and plants.  

To address your question, you can graft any variety on those those seedlings and produce apples of a variety you prefer.  What you'll need is some scionwood (budwood) and a little education.  Just to reemphasize for clarity, you'll need to have cuttings of a living, growing Red Delicious or Granny Smith tree to have the budwood to graft over the seedlings.  

Without knowing the diameter of your seedling, it's hard to provide foolproof advice.  Provided your seedling trees are at least 5/8 inches in diameter (that's about 16mm), you should have enough plant material to chip bud your seedlings.  You'll want to leave the top of the tree grow and make leaves to feed the rest of the tree.  Using the chip budding techniques in the videos below, you'll be able to attach several buds to each seedling and they should grow - provided your cuts were straight and sterile and your union (cambium to cambium for all my fellow botany nerds) is good.  

What might be fun is to leave the top of the tree, the old variety, in long enough to try some fruit before you cut it out.  Sure, it may be nothing like the Granny smith you hoped for, but it might be a good variety, you never know.  Perhaps it will be a new discovery - the world's greatest apple!  Just don't forget who suggested leaving that branch in when the budwood is distributed!

And if the apples aren't good, just cut that part out!

- Farmer Ben


Further "Ask A Grower" reading:

Posted 10/13/2011 11:30am by Ben Wenk.

So I'm mixing my Alton Brown references with "The Tick", and no, I don't expect anyone to keep up with this nonsense.  I'm just be preparing you the reader for my own level of acute, scientific detail I've come to love from Alton Brown as the blog moves along.

On to our question!  This one is a very common question, most recently posed via our twitter account by New York-based food blogger NutmegNanny via our good friend Michelle at eatniks:

"@NutmegNanny Can you store apples in the fridge?"


bulk bins full of freshly harvested apples 25 bu wooden bins and 23 bu plasticNot only can you store apples in your refrigerator, it is my recommendation that you do!  Unlike other edibles - onions, potatoes, eggplant, and tomatoes come to mind, that will endure internal cellular damage and flavor alteration when stored at refrigerator temps, apples thrive and endure in your chilly frigidaire (as do peaches, but that's another blog for another time).

While I endorse refrigeration as the preferred method of apple preservation, it does come with a caveat or two.  As the aforementioned Alton Brown frequently reminds his audience, refrigerators are often victims of cross contamination and "flavor blending" and apples are no different.  The best spot for your apples is in the crisper with other veggies and fruits such as greens or carrots, geographically separated from proteins, dairy etc.  Apples are not spoiled by moist environments the way other fruit and veg might be so no extra effort is required to remove your fruits from moisture.  Truthfully, a little moisture will help keep your apples fresh as dry atmospheric conditions in your fridge can cause moisture to be pulled from the fruit - you'll discover this in the form of wrinkled apple skin after prolonged fridge time.  Cut apples are not to be reinstated back into your fridge - seems obvious, but worth mentioning.  

apples - stored much better in modern fridges, than in 1940's mounds under corn stalksHow long is too long?  It's the perfect follow up question, so let's have a look.  A good answer is two weeks but it's not a "catch all" answer.  Trutfully, so many environmental and cultural factors go in to the longevity (or lack thereof) in apples, that it's hard to pin down in a neat and tidy way.  Each apple variety (and there are over 4,000) has its own quirks in regards to storage life.  Fuji, for example, have a history of success in long term storage - maintaining crispness for months in your refrigerator.  Some heirloom or heritage apples, Smokehouse for example, while delicious, do not keep well.  The amount of moisture and rainfall during the growing season and the distribution of rainfall over time plays a huge factor in certain apple varieties keeping better in some years than others.  Jonagold, one of my favorites, is a notoriously inconsistent keeper.  Some years, they are great keepers, others not so much.  Honeycrisp (everyone's favorite) is so finicky a keeper that the way we store ours is just about the only thing our farm values as a "trade secret" that you can't get out of me.  Suffice it to say we go to great lengths to store Honeycrisp differently to preserve their awesome eating qualities.  As chronicled in an earlier blog, apples stored in controlled atmosphere can maintain crispness for nearly a year without any sort of bizarre witchcraft (thanks to land grant ag research, of course).  And while "storage apples" are representative of the fine work we do on this farm and I'll happily put our good name on them, I think we all agree - the closer to harvest the better.  As it is with apples, so should it be with all of our eating.


Historically "Good Keepers"

Fuji
Arkansas Black
York Imperial
Cameo
Golden Delicious
Rome Beauty


Historically "Inconsistent Keepers"

Gala
Jonagold
Macintosh
Smokehouse
Jonathan
Red Delicious


see also,

Ask a Grower I, Roots and Scions - Apple Tree Anatomy

Ask a Grower II, Granny Smith Apple Seeds - Apple Tree Propagation

Ask a Grower III, Clingstone vs. Freestone Peaches

Ask a Grower IV, The Cider Blog - What's Cider, What's Juice?

Ask a Grower VI, Grafting - Part Historic, Part Horticultural Wizardry

Posted 9/29/2010 3:59pm by Ben Wenk.

Three Springs farmers market shopper and devoted cider enthusiast Erin writes:

"Hi, guys!  We are drinking your delicious cider and having an animated conversation about what IS the difference between apple cider and apple juice (and we wondered), what's your opinion on this great debate?"

The question is a great one - and timely, since we were able to roll out a very popular Fuji Apple Juice for our customers this past spring.  While the question was pretty clear (like the consistency of, say, apple juice), the answer is a little more murky and mysterious - a quality it shares with apple cider.  We're gonna chew on this simple difference and spend a little time on how each is made in the hopes of providing some delicious distinction between the two!

'07 Headhouse cider displayOn the surface, the two "apple-y" beverages are not very dissimilar.  Both are pasteurized and list as their ingredients only "the juice of apples".  As you can see, the difference between cider and juice is pretty minimal.  The main difference is the apples used.  For the purposes our discussion, I'll explain the difference in our cider and our juice.  Our juice, typical of many juices, is a one variety product.  We use only Fuji Apples in our juice.  They are very sweet and make a palatable juice on their own.  The Fuji apple juice is heated in excess of 200 degrees Fahrenheit so it can be shelf-stable bottled without the addition of any preservatives.  This also effectively kills whatever bacteria and impurities the product could have contained.  The resultant product is much lighter in color and consistency.  We like the sweetness of the juice because we know kids love sweet beverages and we figure parents can dig it if they can serve their children a sweet beverage that comes from a local, sustainably raised farm and contains no added sugars!  It's common for grocery store apple juices to be filtered to remove any hints and traces of apple sediment from the apple skins.  Though they might seem visually unappeeling... er unappealing (can't believe I almost went there), the majority of an apple's nutrition is found in the skin, thus we leave it right where it is.  Caveat Emptor: grocery store juices also commonly contain preservatives, sugar ("corn sugar" and otherwise), and apple juice concentrate - concentrate bottlers can import from Turkey, China, etc. without labeling as such.

Cider, on the other hand, is best enjoyed when many apple varieties are present.  As a matter of fact, the sheer variety of apple flavors (in addition to Jonathan and other semi-tart base apples) is the not-so-well kept secret to our cider's success.  It's cloudy, complex, tart and sweet, and contains all that valuable sediment.  Our cider is also UV pasteurized, or "cold" pasteurized.  This is vital to flavor preservation, in my opinion.  This specialized UV has been proven by Cornell University to be equally effective in removing harmful bacteria as heat pasteurization.  Not only is flavor preserved, but this product actively ferments, for all the homebrew/homewine enthusiasts out there which also means all the phytochemicals beneficial to the digestive system are also present!

So in summary, there's not a lot of difference between the two beverages.  However, when they're done right, you should be able to tell easily.  Juices are clearer in color and consistency - a lighter, monochromatic beverage.  Ciders are bold, complex, dark, and more rich in flavor.  By definition, they are nearly the same.  In execution, they are worlds apart!

Stay tuned to this blog for fun, informative videos on this topic - debuting in the coming weeks!

 

further "Ask A Grower" readings:

 


Posted 7/1/2010 11:43am by Ben Wenk.

logoPeaches are on everyone's mind as we delve into the first pickings of the season.  Curiosity with these fuzzy summer treats yielded this question, via our Twitter account:

"Is there a way for me to determine if a peach is freestone or cling just by looking at it?" - asks Kelly "Miss Peach" G. of Washington DC (@kgdc1)

Great question from a true peach enthusiast!  The short answer is no, there is no sound way other than to know the variety and know its tendency.  Let's examine things a little closer.

The difference between clingstone peaches and freestone peaches is little more than what you would think.  For clingstone peach varieties, the flesh of the peach will cling to the stone (or pit), making it more difficult to remove.  Freestone peaches separate easily from the pit, making it easier to pull out once the fruit is sliced in half.  Some peach varieties, as we'll discuss later, advertise themselves as "semi-cling".  As much as I'd like to tell you, our valued customers and random web watchers, that "this peach is semi-cling, not clingstone", the truth of the matter is so very few semi-cling peaches ever separate from the pit that you might as well not even make the distinction.'Rising Star' peaches

At the time of this writing, at the start of the 2010 peach season, our earliest ripening peach, our 'Baby Juble' peaches are clingstone.  We have several earlier varieties planted who will also be cling.  'Rising Star' and 'Sentry' are next, both reportedly "semi-clingstone" and you remember what that means.  'Red Star' you will get a few more freestone peaches than other "semi-clings" but our first true freestone peach is 'John Boy'.  From that point forward, all of our peaches are freestone.  'White Lady' is our first freestone white peach.  We grow a mid-season clingstone called "Baby Gold #5" to make our canned peaches.  If you ever had a notion to can some for yourself (to deploy some good rural verbiage), you can special request some Baby Gold #5's from us!

So which is better?  Well, everyone likes freestone better, mostly because they like to pull out the pit.  Truthfully, there's nothing about a freestone peach that tastes better than a clingstone.  If one peach tastes better than another, it's because the variety is good, not necessarily because it fell off the pit.  'Rising Star' and 'Baby Gold #5' are two of my favorite peaches for flavor and they are clings, but I understand the preference folks have for freestone. 

So to wrap things up, no, you cannot tell a clingstone from a freestone merely by a peach's appearance.  You'd need to "Ask a Grower" to learn about the peaches he or she brought to market!  Thanks for the question, enjoy the peaches, and keep those questions coming!

 

-Farmer Ben

 

Posted 9/24/2009 1:34pm by Ben Wenk.

old logoA curious web follower writes:

Legend has it that (Granny) Smith threw out cores and peels from some Tasmanian crabapples she'd used to make a pie. Since she and her husband were orchardists who grew apples themselves, surely there were domestic apple remnants in the compost pile as well.

Would a crabapple seed and a domestic apple seed both have sprouted into seedlings, then cross-pollinated? Does cross-pollinating have any effect on either variety's fruit, i.e. flavor, color, texture? Does cross-pollinating ever result in new cultivars?

Certainly there was no grafting involved, as Smith's seedling is said to have sprung up on its own, "accidentally."

I'm just wondering how this could have happened, technically.

 

Well, it's true that the parentage of the apple variety ("cultivar" to use a little grower speak) is credited to a chance seedling originating in Maria Smith's backyard in Austrailia.  Before going on, the unlikelihood of this occurring cannot be understated - most seedling apple varieties are weird and unpalatable.  The fact that such an apple did arise from such unlikely circumstances is truly remarkable.  With that out of the way, let's wade through some somewhat fantastic exaggeration and figure out how varieties come from seed.

 

First things first, one cannot get a 'Granny Smith' tree from a 'Granny Smith' seed... or you're almost as likely to get that variety as any other.  You would need to take a cutting of budwood from a 'Granny Smith' tree, as explained in "Ask a Grower, vol I".  New varieties are mostly commonly derived from chance mutations ("tree sports" or "limb sports") or clever plant breeders, just to underscore the unlikelihood of valuable varieties coming from seed.

 

little appleWhen an apple tree blooms, that blossom needs the pollen of at least one other compatible apple variety to fertilize the bloom and make a fruit.  If you're planning an apple orchard, you must plan accordingly since apples are not self-fruitful.  All of the different kinds of pollen on that bloom are combined inside the seeds when that fruit is made.  How that pollen "jives" at fruit formation and what the resultant apple cultivar that seed might produce is a big crapshoot. 

 

So if Granny Smith pitched Tazmanian apple cores into her Australian compost heap, that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the apple we all enjoy today.  The different varieties in the culls (to use another grower turn) is going to have little to do with tree that sprouts from the pile, aside from the seed had to have come from one of them. 

 

So it's not rare that new apple varieties should come from seeds, though growing apple trees from seeds is often tricky.  What is rare that an apple variety derived from a wild seed source be worth a darn, and 'Granny Smith' is!



Further "Ask a Grower" reading:

 


Posted 9/17/2009 4:45pm by Ben Wenk.

logoFrom time to time, we recieve mail on our website with some questions about one thing or another.  It often takes me a while to get to them, but I do try to respond to each one whenever I find a moment here or there.  I recently got a real stumper, inspiring me to share it with everyone.  The emailer asks:

A neighbor had an old apple tree that the wind blew down. It had good, fall- bearing, sour apples. I took a sprout from around the base and planted. That was probably five/six years ago. The tree is about 20 feet tall, leafs out nicely every year but has never bloomed. What is the problem? Thank you..

 

This is a case of close but no cigar.  Let me explain.

 

Each apple tree grown at a commerical nursery is comprised of two crucial parts, the rootstock and scion.  The rootstock controls a number of things including the size the tree will be at maturity, susceptibility to diseases and a number of other things.  The scion is what makes a tree the desired variety.  In other words, a Gala tree is made of a rootstock that could be used to grow any other compatible variety and a scion, "cutting", of Gala.  These two parts are grafted together and the tree grows up to be the desired variety.

 

Old trees used rootstocks that, in addition to not controlling tree height, produced a lot of "suckers" as we call them.  A "sucker", as it's called in the fruit business, is a vegetative growth that takes energy away from the fruit producing part of the tree.  They are also called "rootsuckers" or "watersprouts".  They are always the first thing to go when dormant pruning an apple tree. 

 

When I read that this emailer had a large tree that didn't bloom and that the cutting was taken from the "base", it stands to reason that this cutting was part of the rootstock part of the tree - probably one of many "suckers" under the tree's canopy.  As a result, the tree is very large but doesn't bloom.  Because suckers are 100% vegetative and blossoms (and the subsequent fruit) is propagative growth, we can deduce that this trend is likely to continue.  This emailer knew to propagate the tree by taking a cutting, he just took one at the wrong part of the tree.

 

Close, but no cigar.

ida red w/ limb spreaders


For further "Ask A Grower" reading: