Category Archives: Plants

The Perfect Fruit Tree Owner

August 29, 2019

McIntosh. My favorite.

Most will say you can’t grow a Mac here. Well, there is at least one tree in the Seattle area. Lori Brakken, apple sleuth, drives around and slams on the brakes when she spots any apple tree. She saw a Mac in the Seattle area and called me up. I visited the tree last winter and got permission from Kathy, the tree owner, to take some scion wood. (Allison and I made two grafts this spring and they both are doing well!)

Per the orangepippen website,  this apple was discovered by a John McIntosh, a farmer in Ontario in the early 19th century. The McIntosh was suited to the cold climate of the area as it achieves its best flavor in colder apple-growing regions.

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“The McIntosh style is typified by attractive dark red or (more often) crimson colors, and a crunchy bite, often with bright white flesh. The flavor is simple and direct, generally sweet but with refreshing acidity, and usually a hint of wine – often referred to as vinous”.

Kathy was anxious for us to return this summer for pruning and to give her a yearly management plan. Her tree has apple scab so she has been instructed to pick up all the apples and leaves. (Venturia inaequalis resides in the litter.)

Kathy is the perfect fruit tree owner. She cares about the tree,  is eager to learn how best to care for it and allows us to glean much of the fruit for the food bank.

“I’m in the arts”, Kathy announced. “I am not fruit tree expert. I was given an assignment in a training to draw part of a tree, once each month for three months. I chose this apple tree. Noting the details and the changes really woke me up to nature.”

Structural pruning is usually done in the winter but we “took a bit off the top and the sides”. Kathy wanted pruning on the street side so auto owners would stop breaking the branches. She also wanted a walkway between the tree and a nearby bush. Pruning has to consider all of the various goals.

Allison is tall and she managed the long-handled pruners. She ate as many apples as she could while pruning. In the end, Kathy was satisfied. “The tree looks good, like it did in years past!”

Below is a comment by Bruce, from the orangepipen website:

I grew up in central Pennsylvania and with the scent of McIntosh apple pie and apple dumplings, next door, in my aunt Eleanor’s kitchen. The stand-out attribute of this variety in my mind is the distinctive aroma. Quite unlike any other. The fruit, also unlike any other, is extremely delicate; that’s why I think most grocers avoid stocking them (the phrase I’ve heard them called is “smash and toss” apples) They bruise easily then rapidly mush and rot. They are like a beautiful sunset. Awesome and short lived. I’m attempting (with limited success) to grow them here in Western Washington, difficult because it doesn’t get cold enough in the winter. I will continue the effort because these are the best apples EVER !

Ruth

Pollen in the Wind

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July 2, 2019

I am riding my bike around Wallingford, looking for a couple of big Chestnut (Castanea) trees. I know they are here somewhere. Our lonely Prococe tree needs pollen. I have her male catkins stuck on the end of my bike, in case there is another solo tree out there in need of pollen grains. (Chestnut trees receive pollen from the wind, but the second tree needs to be within a few hundred feet.)

Edible Chestnut trees (not related to Horse Chestnut) need pollen from a different variety in order to pollinate properly. We have two varieties at the orchard … or should I say, had two trees. I am afraid the Maraval is in the bardo. She suffered childhood trauma and maybe that set the stage.

When she was tiny, someone, something, broke the main branch. Without a proper grafting rubber strip, I used a rubber band and put her back together and it worked.

But then, more trauma as a teen. In her third season she was in great health and then, season four, there were bumps all up and down the trunk, and side branches were stubby. Bernie, from Washington Chestnut Company , said some name this ‘bubbly bark’. He suggested I cut the tree way back to just the lower part of the trunk. I did so and, once again, the tree recovered nicely.

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At this time of year you can smell a Chestnut tree a block away. I can visualize that intersection. Was it 42nd? The house with the big trees is on a south west corner here somewhere.

Back to the poor Maraval. This spring, she was another casualty of winter moth larvae. They defoliated her whole south side. But, after they gorged and headed for the ground to start a new cycle, she showed some new leaf buds, just like the fruit trees did. Whew, I thought, she will be back. I walked away from her to attend more pressing matters.

But then, things went south. The leaves started to droop despite sufficient water. Then they turned brown. She hung on for dear life until, just recently, nothing green remained. (I hope to blog about her autopsy in the future.)

I spot the Wallingford trees. I snip four mature catkins, push two of them into a clean bag, and attach two others to the back of the bike to wave in the wind.

Back at the orchard, the Prococe Migoule is a picture of health. The styles of the female burs have turned yellow and have spread out across the top of the flower; the tree is ready for pollen. I use the catkin like a paintbrush and lightly touch each female bur. If it’s a success, her burs will grow and have two or three nuts in them this fall.

The pollination period lasts two weeks so I am keeping the catkins on my bike. The more – chestnuts – the merrier.

If you want to learn about the various nut trees you can grow in the Seattle area, there is a rare opportunity to tour Burnt Ridge Nursery. July 20 is sold out but there are still tickets for September 14.

Ruth

Welcome to our Demonstration Garden!

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The fruit trees in the orchard this year would amaze anyone. They are striking and flush …
with pests. It’s true. Come and allow us to demonstrate all manner of pest infestation plus other unsightly disorders.

Last year was a record bounty but, this year, we are counting on one hand the number of fruits from most of the trees.

Why, on one small branch of the Mirabelle plum (photo) you can view tip dieback from brown rot, scale, aphids and leaf roller damage. The pear, just after the height of the leaf roller infestation, has now been chewed to smithereens by the California pear sawfly (photo).

Wander over to the Fuji and notice apple blister mite. Then, check out the powdery mildew on the William’s Pride.

This situation takes me back to coaching where you had to make sure you didn’t spend all of your energy on the one high-maintenance kid and take for granted the other 14 well-behaved teammates. So, yesterday, I coddled our precious persimmon. The persimmon, like the mulberry, sits and watches the devastation and only asks for a drink of water now and then. I composted-in-place its weeds, fed it some nice compost and leaf litter, and laid out a coat of chips on top. Namaste.

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Back in February, Allison and I thought we had the winter moth larvae in check. We had banded the trunks then flattened the eggs below the band. The problem was, while we were focused down on that trunk, the winter moth larvae soon would be sailing through the air, landing on whichever fruit or nut tree was within striking distance. Much like a skilled parachutist, I think they tug a certain way on that silken thread to ensure they make it to the canopy. In April, they were landing on our sweaters and hats faster than we could squish them off the leaves and blossoms. We had kept our own trees from propagating larvae but we were defenseless against tall neighboring trees that spit out the little buggers like factories.

Yesterday, I sighed as I cleaned off more dead material from Liberty branches (photo). Oh, but then I looked closely. Was that a little speck of green? Sure enough, the tree is pushing out a new leaf where the others had been eaten.(photo) The Liberty is willing and ready to try again. OK then! We will also find energy to grow and prepare for the next obstacle.

Ruth