[nafex] article "Advice for young NAFEXrs"

tanis tanistanis at hotmail.com
Thu Jan 16 15:59:52 EST 2014

Here's the article I mentioned in previous post.  Sorry it's the draft I sent in, using my bad habit of using "&" for "and". Also my paragraph headings are inconsistent. I welcome requests for clarifications.  I'll try to post soon the mentioned article about grafting. 


The list of questions from young NAFEXrs (posted in July in the Conference Program, below) inspired me to try some answers. It probably matters sometimes that I'm talking about southern Wisconsin.
Reading the questions, I often thought "Isn't there a book on that?" (Qs 1,4,5,6,11,16,22,23), although a few topics depend on local climate & materials (like 4,5,6,11,23). Some helpful info is on-line, such as, for Q5 you'll want the design for the sturdiest soil/compost sifter. And for Q7, the best info I've seen has been on the NAFEX listserv.
Knowledge is the most important thing. When the listserv wasn't searchable, I tried collecting posts on favorite topics into email folders, but lacked computer time to do this well. Has anyone else tried compiling gems of wisdom, or is there currently a way to search the listserv posts' contents rather than titles?
What are currently the most likely plans for the future of the NAFEX Library (Q21)?
My best advice for getting started with fruit growing & exploring is to get out, look around, & learn. Buy fruit from people who grow it, talk to them, tour their operation if they do that. Learn about the pests & diseases of local fruit. Also learn about the local tick- & mosquito-borne diseases, to keep yourself healthy. You'll want mulch & compost, so find out where the local power-line crews, arborists, & city leaf vacs dump their leaves & woodchips. Ask if they can use your land (but know this takes more area than you'd expect.) In the spring watch for blossom displays to show you where the fruit is growing, then find the landowner. Do most states & counties now have on-line plat maps, with landowner contact info? Stopping at the nearest house is going out of fashion.

When asking permission to collect fruit on private land, show the owner or caretaker the container(s) you plan to use. Ask "May I bring you any?" If the fruit proves exceptional, you can ask politely to return in the dormant season to dig a few plants, but don't expect a yes. And before asking this, think whether you'll really have time to return, or whether you can mark the plants well enough. Be equally polite about collecting scionwood, and sterilize your tools first. I always offer to return in a future year with a new tree. I leave my contact info.
Asking if you can bring other people, other than a spouse, is a stretch. One person popping up and asking for stuff is OK, but a parade may be unwelcome.
Seeking out and sharing the locations & qualities of fruit on public sites like city parks & streets is a puzzle I haven't worked on much. How does the fruit get divvied, how do we make sure it's harvested at best quality, who's responsible for watering? How do you track down the "helpful" person who prunes hard after you've pruned properly?
Question 2-- Planting on public lands-- Start with research. In WI, all land has someone In Charge. With a few phone calls or googles or emails you should be able to find that person, and/or you'll find out what is & isn't allowed on a classification of land. I wouldn't bother planting on public land without talking to the manager, and getting written permission. It's possible you could stumble into a situation seeking donated fruit trees/plants, and they might even do the planting. In any case, the difficult part would be getting a promise that the plantings will be maintained. Does the land manager have any understanding about gardening? For example, I stopped assisting a public effort when a new manager couldn't grasp why the city's newly planted street trees on the south edge of the property might eventually become problematic.
Question 3-- Best Lasting Advice-- First is read more and ask more questions. Next is fence. Learn what the local animal pests are, and how to barricade against them. Always do deer-fence at planting, because they are year round opportunists, while the others are more seasonal. Except rabbits are also year round when their populations are up. Think before you plant-- use accessible spots, but not where starts might be mowed or run-over or backed into or destroyed by winter snowplowing, salt, etc. Early training and pruning for proper tree form is important. If you miss the early years, it's almost easier to graft a new start than to do corrective pruning. Don't remove more than 20% of the branches/leaves in a year. The importance of water can't be repeated enough. Try not to miss a watering the first 3 years after transplanting. Mulches & weed control are very helpful, and learn other methods of efficient water use. This has been well studied, and what the universities haven't tried the NAFEXrs have.

When watering small numbers of plants by hand, try to have a small berm around each, otherwise most of the water runs off the planting spot. Another method is to make a small hole in the bottom of a gallon jug, add a handful of pebbles to keep it anchored when empty, and then fill with water at the tree site. Leave the cap loose or off.

Question 13-- Irrigation-- I assume larger-scale than the above. What's your soil? What are you growing? How efficient can you be? Can you grow lower-use crops? What are the local/ county/ state laws on the use of surface- & ground-water? Or collection & storage of rainwater? What's your power source, and will its cost or availability change greatly in the future?
Re future changes, Q15, I'm wishing I'd kept ahead of the weeds & deer feeding which gradually destroyed the wider range of fruits I tried. Big trees are nice, but losses to severe drought lose a lot of years. I recommend planting several fruit crops, with production expectations of 10 years or less. Reduce the value of the risk, increase the flexibility. On my light (sandy or coarse) soils, I hope I can mulch trees to keep the root zones' temperatures & moistures more even. But in the case of extreme change, I worry about enough water. An elderly relative who remembers the long drought of the 1930s says "The first year was bad, the second year was worse, and the third year the trees didn't leaf out." In southern WI!
Back to cheerier topics & helpful tidbits. See Q8. I wouldn't bother grafting across genera, because I've never had success grafting across species WITHIN genera. No luck with Malus communis & baccata, nor Pyrus ussuriensis & cummunis. And Baccata isn't as drought tolerant as you'd think.
Q19-- Simple Money-Saving Tricks. Grow your own rootstocks, either from seeds or stooling. Collect your own scionwood and keep it cold, for twice the success rate of shipped scions. Label things and take notes obsessively, to avoid repetition of errors. Scraps of salvaged fence are fine for deer excluders where humans' view doesn't matter. Don't buy a landscape measure-tape, because you can pace off pretty good estimates of distances. Leather gloves in size "men's small" for $6 are better than the "women's" for $16. Inexpensive rubber boots, generic crocs, and tennies or running shoes are adequate footwear for most chores. Save the expensive boots for risky work and unfamiliar terrain. The old-fashioned 2nd-year-fruiting raspberries do best where they get winter shade and summer sun, but still don't plan to make any money on them. When cleaning up windfall pome & stone fruits, do it first thing in the AM before the wasps get cranky. Always Think Safety, and take care of yourself & helpers. The most effective orchard mowing is in May & June. I've always wanted to try a prescribed burn in the orchard after leaf drop, to reduce scab inoculum the next spring, but never got a crew together. Learn all you can by helping older orchardists, but avoid formally working as either an employee or subcontractor in anything re vegetation. If you ship scionwood to a professor who's teaching a grafting class, get the money first. Guard your hand tools so they don't grow legs.
Q26-- Simple Tricks for Harvesting Fruit. Depends on the kind of fruit, size of the tree, and the planned use of the fruit. Lay out clean tarps or sheets before shaking the tree. Know that those little wire-basket pickers on long poles tend to damage fruit & spurrs. The plastic coated ones still damage the spurrs.

Q27, first part, Germinating Seeds. Think about whether the seed would normally pass through a bird before it gets, um, planted. The seed coat might need some damage. Or, just try a week or 2 at 40 to 45 degrees (F) between its cold stratification and the warm sunny windowsill. Keep mice from seeds & seedlings.
Q20-- Annual "Toolbelt" (and tasks).
Late winter scion collection & dormant season pruning (try to clean your tools between collection sites with other than bleach-- too corrosive): pole-saw with pruner, regular pruning saw, loppers, regular single-hand pruners; warm dry boots if snowy, sunglasses, and sunscreen if you're running into March; for scions also some large & medium Ziplocs or Baggies, a marker which writes on plastic, a cooler or bucket to keep bagged scions cool & out of the sun, and an extra refrig if you collect A LOT of scionwood; leather gloves recommended for pruning work especially saw pruning, and for tough weeding and fence work.
Spring (& Autumn) Transplanting: regular shovel, a sharp spade, and a long-bladed or "tiling" shovel; garbage bags for holding dug trees, but keep these out of the sun, also keep trees' roots from freezing; plastic buckets for carrying tools & trees, and for holding soil from the planting hole; water-- the old gallon jugs are useful here-- for settling the soil into the tree roots; stakes for propping trees, more sturdy & longer than you'd think; deer fence, maximum mesh 2"x4" or add rabbit excluders; vole protection if autumn planting; mulch recommended re water retention in summer or slower soil freezing in autumn. Hand lotion! Unpleasant oily lotion on the hands before working in soil prevents cracked skin, and the ingredient "stearic acid" helps heal them.
May is for pome grafting. See separate post, except to say here the only things you'll need which you might not already have are a whetstone, rubber electrician's splicing tape, and maybe Parafilm.
Insect pest control: I have a sprayer but don't use it much. In a small hobby operation, mostly pomes, with most of my insects in the nursery but also most of my watering time, I pick insects by hand. In the past, for 3 springs, I tried dormant-oil sprays but didn't see much effect. The more serious growers have better info.
Summer-pruning: same tools as dormant season, but know that leafy branches left on the ground will be lighter and easier to haul in a day or few.
Autumn vole & rabbit guards: meadow voles start damage as early as September, so watch for it. Wrap valued young trunks with foil or old metal window screens. Collapse nearby mole tunnels by scuffing or watering. In orchards with larger trees, in winters with high vole populations, I've seen damage on the tree of smallest trunk diameter, and/or the most stressed one.
Late autumn (and spring) transplanting tip: try to move plants when dormant, especially woody plants-- after leaf drop and before bud-break.

Best old tools to acquire: Bow saws! Modern bow saw frames are of much thinner gauge than a previous era's. Put the small end of the saw on the ground and lean gently on the handle. If the blade flops easily to one side, you want a thicker gauge frame. Sickle & scythe! Sometimes you want to mow when/where power tools aren't practical. Know you want to stay in shape if using a scythe infrequently. Three-legged safety ladder. If you follow the advice of switching to short-lived mini-dwarf trees, a ladder probably won't be much help. But for larger trees, sometimes the safety ladder is the best way up. Manual post-hole digger. One of the cheaper & more effective pieces of exercise equipment, but also quicker than renting a power digger if you only need a few holes.
Questions 12, 28, & 25. My fruit exploring is mostly about the older generation wanting to pass along their knowledge & plants to the younger. (Some of "my" chance-seedlings are actually theirs.) Only once was I refused permission to collect scionwood. Another time I procrastinated finding the owner of a small orchard near a road, until I learned the property had been bought by our Dept of Transportation. Unfortunately, they don't have a pigeon-hole for Scion Collection Permit.
My computer time is limited; had to make special trips to get this sent. Some growers & elders have even less. I wonder if it's possible to connect those below the Digital Divide to those newbies/students above it, then transcribe info to Internet. Phone? Snail-mail? On-site lessons which could become YouTubes?

One piece of my "elder advice" comes from seeing production on 2 named apple rootstocks which I chose for their drought tolerance. MM111 is more dwarfing than advertised (or these were mis-labelled), and Bud.118 wants to tip over, about the third good crop, in the loose light soil it's supposed to be great for.

I've no ideas for a NAFEX handshake, but years ago I suggested T-shirts printed "NAFEX Graft without Corruption".

> Date: Sat, 13 Jul 2013 15:45:18 -0400
> Subject: NAFEX Conference 2013 Official Program
> From: barnwellart at gmail.com
> To: [many]
> Young person’s poll--
> I asked some of the younger people coming to the meeting what they want to share and learn from other experienced members. (Believe it or not young people under 35 years old actually out number the older people at this point in registration.) Presently, registration is five times the number of participants at last year’s conference! This marks the highest net percentage increase of any successive conferences in Nafex’s history! Plan on some of these questions, and many more being proposed during the Open Space organizing meeting at the beginning of the conference.
> 1. Sheep and other grazers in the orchard (this will most likely be combined with Bob Purvis’s “poultry in the orchard” (ed. note Can you start to see how this is going to work?)
> 2. Guerrilla planting on public land – It’s better to beg forgiveness than ask for persimmon…I mean permission....
> 3. What advice did you hear when you were starting out that has stood the test of time and you want to pass on?
> 4. Small scale fruit breeding - techniques for trying a lot of varieties in a small space.
> 5. Farm-made Potting soil - start to finish, with a focus on locally available non-fossil inputs.
> 6. Economy of the lazy - a discussion of cultivars and species which provide the best fruits for the least effort.
> 7. How about squirrel-proofing, if there is such a thing outside of a .22 (us city dwellers are sorta stuck).
> 8. Grafting across genera i.e. Citrus on Poncira, Apples on Photinia
> 9. Wild/feral/urban fruit foraging (ethics i.e. sharing the resource and mapping)
> 11. Maximizing habitat diversity in an orchard- and by this I mean how best to grow plants, animals, mushrooms, etc in concert.
> 12. More importantly: where is nafex going and how are we going to pull together all the generations (newbies and elders) to make the club better than ever?
> 13. Irrigation!
> 15. Questions about climate change and fruits...with some areas getting colder/hotter/wetter/floodier, what ideas to care for the trees that are in the ground? How to prepare for loss of trees? Thinking of ways to increase genetic diversity to give trees adaptation advantage
> 16. Nutrition and trees...having information on the biggest punches you get in vitamins/nutrients/fats from different types of trees, medicines and other uses.
> 19. Simple tricks for growing trees, especially if you are Johnny Appleseed and dirt poor running around with a burlap sack as knickers.
> 20. I'd like someone to go over what their tool belt looks like over the season, maybe they make their own grafting wax and have that in the spring, maybe they use something other than masking tape b/c whatever,... and a bit to talk about favorite tools, perhaps there are old tools out there no longer made people could look for at estate sales, or make themselves...
> 21. discussion on favorite books for continuing education, especially if folks attending wrote them. (ed. Note- if you care about the existence of the Nafex library, this conference will probably be your last chance to voice said concerns. Please write me a letter and I will share it with the board.)
> 22. Possible crosses for fruit trees
> 23. economic viability of obscure fruits in general - are there places where markets for these fruits are growing? what's the economic outlook for farming with fruits like persimmon, pawpaw, etc.
> 25. The NAFEX handshake. I just think we should have a secret handshake.
> 26. Do I climb the tree to pick the fruit...or do I just shake the @%&* out it?
> 27. growing grapes from seed and other notoriously difficult to germinate fruits, esp. interested in low-tech methods, creating water retention landscapes, grow your own rootstocks through stooling, appropriate tech. for hulling and cracking nuts, grafting stone fruits, breeding for disease resistance, orchard floor management, the history of NAFEX and looking forward…
> 28. ...and finally- “I would like to hear stories from the elders about their fruit explorations”
> Too numerous to list, this represents about 1/10th of the suggestions sent to me from some of the young people who are anxiously waiting for the conference. Do you have any interest in these discussions?.. something to contribute?... Clearly, the lack of prearranged talks by experts is not going to hinder the amount we are going to learn, the amount of fun, or the new friends we are going to make at this upcoming event.
> --
> Kate Barnwell
> Bricolage Farm
> www.bricolagefarm.wordpress.com 		 	   		  

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