Monday, May 31, 2010

Some favorites from the past year

I really like this photo of Spartan from last fall:
I am also fond of this extreme close-up from November
--mostly because of how well the idea worked out with only a basic camera and no special lenses.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Spring cleaning

Notice anything different?

I've upgraded the software behind this site. While I've tried very hard to make this switch invisibly, if you use a browser that is not standards-compliant such as Internet Explorer you may notice changes in appearance.

The new software will let me add new features for this blog over the next few months, or I would not put you through this experiment.

It is optional, though, so I hope you will tell me about any problems that make it unacceptable. I value all my readers very much.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Plant a seed from your favorite apple and you will eventually grow...something else.

Apples are extremely heterozygous and do not breed true. Instead apple trees are propagated by grafting--by stitching together a cutting of the desired fruit onto a living stump. (Kevin Hauser has this short video detailing one such grafting technique.)

Farmers and nurseries once used any old apple seedling for rootstock, but today they usually choose from rootstocks that cause the tree to bear quickly and/or for size (that is, to grow the grafted variety on dwarf or semidwarf trees).

These rootstocks are similarly propagated asexually from clippings--usually some variation of sticking live rootstock clippings into dirt or other medium until they root.

(Update: Kevin Hauser also documents that process on video.)

Consequently your favorite apple probably grew on a single tree comprising not one but two clones.

Incidentally, "Rootstock" would make a great name for pomological convention.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cloak-and-dagger, meet budwood-and-underpants

The story, from a reader in New Zealand, is too good not to repeat:

Also, I'm sure [ Pacific] Rose was the one involved in the 'underpants' saga. A visiting Chinese delegation were stopped at by customs as the airport as they left NZ. The ones without diplomatic protection were searched and quite literally had their undergarments stuffed with Pacific Rose budwood. Unfortunately the ones with diplomatic protection had equally bulging pants.

But is it true? You almost want to say, Who cares? (and also, Who could make that stuff up?)

The theft apparently took place in the spring of 1997, a date that is a few years too early for the online archive of the New Zealand Herald. The only reference I could find to this incident online is from this report from a New Zealand - based trade-watchdog group:

In April, Opposition MPs and pip-fruit industry representatives lambasted the Government over its decision not to prosecute a visiting Chinese horticultural delegation after a foiled attempt to steal 15 apple budwood cuttings. Was this "theft" a genuine mistake, some asked - or a case of industrial espionage which could have seriously threatened New Zealand's $1.6 billion horticulture export industry?

A more-recent dispute over stolen Pacific Rose budwood in Chile is described here.

Thanks to Kiwi-d, writing from New Zealand, for telling us about these stories.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Apples on the Web: Trees of Antiquity

The website for Trees of Antiquity, a California nursery, includes photos and short descriptions of 155 heirloom apple varieties, from Akane to Yellow Transparent.

The terse descriptions include occasional flights of fancy: "The raised russetting resembles tiny daggers linked with a fine mesh," for Blue Pearmain.

Descriptions also include such useful information as recommended USDA zone, flowering and ripening times, size, and storage quality.

A complicated search engine promises to help you find the right tree for your orchard or garden, but seems not to work at all.

A nursery sells trees, not fruit, and the bare-root season lasts from January through April. But it makes for a fun browse any time of year.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Dayton *

Named not for the Midwestern city but for an esteemed fruit breeder, today's medium-to-medium-large apple has an attractive glossy red blush on most of its skin, which is otherwise a green yellow.

Mine is ribbed and conical, with a dusting of faint small light lenticels. The sweet aroma is attenuated.

Sweet and satisfyingly crunchy, Dayton's light yellow flesh has a medium-fine grain. Generic sweetness (Sugar? Light corn syrup?) defines this one, but there are faint floral and cider notes and hints of spice. The peel is a little chewy and dominates the finish. All in all, a satisfying snack.

The memorialized fruitist is Prof. Daniel Dayton of the University of Illinois. There is a little Japanese Crabapple in Dayton's woodpile, along with some traditional varieties--full context here.

My Dayton dates from September.

Monday, May 3, 2010

What to eat in May: the South rides in

In the nick of time, at the end of April the first apples from the Southern Hemisphere come thundering into supermarkets like the cavalry riding to rescue in an old Western.

These varieties, reliables like Braeburn and Gala, grow here too, but they've been off the tree for half a year and are getting tired.

Meanwhile it's harvest time in New Zealand and Chile; these fresher fruits will have to sustain us until local trees start bearing at the end of July.