When you have a question about growing fruit trees, and there are so many good questions to ask - you just google it right?
The craziest thing that appears in google search results will be old, and I mean very old articles on this topic. Surely there's brand new information from this year right? In fact some of the best information I've come across on fruit tree growing has been in 50-100 year old publications. This is a very counter intuitive point and I think begins to make sense when you consider that years ago many more people lived on farms, and even if they lived in a city or town they lived a more down to earth lifestyle, were more in touch with real food production, lived a fully more self sufficient lifestyle, had a large gardens and everyone they knew had a garden, made their own preserves, and would consider a home orchard an obviously serious food source. The search for the million dollar apple was a mainstream thing and got people excited about apple tree breeding. The types of articles you'll find are actually more in depth, more excited about the future and possibility about new fruit cultivars, and in general provide a glimpse into the real societal loss of knowledge and common sense in all things self sufficient.
Another thing you realize is that the apple cultivar you see being sold at the store today has actually been around for 100 years. No it doesn't say that on the tag, if you hadn't heard of it you might just assume it's the newest and best variety we've come up with recently - but in fact many of the best cultivars we plant out today in apple, pear, plum, cherry trees were bred during the this bygone era, and like the space program from the 1970s we've actually lost the expertise, resources and attention redirected - in fact many of the research stations where the breeding work and long term trials were done across Canada have been defunded and closed. Only scanned type-written publications remain in website archives, studies with exciting conclusions and a cliffhanger ending.. where is the follow up?
I want to share some of the most interesting things I've found, in many cases these articles contain surprisingly relevant and useful information for today. If you're planting a few trees, planing a back yard orchard, if you grow trees from seeds, have an interest in grafting, or otherwise have fallen into the permaculture rabbit hole the following will be of interest to you.
DETERMINATION OF THE MAXIMUM AIR TEMPERATURE TOLERATED BY RED PINE, JACK PINE, WHITE SPRUCE AND BLACK SPRUCE SEEDS...
If you enjoy collecting pine and spruce cones in the fall for seeds, nothing beats these old scanned articles from the places like the Canadian Institute of Forestry for practical in depth information. Here they've tested the temperature limits you can use to dry them. Why is this important? While you can dry pine cones to extract the seeds in a dehydrator, you can also do it in an oven at the lowest heat setting. If you search for what that temperature should be, you'll often find it's suggested to use something lower than your oven goes. For example, our convection oven has a lower limit of 170F. This study tests how long you can heat the cones at different temperatures and how that affects germination.
Rootstock Studies on Saskatoons
In this 3 year study from the late 1970s several inter-genera rootstocks were studied for use with Smoky Saskatoon. They used Mountain Ash, Hawthorne, Apple, and Cotoneaster.
Edible Apples in Prairie Canada - published by the University of Alberta in the 90s reminds us that 30 years ago is kind of recent in the history of apple cultivars. There's a very cool history of Malus baccata and how it was brought here in 1886 from Russia. Props to our local city Brandon as it gets one of the earliest mentions on the timeline in 1888 for the Dominion Experimental Farm. Read through the brief history of apples here in the 1900s and it builds like an epic story with an arc that builds, and then you might be left wondering just what happened. Page 13-75 is a cool reference of many apple cultivars with unique cliff notes.
More history on that local experimental research farm. There's an interesting part about apples around page 85. I would have liked to see it.
Dwarf Trees from the Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University. This describes some crazy grafting experiments to produce dwarf fruit trees including - get ready for this - grafting the tree completely upside down. Yah roots in the air. Following is a study of other rootstocks, an area of our interest here - where combinations of Amelanchier (Saskatoon), Aronia (Chokeberry), Crataegus (Hawthorn) and Prunus tomentosa (Nanking cherry) and Cotoneaster were studied. What's crazy is there's promising results, and then you're left wondering how it all turned out long term, and in fact it ends in a friendly note enthusiastic about the future and an invitation to visit the test plots at the Arnold Arboretum. I wonder if you were visit today, over 70 years later what you might find.
The Woody Plant Seed Manual from he United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. This is a more modern reference and wow it's a 1200+ page tomb. Download it and search for your favourite plants, the wealth of information in here is a much deeper and technical dive than the light reading you'll find in a google search.
New Hardy Fruits for the Northwest - a bulletin released by the South Dakota State University research station and written by none other than Hansen. This guy needs a movie made about him. This old text contains a fascinating history about apples in the 1900s and breeding them from the Siberian crabapple, along with other cold hardy fruits like plums and currants. There's a story about how Dolgo crab is a Malus baccata seedling selected from a lot planted in 1897. I've seen seedling Dolgo crabs referred to as their own species, but in fact it's just a selection of M. baccata (ref page 8). Take a dive into the history of your favourite fruit here, and when you see the names of long ago (lost?) apple cultivars with their descriptions and just excitement about the future it's another glimpse at something I think culturally we need to recover. Reading this document probably made me want to start a nursery. While I'm collecting and planting out nursery beds Siberian crabapples, often I think about making some contribution and continuing the work that's described here.
Fruit for the fruitless Prairies - an article by Maclean's magazine describing new fruit cultivars available and some of Hansen's work. This is cool because it's focused on the Canadian Prairies, not the most hospitable place to grow fruit trees. Reading this should get you excited for the future of 1926. I had a copy of the original newsprint which is behind a paywall, this is transcribed from the original print.
Growing Apple Trees on their Own Roots - if you haven't seen the Eliza Apples blog you should. This article is slightly mind blowing if you know about fruit trees and rootstocks and just assumed that's the end of the story. Consider this quote, and ask yourself why not? "No large scale production of own root trees exists at the present time." Century old fruit trees are possible on their own roots, and the trees are possibly healthier. On the Canadian prairies we need to grow healthy full sized trees and then keep them pruned to an appropriate size, the size controlling rootstocks used in Europe and the southern states with their weak root systems and short lives just don't thrive here with our long cold winters and short hot summers. Why aren't we growing more fruit trees on their own roots?
(more to be added as I can dig them up from my browser history)