Fruit Trees from Seed

2018/04/16 deej 0

The received wisdom of gardeners and horticulturalists everywhere (I’m generalising, go with it for now) is that it’s pointless to grow fruit trees from seed because they don’t come true to type. (True to type means that the fruit of the daughter plant will be the same, or very nearly the same, as the fruit of the mother plant.)

There are exceptions – mangos and mot citrus produce what are called polyembryonic seeds, which means that there are multiple embryos in each seed, and only one is the result of sexual recombination – the others are asexually produced, and will grow into clones of the mother plant. And of course there are the fruit trees that don’t produce seeds at all anymore – bananas, some citrus, some grapes, and fruit breeders are working on creating reliably seedless apples (yes, this is possible)..

But broadly speaking, we don’t grow fruit trees from seed anymore. Unless we happen to be fruit breeders, in which case – we do exactly that. Which begs the question: why don’t the rest of us (at least the more patient among us) try it?

The heritability of flavour profiles, colour, and storing qualities are actually quite well studied for most major fruit species. There are a few obvious ones; for example the pale aril colour in pomegranates is, as far as we can tell, a simple recessive – with the standard deep red or pink colour being dominant; darker reds and the red-black colour of some fruit results from a complex of other genetic factors affecting levels of anthocyanins, but the white/pale pink arils are easy to breed for. Most traits, though, are complex and have a low % heritability. Apples, for example, have a 10 – 15% heritability for characteristics like acidity, juiciness, crispness, and sweetness, and only about a 30% heritability for astringency (useful in cider apples, but a negative for dessert or cooking apples). Fruit breeders use fairly high tech methods to test for useful characteristics, including looking for molecular markers for traits known to be useful (such as disease and pest resistance traits) but a lot of the mroe useful flavour traits are too complex to effectively test for using molecular markers and genetic analysis. Even fruti breeders are often reduced to crossing two likely parent trees and growing out the seeds to see if they produce good fruit – but fruit breeders aren’t just looking for pleasant tasting fruit, they’re also looking for something different from existing varieties.

The home grower isn’t generally going to be that picky. If your seedling apple tree produces fruit which is really very much like (but not identical to) a gala or fuji apple, that’s a net positive if you don’t need ot market the tree as a brand new distinct and different variety.

And the secret that geneticists and plant breeders don’t tell anyone is that the chances of getting reasonably good fruit from a random cross between two parent trees that produce good fruit is quite high. It might not store well, or ship well, and it might not be unique and distinct from any existing variety; it might not fruit earlier or later than other common varieties, and the tree may well be susceptible to disease (or it may be resistant). But the chances of edible fruit are really quite high. And every seedling tree which is allowed to grow to adulthood and join the breeding population enhances the health of the species (clone trees don’t add much to the species, since they’re all copies of the one individual and don’t add any genetic diversity to the gene-pool – which is one of the reasons that people try to preserve some of the older varieties, to keep that genetic diversity in the gene-pool).

So why don’t we grow more trees from seed? It’s not hard to do. Apple seeds will often germinate in the fruit, and will otherwise germinate quite happily if you put them between some pieces of damp cotton wool on a saucer in a sunny spot. Stone fruit pits should be put in the fridge for 6 – 8 weeks, sealed in a plastic baggie or a container with some damp sand so they don’t dry out and then planted out once the weather warms up. I haven’t had much luck with pomegranates (only 4 germinations out of nearly 100 seeds), but in theory you just plant the seeds directly into soil or potting mix in warm weather and keep them damp but not soggy. Citrus like the damp cotton wool or damp sand in a saucer and a sunny windowsill to germinate, but you can also plant them directly in a pot of soil or compost. In my experience, mangos like to germinate in the compost heap or worm farm (warm, humid, moist conditions), so just throw the pits in there and rescue the plants once they sprout. Loquats and guavas will self-seed if you let the fruit fall (which i don’t recommend, because of fruit fly – but you can plant the seeds in some good compost for the same effect). I don’t know about grapes yet, but I bet they grow easily from seed; most Mediterranean plants do.

Go forth and plant 🙂

mozzarella, asparagus, and pomegranates

2016/11/06 deej 0

It’s been a busy couple’ve weeks. Summer is here with a vengeance; we had our first 37 degree (Celcius) day yesterday, although it’s back to a more pleasant temperature today. I have my first sunburn of the summer, because I’m a very silly cat and failed to put sunscreen on before heading out to the Asparagus Masterclass at Edgecombe Bros in the Swan Valley on Friday.

 

Brilliant class, in spite of the sunburn. We started with a brief history of the winery and the local area, and some morning tea. Then all 16 of us tromped over to one of the asparagus patches and harvested several kg of fresh asparagus – and ate probably as much again. The gentleman facilitating the class said to eat as much as we wanted while we picked, so we snacked on freshly picked raw asparagus, which is delicious. Almost the flavour of fresh garden peas, or avocado; nutty and slightly sweet. Our harvest was lightly poached, and then BBQed with olive oil and salt while we enjoyed a wine tasting and tapas platter in the courtyard of the Edgecombe Bros cafe/winery, in the shade of flowering olive trees and grapevines. It was the perfect chilled out lazy summer afternoon. Then we gorged on BBQed asparagus with shaved parmesan, chased with muscat soaked figs in chocolate. I love the floral, fruity flavours of muscat grapes and wines, so combining that with dried fig is just.. nom. I may be in love. They sent us home full of delicious things and sunshine and wine, with a complimentary recipe pack.

 

The actual info about asparagus boils down to: asparagus is actually really easy and quick to cook. You can eat it raw, and like most vegetables where that’s the case, it should really only be lightly cooked if you’re going to cook it. If you can snap the stem easily by bending it, it’s fresh and tender, no matter what the diameter of the spear is, as younger or smaller plants produce thinner spears which are just as delicious as the thicker ones produced by bigger or more mature plants.

 

My last foodie course (I have a weakness for these things, I love learning new food things almost as much as I love learning new gardening things) was two weeks ago, at the Roleystone Family Centre. We went there to learn how to make fresh mozarella, from Megan Radaich of www.foodpreserving.org. The class was fantastic, really informative and easy to follow – and it resulted in delicious cheese. Things I didn’t realise: mozarella is a fresh cheese, like ricotta, and you can only make mozarella using non-homogenised milk. Most cheeses can be made with homogenised milk if you add calcium chloride to “fix” the proteins which are torn up by the homogenisation process, but the calcium chloride interferes with the stretching process in mozarella making, so you end up with dry, non-stretchy cheese which is a lot more like ricotta than it should be.

 

Mozarella is also the easiest cheese I’ve tried so far except ricotta. Combine milk and citric acid, heat slowly to 32 degrees C, add rennet and leave to set. Once you have fully set curds, cut the curds then heat again to 42 degrees C. Gently remove the curds from the whey with a slotted spoon, and place into a microwave proof bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds, then kinda massage lightly to get some more whey out. Repeat the microwaving and massaging step 2 – 3 times, until the cheese gets sort of shiny on the surface and stretches easily. Put it into iced salt water (10% – 20% brine) for about 15 minutes – and it’s done. Eat that day for best flavour.

 

To continue the foodie theme, I’ve been obsessed with pomegranates for the last couple’ve weeks. No food-preparation course to blame on this one; it’s mostly because of my last major assignment for my university course. The paper I wrote was about the economic feasibility of dehesa style agroforestry in WA, looking at which trees would be effective options. Turns out, pomegranates are one of the best. Highly productive, fruit within 2 – 3 years of planting from seed or cuttings, and the fruit commands a relatively high price even if sold wholesale to retailers, for the fresh fruit market or for juice. And of course you can make pomegranate mollasses from it. Pomegranate mollasses, which is actually sour-sweet rather than just sweet as you might expect from the name, is one of my more recent discoveries. I bought some on a whim, and have been adding it to things and testing it out. I highly recommend that people try it. It adds a balanced sweet-sour note to savoury dishes – a teaspoon or two in a thai curry, for example, rounds out the flavours better than anything else, almost like a fish sauce. I think what I’m saying is that it’s full of umami flavours, but it doesn’t overpower other flavours the way many umami things (garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes, fish sauce, ..) can do.

 

We’re just starting to get to the point where we can put in some long term productive crops here. The apples are going in a few per season (apple trees are expensive! especially heirloom varieties which have to be shipped over from Tasmania or NSW), so in a couple’ve years we should start getting decent apple crops. I just need to get our cider-making skill sup to scratch by then, since cider and cider vinegar are two of the products we’re planning to produce. But aside from some small scale production of fresh fruit (we’ll end up with more apricots than we can possibly eat from our three trees, for example, but it’s not going to be a major product either), we haven’t 100% settled on our production niche. I’m leaning towards dates, pomegranates, pomegranate mollasses, and balsamic style gourmet vinegars. (Oh, yes, there will be grapevines. I checked yesterday, and in the space we have allocated for them, I think we can fit 60 vines. So we might try our hand at making fortified wines as well.)

 

Anyway, that’s where we are at the moment. Everything is flowering, and the geese are starting to get their grownup feathers. The baby chicks are getting bigger every day, and the adult chickens are doing their chickeny thing. I found a blutongue lizard in the chicken coop this morning, sharing their breakfast (eating his fill while the chooks watched from the other side of the coop), so I might need to keep an eye out for him. Bluetongues are gorgeous, and I’m super glad we have a couple living near the house (they decrease the incidence of snakes), but they do eat eggs so I’ll just encourage him to keep out of the chicken coop. It’s sunny, and the breeze is blowing past the roses and bringing me rose scents, and life is pretty good.

Spring Planting

2016/08/21 deej 0

It’s been a busy weekend. As well as finishing off a literature review around implementing dehesa style agroforestry in Australia, for my uni course (once the paper is marked and returned, I’ll put it up here in the Resources section), I’ve planted 17 trees. The bare root trees from Heritage Fruit Trees arrived, so there’s been a lot of digging and planting happening. Five more apple trees for the orchard, five pears and two nashi pears planted in a new little pear grove, and another five stone fruit trees for Zone 1 behind the house.

 

Zone 1 includes the herb garden at the front, the roses, the chicken coops, the somewhat-in-need-of-repair vegetable garden, and most of the stone fruit I’m putting in. There are going to be almonds and cherries around the vegetable beds, to give summer shade for the veges and for people, to make it a pleasant space to be in. Between the vegetable garden and the house I’m planting a miniature hedge maze, made up of productive fruiting plants (plums, peaches, nectarines, persimmons, lily pilly trees, sloes, mulberries, and damsons) and some livestock-friendly fodder plants for cut and carry animal feed (willow, hibiscus) all trained into a hedge form. It’s a challenging mini project, because the soil in that area is very poor and very compacted, with a lot of rock in it. But what’s life without a few challenges? It’ll be beautiful when it’s all in.

 

All the trees are budding, and the almond is in full flower already. It’s definitely spring. The chickens are all laying again, and the wildflowers are out. Any day now we’ll have to harvest the beehive.

 

Meanwhile, K has been in the workshop, building a pair of Japanese-style sliding doors for our media room / meditation dojo / guest bedroom. The wood stain is going on as I type, and they should be ready to go up tonight or tomorrow. Very exciting. (The room didn’t get doors fitted when the house was built because we wanted something special, and also because the doorway is not a standard door size).

 

the first tastes of spring

2016/08/04 deej 0

The wet, cold weather doesn’t feel like spring, but I have other clues to go by. The jacarandas may not be flowering yet, but the early peaches and apricots are, and the coral trees in the swan valley are covered in red flowers and hungry birds. My newly planted bare root Prunus mume trees are starting to flower too, so I’m hopeful that they’ll fruit in a couple’ve years and I’ll be able to make umeboshi and plum wine.

 

Also covered in flowers already are my blueberry bushes. I may have to plant more of these – they’ve been singularly successful. I’m currently enjoying the very first ripe berries – mixed with delicious vanilla bean yoghurt, and macadamia nuts. I know it sounds unusual, but it’s seriously amazing.

 

The chickens are starting to lay again as well, and at least one of the younger pullets is laying now. Five eggs this morning. I’ll have to get back into the habit of eating eggs and baking, and also contact all the people who’ve expressed an interest in buying eggs from us.

 

That’s really all the news I have for this week. The Blackboy Peach (also, apparently, known as the Peche de Vigne – which is a much better name) I ordered from the Guildford Garden Centre arrived last week as well, so it went in on the weekend along with the pair of Prunus mume. I’m hoping the other bare root trees I ordered will arrive soon, so they can go into the ground before they start flowering or budding. Then we can sort out some automatic irrigation for them for this summer – because hand watering a dozen young trees with watering cans is kinda not my favourite thing to do for an hour after work every day through summer.

fruit tree varieties

2016/07/22 deej 0

I was talking to a friend at work a couple’ve weeks ago, about her garden (she’s recently bought a house, and is madly excited to be planting some dwarf fruit trees in the garden), and she asked me what trees I have in the ground. It made me think, maybe other people might be interested in our choices of trees and varieties too. So, here goes. 🙂

 

Not all of these are in the ground as yet; I’ve noted which ones are planted, and which are on order. The trees without a status note are on the wishlist.

 

Apples:

 

These are for the cider orchard. Most are table / dessert apples (i.e. for eating), but these can be juiced to make cider too. The cider apple varieties usually aren’t well suited to eating fresh, but the two we’ve chosen are reputed to be reasonable for fresh eating as well as cider-making.

 

Citrus:

 

I may have a fruit tree collecting issue. Gotta catch ’em all, right?

 

Dates:

 

These are an experiment. They should get enough heat to fruit, but we can’t be completely sureuntilt hey do fruit. or at least until they flower.

 

Figs:

 

I don’t actually even really like fresh figs – but I very much like dried figs, and fig paste, and fig jam. And caramelised fig sauce stirred through ice-cream. Thus: figs.

 

Olives:

 

 

Yes, olives are fruit. Even if you have to pickle them before they’re edible, or just use them for oil production.

 

Pears:

 

Pears are K’s favourite fruit. So we had to have a variety.

 

Stone fruit:

 

In case it wasn’t abundantly clear, I adore stone fruit. The smell of peaches and nectarines in summer is one of my happy things, and the sweet-sharp taste of an apricot or plum fresh off the tree is.. well, my mouth waters thinking about it. I also love jams made with stone fruit; apricot jam is endlessly useful, and plum jam is actually my favourite of all the jams I’ve ever tried (actually my favourite jam in the world is the plum jam my mum makes, with ruby blood plums from her tree and a touch of fresh orange juice for the pectin content).

 

Miscellaneous:

 

And then of course there are the nut trees. But I’ll leave those for another post.

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