Friday, September 19, 2008

Foraging for Wild Foods... the Sears parking lot.

We found an apple tree planted alongside Sears while walking back to pick up my car after its oil change. It had been pruned in such a way that all of the apples were within the leaves, but I recognized it by the windfalls on the ground. The tree had died some years ago, but four trunks had grown up from the rootstock. We grabbed several apples for dessert, and gathered all of the windfalls for the pig.

Beyond the immediate value of the apples, I was very interested to find this tree because it demonstrates the result of coppicing in apple trees. Coppicing is the practice of cutting a tree down and allowing shoots to grow back from the stump. It is a traditional woodland management tool that has been used for centuries. Trees are harvested every twelve years, and the stumps can produce for hundreds of years.

I had recently read an article about own-root apple tree coppicing, where alternating rows of apple trees are cut down each year to provide additional sun to the remaining trees.

"Coppice-ability is also the basis of our "Coppice Orchard". This consists of OR trees planted in rows running north-south. When the canopy of the orchard closes, a north - south row will be coppiced and the land in the row used for light demanding crops, e.g. vegetables on a no-dig system, while the trees regrow. The trees either side of the glade will have higher light levels on their sides and produce more fruit buds. The next year another north - south row is cut but not the immediate neighbours as these will have the extra buds, so the next row for coppicing will be next-door-but-one. In other words this will be Alternate Row Coppicing. This process is repeated every year, creating a series of parallel , sheltered glades. Eventually the rows of trees forming the avenues between the glades will also be coppiced in turn, but by then the ‘glade’ trees will have regrown to form the avenues. As the trees regrow there will be glades at all stages of regrowth until the cycle repeats itself, and niches for plants suited to full light, semi-shade or heavy shade, creating opportunities for different types of land use."

I'm very interested in the genetic diversity of growing apples from seed, so this was a fascinating concept to me. The tree at Sears gave me a good idea of what to expect from coppicing apple trees.

Now, we don't really have the space to establish the sort of full-sized orchard that is mentioned in the article, but I was thinking of planting apples along some or all of the fence rows. I've been collecting seeds from as many diverse sources as I can, in order to have the greatest genetic diversity amongst my trees. Most of the fruit probably won't be that great for eating, but it will be fine for cider and for feeding to the pig. I understand that apple finished pork is extremely delicious.

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