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Fruit Festival


  09:38:00 pm, by Nimble   , 1731 words  
Categories: Reviews, Attractions, Gardening

Fruit Festival

Link: http://dnagardens.com/sunday_august_7th.htm

We just got back from the Alberta Prairie Fruit Festival up by Elnora, at one of our favourite garden haunts, D'n'A Gardens. This was a friendly little festival, with some surprisingly entertaining and informative speakers.

We missed the pancake breakfast (such an Albertan tradition this time of year), but we were in time to catch Thean Pheh (EDIT: He's Malaysian, not Vietnamese, as an astute reader points out) from the Agriculture department.

I'll attempt to capture some of the information he imparted here...

There are five kinds of plum trees that can be grown on the prairies:

#1 Native
Prunus nigra (an orange, small plum), and cultivars...
Most of these have thick skins. The juice is sweet, but these are suck-on-and-spit-out plums.

#2 Japanese
Ptitsin #5
Ptitsin #9
Zapie (??)
These originally came from northern China to Japan, and all of which have decidedly non-Asian names. They are not as hardy as the native ones, of course, but still quite hardy.

#3 Hybrids
Splits the difference, of course.

#4 European
Mount Royal
Stanley (?)
Must be put in a protected area. These are almost all blue-purple, and are the only ones of the group that are self-fertile. Other kinds of plums must be planted with other varieties for best fruit production.

#5 Cherry-plums
These are crosses between plums and sand cherries. They make excellent jam - in fact, no pectin is required; jams will gel on their own.

Plums are not as popular for the home gardener for a few reasons. One is that they can sucker a lot. Another is that they can be hard to produce fruit on. Much suckering of other varieties is caused by some of the grafting that is done. Some plums are grafted onto Japanese or native plums - these will often sucker. Grafting onto Nanking (Nanjing) cherry or Opata makes for virtually no suckering.

Some fruit production trouble is caused by frosts. Frosts during flowering keeps the flowers, but if you look closely, the reproductive parts will have been killed.

Honeybees also typically stay home during cold weather ("if you thought auto workers were unionized..."), but there are bees termed native Orchard Bees, which you can encourage with an "Orchard Bee condo". If you're a handyman, you can drill 5/8" holes in a piece of wood, preferably at an angle. If you see the hole has been filled in, it has likely been occupied by one of these bees. You do not need to clean these holes out - the bees will do that. These bees get an earlier start than honeybees, and will be out and about in time to pollinate the plums.

Another technique that is a possibility for pollinating, and consequently actually getting fruit, is to graft a bud of Prunus nigra onto the plum tree. Pollen needs to be 'aggressive enough' to get all the way to the ovary. This can be a temperature-dependent process, so the pollen of plums from warmer climes can be too "weak" to do the job.

Nobody knows pollination of plums down cold - anyone telling you they know is selling snake oil. That said, if anyone has had luck with plums in Alberta, Thean would like to hear from you.

We took in some buffalo burgers for lunch, some ice cream with blackcurrant topping (wow, it was NICE), and wandered around and looked at D'n'A's plant selection (there are so many things I want - but we honestly, honestly have no more room!).

We went over to the few vendor tents. Dena bought a stepping stone, and we met our old friend John from the perennials and pottery place in Elnora. We hopped onto the haybales in back of a tiny tractor for a tour of the test orchards, and once it filled up, we were off.

The test orchards are quite amazing. The trees and shrubs get watered in for the first year, but after the first year, they have to survive on their own with no extra irrigation, which is a testament to the hardiness of the plants that do do well in this orchard. All the protection they have is some plastic mulch (i.e. garbage-bag polyethylene with a hole in it) and a small shelterbelt.

There was a cherry shrub which had cherries I really, really enjoyed. Red, sweet, and sour - I could just keep eating them, and the shrub was loaded with cherries. I found out later the variety was "SK Carmine Jewel", which D'n'A also sells.

One thing that was a bit freaky to see was that they have hazelnut shrubs out there. Now they're not particularly productive, but we did actually find a few hazelnuts growing on them, which is surprising. Once they have the shrubs bred a bit better, I'm lining up to get one :)

We got some blackcurrant juice as well, which I must say I didn't like as much. It was made with the newer blackcurrants, like Ben Conan, and it has a strange mint/herb overtone to it. I was raised on Ribena in Scotland, so I just couldn't get used to the taste.

We went over to the lake where they had the "Goliath Slingshot", with buckets of stones and some great lengths of rubber tubing set up. I sucked (I made the tubing rotate on release, which is bad!), but the rest of us made some pretty good shots. There were floating rings set out in the water. According to the man facilitating the slingshot, nobody had made a shot into a ring the entire day.

We went back to the speaker's tent in time to catch Ieuan Evans, whom the Evans Cherry was named after (not by him, but by those who appreciated his giveaway of a large cherry crop). Ieuan was also very entertaining (as only old people who shoot straight and care about their craft can be).

He attempted to dispel a number of myths. I was caught quite off-guard by his advice and myth-busting.

  • Wind is actually good for fruit trees - it can keep temperature extremes from building up, even in the cold
  • Never plant in a valley - it makes nasty frost pockets
  • Growth followed by freezing is what kills fruit trees
  • Fruit trees are good facing the NW (grapes are an exception because they need a longer season - so S or SW exposure for them)
  • Don't put fruit trees behind a shelterbelt
  • Fruit shrubs and trees work well in poor soil (think about what vinyards look like) - they make many carbohydrates and fewer proteins, so they require a lot less nitrogen
  • Don't mulch fruit trees (!)
  • Many varieties of apple are actually hardy to -50C, but cannot take any freezing during their growth cycle
  • When you make a cut on a tree, putting mud on the wound is all that's required to help the tree heal

A lot of the advice comes from just years and years of doing it, having fruit trees that died or survived unexpectedly over the years. You wouldn't think the top of an exposed hill would be great, but in a sloped garden, it was the trees on top of the hill that survived the bad winters and summers.

He did eventually get around to grafting, the actual topic of the talk :) "If you can drive, you can graft. Grafting is a lot easier than driving a car..." Also, paraphrasing, "If Lloyd Lee can graft trees with one hand at age 93, you can graft easily with two hands". (How did Lloyd Lee keep deer away? With an Irish Wolfhound. Larger than life indeed!)

The technique of choice was bud grafting, pure and simple. You take off a sliver of bark with a bud, and on the target ("rootstock") plant, you cut down into the stem, then cut the top half of the jutting-out piece. You put the bud into the wedge this creates. You then wrap it in his favourite and only secret: Parafilm. Wrap that around, and you're done. No wax, specialty knives, T-joints, buckets, etc.

Collecting the source, or bud, wood depends on the time of year.

In December to February, gather previous years' growth (4-8 inches' worth), and you can keep it in the freezer with a bit of snow until you need it (usually in May). In April, you can do the same, but you must put it in the fridge with a damp cloth/paper towel instead, and it only lasts 3-6 weeks. In July-August, remove all the leaves from the growth, put in the fridge with a damp cloth, and it will last only 1-2 weeks before you need to perform the graft.

When you graft onto the target plant, if it's May-June, you should remove all dormant or sprouting buds from the target plant above the graft site, or else the plant's energy is going towards its own buds and branches. If July-August, you won't get the grafted bud growing that year anyhow. You can remove them next year, although you may want to cut the branch a little ways above the bud in the current year to remove apical dominance.

You can apparently expect 10-100% success rates with this grafting technique, and it gets better (to a point) the more you try it. Best combination is winter buds grafted onto the new tree in May.

You can graft most fruit even onto things like cotoneaster and ash. Apples are an exception. You must graft apples onto other apples or crabapples.

As an aside, apples, cherries and peaches were selected for sweetness by animals before we ever got to them. Apples in Northern China by wild horses (ever wonder why horses like apples so much?), cherries and peaches by bears.

Goodland apples grow well here and taste fairly good. Norland is very hardy here. Heyer (sp?) #12 is unbelievably hardy, but if you miss picking them at the right time, even by as little as a day, the fruit will go mushy.

He also had some dwarf pomegranates for sale, one of which Dena bought for us.

There was a lot of lamenting by the speakers over the general Alberta governmental blind eye prairie-hardy fruit. Pretty much every single specially-bred-for-prairies fruit has come out of the University of Saskatchewan. Personally, I've never seen a fruit tree or similar named for an origin at U of Calgary or U of Alberta.

All in all, a great little outing!

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