Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Let's Drink to Apples!

My husband and I have taken many, many evening walks down our road over the years. As far as country roads go in these parts, this one provides some interesting scenery. There are the neighbors that have an assortment of animals, a cemetery that has many familiar names, and we cross two creeks lined with wildflowers.

Many years ago, we also noticed a mature apple tree growing in the deeper ditch on the west side of the road about three-quarters of a mile south of our house. I've always been curious as to how it got there, knowing that there are random apple trees planted by Johnny Appleseed in our general area.

Logic tells me that while it's fun to fantasize, that tree more than likely grew from an apple that got tossed out the car window after someone long ago enjoyed it as a snack. And if that was the case, then it's highly unlikely that Johnny Appleseed had anything to do with planting it.

John Chapman planted several apple orchards as he traveled these parts, but the trees he planted didn't produce eating apples. Apples eaten for their fruit didn't become popular until the last century. Until that time, apples were almost exclusively used for cider.

This is because apples don't come true to seed and though they grow readily this way, the resulting fruit is almost always very, very sour. Henry David Thoreau described the taste of apple fruit as sour enough "to set a squirrel's teeth on edge and make a jay scream." So how do we get those deliciously sweet varieties such as 'Honeycrisp', 'Gala' and 'Jazz'?

Just like other new cultivars are created by crossing two varieties with the desired traits, so it is with apples, but because of their extreme variability, once a favorable result has been found, propagation is done by budding or grafting.

I personally learned about apple genetics by reading The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan as well as watching the PBS series by the same name. It never occurred to me that the apple wasn't commonly eaten until our not-so-distant past.

Like so many heirlooms, the apple varieties have dwindled to just a fraction of what used to be grown years ago. Back when they were open-pollinated, there were no less than 7500 different varieties of apples. Cultivated varieties for commercial use have basically created a relative monoculture, but apple enthusiasts are growing some of the older heirlooms in greater numbers.

The U.S. is number two in the world's apple production (China is number one), but apples aren't native to our country. They originated in what is now Kazakhstan and were brought to the U.S. by the Puritans. 'Red Delicious' currently leads all varieties in production.

I've not tasted the apples growing on the tree in that nearby ditch, mainly because there's a huge swath of poison ivy in the way of being able to reach the tree. But my curiosity may get the better of me and I might just have to figure out a way to pick that apple. I feel a bit like Eve...

Previously published as "Let's Drink to Apples!" by Kylee Baumle in the Paulding Progress newspaper in October 2013.  Reprinted and modified here with permission.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: You Might Be a Gardener If ...

...this happens.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Foraging For Fungus

If ever there was a good year for mushroom hunting, this is it. We've had plenty of rain all summer long into fall, and I've never seen so much fungus growing here, there, and everywhere as I have this year. Fairy rings abound.

I've always been overly cautious about wild mushrooms because I have a great fear of eating the wrong kind. I just don't know enough about them to say for certain what's edible and what isn't. But I *think* we've got plenty of the good kind just a few yards from our back door.

First, it was the puffballs (Calvatia sp.)...

A couple of weeks ago, we were cleaning up the garden over in the neighbor's yard where we grow our sweet corn and noticed a nice round fungus growing that was about the size of a softball. There was a golf ball sized one next to it.

I broke it from its base and was amazed at the heft it had for something of its size. 

I then broke it apart and saw that it was white and very dense all the way through. Puffball came to mind because of its shape so I googled it, and I'm 99% sure that's what it was. But that 1% kept me from frying it up.

Then today, we noticed that the "brains" that grow every fall at the base of one of our large oak trees were growing again this year. There were two and the largest one was the biggest we've ever seen, measuring about 15" across. The smaller one was the size we usually see. There's a third one starting on the other side of the tree too.

"Hen of the woods," with chickweed growing around it on the right! Ha!

Until now, I'd never bothered to search for information on this particular fungus. I was surprised to learn that it's Grifola frondosa, otherwise known as "hen of the woods." And guess what? This one's edible too. The Japanese call it maitake and it's supposed to have the texture and taste of chicken breast, my favorite part of the chicken. 

Grifola frondosa

I think it's starting to dry out in this section.

Maitake is normally found growing at the base of oak trees, and is a parasitic fungus that feeds on the roots of the tree. It's a beneficial parasite, wanting its host to live so that it can continue to glean nutrients for its own benefit. The fungus can usually be found year after year for as many as 10 years, but in most cases the tree eventually dies, perhaps due to a combination of the prolonged parasitic action and environmental stresses such as drought or high winds. 

Grifola frondosa

Our tree where this is found has so far been just fine, although it has been damaged over the years from lightning strikes. Many years ago it took a particularly hard hit and the evidence can be seen on the southeast side of the tree in the form of a large longitudinal ridge running all the way up the side of the tree from the ground up. It's a very large tree, estimated to be close to 200 years old.

For the first time in a long time, there is no "chicken of the woods" (Laetiporus sulphureus) growing on the large oak tree on the other side of the yard this fall. We always anticipate its appearance each year, if for no other reason than to marvel at its otherworldly mustard yellow color. It always reminds me of that foam insulation that comes in an aerosol can.  It too is edible, but no, we've never tried it.

"Chicken of the woods" (Laetiporus sulphureus), growing about six feet up,
on the trunk of one of our large oak trees.

What all this means is that we've apparently got some really good eating going to waste in our yard. If I was absolutely, positively, undeniably positive that these wouldn't poison me, I'd be frying them up in a heartbeat. I love mushrooms and so does Romie, even though he's been advised not to eat them because of his various environmental allergies.

What do you think? Are we letting a good thing go to waste or are we being wise in our caution?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Lunar Eclipse - 8 October 2014

Photographed from a second floor bedroom window in Northwest Ohio at 6:09, 6:17, and 6:42 AM, EDT.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

American Meadows $50 Gift Certificate Giveaway

Just when we got a winner to my last $50 gift certificate giveaway, here's another! This time it's to American Meadows, a company I've done business with in the past, and I just placed another order with them. They're located in Vermont and they've been around since 1981.

Here's what I ordered:

Red Spider Lily (Lycoris radiata) - 5 bulbs

I've always loved these but never thought we could grow them up north here in Ohio. Not so, I recently found out! So when I saw that American Meadows had them, I decided to give them a try this fall. They're a late summer bloomer and they're RED! You know how I love red...

Photo: American Meadows


Amaryllis 'Lagoon' (Hippeastrum) - 1 bulb

I didn't need another amaryllis bulb - I've got a couple dozen different ones already. They're growing outside at the moment, but I need to dig them up, cut the foliage, and store them in my cool basement for about six weeks and then I'll pot them up again so I'll have some blooms this winter. Several of them bloomed outside this summer, which isn't common here in the north, but it happens now and then.

I ordered this one because I love its unique strawberry color. (Like I need an excuse???)

Photo: American Meadows


Now here's where the fun comes in for YOU. American Meadows gave me a $50 gift certificate code to give away to one lucky reader.  

To enter, just leave a comment on this blog post, telling me one thing you'd order from them if you win. Be sure to also fill out the Rafflecopter form, so that I'll have contact information should you be the winner.

The giveaway ends at midnight EDT, Sunday, October 12, 2014.


a Rafflecopter giveaway
American Meadows provided me with a $50 gift certificate which I used as partial payment for my order. They also provided me with a $50 gift certificate to give away to one reader.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Big Apple - In My Garden

When we moved to our present home in 1977, my parents bought us two apple trees. Both were 'Red Delicious', a popular cultivar at the time and especially in our area, because of its resistance to cedar-apple rust. We planted them at the back of our property and it wasn't long before both trees were giving us apples in the fall.

Several years ago, the smaller of the two trees began to rot at the base and one day, Romie simply gave it a shove and that was the end of that.

A few years later, it seemed that the remaining tree was going to go the way of the first one, and we planned for a spring removal by planting four new trees around it. (Two 'Honeycrisp', one 'Idared', and one 'Gala'.) There would be plenty of room for the other trees to grow after we removed the ailing one. It had lived a good life for an apple tree and we were ready to move on.

But spring came and the tree leafed out and bloomed profusely so we put off removing it, thinking it had one more good crop in it. That was in 2010 and the tree is still with us, still producing. Part of it did die and we cut that large branch off, leaving a large enough stub for me to use as a pedestal, with the intentions of putting a blooming planter there - something that spilled out over the pot with viney lushness.

Before that happened though, I was walking through Molbak's in Woodinville, Wash., earlier this year and spied these:

Wheels began to turn in my head when I saw that large red apple, but I didn't know if I wanted to spend what it would cost to buy the apple and have it shipped home. I'd have to think about it.

Spring came and I thought about that big red apple again and I wanted it. I called Molbak's and guess what? They were no longer available. In fact, the manufacturer wasn't making them anymore. You snooze, you lose. But of course, that just made me want the apple all the more. I had plans for that big ball of shiny scarlet goodness.

I put out a plea on my Facebook page and as nearly always happens, someone came to my rescue. To make a long story short, my friend Karen Chapman (of Fine Foliage fame) used her landscape designer skills to locate one and before long, a big red apple was residing in our orchard.

Thank you, Karen. That apple makes me smile every time I see it, not only because I like how it looks, but because of how you went above and beyond to make it happen.

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