With a very small amount of work, I have been able to increase the size of the fruit the bushes produce. I will keep at it and see how big I can get the fruit. The bigger the fruit, the more the juice we can extract and the more jelly we can make.
On the health front, the Japanese quince has long been used in Asia to treat coughs and colds. It does contain a shocking amount of vitamin C, and that may explain part of its use in the coughs and colds that come in winter time. But, there is probably more to it than that. Science has revealed that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. This would be the Japanese version of our concept of the apple. . To read more about the health benefits of the Japanese quince just hit the button to the left!
Want to know more, you can go to my article on Japanese Quince and learn all about it and its health benefits!
The most famous of the North American grapes is the Concord Grape, which is the child of a wild grape vine that literally came up in Concord, Mass. Concord grape juice and jelly has the grapey taste characteristic of North American grapes. In the grape world, its called foxiness. In my world, I call it the grape soda taste. This taste is not found in the European grape and is unique to the American Grape.
What I discovered was the in the last century, there was a whole lot of North American grape breeding going on. The then American Agri-business folks wanted to develop a grape that could be grown here. Well, at the time, they had no choice as they did not have all the nasty chemicals available today. So, they had to work with plants that lived here happily and the fantastic news is they developed some really tasty North American grapes. In addition, many naturally occurring hybrids have made their way into grape growing circles. I will add that the work continues, and new North American grapes are coming onto the market. This has to do with very practical reasons, people want organic produce and the native grapes require less care than the grape vines imported from foreign lands!
In any case, there are a ton of North American grapes, besides the Concord, and we grow them, and produce jelly with them. At the moment, we have 20 different North American grapes growing at the Eco Farm. Depending on the year, sometimes we have enough grapes to make jelly, sometimes we don't. In summer 2016, we did not have many grapes to pick due to a late frost. But, The list of grapes jellies we have available and a little bit about them can be found below.
Buffalo (Hybrid created using V.labrusca and a German variety of V.vinifera)
Cynthiana (A sport of the Norton Grape)
Frontenac (Hybrid created with V.aestivalis, V.riparia, V.labrusca)
John Viola(Natural hybrid of V.labrusca and V.riparia)
King of the North (Natural hybrid of V.labrusca and V.riparia)
Norton( Vitis aestivalis hybrid with some V.vinifera in its background.)
Wild Grape (Whatever wild grapes we collect!)
Each of these grapes is a hybrid between Vitis riparia, Vitis labrusca, and Vitis aestivates, and each has its own complex flavor. If you think you know grape jelly, think again. Each of these grapes have a unique flavor, and each jelly is very much NOT like a jar of Concord Grape jelly. Try each one and see which you like best.
And, this really is a local product. Its a local plant made locally into a healthful jelly. All kind of local going on here.
Wild Grapes growing in the woods near the Eco Farm. They just vine up trees and produce piles of fruit for the wild life to eat. Oh and for us to collect to make our wild grape Jelly.
The Jefferson Pears are the big old trees in the middle of the photo.
Ironically, when we bought the farm, we had no idea that it was formerly a colonial fruit orchard. In fact, it had two very very old pear trees on the property, each easily 150 years old. Being the researcher that I am, I discovered that When Thomas Jefferson was in France(with his gal pal Sally Hemmings) he realized that the valley that ran from Harrisburg Pennsylvania down to Roanoke Virginia, was very similar to the Apple and Pear growing regions of France. He used Monticello as an experimental station for the delectable fruits from Europe and was responsible for the importation of many fruits into this region. A little more research revealed that one of the old pear tree was in fact a very old French variety of pear and was one that was brought to Virginia at the time Jefferson was experimenting with European fruit. The second of the trees is a Seckle pear, also brought to Virginia by Jefferson. So, I call them the Jefferson Pears. If it was not for his curiosity and experimentation, these trees would not have ended up on our farm.
One of the things that blows me away about these pear trees is how much history they have seen. They were planted during the slave days, no doubt by slaves, and their early fruit was picked by slaves. They lived through the civil war, and continued producing pears, They lived through the first and second world wars, the Civil Rights Movement, and in the iPhone generation, are still producing pears. These trees have been witness to a lot of history, some good, some really bad, but they still here, producing pears.
By the by, these are not eating pears, they are pears to be used for baking or, in our case, jelly making. One produces a huge hard pears the size of a grapefruit whose flavor really comes out once it is cooked. The other produces a small, harder than hell pear, in huge clumps. Neither is a pear that you eat off the tree. So, we make a fantastic Pear Cinnamon Jelly from their fruit.
The remarkable thing about these pear trees is that they are really old, really productive, and have not had any chemical intervention in hundreds of years. As I refuse to spray, that makes them a winner in my book. They managed to survive the bugs, bacteria, and other pests that wipe out other pear trees. And, they have literally stood the test of time.
Now, the trees are old as dirt, and, I was concerned at some point they were going to croak. No more trees, no more fruit, no more jelly. You see my logic here. For this reason, I took cuttings and through grafting, made a bunch of replicas of the trees. So, if the old trees go to pear heaven, they will live on at our eco farm.
Lurking in this story is something relevant. There are some old varieties of fruit trees out there that are low maintenance, and they should be preserved.
In the meantime, you should try the pear Jelly. Its very light and fresh and steeped in history.
The Jefferson Pears
North American Grapes
The grape family is a big one and there are grapes from most of the continents. Though by far, the most popular grape is the European Grape(Vitis vinifera). It is the grape that is used to make wine and raisins. It is native to the Mediterranean and likes hot dry summers. We are located in Virginia which has wet hot summers. In short, the European grape does not grow in our area. You can grow it here, but, its fussy and requires a lot of spraying, as I have said, previously, is not something I am willing to do.
As it turns out, there are tons of North American grapes that just love to live here. I mean love it. And they have been growing and producing fruits for thousands of years without the aid of pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides. As a matter of fact, they literally grow wild all over the place. Here are some pictures of North American grapes growing wild in the woods near our farm.
As I mentioned, our attempt at apple growing was a resounding disaster. But, what was even worse, if it could be worse, was my attempt to grow the European quince. They just straight up died of a local disease. But, I found that the Japanese quince, a small flowering bush just pumped out the fruit. And, apart from being really sour, produced a magnificent jelly. Toly is Russian and has this strange habit of adding jelly to his tea, and, Japanese quince is his favorite tea additive. The plant is so productive, I have begun work on a breeding program to create new, even more productive Japanese quinces. It may be an import, but, it likes it here very much! And, it makes a rocking jelly.
We have a six acre orchard and an over abundance of fruit. Let me clarify that statement. We have an over abundance of some kinds of fruit. I wold call our orchard a "survival of the fittest" orchard. We don't spray. If you can survive and produce fruit with sun, rain, and chicken poop, you have place in the orchard. If you need more intervention than that, you just die or get chopped down.
As an example, I planted over 100 apple trees. All heritage varieties. I love fresh apples and feel there is nothing more delectable than a fresh picked apple that explodes juice when you bite into it. And, I am located in the middle of apple country. This whole area used to be apple orchards. So, I planted apple trees. Years passed and no apples. Eventually I called the company that sold me the apple trees and asked to speak to the botanist on staff. Ironically, she grew up in my area. The first thing out of her mouth was this. "You can't grow apples there without spraying constantly. BECAUSE…. they have been spraying toxic chemicals in that valley for 100 years and not only due you have pathogens, you have super pathogens created BY 100 years of spraying. Chop them down." Talk about a buzz kill phone conversation.
But, I did not plant an orchard to spend my days in a biohazard suit spraying toxic chemicals. I wish I could say I am so progressive that I did not want to do it to the planet, but in reality, I didn't want to do it to ME. I am not that responsible of an adult and there would have been some kind of accident resulting in Toly calling a poison control center. So, I chopped down the apple trees and replaced them with something that could grow here without me putting on a space suit, ending up poisoned, and Toly widowed.
So, our fruit is organic, not because we are trying to save the planet, but because it does not make sense to grow fruit that needs that much attention. Breaking news. Fruit is cheap and sells for pennies, whether you spray it or not. We grow fruit trees that grow themselves and have the ability to duke it out with pests all on their own.
But, as a result, we have some interesting fruit and some interesting jams and jellies.