Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The New Site is Done!

Please come on over and check it out. I will keep this site up as an archive, but all new posts and articles will be on the new site.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Permaculture Plants: Aronia or Chokeberry

Aronia, or Chokeberry, is a great shrub for the Forest Garden
Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)

Common Name: Aronia, Chokeberry
Scientific Name: Aronia species
Family: Rosaceae (the Rose family)

Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)

  • Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) - Large Shrub, Red Fruit
  • Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) - Small to Medium-sized Shrub, Dark Purple-Black Fruit
  • Purple Chokeberry (Aronia prunifolia) - natural hybrid of Red and Black Chokeberry, but is now likely its own species

Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)

The North American shrub known as Chokeberry had an extreme makeover once its nutritional profile was discovered. High in vitamin C and antioxidants, it is being touted as the healthiest fruit in the world. This new "superfood" was re-branded as Aronia (its scientific name), and it is now a common addition to juices and other health snacks. Typically a bit too astringent to eat raw, hence the original name, the fruit can easily be used in jams and jellies and even wines. It can also be made into syrup and tea. In the Forest Garden, it will attract beneficial insects, can withstand periods of drought, can be used as a windbreak and fruit-bearing hedge, and is strikingly beautiful most of the year.

Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) by Mary Walcott, 1925

The Aronia species are native to eastern North America. They have likely been used for thousands of years by natives for food and medicine. They have been used for some time as ornamentals, but it is only recently that they have become significantly more popular once they gained "health food" status.

  • The common name "Chokeberry" was given because, when raw, the fruit is typically too astringent (drying or mouth puckering). Many birds will avoid this berry until all other fruit sources are gone. This will often leave the fruit on the plants through mid-Winter.
  • The Aronia (aka ChokeBERRY) should not be confused with Prunus virginiana, the ChokeCHERRY, although fruits from both similar-looking plants are edible.
  • The fruit of Aronia is very high in vitamin C and antioxidants (specifically anthocyanins found in the Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa).
  • A mature plant can have up to 40 canes per shrub.

Apple and Chokeberry Wine

Chokeberry Jam

Primary Uses:
  • Edible fruit - usually cooked. Some improved varieties are mild enough to be eaten raw (see Trivia above).
  • Preserved Fruit - jams, jellies, preserves, etc. (naturally high in pectin). Can also be dried and used in teas and pemmican.
  • Fruit Juice - if mixed in a 1:1 ratio with another juice that is naturally sweet (like apple juice), then no other sweetener is needed
  • Juice can be reduced with heat to make syrup.
  • Primary or adjunct flavor in wines, but likely could be used in beers and liquors.
  • Tea Plant (dried fruits are used)
  • Fruit Leather

Secondary Uses:
  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Wildlife food plant, especially birds, in Winter
  • Wildlife shelter plant for small mammals and birds
  • Groundcover plant - Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), plant 3-4 feet (1 meter) apart
  • Ornamental Garden Plant
  • Drought-Resistant Plant - can withstand low water periods, but not extremely prolonged dry periods.
  • Windbreak species
  • Living Fence species

Yield: This varies dramatically on age, variety, and growing conditions, but a mature plant can average 22 lbs (10 kg) per year. Reports of almost 40 lbs (17 kg) per bush have been reported.
Harvesting: Autumn. Only harvest when fully ripe. Taste is better after a frost. A berry comb will greatly assist harvesting the small fruits.
Storage: Best when used fresh. Can be stored in a cool place (like a refrigerator) for up to two weeks.

Aronia can be used as a hedge or windbreak...
Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)

...and it is beautiful in the Autumn...
Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)

...and Winter.
Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)

USDA Hardiness Zone:
  • Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) - Zone 4-9
  • Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) - Zone 3-8
  • Purple Chokeberry (Aronia prunifolia) - Zone 4-7

AHS Heat Zone:
  • Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) - Zone 8-4
  • Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) - Zone 8-1
  • Purple Chokeberry (Aronia prunifolia) - Zone 8-1 

Chill Requirement: Likely, but no tested information is available; however, some studious amateurs suggest 800-1,000 chilling hours/units are needed for good flowering.

Plant Type: Shrub
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Shrub Layer, Groundcover Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: Multiple varieties available

Pollination: Self-Pollinating. Pollinated by insects.
Flowering: Spring-Summer (May-June)

Life Span:
Years to Begin Bearing: 2-3 years
Years of Useful Life: No good information available, but this plant freely suckers. As one plant is starting to decline, a suckering plant can be established to take the original plant's place in the garden and in production.

Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)

  • Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) - 6-13 feet (1.8-4 meters) tall and 3-9 feet (0.9-3 meters) wide
  • Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) - 1.5-6 feet (0.4-1.8 meters) tall and 6-10 feet (1.8-3 meters) wide
  • Purple Chokeberry (Aronia prunifolia) - 6-9 feet (1.8-3 meters) tall and 3-8 feet (0.9-2.5 meters) wide

Roots: Fibrous with the ability to sucker (send up shoots from underground roots)

Growth Rate: 
  • Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) - Slow
  • Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) - Slow to Fast (depending on environmental factors)

These shrubs can be quite prolific!

Light: Full to partial sun
Shade: Tolerates moderate shade, but fruit production is lower
Moisture: Can grow in wet to dry soils
pH: prefers acidic to neutral soil (5.1 - 6.5), but can grow in a wide range (5.0-8.5)

Special Considerations for Growing: 
  • Consider growing an improved variety for more or larger fruits.
  • Aronia does not tolerate juglone (a natural growth inhibitor produced by Black Walnut and its relatives). Consider using another plant as a buffer between your walnuts and Aronias.

Usually from seed. Needs 12-13 weeks cold stratification for germination. Can be propagated from cuttings of half-ripe wood in Summer (cut one half inch below a node). Can divide suckers in late Autumn and Winter when the plant is dormant.

Minimal, but will need to cut back suckers if not wanted. Also, thinning older canes once every few years will keep the plants more productive.

Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) can sucker a bit more aggressively than the Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa); however, these are rarely invasive.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Free Plant Guilds E-Book from Midwest Permaculture

The team over at Midwest Permaculture has been doing some great work lately, and this free eBook on Plant Guilds is great! If you are unfamiliar with the concept of guilds, you can read my article on Permaculture Guilds.

This eBook is a great resource for Permaculture in a Temperate Climate... so, of course, I had to share it!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Mob Grazing on the Farm and on the Homestead: Greg Judy and Jack Spirko

Cattle are the most well known Mob Grazers.

I recently shared a TED Talk by Allan Savory (you can see that article here) on how to reverse desertification by using intensive rotational grazing, a.k.a. "mob grazing" with cattle. As is with most TED Talks, the discussion was big on ideas but not on details. That is the point with TED Talks though. They want to spread ideas just to get them out there.

However, the following lecture by Greg Judy, which was given at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference in 2011, really explains the why and how of this amazing idea. If you have any interest in keeping livestock, in healing the land, or in the care of animals in a humane way, I would recommend watching this keynote address:

Geese are a smaller-scale alternative to Mob Grazing.

Now, what if you love the idea of Mob Grazing, but you either don't want to keep cattle or don't live on a 100+ acre farm? What if you have a little "land"... like a large suburban yard? Well, if you live in an area where you can keep geese or chickens or even a few goats, then I would really recommend listening to the following podcast by Jack Spirko from The Survival Podcast. Jack spends a lot of time discussing homesteading and Permaculture, and this podcast focuses on using animals other than cattle for homestead-level Mob Grazing: Taking "Mob Grazing" to the Small Piece of Land.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Portugal, please say "No!" to the McBifana.

I recently spent a few days in Lisbon, Portugal. I was walking one morning, and I came across this advertisement at a bus stop. I was very disappointed.

A bifana is a traditional Portuguese snack or light meal. It consists of a thinly sliced beef or pork steak placed between a sliced roll. By contrast, a McBifana is the exact opposite of a traditional food. It is a large, international, billion-dollar, food corporation that is coming in and trying to replace a food that is best made locally... by locals with local ingredients.

In reality, I support the free market, so I am not suggesting Portugal ban McDonalds. However, what I would love to see is the Portuguese avoid this food so McDonalds has to take it off their menu. Some things should not be in the realm of fast-food. Okay, pretty much nothing should be in the realm of fast-food if you actually care about quality food and health, but bastardizing a bifana is going a bit too far.

For a bit more information on a similar concept, I wrote a brief article on the Slow Food Movement that you can read here.