Integration Acres (www.integrationacres.com) is an 18 acre homestead that has less than 3 acres of cleared ground. We have a young pawpaw orchard growing, ten different improved “native” patches and several hundred native pawpaws scattered in a developed forest. We rotationally graze several chicken “tractors”, two Nubian goats and a Jersey bull calf on the cleared and semi-cleared land. We also manage neighboring pawpaw patches.
Previous to this grant we had been certified organic vegetable and fruit producers. We had also started production of many non-timber forest products like shiitake and other cultivated mushrooms, ginseng, goldenseal, spicebush and pawpaws. We have also experimented with chicken and rabbit tractors.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
The goal of this project is to increase pawpaw fruit production in this region, by utilizing the existing stands of native pawpaws.
By becoming active in the Pawpaw Foundation and interacting with pawpaw researchers at Kentucky State University, I have become much more aware of current pawpaw research being done around the world. Much of this research is focused on commercial style orchard management, which can be expensive and slow to make a return for the farmer. The main advantages of this system being that you can plant “developed” varieties in optimal fruit production conditions (full sun, fertilization, irrigation) and get to the patch with ease for tending and harvesting.
Native pawpaw patches are growing “wild” on pasture edges in riparian zones and on steep banks of many regional farms. Often times these patches are overgrown with brush like Rosa multiflora, Lonicera japonica and grapevines. By first removing the brush, better access is created for the patch. This makes observing, tending and harvesting much easier and enjoyable. This work is done easily during the winter months. I use chainsaws and machetes to do the majority of this work. The brush can simply be piled out of the way in debris piles. These rot down in a few years and help build the soil. If a chipper shredder is available, this is another good option.
These patches may also be crowded with non-native invasive trees like Ailanthus altissima. I first remove these then selectively remove other species. I usually only cut smaller trees or branches off of larger trees that are shading the pawpaws. This wood can be utilized for mushroom cultivation logs or firewood, depending on the species. The soft, punky woods can be laid on the contours to rot down and collect soil. This is ideal for helping build the soil around trees and steep ground.
My farming operation strives to be resourceful and organic. That’s why I spread compost and manure in the winter. The ground is often times dry in early winter or frozen in late winter, making access to the patches easier. This will break down and build the organic matter around the pawpaws. Does the additional manure actually help with attracting flies during spring flowering is still being studied.
Observation of native pawpaws is essential to identifying superior varieties and increasing production. In my area, each native patch has unique genetics that deserve not to be ignored. Each season has different aspects of tree health to observe. In the spring, the flowering dates and quantities of flowers per growing tip are things to pay attention to. Always pay attention to insects you see in the patches as well.
I have selected about ten different trees from my local area that seem rather productive and flavorful. These trees become the source for bud or scion wood, which is used to graft onto pawpaw rootstock in the nursery, orchard or other pawpaw patches. These trees are also proven to be fruitful and thusly the pollen is fertile and can be sued with hand pollination as well. Scion wood can be collected from December to early February. It is then stored in the refrigerator until used.
Grafting pawpaw scion wood onto pawpaw rootstock can be done in many ways and is primarily done during late April to early June. I have focused primarily on whip and tongue style grafts, including my favorite, the saddle graft. The reason I like this graft is that I can use plastic cable straps and grafting tape to produce pressure at the juncture between rootstock and scion wood. Rainfall or moisture is essential to grafting success. This last growing season was very moist and I had the most successful grafts than any previous year. Grafts also need to be revisited a few weeks later to remove some straps and tape. You should know in no later than a month if the graft is working. Be sure to tag and record your grafting information as well. Tags can mysteriously disappear, so try to keep a written log too.
As the summer commences, the native pawpaw patches are often times overgrown with weeds. It’s also hard to get to these patches for the same reason. Having an established trail and pawpaw patch takes time and work. I always have a machete and hand pruners with me to help keep the vines down and trails clear. Keeping up on it during the summer helps. I have seeded mix starts to compete with the vines as well. I made sure the grass mix had some shade tolerant species like orchard grass.
Early in August I go out to the pawpaw patches to assess the fruit production. This is an ideal time to look at fruit still ripening on the tree. In some growing seasons and in some locations fruit may begin to ripen by mid-August. I am always trying to record the time each patch begins to ripen. This is especially important when picking fruit slightly under ripe for the fresh fruit market.
As the harvest begins, I also try and record information about fruits from specific trees. Are the fruits tasty is the number one consideration. How much do they weight? What color is the flesh? What size are the seeds? This is all important information for describing these potentially new varieties. I rarely come across a bad tasting pawpaw. But, you have to know pawpaws and when and how to pick them to maximize flavor. Learning when to go to various scattered patches is a skill I am developing. Recording harvesting dates for specific trees and patches helps with this. Understanding how the pawpaws will react to seasonal weather conditions is another part of this.
Harvesting techniques that minimize bruising is essential to success. Shaking the tree will just not work for selling fresh fruit. I have developed a padded pawpaw picker which makes this all possible. It’s nothing fancy, just a telescoping pole with a large padded basket on the top that also has a few padded fingers to snag the fruit with. Shallow padded boxes are also ideal for transporting the fruit from the field to the kitchen. The fruit should be put into 34 to 44 F cold storage as soon as possible to maintain fruit quality.
Neal Peterson, founder of the Pawpaw Foundation, came to southeast Ohio in late April to help demonstrate pawpaw grafting techniques. He also shared his expertise on pawpaw orchards and genetics as well. This grant helped pay for Mr. Peterson’s visit. He also sold bud wood from his orchard to workshop participants interested in some of his “developed” varieties.
Barb Ernst, owner of the Restless Native Nursery, has been a grafting assistant helping with my experiments for the past several years. This year she again helped graft hundreds of pawpaw scion onto wild pawpaw rootstock.
Jeff Hobensack, Hocking College student studying wildlife management, has also assisted in grafting and tending to the orchards.
James Mullins, a VISTA volunteer with local cable access and video grapher, has helped document and produce several promotional videos for the pawpaw work I’ve been engaged in. He helped produce a three minute video that captured the essence of the spring pawpaw workshop. A video loop of this video was played at this year’s Ohio Pawpaw Festival. The workshop itself has also aired on the local community television station.
Darren Cohen, GIS and data specialist, (ILGARD, Ohio University, Athens, OH) helped train me to create shape files and use GIS software – Arcview, to make aerial photo maps of landowners property and place pawpaw patches on these maps.
Kirk Pomper, pawpaw researcher at Kentucky State University contributed pawpaw scion wood for use in our grafting experiments. Kirk has also shared his knowledge of pawpaw orchard recommendations they are developing at KSU.
Rory Lewandoski, the Athens County Extension Agent and Hal Kneen, the Meigs County Extension Agent both came to the spring workshop. They are also helping distribute the brochure on “Improving Native Pawpaw Patches” to woodland interest groups and interested landowners.
Bill Serbonich, Ohio Department of Natural Resource Service Forester has helped distribute the brochure on “Improving Native Pawpaw Patches” to other service foresters, as well as, other landowners developing Stewardship Incentive Programs.
Ron Miller, OSU wood products specialist and Mary Ann Hawk, Lead District Conservationist with the USDA NRCS are both helping distribute the brochure to interested landowners in our region.
As a result of this grant, over forty different native pawpaw patches were cleared of brush and major competition. These patches are now easier to access to observe, tend and harvest. These scattered patches have now been better organized, mapped and studied because of this grant. The have been improved by the addition of “select” and “developed” varieties via scion wood grafts. They have been seeded with shade tolerant forage to compete with the vines and thorns. They have also been organically fertilized to improve soil fertility utilizing local farm resources.
This growing season there was a late hard frost in much of the Eastern United States. This same frost that affected our local native fruit crop also dramatically affected conventional orchard plantings in MD and KY. This late frost killed many pawpaw flowers and resulted in a 50-75% crop reduction from last year for both styles of production. This unfortunate weather has limited the reliability of the short term comparison of fruit production styles. But, the long term study of native pawpaw fruit production has been greatly advanced by the work of this grant, which was previously being ignored as an option of pawpaw fruit production.
As a result of this grant, my database, data collection and mapping systems have been greatly advanced. This will make the long term evaluation of fruit production possible.
On the short term, this system has provided my business with high quality pawpaw fruit for sale right now, instead of waiting for 5 to 7 years until a planted orchard would come into fruit production. The conventional pawpaw orchardists insist that native pawpaw fruit are inferior in flavor to the “developed” varieties. I don’t believe this to be true. My business has had many, many return customers. People have been ordering from my business for several years now. This year we had excellent exposure in Saveur Magazine and have thusly exposed and delighted many new customers to the taste of the pawpaw. The orchardists are still waiting for their limited harvest to expand to fill the market, especially this last season.
The expected outcomes of developing these native patches were these: easy to get to and work in patches, the beginning of meaningful data collection on specific and an increased interest in developing native pawpaw patches in our region. These outcomes were all achieved.
The most unexpected result of this grant has been the challenge of working with certain individuals on the GPS and computer data collection system. I think on future proposals I’d like to get an individual commitment on paper to insure proper follow through on their part. This all may have been due to extenuating circumstances, but a written agreement would help solidify their participation.
In general, the computer skills and equipment necessary to collect data in the field using a portable device was underestimated on my part. After having some problems early in the summer, I’ve struggled to complete this aspect. I’m still working towards this goal, as it will save me lots of time entering data.
This year I was still unable to fill all of my orders for fresh fruit. This was mainly due to the lighter crop. This lighter and later crop was frustrating for many of the landowners/pickers that I work with. The fruit was getting ripe very slowly and there was never a bunch of fruit ripe at once. It just wasn’t as easy as in past years to go out, harvest a bunch and make really good money. This brings up one of the disadvantages of having patches scattered all over instead of packed nicely in a dense orchard.
As a result of this grant I have learned a few details that may prove to make my operation larger and more productive. The first major things I learned was that the saddle graft may be the most appropriate type of scion wood graft for this type of application. Without the funding to help do this type of experimenting, it would have taken me a much longer time to learn this. The reason this addle graft works best is that it is the most secure in windy and “wild” conditions.
One of the best advantages of this system is that it has a relatively low start up cost and has earlier harvest dates. If there are native stands available to develop, they may just need to be cleared and paid attention too.
The genetics issue can be a disadvantage or an advantage, depending on how you look at it. Native pawpaw stands can produce a lot of small, lower quality fruit. They can also produce some wonderful large fruit. Sorting these different varieties out is important work that can produce several new “developed” varieties. Without the type of work and understanding, the genetics of this growing industry may become quite myopic, which could lead to future disease problems. New varieties can also become quite valuable to nurseries that producing grafted seedlings.
I’ve gained much experience on tagging, data collection and mapping systems because of this grant. This has helped create a strong foundation of information gathering and organizing. As I continue to gather information over the next few years, I may be able to notice soil, microclimate, and other relationships that increase fruit production. I will also have some good fruit production data on our “selected” varieties.
If others were interested in this type of production style for pawpaws, I’d say a lot of it would depend on the density of native pawpaw stands in their area. Are there enough native stands in their area to make it worthwhile to cover all the other costs associated with having a business. Are local landowners interested in utilizing these edges and “waste” areas of their farms? It may be an unconventional way of farming, but utilizing others’ unappreciated resources eliminates the cost of land. But working on other people’s lands has increased transportation costs and management requirements.
Planting Conventional Pawpaw Orchard
Cultivated Variety Seedling: $15.00 each
Labor costs of planting, watering and tending to newly planted seedling: approx. $5.00 per seedling
Time to wait for fruit production: 5-7 years
Price per pound of fruit: $2.00 to $4.00
Pounds per tree annually: 10-25 lbs
Developing Native Pawpaw Patches
Labor costs of clearing brush, vines and competition from patch: approx. $5.00 per tree
Cost of obtaining scion wood for grafting onto native rootstock: $1.00 each
Time to wait for production: 0-4 years
Price per pound of fruit: $.50 to $5.00
Pounds per tree annually: 1-25 lbs
I organized a spring workshop on “Improving Your Pawpaw Patch”. This was publicized via press releases to local newspapers, radio and TV stations. It was printed in several and received lots of air play on our local NPR station. OSU extension advertised it in local newsletters. This workshop had over 35 participants from all over southern Ohio. This workshop and the work engaged in this grant have been captured on video. Some of this footage has already been turned into a small micro-documentary.
I also gave a presentation at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s (OEFFA) 2000 annual conference on Organic Pawpaw Production in Ohio. I was also featured in the Ohio Woodland Journal, Ohio’s County Journal, the Parkersburg Gazette for this work of optimizing wild pawpaw patches. I spoke at the 2nd International Pawpaw Conference held at Kentucky State University in Frankfort, KY. I also made this brochure available to the visitors of the 3rd Annual Ohio Pawpaw Festival held September 15th, 2001. I also made this information available to members of the Ohio Pawpaw Growers Association (www.ohiopawpaw.org) and to my customers from around the country.