A Fruitful Legacy

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This is a picture of a giant 150 year old pear tree. It was planted in Des Moines Iowa in the 1800’s and is the last remaining tree of a fruit orchard. The owner of this property wants to chop it down and it’s a race to try and propagate it to keep this wonderful old tree before it’s gone.

I often think about the legacy that I will leave behind when I pass away. Things like my children and grandchildren and this farm will be part of that legacy. But also think my many heirloom apple and other fruit trees that I am now collecting and planting. Trees that will be here many years after I am gone and I come to realize that my legacy will also be a fruitful Legacy.

Saving Iowa’s old trees

I have put an ad on Craigslist looking for old apple trees, asking for information and whereabouts of old apple trees so I can graft the trees before the tree dies and that way the tree lives on. I have had lots of people who have called and told me about old fruit trees. Some are really old like the the 150 pear tree in the picture at the top of the page. But some are not that old and were planted in the 1970’s, I am really not that interested in those because in the 70’s most nurseries only offered about 10 different varieties.

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This is me standing in front of an old Winesap apple tree on a abandon farmstead from the 1920’s.

i am looking for varieties that you can’t readily buy from most nurseries, or wild fruit trees that have started out from Seed.

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Me standing in front of an wild seedling apple tree by Newton Iowa.

 

I like wild trees that have grown from Seed because most apple trees don’t grow true from seed. The Seed is the result of the tree it comes from and from the tree it got its pollen from and this creates a new variety.

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This tree is a clone of the original Red Delicious apple tree that is planted on the exact spot were the original tree was discovered as a chance seedling in 1872 by the farmer Jessie Hyatt on his farm near Peru Iowa. He originally called the variety Hawkeye and when Stark Brothers Nursery bought the rights to propagate it and changed the name to Delicious. The big boulder has a inscription on it that tells its story.  Gary Cox is the one standing in front of the tree, who lives close buy and had called me and told me about the tree.

At this time I have planted over 60 apple trees and still plan on adding more each year. I have over 30 different varieties with many of them being heirloom trees from the 1600’s to the 1800’s and are considered some of the best tasting apples of all time. varieties like Asmeads Kernel, Cox Orange Pippen, Hawkeye, Macoun, Knobbed Russet, Esopus Spitzenberg, Calville Blanc D’hiver, Winesap, Grimes Golden, Duches of Oldenburg, Fresh Candy, Wolf River, Black Twig, Arkansas Black, Liberty, and many newer varieties as well. At this time I am not sure what the plan is, I may start selling some trees.

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Apple Orchard

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My brothers Hawkeye apple tree.

After many hours of thought we have decided to take the direction of the farm to be an heirloom apple orchard. We like to just take off for parts unknown on a moments notice so having animials was not going to work for us anyway. I have always had a passion for trees and heirloom apple trees are my newest passion. Last March my wife and I took a course on how to graft apple trees at the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah Iowa and ever since I have become addicted.

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Me standing in front of a wild seedling apple tree by Newton Iowa that I am about to collect scion wood from. Someone told me about this tree that’s growing in a ditch along a gravel road. They said it had some very good tasting apples. Most apple trees that grow from seed is a new variety, and if this apple turns out to be as good as advertised then I will name it Niki Sweet after my wife.

Finding out about my brother’s Hawkeye apple tree has pushed me in that direction and now I am on the lookout for other old trees where I can take cuttings from while the tree is dormant and graft them on to other apple rootstock this coming spring. That way I am sure to get the exactly the same tasting apple. If you grow a tree from seed you won’t get the exact same tasting apple. The seeds are like offspring of the tree and are the result of the tree that produced the apple and the tree that pollinated the flowers in the spring.

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This is an old unknown variety at an old farm by Liberty Center Iowa that I have taken cuttings from.

The varieties I now have are Hawkeye, Niki Sweet, Grimes Golden, Duchess of Oldenberg, Wolf River, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Liberty, Pristine, Arkansas Black, Honey Crisp, Empire, Candy Crunch, and several unknown varieties. I am always on the lookout for new varieties, so if you know of any very old or wild apple trees please let me know.

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Some of the scion wood I have collected this winter.

At this time, collecting apple trees is just a hobby and not sure if I will start selling trees or have a pick your own orchard in the future.

 

Posted in Fruit orchard | 15 Comments

Hawkeye Apples

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Hawkeye Apples from my brothers Tree.

As we start farming and planting on our own farm, I am always looking for plants and animals that we like and want to grow. Last year my brother Smokie bought an older home in Iowa and it has this apple tree that has some very tasty apples. As a matter of fact they were some of the best tasting apples I have ever eaten and I wanted to start growing this variety myself and would research what variety it was so I could buy my own trees. Now I knew by the looks of this standard sized tree that it is very old and was going to be an heirloom variety.

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My brother Smokie’s Hawkeye apple tree.

Like I said, I could tell that it was very old, but didn’t know how old. The house where this tree is at was built in 1889 and is one of the oldest homes in The area. There are a few sites that you can check out to see pictures of apples and describes all the characteristics of the tree and and apple, so I started my research. I thought at first it might be a Wolf River apple tree, which was discovered by Wolf River Wisconsin in the 1800’s, but wasn’t sure then I came across a picture of a Hawkeye apple and found that this tree and the apples had all the charteristics of the Hawkeye apple tree and I said that must be it. So I started digging into the hawkeye and found it has a very distinguished and interesting history.

One of the characteristics of the Hawkeye apple are 5 bumps on the bottom.

It all started in 1880 in Madison county Iowa by the town of Peru on the farm of Jesse Hiatt. It was a chance seedling that was growing in Jesse’s apple orchard but was growing not in one of his straight rows but between the rows. So Jesse liking his trees being in straight rows and orderly mowed it down, but the little tree sprouted again and Jessie mowed it down a second time. That would have done in most trees but not this one, it started sprouting again and the legend goes Jesse seeing this and being a Quaker said “if thee must live, then thee may” and Mr. Hiatt nurtured the tree and after 10 years the tree prouduced one apple that hung on the tree long enough for it to ripean. When he bit into the red and yellow streaked apple he knew he had something special and was very impressed with the sweet firm juicy flesh and told his wife “Ma, this is the best tasting apple in the whole world.” He named the apple Hawkeye after his adopted state.

Giving some of my apple trees a fresh layer of wood chips.

Mr Hiatt tried to sell his tree to 8 or 10 nurseries but all thought the apple looked odd with its 5 bumps on the bottom and with the odd shape didn’t think it would sell and found no takers for his trees, then his big break came. In 1893 Stark Brothers Nursery in Missouri  was looking for a new and better tasting apple then the Ben Davis which was the biggest seller in 1893. The Ben Davis looked good and stored well, but didn’t taste all that great, so Stark Brothers was looking for better tasting apple. They held a nation wide contest and encouraged all orchards to send in their best apples. When Clerance M Starks President of Stark Brothers Nursery, bit into Jesse’s apple he said “My this is delicious” and declared Jesse’s apple the winner.  Stark Brothers bought the rights of this tree and named it delicious, so the biggest selling apple of all time, the Red Delicious came from the state of Iowa. The current red delicious taste nothing like the original Hawkeye apple with the hawkeye tasting much better. It was changed to be much redder and to store longer through the years, much like the Ben Davis like what they wanted to replace. The state of Iowa used to be #2 in the country in apple production until Armistice day 1940 when a blizzard destroyed many apple trees and Iowa’s apple production never recovered. Mr Hiatt’s original tree was split in half during the Armistice day blizzard, but did later sprout two twigs that they let grow into new trees.

Here is the interesting part to me. You can’t grow a apple tree from seed and expect the apple tree to be just like it’s parent because that can be influenced by other apple and crab apple trees near by that would pollinate the tree. The only way you can get the exact same tree and apples is by grafting. This is how Stark Brothers nursery produced new trees was by taking cuttings from the original tree and grafting onto different rootstock. I believe that my brothers tree was grown from wood from this original tree because of its age. last March my wife and I took a grafting class in Decora Iowa at the Seed Saver Exchange and I plan to graft wood from my brothers tree to some rootstock I already have. I am excited to get started and will let you know how it goes. I am in the beginning stages of starting our own orchard and have planted Over 25 different fruit trees this past year.

Some of our apple trees on our bottom ground.

Some of the fruit trees we planted this year.

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Harvested First Deer Of The Season

fileDuring the early muzzle loader season here in Iowa, I was able to harvest our first deer. It is a small buck by Iowa standards but will provide a lot of good meat. I plan to get one more deer and that should provide enoug meat for my wife and I for the year.

I had a couple of deer hunting friends who suggested that I should have passed on this deer and let him get bigger, but I am not a trophy hunter and only wish to get a good size  deer for eating. I don’t like to harvest doe’s because when you kill a doe you are killing more than one deer. You kill a doe you also kill the fawn she would have had in the spring and if she would have twin fawns like a lot of them do than that is 3 deer that will not be there in the spring. Plus doe’s usually have this years fawns with them that if you take the mother the chance of that fawn surviving the hunting season and winter go way down. So this is why I reluctant to shoot doe’s. If I was raising cattle I wouldn’t harvest the heifers but only the young bulls for our meat. I view the deer on this farm as live stock to be harvested in a sustainable way.IMG_0113Being a land owner here in Iowa I can harvest up to 3 more deer and may harvest a doe that is by herself for my next deer. Happy hunting everyone.

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Back To Work

Sorry everyone I haven’t posted in awhile I have been taking the summer off. We bought a used fishing boat and have Been putting out our “Gone Fishing” sign. It was nice to take off some months after working 11 months straight , 7 days a week on our home so we could move in. But now we are ready to get back to work and finish up the basement. We are currently working on the rec room and what we are doing to it I think is pretty cool. For those of you who have been following my blog know we once wanted to build a log home, but decided against it at the last minute because of the maintenance of the logs , with having to restain them every 3 to 5 years. So we have added log siding to our rec room. I am also building  another bar and will be doing a post about that. Can’t wait to show you after it’s all done.

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We also planted over 26 new trees this past spring and it wasn’t a good year to do that. We had a severe drought this summer and our water bill was very high trying to keep the new trees from dying. I also hope to do another post about our tree tubes and how they have faired so far it’s been 6 years since our trees in the bottom ground has been planted. So hopefully I will do that in the not to distant future. 

This is a sneak preview and can’t wait to show you when we are done.

Posted in Buildng our home. | 14 Comments

Working With Mother Nature And The Bullhead Catfish.

A picture of our creek flooding that happened a few weeks back.

Here at Milligan’s Gander Hill Farm we have learned the hard way to try and work with mother nature instead trying to work against her. Take for instance our pond. We have tried to have our pond be clear and full of bass, crappie, blue gill, and channel cat fish, but that hasn’t worked out. Mother nature thinks we should have a Bullhead catfish pond, so thats what we are going to go along with because just like with my wife, mother nature usually gets her way anyway no matter how hard you try otherwise.

Another look at our flooding.

With the flooding that brings in the Bullheads to our pond and the river otters eating our other game fish, we come the the conclusion its a waste of time and money trying to keep our pond stocked with the other game fish.

Our neighbors house and driveway.

After careful thought I think our pond is better suited for the catfish. It is only about 8ft deep at its deepest and the bullhead can live with less oxygen when the pond freezes in the winter. They also breed easily in a farm pond and you can always catch bullheads anytime of day or night.  Even though the bullhead doesn’t have a very good reputation with most game fisherman they are very good to eat especially in the spring and fall when water temperatures are cooler.

The species of Bullhead we have is the yellow Bullhead catfish.  Most pond owners don’t want the bullhead to get into their pond because they breed very fast and can quickly take over a pond. Also with the bottom feeding habit of this fish it keeps the mud on a pond stirred up which causes water clarity issues.

Bullheads eat just about anything, insects, tad poles, vegetation, snails, minnows, dead fish, marshmallows, pieces of hot dogs, worms, chicken livers, shrimp and catfish stink baits. We use night crawlers to catch ours. Right now there are so many bullheads in our pond, you can cast out a line and catch one in just a few minutes so it’s a very good fish to introduce fishing to new comers to the sport. The only trouble is there are so many fish that they have eaten up most of the natural food in the pond and are not very big because of it. Our solution is to start feeding the bullheads with a commercial floating game fish food that some catfish farmers use.

 

We are using Purina Game fish Chow but I have herd others using dog food with great success.

We have also just stocked our pond with 5 pounds of fathead minnows. The bullheads and other game fish will eat these too.

The fathead minnow is a prolific breeder and will start breeding once the water temperature reaches 64 degrees F and will keep breeding until water temperatures drop below 64 degrees come fall.

Like most things here on our farm we don’t have any experience with this and are learning as we go. I would like to hear from others who have had similar experiences with their farm pond. If any body would like to catch a mess of catfish, come on down, ya hear!

 

 

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Learning How To Plow

I recently bought this two bottom plow to put in our garden and to put in food plots for deer on our farm here in south central Iowa. I have been excited to finally get to use it so this past Sunday it was warm and dry and I thought I would plow our garden.

Now remind you, I was raised in the city and never have done any farming whatsoever, so I was learning as I went. First thing I did was to hook up the plow to the tractor and that was no easy task. It took me almost an hour to get it hooked up. I learned when you set it down on the ground it is best if you put it on a level surface. I didn’t do that when I had taken it off the truck and set it down. This plow probably weighs close to 400 lbs and once the plow tips sink into the ground it is hard to move it around to hook it up to the tractor’s  3-point hitch.  So with much effort I was finally able to get it hooked up and hopefully next time I use it, it won’t take as long.

Once I was able to start plowing it went pretty good. I wasn’t sure of the angle I needed to set the plow and did it the way that looked right. I must have got it right because it plowed very well, and my tractor pulled it easily.

This kind of plow is called a moldboard plow and as it goes it plows the ground and flips the top of the ground over onto its self so any sod on top is buried under soil and then the sod dies out. That’s if you go at the correct speed and as you can see by this photo some of the sod didn’t get turned over. I wasn’t going fast enough there but learned quickly and got better at it as I went.

After I got the the area plowed, as you can see by the pictures, the ground is really rough looking. Now you have to smooth it out and break up any dirt clods. That is where the disc comes in.

 

I bought this 6 ft disc just a few days after I bought the plow.

You can see by the picture below how the disk is angled to make sure it breaks up all the dirt clods.

I went over the ground I plowed 2 or 3 times and I was amazed how well it did. It really smoothed out the ground.

It’s not perfect but it was my first attempt at plowing so I won’t be too critical of my efforts. I know I had fun playing with the tractor and the implements and can’t wait until spring to do some more.

What I thought about was how my Grandfather who was a farmer that had a farm by the town of Lacona only about 20 miles from our  farm here. He used to plow with this same type of plow when he went from horse drawn implements to his first tractor early in the 1950’s. He had a 160 acres and I couldn’t imagine doing an 80 acre field with a two bottom plow. Some how doing this has made me feel more connected to my grandfather and more connected to our own land.

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