A New Year for Apples

Many of you who have been following my weekly blog know that this fall I became quite discouraged about farming and the orchard and so much that I’ve poured myself into over the last ten years. In large part, my frustration was due to a fungal pathogen, Venturia inaequalis, better known as scab. But thanks to a persuasive mentor and the researchers at PRI, I’m finding the door is opening and there is light on the other side.

PRI refers not to Public Radio International, but to Purdie, Rutgers, and Illinois Universities, the name of the cooperative disease resistant apple breeding program that has patented apples such as Scarlett O'Hara, Sundance, Pixie Crunch, and CrimsonCrisp — all apples bred to be crunchy, attractive, tasty and most importantly, resistant to apple scab.

When I started growing apples in 2005, my mentor Denis Wagner’s first concern was what we were going to do about apple scab, one of the worst problems for organic orchardists in New England. Denis advised I spray micronized sulfur, a common material used in agriculture to fight fungal infections. It is a mined material and permitted under organic regulations. The Sumerians used sulfur 4,500 years ago to combat disease in their crops.

The scab fungus overwinters in the orchard floor. In the spring, after a warm, rainy period —  millions of spores float upwards into the tree like dust motes in sunlight. Landing on warm and wet, fresh green leaves, the scab shows up as innocuous-looking dark spots on the leaves. But gradually, these black cloudy patches grow darker and spread over the leaf surface. Unchecked, the fungus becomes rampant and jumps from leaf to fruit.

apple scab.jpg

The apples develop brown crusty scabs and eventually crack. Sulfur applied to the leaves changes the pH and makes them an inhospitable host. The problem is getting spray onto every leaf surface — next to impossible — and renewing the coverage after it rains. An organic orchardist might need to spray sulfur fifteen times or more.

Over next few years, I learned through my holistic apple grower’s network how to calculate the spore release and not spray at every threat of precipitation. I would spray only when there was a large percentage of inoculant. I found I could keep the virus in check, unless we have a bad year – meaning a very wet spring. Then it becomes impossible to control. Ten years ago was a ghastly season. The scab was so ugly on the Macintosh trees that I decided to take down every Mac that wasn’t in the first three rows. My thinking was that I could confine these scab-susceptible trees and control it better. Macintosh trees are notorious scab magnets.

This year was again a banner year for scab. We lost half our fruit. Scab jumped from the Macintosh to the Golden Delicious, and then to the Blushing Golden, varieties that are normally scab resistant. With the Macs in the front three rows of the orchard, it was not a welcoming site for those entering the orchard: for people coming to pick apples for the first time, it was alarming.

I consulted with Denis again. “Remove them,” he said. “The trees are old and very densely planted.”  I hemmed and hawed. I didn’t want to take down any trees. But I knew that even when I sprayed I got only about 50% coverage because of the tree size and density. I told Denis I would consider removing them and began my Macintosh cogitation.

What to do? Take down thirty-five beautiful trees? Take down only one row to start? I spoke with another apple grower and he suggested leaving a few Macs – because they make lovely early season cider.  ‘Ah, what a good idea,’ I thought. I mentioned this to Denis. 

            “Linda,” he said. “You made the decision to get rid of them, just get rid of them.”

 First Row of Macintosh Trees

First Row of Macintosh Trees

A phone call came in.

            “Don't hang up!” a gentleman said. “This isn’t a solicitation. I’m interested in organic apple wood.”

I would have hung up, but at that moment I was stewing in apple wood decisions. It would take considerable labor to cut down thirty-five full size trees, pile the branches, burn them, and stack the burnable logs. 

            “We’re looking for some organic apple wood to make charcoal,” the man said. “We think we can sell it to high end organic restaurants.”

He had my attention. He was in Arizona, but coming to New England and wanted to visit the farm, meet me, and see the trees. I explained that this year, I actually had a few large trees that I was planning to take down. We agreed to meet.

Len Kronman visited along with his business partner, Dave Santos. I don’t know how they are related, but Dave is younger and Len is older. Dave seems to be the on the ground man and Len is perhaps a financial backer. While we were walking through the orchard I told Len about my attempt at creating a wild orchard pointing out Valerian and Jerusalem artichokes growing between the trees.

            “My daughter-in-law had just published a book on wildflowers. Would you like a copy?” he asked.
            “Oh yes,” I replied.
            “Please send her a copy,” he directed Dave.

Len is also an art collector; he specializes in Native American art. But as he said a few times, he just loves to collect. We took a tour of sculpture on the farm, and he chose a piece of mine, a small figure sitting on a tall rock. All this from organic apple wood . . .

Dave and I chose a date when he would come with a few men, a chipper, and a truck. Then he called back, apologetically.

            “Would it be all right if we chipped and left the branches less than 2” in diameter? It will be too small for charcoal,” he explained. “If we take it away we will need to bring two trucks – one for the charcoal making wood and the other for the twig stuff.” 

Chipped wood from the smaller branches is called ramial wood chips. They have more nutrients than older wood. They’re hard to come by unless you have your own chipper.  We always burn our prunings in a huge bonfire and then spread the ashes around the trees.

 Bonfire of Apple Prunings

Bonfire of Apple Prunings

            ‘Nutrients for the trees,’ I thought. “I would love to have them!”

            Dave and his crew won’t be here until after Christmas, but I am feeling better about removing the Macintosh trees. I’ve already ordered replacements — two early season, scab resistant varieties from the PRI breeding program. In the front row will be Pristine, a hardy yellow apple, with crunch and sweetness, that I already grow. And for the second row, Redfree, another early season apple with skin color 90% red wash over yellow. The tree salesman also convinced me to put in an order for the new Evercrisp apple. He said, “You might have to wait a year or so, but you’ll love it!”  I’m looking forward to the ripening of the new year filled with things not yet known, not yet tasted, not yet seen. I hope you are, too! All best for the Holdiays!





When my husband, Blase, and I were in Italy a month ago, we went to the Fortuny Palazzo in Venice to see the exhibit, Intuition – five floors of paintings, sculpture, and objects reflecting the theme. The exhibit began in a darkened room. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s painting, Versus Medici, 1982, hung on one end wall. Occupying his monumental canvas was a figure painted with exuberant colors, the body compressed as if the painter had to bend the limbs to fit all of it into the frame. Having just been to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, it reminded me of the trio of great Pre-Renaissance Madonna paintings by Cimabue, Duccio, and Giotto. However, instead of angels, alchemical symbols and his own unique graffiti glyphs surrounded Basquiat’s figure.

Like a priest facing their congregation, Basquiat's figure, one arm raised, gazed over the room. In this crypt-like space were raised beds of dark, rich earth. Planted in the soil were Neolithic sculptures — male and female figures found in Northern Italy and Southern France. These sculptures, standing four to five feet high, were astonishing in their purity and simplicity.

 'Dame de Saint-Sernin', Statue-Menhir of a Female Figure, Saint-Sernin,Aveyron, Southern France, Late 4th-3rd millennium BC, Photo:LH

'Dame de Saint-Sernin', Statue-Menhir of a Female Figure, Saint-Sernin,Aveyron, Southern France, Late 4th-3rd millennium BC, Photo:LH

We didn’t want to leave the room, but what followed was equally inspiring. Juxtapositions of Anish Kapoor, Man Ray, Marina Abramovic, Odilon Redon, Ana Mendieta, Giacometti, and always in the background, informing the mystery of great art, an infusion of intuition.

Where does art come from? How do we know its truth? How can centuries of time separate two objects and yet we recognize that two similar psyches conceived them? The answers lie in our intuition.

Today, we are programmed by a glut of advertising. There is very little time in a day when the inputs of the contemporary world don’t influence us. As artists, and I use this word in its broadest context, as creative beings, it takes time away from these stimuli to hear the inner voice of intuition. And then, it’s not enough to hear a whisper. We need to remain with it, to be at the listen, if we are to have this ancient wisdom manifest in our lives.

Recently I heard a Zen teacher, Hojin Kimmel Sensei, give a talk in which she mentioned three words that have helped on her spiritual path — perseverance, wonder, and kindness. Actually “being kindness,” she explained, “not loving-kindness.” When I heard her speak these words, I knew they would also hold meaning for me. I also realized that they were good tools for accessing one’s intuition.

We need to persevere: we must be strong and dedicated in our intention. We need wonder — curiosity and openness. We can’t think we already know the answer. It is important to open our hearts to the wonder that exists at each moment. And we need kindness: in this clashing world of battering egos, we can find softness and solace when we act kindly toward everything we encounter — the earth, other beings, and ourselves.

These three directives are like the marble sculptor having a hammer, chisel, and polishing tool. I now, in turn, offer them to you. May they help you get through the density of the holiday season! And may intuition be your friend as you travel from the darkness into the light — whether she arrives in the style of a Renaissance Madonna, a Basquiat painting, or books made of bread, sculpted by the Italian artist, Maria Lai (1919-2013).

 Enciclopedia Pane / Bread in 17 parts, Collection Archivio Maria Lai, Photo:LH

Enciclopedia Pane / Bread in 17 parts, Collection Archivio Maria Lai, Photo:LH




East Fork Pottery

The canvas tote bag says, “East Fork is a vessel.”  But I know East Fork is the little itty bitty stream that moves through the property at the end of Ras Grooms Road, in Marshall, North Carolina. I remember sitting with my oldest son, Alex, on the concrete stoop of a rundown house at the end of rural road, far from anything, a barren bit of land where the sun doesn’t crest the ridge until 11 am. A simple shed, an old tobacco barn, a field plowed by a neighbor, and a mailbox on a crooked post occupied the flatland; the rest of the 40 some acres were steep and covered with gnarly dense rhododendrons and forest trees. Alex was feeling, “What have I done?” I was feeling the same, but didn’t dare say. It was a shocking beginning; the kind that forms a knot in your chest that can take a long time to unravel.

Alex had spent three years as an apprentice with two North Carolina potters, Matt Jones in Big Sandy Mush outside Asheville, and Matt’s teacher, Mark Hewitt in Pittsboro. Then it was time for him to go out on his own. Alex found this little ‘holler’ where the East Fork stream flows and, pressured by a real estate agent who assured him there would never be anything else available for a price he could manage, bought it.

I was visiting with Alex the day after he had signed papers. I would soon leave him alone in his little, dark house. It would take time and effort to set up a rudimentary pottery so he could begin making his own pots. Two men from down the street appeared, carrying a couple of six packs of beer. I feared that they would arrive daily to drink with him. I felt the fragility of my first born son at that moment; still young, not yet a man — finding out how to become one. I reflected that in some way he was doing what I had done when I left our family home, moved to a farm with an abandoned apple orchard, and began a new life. I knew personally the feeling of isolation and fear that comes after plunging into the unknown. But I was older and had more support. The changes at Old Frog Pond Farm took many years. I was worried for him.

Alex built a beautiful wood fire kiln on the site, and then set about making pots. Friends and family helped. It felt like a slow beginning, but two years after we sat on that cracked cement stoop together, East Fork Pottery was born, and hosted its first kiln sale.

 Alex in the Kiln, Photo: Nick Matisse (his brother)

Alex in the Kiln, Photo: Nick Matisse (his brother)

Early on, Alex met a beauty from Los Angeles. What exactly she was doing on a goat farm nearby is hard to know. Connie’s prominent LA lawyer mother visited —  trying to understand why her Berkeley grad was now milking goats, and hoping she could delicately move Connie into the next part of her life. Connie and her mom were at the Asheville Farmers Market, when looking around for a friend for her daughter who didn’t say, “Maaa, Maaa,” Connie’s mother pointed to Alex and said: “See that boy, he looks nice. You should go talk with him.”  Eight years later, Connie and Alex have two beautiful babies, Vita and Lucia, and Connie is artistic director of East Fork.

 Connie and Alex in the Kiln. Photo: Nick Matisse

Connie and Alex in the Kiln. Photo: Nick Matisse

Alex could have followed in his mentors’ footsteps, opening Alex Matisse Pottery, but, instead, he wanted community. East Fork is a team of great potters, kiln firers, salespeople – and they're all under forty. This youthful group is creating a successful company that makes beauty and brings it to the world. Tall, thin John Viegland, another traditionally trained North Carolina potter, joined Alex early on. He is the financial manager and works at the pottery full time.

 John Vigeland in the Pottery

John Vigeland in the Pottery

One of their first hires was Amanda Hollomon-Cook. She is now production manager and potter, organizing all the numbers of plates, bowls, and mugs needed, and in what glazes. When she goes home, she works in her own studio on ceramic sculpture. Connie recently did a photo shoot with Amanda and her sculpture — a beautiful collaboration!

  Sculpture  Amanda Hollomon-Cook Photo: Connie Coady Matisse

Sculpture Amanda Hollomon-Cook Photo: Connie Coady Matisse

I am proud to be Alex’s mother, and Connie's mother-in-law — and I still worry! But take a look at their website – their pottery, the other artisans’ work they promote, and the journal that Connie writes. You will want to be part of this back to the earth and into the marketplace movement! Clay dug from the hills of North Carolina, old world craftsmanship, skill, liberal politics in a not-so-liberal state. “Down with the patriarchy,” says two-year-old Vita. The only difficult family issue is that Connie is a Dodgers fan, and Blase, my husband, is ardently national league, he grew up in Malden outside of Boston. Otherwise, we all eat off plates stamped East Fork.                                             

east fork stamp.png

***While Blase and I are traveling to Florence and Venice for ten days, there will be a two-week pause in the blog.