On February 7th The North American Scion Exchange celebrated its first birthday. What started out as a simple Craigslist posting here in St. Paul, Minnesota to swap scion wood and other plant genetics, has now evolved into an international, bottom-up group of backyard and professional orchardists, cider makers, plant nursery proprietors, and an assortment of other fruits and nuts (pun intended!). The original idea came to me after exchanging some emails with my friend Steven. After hearing from him, and reading elsewhere about scion exchanges taking place out on the West coast, I figured it was time to try and organize something like that here. Piggy backing off of my wife’s Yahoo account, I set up the first incarnation of the exchange – The Upper Midwest Scion Exchange. A few people signed up, but like most things in their infancy they are slow to grow.
Then someone with the internet moniker Wild Forager signed up and posted a great looking list of scion wood and other fruits they had available to share. Soon after that, we set up a trade and then talked on the phone. Wild Forager, or in the real world, “Little” John the broom maker, had a lot of great ideas for improving the Scion Exchange. We chatted for a good long while and decided upon a few changes that would be made to the exchange. First, Little John came aboard to help moderate the exchange, and second, he did a wonderful job of cleaning up, adding too, and organizing the forum. Without Little John’s help, The North American Scion Exchange would not be as awesome as it is today!! A BIG thanks to Little John!!! I also want to give a big shout out and thanks to all the members of the exchange!! While it is cool to create something like the Exchange and share it with the world, it only works because of the real life people involved – so to all you 184 members and counting – keep on swappin’, graftin’, and plantin’!! Thank You!
Moving on, but sticking to the topic of trading plants, this has been a very fruitful year for the exchange of plant genetics. Like always, my main obsession is with apples. I currently have 11 apple trees on our property, but these 11 trees have a combined 39 varieties grafted onto them. So far this season, and I am still awaiting a few more trades to arrive in the mail, I have already received 23 more varieties of apples. A majority of these will be grafted onto the !Frankentrees!, but a few are destined to grow as their own tree. A few of the apple varieties that I am super excited about are Black Oxford, Sweet 16, Grimes Golden, and Wine Crisp, and at least a couple of these will find a home in our almost completed urban apple orchard!!
Apple scions are not the only genetics I have acquired thus far, I have also been collecting a few new plums – Elephant Heart, Pembina, and Mirabelle de Nancy have already arrived, and I am also hopefully getting Santa Rosa and a black plum. Continuing with Prunus genetics, I am also intrigued by, and will be experimenting with some apricots as well. Apache and Canadian White Blenheim just arrived and I also hope to get another named Chinese Sweet Pit. Here in Minnesota apricots may be pushing our gardening zone a little bit, but I think I have a nice microclimate located on the southern side of a dark privacy fence that should help protect them. Along with all the trees, a thanks needs to go out to my buddy KB! Once again he has sent me a nice selection of currants, gooseberries, and jostaberries (a cross between the other two), and they are all growing nicely so far.
Two more entries in the experiment category are chestnuts and tree collards. Chestnuts use to cover the American landscape until the early 1900s when the pathogenic fungus Cryphonectria parasitica, what is more commonly known as chestnut blight, wiped out virtually every mature chestnut tree on the continent. Since then, many tree scientists have invested much time and research into trying to find a solution to this problem. One solution has been the hybridization of the American chestnut, with those indigenous to China and Japan. This has yielded a chestnut tree that is fairly resistant to the chestnut blight, and may be the solution for repopulating the American continent with one of its original food forest giants! Cliff England (Thank you!!!), who is the owner of England’s Orchard and Nursery in Kentucky, was kind enough to to send me a 1 pound package of cold, stratified chestnuts (along with some other scion wood) that are ready to be planted (which I just did)! Check out Cliff’s website and support his business!!
The tree collards came my way from my buddy Steven mentioned earlier. They are a perennial member of the Brassica family and look like what their name implies – collard greens growing on an upright tree. They are definitely not hardy enough to survive a Minnesota winter, so like the figs that I grow, they will spend their lives in containers and be brought inside for the winters. Doing research on rooting cuttings, I was under the impression that tree collards take a while to get established, so it is surprising that after only two weeks, I am already seeing a bunch of leaf growth. Only time will tell if they are successful, but I am pretty optimistic at this point that I will a have a nice collection of tree collards by this autumn. Thanks again Steven!!
And for the last update of the winter (at least for now), is the completion of the addition to our house. I have made very small references to it before, but have never really talked much about it. Over two years ago we applied for a home improvement loan through our county. It is a no interest, no payment loan that only needs to be paid back when we move or have the title changed, neither of which we plan on doing anytime soon! After much waiting, we were finally approved for the loan. Because we have been such responsible homeowners and have done so much improvement work ourselves to the property, we were able to convince the local bureaucrats that our family of four, living in a 900 square foot house needed more room to live comfortably. We ended up working with a great contractor and all the exterior work was finished by September. I have spent the last five months finishing the inside. Doing all the finishing trim, flooring, and base board work myself was quite the adventure and I have definitely learned a few new skill that will be helpful going into the future.
So there is what has been going on here for the last few months. Lots of skill building, plant sharing, and building up our plant biodiversity. We are not out of the cold months yet, but spring is right around the corner! Many seeds have already been started, plans for this years’ CSA are being laid, and I am ready to be outside on a regular basis again! Until next time … Peace & Cheers!!