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Posts Tagged ‘North American Scion Exchange’

So this is a handout I just put together for a few grafting workshops I will be teaching in the upcoming weeks!  I am pretty excited to be sharing some awesome homesteading skills with people who want to learn how to graft trees!  If any of you want to use this handout in a workshop you are a part of or know somebody who might be interested in this, please share far and wide, and feel free to leave comments and thoughts below.  Peace & Cheers

 

Why We Graft

Spring_Farm_Work_--_GraftingFruit tree cultivation has been a part of human history for thousands of years.  Since before records, farmers and gardeners across the globe have traditionally incorporated fruit trees into their landscapes.

 

Occasionally some of these fruit trees have displayed characteristics or flavors that were sought after or defined the benchmarks of what makes a great fruit.  These trees, the ones that were prized for their unique and delicious fruit were propagated through grafting, which is a way of vegetatively cloning a specific variety of fruit tree.  Any grafted fruit variety will be genetically identical to the plant it was taken from.

 

By taking a cutting of the fruit variety that is intended to be grafted, and properly attaching it to another tree or rootstock that is genetically compatible, you in essence can build a new tree to suit your needs – whether that be for flavor, preserve old genetics, trial new varieties, or for climatic factors that are suited to your growing spot.

 

Tree grafting dates back to at least ancient China and was used throughout the Roman empire.  Early use of grafting was most likely inspired by nature.  Occasionally trees in nature will graft themselves together when twisted and overlapping branches grow together.  When humans figured out that they could do something similar, it allowed them to become orchardist with many trees of the same variety.  This allowed for the cultivation of uniform fruit trees, and making harvest easier and more efficient

 

Types of Grafts

There are many types of grafts that can be used when creating or updating trees.  The most common type of grafting is bench grafting which is done in late winter or early spring.  This requires a piece of rootstock, scion wood, and grafting supplies.  Bench grafts can be done inside at a kitchen table or a workbench, and they are the easiest way to make new trees with named fruit cultivars.

 

Another type of grafting that you may find yourself doing someday is called top working or frame working an already existing tree.  This allows you to grow many varieties of fruit on one tree, or completely change what variety a tree is growing over to a new one.  Luther Burbank, the famed plant breeder from California, had a plum tree with over 300 varieties on it, so top working a tree can be a lot of fun!

 

As a beginning grafter, there are only two grafts that you really need to know about, the cleft graft and the whip and tongue graft, both of which can be used in bench grafting or top working a tree.  The cleft graft is the easiest of the two to perform, but the whip and tongue when performed properly can give you a stronger graft union, and ultimately a stronger tree.

 

Which ever grafting technique you are using, the most important thing you need to do is to properly line up the cambium layers on the scion wood and the rootstock (or branch that you are top working).  The cambium layer is the inner layer of bark that produces the growth rings inside the tree, adding new layers of phloem and xylem each season.  The better the cambium layers match up, the more likely the graft will properly heal leading to many years of fruit production.

 

crown-cleft-grafting-fruit-treesThe cleft graft is a great place to start grafting due to its simplicity.  All it requires is a centered, vertical slice down the rootstock (creating a cleft), and making two identical cuts on either side of the scion wood basically turning it into a slim wedge.  The scion is then inserted and slid down into the cleft of the stock, all the while keeping the cambium layers lined up.  The cleft graft allows you to use smaller scion wood with a bigger diameter stock.  Once you are happy with the alignment of the cambium layers, wrap your graft with grafting tape or a binder, and then coat with wax or parafilm to help prevent desiccation.

 

87138_whip-grafting_lgThe whip and tongue graft is a bit more difficult than the the cleft graft, but with a bit of practice becomes quite easy.  The whip and tongue is prefered when the scion wood and your grafting stock are of almost similar diameters.  It allows you to maximize cambium layer contact, and makes for a stronger graft union.  Both the scion wood and the stock get a long diagonal cut that when put together, line up and form a new single branch or tree.  The secret to a good whip and tongue graft is the second cut you do on each piece which creates the “tongue”.  This tongue allows the two pieces to lock together, and because of the natural elasticity of the wood, this does a great job in helping the graft union to heal very strongly.

 

Both the cleft graft and the whip and tongue are great grafting techniques and with practice you can attain close to 100% success with either one. Regardless of which one you choose to use, lining up the cambium layers is the most important part of successful grafting.  Always remember to wrap your grafts tight using either a rubber band or grafting tape, and then finish them with parafilm or grafting wax.  Coating the graft union and the scion wood with grafting wax or parafilm will keep the wood from drying out.

Materials

 

  • Rootstock – Rootstock comes in in many different types.  Usually they are selected for their dwarfing traits, their resistance to certain blights, or their abilities for growing in certain conditions.  Just remember, use apple for apple, pear for pear, etc..
  • Scionwood – Scion wood can be collected from neighborhood trees, local orchards, or be obtained through trading networks like the North American Scion Exchange.  Store them in a plastic bag, with a lightly damp moist towel and they can keep for up to a few months.
  • Grafting Knife – You can purchase any number of grafting knives through amazon or other websites.  They can also be made out of old steak knives or you can just use a razor knife.

 

    • Grafting Tape or Rubber Bands – You will want to use one of these to help tie the graft together.  Both are fairly easy to use and find.  Some people also use old plastic bags cut into strips.  Experiment away!
    • Grafting Wax or Parafilm – You can purchase grafting wax online, or you can also use the wax ring that is meant for toilet installs.  Parafilm is relatively cheap, can be purchased online, and is superior to wax – super easy to use and no clean up!
    • Labels – Labeling your grafts/trees immediately is very important.  You may think you have a great memory, but eventually you will forget.  You can use plastic tags and a sharpie marker or even better is aluminium tags that are completely weather proof.

 

  • Band Aids – Grafting is a lot of fun, but remember, you are using a sharp knife, be careful, take your time, and try not to cut yourself!  Oh yeah, have fun too!

 


Resources

 

 

Books

 

  • The Apple Grower – Michael Phillips
  • The Holistic Orchard – Michael Phillips
  • The Grafter’s Handbook – RJ Garner

 

Notes

 

 

 

 

 

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Grafting Class with Andy!

Grafting Class with Andy!

Happy winter everyone!  There has been a lot of great stuff happening here at the Dead End Alley Farm, so much in fact there has been very little time for contemplation or writing.  For the last two weeks my time has been occupied with a home remodeling project, knocking out a wall to make a bedroom bigger. While I am not quite done, the end is in sight and it will be back to planning for an exciting spring and summer!

 

This autumn I contacted a couple of local community education programs with a few proposals for teaching classes.  To my surprise, both groups got back to me relatively quickly with a positive reception.  So this spring I will be teaching a few fruit tree grafting classes, and then this summer I will be doing an Intro to Urban Homesteading class, but more on that one later.

 

Coming up on Tuesday, April 28, I will be teaching a 2 hour long grafting class at the local high school from 6:30-8:30 PM.  Here is the link you will need to register and pay.  All participants will go home with 3 grafted trees (I will have extra supplies for sale) and the basic knowledge to continue on with this age old, homesteading skill.

 

So if you are in the Twin Cities (Minnesota) and want to learn how to graft fruit trees, come join me for a fun evening of hands on learning.  Please feel free to contact me either through email or on Facebook if you have any questions or comments.  Also, if you are interested in hosting a grafting class please let me know and I can supply you with more details.  Until next time, Peace and Cheers!

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Here is a McIntosh apple, a beauty to behold!

Here is a McIntosh apple, a beauty to behold!

Editors note – Since the publication of this essay, there has been a little debate on the NAFEX facebook page as to what the true identity of this apple actually is.  I have never claimed to be an expert, and it is totally possible that the ID that I claim is incorrect.  I bring this up in the spirit of learning, if someone has a better idea than mine and it is backed up with decent evidence, I am all ears!  Regardless of what the true name for this apple is, I feel this is still a strong essay that can stand on its on.  Enjoy…

A reoccuring theme here on Autonomy Acres is food, a lot of the time specifically about fruit.  Fruit trees, fruit shrubs, growing and foraging fruit, and eating fruit have all been topics covered here over the last four years.  Its a favorite subject of mine for good reason, I love fruit!  Growing it, eating it, learning about it, cooking with it,  you name it, fruit is one of my passions.  Especially apples!

 

Nothing compares to a tree ripened apple on a cool autumn day.  They signal the finished accumulation of solar energy, the life of the soil, and the water from rain into a near perfect orb that holds the sweetness of summer within its flesh.  They are the inspiration for poetry and legends, and for so many years have played a part in the stories and traditions of cultures from around the cool, temperate climates of the world.

 

It wasn’t that long ago when every region in the world where apples could and did grow had its own locally adapted varieties.  Many of these varieties were used solely for culinary uses or cider and were rarely eaten out of hand and remained nameless, wild apple trees living on the edges of forests and in the hedgerows between fields.

 

But many of them contained desirable traits and magic that enchanted us – a superb taste, or great storage capabilities, or one that made a particularly smooth cider.  Some are just plain gorgeous, or ugly for that matter, but any of these apples that have called to us, have been named, and shared, and sometimes have even become famous.

 

Presently in 2014 there are roughly 7,500 named varieties of apples grown throughout the world, but it is thought that at one time (probably not all that long ago), there could have been well over 10-12,000 distinct varieties being cultivated worldwide.  But with the steady march of progress and the ever increasing trend towards a global monoculture, much of our collective apple heritage has been lost to the bulldozer, the suburbs, and the destruction of our traditional food systems.

 

While much of our great wealth of apple diversity still exists,  it is scattered and gets harder to find with each passing season.  The global, industrial cultivation of apples now relies on just 15 varieties for the bulk of its production.  How sad it is to have lost so many unique apples (and the land upon which they grew) in favor of a handful of apples that are easy to harvest and ship, and oftentimes resemble wet cardboard in  texture and taste.

 

There is an apple tree a couple miles from my house that I have been visiting now for the last few years.  It has been a reliable producer with apples that are hardly troubled by pests or disease.  They have tended to be a medium to large apple, but occasionally I will find one that is just huge!

 

This year I got to the apple tree far later than I ever have and realized that I had been picking this apple a bit too early.  This year I didn’t harvest until the middle of October, and because of this later harvest, these apples were really ready to be picked and had fully ripened on the tree.

 

Do you see a graft line?  If so, let me know...

Do you see a graft line? If so, let me know…

What I was really interested in was if I could find a graft line anywhere on the trunk.   While there is nothing discernible that indicates where the graft union may be (it was probably buried when planted, or slowly covered by the accumulation of mulch and leaves), I am pretty sure that this is a grafted, McIntosh apple tree.  Eating it this time of year, versus last year when I harvested them early in September, changed the flavor profile quite a bit, and it became evident that this was an apple that most of us have had at some point in our lives.

 

It has a noticeable thicker skin, a white to somewhat yellowish flesh that is far from crisp, but is definitely not mealy either, a small short stem, and is easily bruised when dropped.  The fruit tends to have a uniformly deep red color to it, that is splashed with small streaks of green.  It is not overly juicy or sweet, but has a nice, subtle acidic bite to it that makes it fine apple for eating fresh.  It cooked down to an almost perfectly smooth apple butter that only needed a bit of pureeing at the end.

 

All of those characteristics when compared to other descriptions of McIntosh (see here, and here) seem to be a fairly good match.  McIntosh started its journey in Canada back in 1850 and went onto to become a very popular apple for cultivation throughout Western Canada down into New England, and the upper midwest (where I live).  It is a large spreading tree, that tends to have reliable harvests, and at least the one I am harvesting from seems to be fairly resistant to some of the more common pests and diseases around here.

 

Honestly it is not the greatest apple I have ever eaten, but it is still pretty good.  Just for the fact that this is a big mature tree that is easy to harvest from, and also produces high quality fruit, and lots of it, makes me glad that this tree is in my neighborhood.  The fact that this tree is also in a spot that is very easy to access doesn’t hurt either.  This tree is a relic from when this area was still farms and orchards and I can only imagine that this McIntosh tree is in its twilight years.

 

Before I came to the conclusion that this tree is a McIntosh, last year I collected scion wood from it and grafted it onto one of my !Frankentrees!  At the time of grafting, I was calling it Crusader because of a landmark closeby, but it is now looking like I will have to get a new tag made up for that branch.

 

Mcintoshharvest

Here’s the Harvest!

The fact that this apple tree is a fairly common variety, doesn’t lessen its value as a tree or for what it can provide for one who cares for it. Moreover, the bounty and the knowledge I have gleaned from this tree are invaluable.  I love free food, and I also love the chance to learn something new, and this tree has provided both.   I admit that it would be fun to find and identify a tree that is more of a rarity than a McIntosh, but the fact that I am pretty certain about my identification means that my observations and research are maturing and starting to pay off!

 

Sadly it is getting harder to find old trees whether they are a rare variety or not.  The continued suburban expansion proceeds with the same vigour as late stage cancer, and it is not only old apple trees that perish and are lost to history, but many other forms of biological diversity are

threatened from this unceasing onslaught.

 

We may not be able stop the majority of this destruction, but we can be stewards to what is left.  We can educate our communities on the importance of fruit and nut trees, we can seek out and help preserve the genetics of threatened species and varieties,  and we can also start planting as many trees as we can on whatever land is available to us.  Trees are one way of investing in the future, so lets make our great grandkids proud and leave them something positive to remember us by.  Peace & Cheers…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In the last few years a popular meme growing throughout the ether of the inter-webs is the idea of guerrilla gardening.  The idea of guerrilla gardening is really quite simple, but with some rather radical implications.  Guerrilla gardening is the cultivation and care of plants (usually edibles) on land that you do not own.  It is done on land that may be overlooked and forgotten about by private companies or municipalities.  It may be D.O.T. land such as boulevards or parcels cut off by highways, and surrounded by entrance and exit ramps.  It may be tucked away off of the beaten path in a county park, or behind the public library.

 

All of these pieces of land represent and exemplify humans innate ability to conquer, divide, categorize, map, and privatize the Earth.  The more radical implications of guerrilla gardening is that it calls into question the land use of today’s modern world.  With the rise of modern industrial society, and the accumulation of mass amounts of riches by the ruling class, land that historically had been held and treated as a commons, has effectively been divorced from the people who benefited and cared for the land the most.

 

When common, everyday people lose access to land, they become enslaved and dependent upon the industrial machine that is destroying human culture and the land base that supports all of us.  Not that long ago (at least in the historical long view) when the planet had a smaller population and people had a greater hand in the production of their food – the commons – whether that be forest, pasture, prairie, or wetlands, contributed greatly to the food in their diets and personal autonomy in their lives.

 

Nowadays with a much larger population and less food producing (wild)land to forage from and grow on, guerrilla gardening, or what I will refer to as Guerrilla Forest Gardening for the rest of the article, provides us with a very unique opportunity.  Incorporating a few of the principles of Permaculture, a Guerrilla Forest Garden is not just a way to grow food, it is also a healing process and an act of nonviolent civil  disobedience.

 

Where guerrilla gardening is based on the use of  annual vegetables and fruits and is a relatively short lived seasonal endeavor  Guerrilla Forest Gardens seek to add a sense of permanence to these overlooked pieces of land.  The simple act of planting food bearing trees and shrubs on land you don’t “own” becomes something revolutionary and a force for positive change.

 

How much land in your town, county, state, and country has been fenced off and plastered with “No Trespassing” signs?  How much of that land, assuming that it is not harboring a toxic waste dump, storing munitions for imperialistic resource wars, or some other use that is mistaken for human “Progress”, could be planted with woody, food producing perennials?  How much of that land could be sequestering carbon that is being belched out of smokestacks and tailpipes?   How much of that land are we going to need to help feed us once Peak Oil and energy descent make industrial agriculture a thing of the past?  The easy answer – almost all of it!

 

All of this land – the isolated parcels, abandoned lots, overgrown parkland and weedy hillsides forgotten to plat maps and urban decay, now present us with a chance to start healing the landscape.  Most of this land is no longer a part of intact, healthy, and native ecosystems.  They are typically marginal pieces of land that annual crops would do poorly on, and with little to no way of irrigating, makes them a challenge to design and plant.  The beauty of a Guerrilla Forest Garden is in the use of a wide array of different perennials, that in time will need less and less human intervention to thrive.

 

Perennial food crops have many distinct advantages over annual row crops, and this can be seen with a quick explanation of how conventional agriculture works.  Our current model of industrial agriculture is based on plants that are essentially domesticated weeds that thrive on disturbed soils. This means each spring we cultivate the Earth with shovels, tillers, and giant tractors to give our domesticated weeds the foot up and environment they need to grow and thrive.  But by annually tilling the soil and using large amounts of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, we deplete any fertility that may be present and damage the huge and immensely complex web of life that inhabits and has a beneficial symbiosis with the soil.

 

This cycle of annual cultivation and constant depletion of our soils’ fertility and organic matter has led to desertification throughout the worlds original agricultural and pastoral lands (and continues to spread today everywhere there is industrial agriculture and poor land management).  By moving towards a perennial dominated landscape we can virtually eliminate (in the right circumstances) the need to disturb the soil on an annual basis to grow our food.  We can start to rebuild our soils, and also to repair the watersheds that have been destroyed through industrial agriculture and loss of wild spaces.  The unfortunate part of this is that it cannot be done overnight.  It can take many years before we can begin to see the results, but we have to start sometime, so let’s make it happen now!

 

The initial establishment of a Guerrilla Forest Garden requires the most work.  Before even thinking about digging the holes to plant the trees in, we first need to come up with the varieties of fruits and nuts we want to put in the ground.  What I plant here in Minnesota is going to be different than what can be planted in a much warmer (cooler, wetter, drier, etc…) climate, so the logical first step is to decide what perennial food plants grow in your region and then find a source for these plants.

 

I love seed and nursery catalogs, but they are expensive when you start to order a large number of trees, shrubs, and seeds with which to work.  What I do (most of the time) is use them as a way of creating a wishlist of plants that I want to acquire.  I get names, pictures, and descriptions of varieties that look like good candidates for a specific project or garden and add them to my list of plants to research.  When I decide upon a certain apple, plum, gooseberry or whatever it may be that I am looking for, I rely on swapping with friends, arranging trades through The North American Scion Exchange (or similar networks), and foraging them from already established orchards, food forests, and gardens.  I only try to purchase plants or seeds that have proven difficult to either find or propagate on my own, but I do still buy my fair share of vegetable seed (and root stock for tree grafting) from catalogs on an annual basis for our CSA, but I am trying to wean myself from this and I am moving in the right direction.

 

So what do you do with all these genetics (seeds, cuttings, and scion wood) that you have received in trades, saved from last year’s gardens, and have foraged from different spots?  Seeds are easy, plant them!  Well most of the time.  Some seeds/nuts need to be treated with a bit more care.  Cold stratification is a process that mimics nature’s seasonal cycle of cool and moist conditions.  Many tree nuts and other perennials will not germinate without being subject to cold stratification, so learn how to do this or find a source of seed that has already gone through this process.

 

Many plants can be propagated through rooting cuttings.  Some need to be green wood cuttings, some need to be hard wood for the rooting process to happen, so once again, do your homework.  Many people use a rooting hormone to get things started, but this is pretty nasty stuff, so be careful.  I have had luck using raw honey in place of rooting hormone and have had reasonable success.  I am not sure what the science is on this, but it is well worth experimenting with (report back with results please!!).  Plants that lend themselves to this method of propagation are blueberries, currants, elderberries, gooseberries, figs, tree collards and many more.  I have found YouTube to be very helpful in this department, so if someone has done it, there is most likely a video out there to show you how!

 

Root cuttings, or divisions are also another way of propagating perennials.  Plants like asparagus, comfrey, hops, raspberries, and rhubarb all can be multiplied by root division.   It is usually best to get them early in the spring before things are starting to really take off.  Keep them watered and you should have very few problems. Come year two or three of these plants that have been propagated by root division is when you can expect your first yield.

 

And last is grafting.  Anyone who has followed this blog for awhile knows how much I like grafting.  Tree grafting is a craft that spans thousands of years and is the reason we have named cultivars of apples, cherries, pears, and plums that sometimes can be hundreds of years old.  Grafting allows us to customize trees for the characteristics we are looking for.  Do you need an apple tree that can be kept small, and produces a good cider apple?  How about a plum that can be planted in a clay heavy soil?  The right choice of root stock (and there are many to choose from), and a cultivar that is suited to your climate can make all the difference in your grafting success.

The more modern twist on grafting is Guerrilla Grafting.  Just like its counterpart we started the article out with, Guerrilla Grafting takes advantage of resources that are already available and could be a major component to establishing a Guerrilla Forest Garden.  So many parking lots, corporate campuses, and other semi-public areas are landscaped with decorative crab apples and flowering pears and cherries.  Why not graft on sticks of edible cultivars and get some real food out of the deal!  You might be amazed at how prevalent some of these trees are.  They are all over the Twin Cities metro area where I reside and most likely in your hometown as well (wherever in the world you are reading from).  Because many of these trees are already mature, if your grafting is successful, you can expect to get fruit in two to three years.  Add a few under story plants and ground covers and you are well on your way to establishing a Guerrilla Forest Garden!

 

The very nature of a Guerrilla Forest Garden is illegal.  You ARE trespassing – and whether that be on land or on an idea, what you are doing is a threat to those in power.  There is a reason we have been separated from the land, and it is that when we lose the ability to provide for ourselves, we lose our autonomy and freedom as humans and as a community.  Guerrilla Forest Gardens are just one tactic and solution we have to start reclaiming what has always been ours.  When we have access to land that we can care for and steward, we reconnect with a bit of our humanity that has been subjugated and domesticated in these ‘a waning days of the Wal-Mart world!


Good luck to all of you who are out there reclaiming the land with fruit trees and berry shrubs.  Keep your pruning shears and grafting knives sharp, your shovels close, and your spirit of Revolution lit!  Take a chance, plant some trees, and cover your tracks!  Do it for yourself, but also for the future, and defend the Earth!  Go Guerrillas!!!  Peace & Cheers

 

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Haskap Berries from our Garden!!

Haskap Berries from our Garden!!

Recently my friend John who is a fellow fruit enthusiast like myself and helps run the NASE with me, sent me an email with a link to a program entitled The Fruit Hunters.  Documenting the history of fruit and the industrialization of the food chain, The Fruit Hunters takes us on a journey through history and around the globe.  From the jungles of Borneo and Bali, to a banana breeder in Honduras, and the flat northern plains of Saskatchewan, people around the globe have made it their mission to preserve, propagate, and share exotic, rare, and often times threatened species of fruit.

 

Whether it is the Wani white mango, the quest to breed a more genetically diverse and resilient banana, or introducing the sweetly tart haskap berry to the culinary world, humans love affair with fruit is older than written history.  Since the days when we climbed down out of the trees, our symbiotic evolution with fruit has been many things – a culinary desire, a poetic muse, and a forbidden love.  Fruit has adorned the artwork in the halls of kings, and been the foundation in ceremonies for tribal people.  It is the favorite summertime snack of a smiling, messey 6 year old, and a common culinary ingredient in so much cooking from around the world.  Fruit is a global desire – something we can never get enough of when it is in season, and something we long for in the cold, dark days of winter.

 

Those of us who are a part of the modern homesteading movement are carrying on traditions that were a part of everyday life only two generations ago.  We grow food, we preserve it, and we pass on all that accumulated genetic wealth and history to the next generation.  But modern, industrial agriculture has done such a good job of separating people from the land and these homesteading traditions, that most people do not think twice about where their food comes from anymore.  It only makes sense that apples, oranges, and bananas come from the grocery store, right?

 

This has been made possible by creating a “Global Summertime” that is powered by massive inputs of energy dense fossil fuels.  The global supply chain of fruit production, from the field to the shelf, has very little room for genetic diversity and unique traits amongst all that is grown.  If you were a piece of fruit – a strawberry, an apple, a lime – and you were to be shipped halfway around the world in February, there are only a few things that the global fruit supply chain cares about.

 

The first is ripening time.  If you and all your brother and sister fruits do not ripen at the same time, whether that is on or off of the vine, shrub, or tree, you would never be considered for the circumnavigation of the globe.  Second, if you are too difficult to harvest efficiently, sorry, maybe next time.  And third, if you do not have thick skin and a body that cannot be roughed up a bit and look better for the wear over a journey of a few thousand miles, than that will not work either.

 

Notice how flavor and aroma are not on that list.  Neither is the fruit inspired passion and ecstasy that comes from a just picked raspberry, or the first bite of an intensely flavored Rubinette apple, or a tree ripened plum.  Global fruit does not care about human passion and desire, and it definitely does not care about genetic diversity amongst the plants that we grow for our food.  Every banana you find at the supermarket is the same Cavendish banana that is being grown worldwide on every banana plantation.  Highly prone to disease, the fate of the global monoculture of the banana rests uneasily on a regiment of fungicides, insecticides, slave-like labor and a hope that a global pandemic like the one in the late 1960’s can be avoided today.

 

Another example of intolerance towards genetic diversity within the global food production system is the apple.  Quite possibly the most well known fruit in North America, Europe, and other temperate regions throughout the world, the apple has a long history that began in the mountains of Kazakhstan and has spread the world over.   Ranging in color from greens, reds, yellows, and infinite combinations of the three, and with flavors as diverse as banana, pineapple, cinnamon, anise, honey, sweet, tart, and acidic; apples have been a historic treasure trove of genetic variation and unique characteristics.

 

Beautiful Apples – Courtesy of Steven Edholm – Turkeysong Blog

Even their names are evidence to the genetic wealth contained in the species Malus Domesticus – Brown Snout, Etter’s Gold, Black Oxford, Redfree, Hudson’s Golden Gem, King of Tompkin’s County, Smoke House, Sweet Bough, and Chestnut Crab all come to mind.  Apples have taken their names from their physical appearance, flavor, place of origin, and the person who found or bred that particular apple.  They have become local legends and have had festivals dedicated in their honor, and until recently, almost every region of America (and elsewhere in the world) have had their hometown heros.

 

Worldwide there are about 7,500 varieties of apples grown today.  In America there are about 2,500 varieties that are grown throughout backyards and home orchards, and about 100 of those are commonly found in small, commercial operations.  Out of all of those apples to choose from, only about 15 varieties of them are grown on an industrial scale to supply the world’s taste demand for this wonderful pomme fruit.

 

Just like so many other varieties of plants that have been molested to fit the industrial model of agriculture, apples have been stripped of their unique identities.  Apples were made famous because of their great cider making traits, or their superb storing ability using traditional methods.  Some were used for drying or baking or making sauce, but all of them were valued for their own unique reasons.  Now an apple just needs to be sweet, without that much real flavor, and have the stamina to withstand the rigors of travelling the globe.  It is a truly sad story to witness the destruction of a vast gene pool like the apple to the hands of convenience.

 

While industrial agriculture is stripping the world of genetic diversity, there is a movement of individuals and groups throughout the world who are fighting back to protect it.  Backyard and hobby orchardists, nurserymen,  and globe trotting scientist and fruit hunters are on the front lines trying to preserve, protect, and spread all of these threatened genetics.  University arboretums, private collections, and orchards are all home to historic and endangered species of fruit.  And there are also networks that have formed to help spread these genetics.  In America there is the North American Scion Exchange (new website coming for the 2014 season!) and the Seed Savers Exchange, and in Europe there is Fruitiers.net.  There are real life scion exchanges at farming conferences and get togethers , and online trading through gardening and sustainability forums.

 

There is only so much that we as individuals can do, but the more of us who are actively participating in growing fruit, propagating genetics, and sharing what we have with the world can make a huge impact on preserving this rich history that belongs to all of humanity.  The further we progress down the road of industrial civilization and the agriculture that makes it possible, the more genetic wealth we will lose forever.

 

Every lost fruit whether it is an apple or a mango or a grape, not only represents millennia of evolutionary adaptation thrown to the wayside, but also a loss of human connection with the Earth.  Genetic diversity within our food systems not only ensures security against disease, drought, famine, and other challenges we face as an agricultural society, it also roots us in traditions that are entwined with the food we grow and that in turn nourishes our bodies.

 

Fruit is not just a food for the body, but also of the soul – the place where passion and poetry are born.  Eating fruit that you helped to grow or forage from the wild can be a sensual experience, and is one of the things that make us human.  Being inspired and moved by the sweetness of the flesh, the curvy shapes, and soft textures of fruit, we can connect with a part of our nature that has also been lost with the industrialization of food and the world.

 

So while we all can’t travel the globe searching for endangered fruits, we can all help preserve fruit genetics by growing fruit locally.  If you are a property owner try to plant as wide of a selection of fruit as possible.  Plant old varieties and new ones, things that are proven winners for your climate, and try pushing gardening zones if your heart (and taste buds) desires something more exotic.  Do not only grow these fruits, but help to spread their genes through scion exchanges and other plant swaps.  Learn propagation techniques like grafting, rooting and air layering.  If you do not have access to land to do this yourself, volunteer to help out those who do, or start planting your own Guerilla Forest Garden!

 

Whatever role you can play in the preservation, propagation, and sharing of fruit genetics, it will be a net benefit to human culture and for the biodiversity of the planets edible plant population.  With climate change and the the ongoing destruction and pollution of traditional agricultural and wild lands, any and all help is needed to help protect these species of fruit – even the ones that seem to need no protection at all today.  It will be a sad day indeed when an apple like the Honey Crisp or the Concord grape are no longer available because we could not take care of our planet!  Peace & Cheers

Part 1 of The Fruit Hunters

Part 2

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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!!

Here are cuttings of Honeyberries, gooseberries, and currants - all growing roots!

Here are cuttings of Honeyberries, gooseberries, and currants – all growing roots!

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.

A handful of chestnuts, ready to be planted!

A handful of chestnuts, ready to be planted!

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!!

Tree Collards!!

Tree Collards!!

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!!

Here is our new room!!

Here is our new room!!

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.

Here are a few photos of the construction!!

Here are a few photos of the construction!!

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!!

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Son of !Frankentree! - He now has 22 varieties of apples grafted onto him!!!

Mary Shelley and her Dr. Frankenstein would be proud. Human ingenuity at it’s best – fruit tree grafting and the creation of the most awesome and peaceful fruiting monster – !Frankentree! My inspiration for this has been stated before. Last year I learned how to graft down at the Seed Saver’s Exchange farm from Dan Bussey. At the same time I also met via the internet Steven Edholm who writes the blog Turkey Song, and inspired me with his !Frankentree! Since then I have gotten much better at grafting (but still learning), formed The North American Scion Exchange, and have met a bunch of other people who are continuing to inspire and teach me! Following is the story thus far…

Here is everything you will need to start grafting - A pruning saw, pruners, grafting knives, budding tape and/or black rubberized splicing tape, Harvey's toilet wax (or wax made especially for grafting, labels, and scion wood! Now get grafting!!

When I first learned the craft of grafting, I was taught using the whip and tongue method. I did a bunch of grafts last year using this method, but because of a lack of practice, the wrong kind of knife, and a lack of other proper grafting supplies, only four of the approximately 20 grafts I did took off and were successful. It was disappointing, but a good lesson. Since starting down this path of a DIY lifestyle so long ago, the best way I learn a new skill is by failure. I am no longer scared to mess up and make mistakes. That doesn’t mean it is not frustrating, but by making mistakes it makes me focus harder and do the extra needed research and homework to be successful the next time around. This year I have switched to a new grafting technique called Cleft Grafting. It is a much easier graft to perform, and in most cases just as effective. Below is a series of photos to show how the cleft graft works.

So far all the grafting I have done this season has been top working a tree. Top working is the process of turning over an existing tree to a new variety. Top working a tree has many benefits – if you are unhappy with your current variety, you can top work it with cleft grafts (and other methods) and switch over to a new, tastier or more productive variety. Another aspect of top working a tree is the time in which you will receive fruit from the newly grafted scion wood. The overall age of the tree, and specifically the rootstock, is what really influences fruit production. Son of !Frankentree! started life out as a Haralred, grafted onto to some kind of semi – dwarf rootstock. He was planted about four years ago, and he was at least two to three years old when he got planted. I have been getting Haralred apples off of him for about two years now. Last year when I started grafting onto him, the one apple that took and successfully grew is an apple named Gold Rush. That scion wood put on over a foot and a half of growth last year, and I will be getting one Gold Rush apple this year. So it is not the age of the grafted scion wood, as much as the overall age of the tree that impacts fruit production.

On the left is the cut scion wood, in the center is the cleft cut, and on the right is the finished cleft graft! Easy peasy!

Here is the same graft, wrapped in splicing tape. You can also use the white budding tape, and remember to cover the graft in wax to keep it from drying out.

This is Crabby, a top worked crab apple tree. Originally he was a Prairie Fire Crab, but was recently turned into an Eden's and Wickson crab apple tree. One branch was left on as a "mother" branch to help feed the tree.

This is Sir Cider Tree. He now has six varieties of cider apples grafted onto him!

Sometime in the next week or two, I will be receiving my shipment of rootstock for more grafting. This time it will be not just apples, but also plums, peaches, and cherries. I am grafting up a few trees to give to friends, some will find homes here at the homestead, and a lot of them will be going to my in-laws as the start to our new cider orchard. We have mapped out a space and have room for about forty trees in the orchard – I will hopefully be bringing out at least twenty successfully grafted trees this fall to plant! Stay tuned for more grafting updates!! Cheers!

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