Into the grapes at Nick Botner’s to cut scion.
Five years ago, a handful of local fruit enthusiasts decided to morph our modest local Spring Seed Swap into an all-encompassing propagation fair. Those grassroots aspirations have now matured to the point where our annual propagation fair makes a palpable difference to fruit culture in our bioregion. We now, for example, offer considerably more diversity in bioregionally-proven, disease-resistant varieties of the major fruit groups, than all Oregon commercial nurseries combined. In 2013, fair attendance ran at about 1,500 attendees. Not bad for a free, 100% volunteer-driven event, eh? Here’s a quick picture of our fair-preparation efforts this season.
What will we have freely on offer? Among others, grapes. About 135 varieties! Most cultivars, we find, are vigorous, tough customers, resistant to disease, very productive, drought-tolerant, handle weed-pressure well, are easy-to-grow, and easy-peasy to propagate. The diversity available to us includes a dizzying array of ecstatic flavors.
In our bioregion, as we have moved among about 500 or so different varieties through the years, we have noted an uncommon number of grape varieties come in tops in every performance category under organic conditions. In our experience, this makes grapes something of a standout relative to other fruit types which do indeed have have their star-performers – high-performing plants and fruit – but in no where the numbers that grape varieties offer themselves up.
A key focus of ours in recent years has been selecting the finest disease-resistant, superb-tasting, highly productive seedless grape varieties to bring to our prop fair. In this regard, we sense our fair leads the bioregion. Our OG selection protocol remains a defining emphasis among our grape scion selection.
We have also broadened our embrace this year, adding grapes we haven’t carried before and which will double our typical count. The vast majority are Class A performers, though in making a nod to populist appeal, we have admittedly included a small handful – such as the Pinot Noir, perhaps you spray – which don’t thrive under organic conditions, where we do have wine grapes which are highly disease resistant (and which reliably produce sugar early), and which we will be making available this year as usual.
Any idea what fresh local pears in very early July can taste like? We do. Yum. As it happens, the USDA’s pear genebank in Corvallis, an hour to our north, is home to the most diverse collection of pear cultivars on earth. And only the teensiest handful of the 1,000 named varieties it holds are being grown elsewhere upon US shores. Why is that? Well, primarily because the Corvallis pears (super-early-maturers among ’em) typically lack big biz appeal (their fruits are too fragile, different or fast-maturing, for example) to meet the demands of an industrial food system which has, rather, settled in upon a pear-culture model in which one variety, Bartlett, accounts for the majority of pears grown. Bartlett, Anjou and Bosc account for 94% of all pears grown the in US. No other food crop has witnessed such catastrophic loss of varietal diversity.
Surprising perhaps, but while the remit of the USDA scientists at the Corvallis repository is to assemble an unparalleled diversity of Pyrus germplasm from around the globe, their formal role does not include actively identifying and promoting cultivars worthy of ‘release’. That responsibility, wouldn’t ya know, belongs to, hmm, well, the likes of grassroots fruit enthusiasts such as us. Ain’t no other cavalry on the horizon riding in to free those pears, folks. And so, unnoticed, a small cabal of pear geeks have been walking and examining and tasting the Corvallis pear ocean through the years. Tough work. Someone’s gotta do it!
We support and work closely with the Home Orchard Society in Portland, collecting hundreds of varieties of different fruit types to put into their spring fair. They return the favor handsomely, with advice and support. Here is a vast array of high quality Asian pear scion cut for us by George Barton, the Home Orchard Society’s Asian pear guru. Anecdotal evidence repeatedly confirms Asian pears are the most productive fruit trees in the PNW, and the Lane County Propagation Fair makes a point of offering up an unparalleled array of proven cultivars, rootstock diversity, and clear, concise, definitive descriptions of the material to hand.
Apples are what peeps want. Here we join the Home Orchard Society’s Shaun Shepherd, a dear friend and a fruit enthusiast recognized nationwide as one of our foremost apple ID and cider experts, cutting scion over a weekend of pouring rain at Nick Botner’s repository in Douglas County. We end the day as drowned rats, Calvados-warmed. Fruit culture!
‘Fruit enthusiasts’ we may be, but we also hang with the pros. Basking here in the tutorial brilliance of SLO Farm’s Tom Murray teaching us a vertical axis training system for a new orchard establishment. Where were we? Cutting scion off each tree pruned.
Then, we get to share intel with old timers from far afield!
and processing, and cataloging our scion.
and placing it in the cooler of our local food bank, Food For Lane County, a sponsor of our event. Yup, we are an inter-agency effort!
Our propagation fair includes a seed swap. Last year, around 1,500 peeps attended our event.
We move among public domain plant stewards as well as orchardists. Here we are in February hanging with key peeps from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Adaptive Seeds, Commonwealth Seeds, Moloka’i and Springfield.
And, of course, all our industriousness pays off when we get to taste the fruits of our labors.
Hope to see you at our event. It’s free and fun, and you’ll find a dizzying array of material to hand. Please check out our varietal lists from the links at the head of this page.
The 2013 Annual Spring Propagation Fair is a free event, open to the public, and is designed to support home orchardists, vegetable gardeners and native plant enthusiasts in and around the S. Willamette Valley.
We are focusing on a genetically diverse array of apples, pears and grapes that have proven adaptability to our growing region, disease resistance, and have unique characteristics for culinary use, storage, etc.
Hundreds of varieties of scions (fruit-tree cuttings) and vegetable seed, will be shared by local fruit enthusiasts and seed-savers at the Fair. Rootstocks and grafting assistance will be available for a
Bring your own labeled cuttings and divisions of figs, grapes, berries and other fruits to share freely with others at the Fair, along with fresh seed, plants and divisions of all types of food crops and native plants.
Ask questions of experienced local gardeners and a broad array of our bioregion’s foremost gardening education non-profits. Hear expert speakers throughout the day.
The fair passed off swimmingly with about 700-1000 attendees. Our grafting table, seven-to-eight strong, was non-stop busy as fair goers brought their rootstock and scion to our team to match up. The seed exchange was busier than ever this year, with the good folks of Adaptive Seed, as usual, holding the space together. In our post-event assessment at Cosmic Pizza this past Tuesday night, the organizing team all agreed that working with one another was a delight and that we intend to come together again next spring to do it again! We are also planning fruity adventures throughout the course of this summer to visit many of the trees we collected scion from – it will be good to put a colorful and flavorful face to the hundreds of varietal names we have so assiduously tracked and collected scion for since January.
As we decompress from the months-long effort of gathering scion from around our bioregion, and preparing for the event, a pressing priority is getting leftover rootstock grafted and into the ground. We have three grafting workshops/parties scheduled at the Maple Drive Community Greenhouse at 1137 Maple Dr. Directions below.
Tuesday April 3: noon
Wednesday April 4: 10.00 a.m.
Saturday April 7: 10.00 a.m.
Directions: bike path provides direct access to Horn. By car, about a mile north on River Road – 3 or 4 lights after Chambers bridge (after you pass the Goodwill store on the right) – you will reach the Horn turn-off on the left. Bizarrely, the road to the right at that intersection is named Arbor, not Horn, and Arbor is the only intersection road sign you can see as you approach from the south. Nonetheless, turn left onto Horn rather than right onto Arbor. Going left (west) about the equivalent of 2-3 blocks in (there is, I think, but one cross-street on that stretch) you will see Maple on the left. Go left on Maple (south) and two to three driveways on the left you will clearly see the entrance to the large, grassy 5-acre property with big trees.
The biggest organic orchards (hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of apple and pear trees each year) being planted in western Oregon just now are being planted by the cider-perry grassroots, many of them first-time farmers. Corvallis has an Under-50 Cider – one of two Oregon ciders, I believe, advertised as sourced from within 50 miles. Cider? The BushWhacker Cider bar is one of the more outrageously hopping bars in SE Portland on a Friday night.
My biggest observation relating to the Future of Fruit in the years I have supported the Portland Spring Propagation Fairs? It came this past weekend as I witnessed that the attendance of young people at the event has simply exploded. This has much to do with fresh blood in the supply line. The quality of young soul I am meeting around vegetable and fruit propagation tables just now is exceptional.
At the greyer handlebar moustache end of the scale, come meet Shaun Shepherd of the Home Orchard Society at this weekend’s Lane Prop Fair. Shaun, a ciderist, is the Portland-based Authority on Cider. A little shy (we can’t get him to speak in public) a good time to speak with him is when he is grafting your tree at the grafting table.
Somewhat unexpectedly, we will have persimmon rootstock available at the propagation fair this weekend. (Diospyros lotus, which we use as persimmon rootstock is, by the by, one candidate for the ‘lotus tree’ mentioned in The Odyssey. It was so delicious that those who ate it forgot about returning home and wanted to stay and eat lotus with the lotus-eaters. Better, methinks, to bring the lotus home.)