Author Archives: Nick Routledge

About Nick Routledge

I'm a Paradise Gardener serving at the Canticle Farm Catholic Worker House in Oakland, CA. http://on.fb.me/1wo9MZE

Scion-collection: a primer

‘Scion’ is the horticultural name used to describe the cuttings taken from fruit trees which are then grafted on to rootstock to create new fruit trees. This is how fruit trees such as ‘Granny Smith’ apples or ‘Bing’ cherries are ‘made’. Named fruit trees (or ‘cultivars’ or ‘varieties’) are cloned, not grown from seed.

Though there exist many videos describing how to graft fruit trees, very few describe scion collection. This video, made for the Agrarian Sharing Network, provides a basic primer on everything you need to know to collect and store scion well, for your own grafting needs and for those of your larger community.

Cutting and storing scion is a simple task. Here are a few pointers:

Be very careful with ID and labeling – collect from trees that have fruited already so the variety is known. Preferably, cut scion about the diameter of a lead pencil, to 12” lengths, although shorter pieces are fine. ’Pruning cuttings’ often fit the bill perfectly. Tightly tie or rubber-band a dozen or so healthy cuttings in a clearly-labeled bundle.
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Collecting scion is time-sensitive. Scion wood needs to be cut in the winter while it is dormant (before the buds have very visibly begun swelling), then kept cool until it is grafted onto rootstock in the spring, ‘when the sap is rising’. Here, in the maritime Pacific-Northwest, late-January-early-February sees the end of our ‘dormancy collection window’ for stone-fruit such as peaches, plums and cherries. Asian and European pears quickly follow, then apples. Some varieties of these crops types ‘bud out’ earlier or later than most.

Vigorous shoots are best but avoid collecting from suckers or water-sprouts (these shoots, which grow vertically from the base of the tree or vertically from lateral branches, are slowest to bear fruit). Collect first-year wood (last year’s growth) preferably from laterals. Next-favored are the terminal shoots at the top of the tree.

Once collected, don’t let the scion dry out. Experienced hands will tend to label each variety clearly, place it in a moist (not saturated) medium such as paper towels or old cloth, and wrap in plastic. (The plastic bags the newspaper comes in work well. Double the bag because one will often have a hole in it.) Place in the refrigerator at about 34° to 38° until grafting time: keeping the scion cool keeps it dormant; keeping it damp, keeps it fresh.

Further curiosty about scion collection? Google: “Penhallegon scion” or write to our Facebook group, Agrarian Sharing Network.

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Farewell Lane County Propagation Fair. Welcome the Agrarian Sharing Network!

2017 sees the evolution of the venerable Lane County Propagation Fair into an entirely new iteration. Eight years ago we morphed the teensy Eugene Permaculture Guild spring-seedswap into the Lane County Propagation Fair. This free, 100% volunteer-driven initiative has since grown into the largest organics-focused propagation fair in the country.

All well and good. But the popularity of our Eugene-based prop fair has brought an unintended consequence: we’ve become something of a centralized ‘commodity event’ where folks happily turn up in great numbers to connect with a vast diversity of germplasm, but not with each other. As it happens, a defining ethic informing our local seed/scion exchange since we began it over 20 years ago, relates not only to the ecological, but the social dimensions crucial to the deep eco-social functionality of such events: “…In cultures typified by mutual caring… Seed swaps and seed giveaways are seen not only as strengthening seed culture, but as critical to nurturing and rekindling intra-ethnic and inter-ethnic relations.”

It is this human dimension – the nurturing of relations between and among communities – which was feeling lost to us and with it, of course, the accompanying awareness of the requirements and responsibilities of assuring such efforts are not only socially but ecologically sustainable. Indeed, along with the increasing ‘depersonalization’ of the event, we have concurrently witnessed our access to germplasm – largely concentrated in a handful of non-profit collections supported by the work of a tiny group of volunteers – progressively succumb to decline, restricted access and, indeed, catastrophic loss.

Simply put, no matter how ‘successful’ our event seemed to outsiders, core organizers were aware we had created a phenomenon failing to connect people – which was also, in the same breath, inherently ecologically unsustainable. In a sense, we had created an event hanging by a fast-fraying thread.

As such, after much in the way of group discussion in the aftermath of last year’s propagation fair, we are embarking on a new approach: namely, we are now in the process of birthing a collaborative network of ‘distributed propagation fairs’, that is, small, de-centralized, neighborhood-scale propagation fairs around our bioregion.

We see this effort to decentralize as crucial to supporting food security across our bioregion, by freely collecting and sharing an unparalleled array of food germplasm through a distributed network of collaborators, while building the know-how and skill sets required to support autonomous, local, self-standing efforts by folks vested in caring for their own and other like-minded communities of interest.

We are currently planning on helping host six propagation fairs around our bioregion throughout March and April.

Our efforts to collect and distribute material throughout Oregon, Washington and California, have already begun. Stay posted for further developments!

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2016 fair preparations

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Pen and paint on scrap paper

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Our first planning meeting. Nick and Chris strategizing scion collecting across our bioregion.

 

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Waiting for the frost to lift off the trees before collecting scion on a sunsplashed January morning in Yoncalla, OR.

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Into the grapes at Nick Botner’s to cut scion.

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Long days cutting and long nights sorting.

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The core group of organizers begins to gather at our traditional meeting venue, New Day Bakery in the Whit.

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This year, our first visit to Queener’s Orchard in Stayton, OR, to collect scion.

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A plumcot, the first fruit tree among thousands to come into full bloom at Nick Botner’s orchard.

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Preparing for the 2014 propagation fair!

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.

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Ritual! The annual cleaning of hundreds of scion pots for the prop fair. Revoutionary camaraderie in the glorious sunshine with Maggie Manitoba of Healing Harvest, Karen Moore, Geran Wales and Ben Riley.

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.

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Grapes gathered for our fall fruit show. Diversitas!

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.

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Gathering grape scion at Spearheart Farm in Yoncalla.

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.

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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.

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Collecting scion at the USDA in Corvallis with JJ, Pete and Ja.

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!

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Asian pear scion ready for processing.

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.

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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!

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Not all who wander are lost. Ben and Nick stumble across the Holy Grail of fruit explorers, the apple actually named, “Goof.”

‘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.

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Then, we get to share intel with old timers from far afield!

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Hobnobbing with Harry Burton of the legendary Salt Spring Island Apple Show, in from BC for the Home Orchard Society scion fair. International fruit geekout!

Back to cutting…
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and processing, and cataloging our scion.

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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!

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Our propagation fair includes a seed swap. Last year, around 1,500 peeps attended our event.

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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.

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And, of course, all our industriousness pays off when we get to taste the fruits of our labors.

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50 apples selected for taste from 4,000 varieties in late September. And 50 grapes selected from 500 varieties. Yum!

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.

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About the 2013 Propagation Fair

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
nominal fee.

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.

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Lane County Master Gardener Workshops of Interest

Feb. 23, 2013 10:00am – 12:00pm
Learn the basics of pruning blueberries, grapes and fruit trees.
Feb. 23, 2013 1:00pm – 3:30pm
Learn to grow great fruit trees in your home garden.
Feb. 26, 2013 1:00pm – 3:00pm
Learn the basics of fruit tree pruning and get some hands-on experience.
Feb. 26, 2013 6:30pm – 9:00pm
Learn to grow great fruit trees in your home garden.
Mar. 2, 2013
9:30 am – 12:00 pm  |  River Road Park Community Center  |  $25
Mar. 5, 2013
Mar. 7, 2013

Growing Great Fruit Trees at Home
1:00 pm – 3:30 pm  |  Lane Community College – Florence  |  $25

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Post-2012 Fair report

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.

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