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A Report From The Front Lines Of The Home Orchard Society’s Propagation Fair

Home Orchard Society's Progagation Fair - Look At All The Tables of Scion Wood They Are Giving Away For Free!

Oregon’s Home Orchard Society’s Progagation Fair – Look At All The Tables of Scion Wood They Are Giving Away For Free!

Last weekend I went to the Home Orchard Society’s propagation fair outside Portland, Oregon.  It was a packed event, attracting several hundred people and featuring FREE (my favorite) scion wood for grapes, cherries, plums, asian plums, peaches, cherries and hundreds of varieties of pears, and over 500 types of apples – many unique, unusual or heirloom varieties.

The Home Orchard Society had rootstock for sale for $5 per root, and experts available to help graft your new cuttings, for $5 apiece, as well as answer any questions you might have, for free.  In addition, there were several vendors offering everything from mason bee tubes, to home-made cider supplies, books on growing and preserving food from the garden, and lots of plants for sale.

The event was a great way to welcome the Spring (and get out of the house for a whole day!).  The goal of the event is to raise awareness about Home Orchards and help people get started, or expand, their home fruit production efforts.  I saw a gentleman there I knew from my local Snohomish County beekeepers club.  He said he grafted over 100 trees for his orchard last year, and planned to do even more this year.  Wow!  Too much space – fun problem to have!

Everyone I met there was very nice!  I ended up wanting more fruit than my landscape plan currently calls for, so I was glad I learned about Dave Wilson’s multi-stem plantings in backyard orchard culture before I went, which gave me an excuse to stock up on lots of varieties.

Here’s An Overview of Fruit Tree Propagation From One of the Home Orchard Society’s Representatives

I ended up picking up:

  • 12 apples (Including some of Seattle’s best apple tree varieties: Ashmead’s Kernel, King Edward VII, Enterprise, and one I had never heard of which was specifically recommended for taste as being a “party in your mouth!”)
  • 6 pears (Rescue, Orcas and Seckel were particularly recommended for the Seattle area.)
  • 2 cherries (I would have gotten more, but there wasn’t much selection left when I arrived at noon.  The event started at 10:00 AM – I guess the early bird catches the worm.)  The kids I picked up were Bing and Rainier cherries.  These are grocery store favorites around here, but apparently, somewhat susceptible to splitting their fruit here in the rainy Northwest.  I would have preferred a yellow-fruited variety (that are supposed to be less attractive to birds) and something that was more rain-tolerant.
  • 2 peaches (Avalon and Q-18 which are both full sized, but supposed to be peach-leaf-curl resistant) and
  • 1 nectarine.

What Am I Gonna Do With All These Plants?

Peaches and Nectarines Grown In Pots

Since peaches and nectarines are susceptible to leaf curl here in the Seattle area, I am going to attempt to grow these in pots along a south-facing wall, where I can keep them under the eaves and somewhat protected from the elements.  I didn’t get genetic dwarf varieties, which weren’t available at the fair) but I probably would have if I could.  The bad thing about genetic dwarfs is that they tend to be very prone to peach leaf curl.  I was instructed to keep the peach trees under clear plastic sheets until they flowered if I wanted to avoid disease, but since these are going to be set up in the entry way of my home, that didn’t sound very appealing.  I’m planning to go with smart pots or root pouches, so that the roots will air-prune rather than circling the inside of a plastic container, and I won’t have to take them out of the pots to do root pruning in the winter (as if that would EVER happen… I’m not that ambitious…).  The peaches are, admittedly, a big experiment.  My edible landscaper advised me not to put them in the landscape, as they were bound to die sooner or later (and probably sooner) and simply unlikely to thrive here.  I figure the pots are a safe(r) bet as it allows me to offer them more sun and radiated heat on my driveway, some protection from the rain and elements, and raised soil conditions in the pots, which should help them warm up faster and avoid excessive moisture.

Apple vs. Pear Espalier

I recently learned that pears can be somewhat harder than apples to espalier, because they harden off the wood more quickly and hare not as easy to get stay on the horizontal plane.  Apparently they have a very upright growth habit.  For that reason, the Candleabra, or U or Double-U shaped espalier varieties are generally some of the best espalier shapes for pears.  Since my landscape plan calls for a pear espalier, I may go ahead and try it, or I may replace it with an apple espalier, and stick the pears in a shared whole, and create a multi-stem look for a landscape pear tree.

Propagating Fruit Trees With Grafting

So, that’s my grand plan… but remember, all I picked up at the propagation fair was some pencil-like sticks that looked like – well, unimpressive.  I also bought some of the (pricey) root stock from the Home Orchard Society.  $5 is a lot to pay for rootstock.  Members pay $4 a piece, but you can get rootstock in a good catalog, like Raintree Nursery’s for $3 each, or less, if you’re buying in bulk. I actually bought my apple rootstock from Northwest Cider Supply, a vendor at the event for about $2 each, at a closeout sale.

Peach Tree Grafting Demonstration

A Home Orchard Society Volunteer Demonstrates Peach Tree Grafting On My Rootstock

So, given the length of this post, already, I think I will do a separate installment on how to graft fruit trees, but I will say that learning about grafting was probably the most exciting part of the event.  I hired an HOS volunteer to graft my 3 peach/nectarine trees, as peaches and cherries are harder to graft successfully than apples and pears, which have a higher likelihood of living.

However, coming home and actually doing the grafting was another experience altogether.  I grafted 6 pears and 2 cherries and it took me about 3 hours.  It probably would have gone faster if I’d had better tools and more experience, but we work with what we have, right?

When my apple rootstocks come in the mail from Northwest Cider Supply later this week, and my Root Pouches come so I can pot them up, I hope to do a series of videos about fruit grafting and bare root potting, so you can be up to speed for your own garden next year!

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