We’ve been looking forward to this year’s California Rare Fruit Growers (CRFG) Scion Exchange in the hopes of adding some more unique fruits to our orchard. Sourcing unique, or older heirloom varieties of fruit however can be difficult, but not if you attend a scion exchange.
What is a Scion?
A scion is a cutting of budded young fruit tree wood, taken from the previous season’s growth, and used for grafting. Once grafted the scion will produce a clone of the parent tree. Grafting is an asexual propagation method that assures the fruits produced will be true to the parental type.
What is a Scion Exchange?
Chapters of the California Rare Fruit Growers sponsor annual events called ‘scion exchanges’ each winter. Our local Monterey Bay Chapter of CRFG scion exchange was on Sunday at Cabrillo College’s Horticultural Center. The concept of a scion exchange is simple. In winter, during the period of winter pruning, young scion wood is collected and taken to an exchange event. It’s basically an orchardist’s swap meet.
Why Go To A Scion Exchange?
It’s fun, and a great way to meet others interested in growing a diverse collection of fruit.
Grafting your own fruit trees can be an economical way to start a small orchard. Economics aside, for the average home gardener or small orchardist that is looking to just add a few trees, or graft an additional variety of apple or pear on to an existing tree, the primary reason to attend a scion exchange is for the variety of fruits that are available.
It’s clear here that even though we have many nurseries nearby, most carry the same fruit tree stock, from the same commercial nursery sources. If those commercial nurseries don’t produce a particular variety of interest, it makes finding that fruit almost impossible. That leaves us with a few specialty online nurseries, but that’s still no guarantee, especially if they can’t ship that varietal to your state. That’s where the scion exchange comes in, as it provides access to varieties of fruit that might not otherwise be available in our area.
Preparing for the Event
We’d never attended a scion exchange. We’d hoped to last year, but the orchard wasn’t quite far enough along. We’ve gradually been assembling lists of fruits we’d consider adding to the orchard, so we had an idea what we wanted to look for.
To attend, this scion exchange didn’t require that you bring scions to swap, but we felt that if we could bring something, we should. The broader the selection of available fruit, the more interesting the exchange.
Not all fruit tree varietals are accepted at the exchange, specifically those still under patent. For us only our ‘Flavor King Pluot’ (patent expires in June 2011), and ‘Dapple Dandy Pluot’ (patent expires 2014), are considered to be forbidden fruits for the exchange.
The only non-patented trees that we allowed to fruit at all in 2010 were the ‘Frost Peach’, ‘Flavor Supreme Pluot’, and ‘Blenheim Apricot’. As such, those are the only fruits thus far that we know are true to type. Our Frost Peach was almost completely destroyed by deer last year. Most of the damaged limbs died by mid-summer, and after winter pruning, and removing the dead wood, we opted not to remove any scion wood, for fear we may not have a tree left!
We did collect scion wood from the ‘Flavor Supreme Pluot’, and the ‘Blenheim Apricot’ to take to the exchange though.
For more on collecting scion wood for grafting, this video from the CRFG provides a good overview.
Once we arrived at the scion exchange on Sunday, we were impressed at the sheer variety of fruit available. We specifically were on the lookout for apples, fruiting crab apples, and persimmons for this year, but almost every fruit imaginable was there.
What Do You Do With A Scion?
Browsing the tables, a few varieties of apple caught our eye. However, deciding to obtain a scion for that varietal, means you have to have somewhere to put it! You can’t just plant it, as it has no roots. You either need an existing tree of that type (apple, pear, peach etc.), or you need to acquire the appropriate rootstock to graft your scion on to. Another consideration is whether or not the fruit under consideration needs a pollenizer.
For those that were curious and wanting to graft their own, such as ourselves, demonstrations were provided throughout the event on grafting. Here fellow CRFG member John Valenzuela demonstrates the ‘cleft grafting’ method.
Once grafted, the exposed tip of the scion is sealed with wax, tape or an elastic grafting compound to prevent dessication. The completed graft is then potted into a 1-2 gallon container with potting mix.
Eager to begin grafting, we had a few particular fruit varietals we were looking for. Some we found, some we didn’t, but we certainly didn’t come home empty handed! During this scion exchange we acquired the following fruits:
Akane: (Self-sterile). Also known as Tokyo Rose, this newer variety is a cross between Jonathan and Worcester Pearmain. Mid-sized red fruits, Akane is reportedly an excellent dessert apple, and also good for drying.
Allen’s Everlasting: (Self-sterile). Russetted dessert apple. Possibly a seedling of Sturmer Pippin from Ireland, introduced in the 19th Century, this apple just swept the Wilder Ranch/CRFG apple tasting this year. An excellent keeper.
Arkansas Black: (Self-sterile) Thought to have been raised by John Crawford in Arkansas in the 1840s. Winesap believed to be one of the parents. Fruits are a very deep dark red in color, the flesh is yellow, and reportedly quite tart when harvested, but mellows in storage. This is an excellent keeping variety, and may store for up to six months in ideal conditions. Used for fresh eating, cooking, baking and cider.
Golden Russet: (Self-Sterile). Considered one of the best heirloom “champagne” cider apples. Golden Russet dates from the mid-1800s, is a fine apple for eating and drying, and makes an excellent sweet juice. Apples are Grey-green to golden bronze with a coppery orange blush. This apple is heavily splotched with light brown russet. The yellow flesh is crisp, highly flavored, with a fine-texture.
Culinary Crab Apples
Humboldt: We’re not absolutely certain of this crab apple’s identity. In the 1940s, noted California pomologist Albert Etter called a seedling of the Transcendent crab apple ‘Jumbo Transcendent’. The California Nursery Company then patented this same fruit under the ‘Humboldt’ name, but apparently never released it to market. Later, a varietal called ‘Emma’, also by Etter, was released under the ‘Humboldt’ name, but subequently thought lost. Whether our crab apple will resemble ’Emma’, or Etter’s original ‘Jumbo Transcendent’, only time will tell.
Wickson: Another hybrid produced by Albert Etter, and reportedly one of his most popular. This is a cross of ‘Spitzenberg Crab’ and ‘Newton Crab’. Fruits are large, averaging 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter. Reportedly an excellent hard cider apple with a high sugar content, spicy flavor and a pronounced acid tang. Etter strongly recommended this variety for “champagne” cider making.
Izu: The first of the non-astringent Asian persimmons to ripen, ripening approximately 3 weeks before Fuyu. Izu is self-fertile variety, with a cinnamon sweet flavor, and should help to extend our persimmon harvest in fall.
Suruga: Crisp non-astringent variety, and reportedly one of the best tasting persimmons (second perhaps only to ‘Saijo’), ripening from early November to early December. Good for warmer climates.
At the end of the event we purchased five new M-111 semi-dwarfing (85% of full size) apple root-stocks (a mere $3 each) to graft our new apple and crab apple scions to (we’re grafting the persimmon scions to an existing tree). For now those rootstocks are heeled into damp soil in the orchard, and our scions are safely tucked away in the refrigerator, and we’ll leave them there until we’re ready to graft in the next few weeks. The closer to bud break the rootstocks are, the more successful the grafting should be. We’ll post a follow-up as soon as we start to graft our new trees!