A Dead Man's Party

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Outside the CRFG Scion Exchange
Dear Mom:

These are my kind of people. They're weird. I'm going to learn a lot from them!

Much Love,


Suffice to say -- I've been looking forward to this event for the better part of a year. The event I'm speaking of? The annual scion exchange held by the Sacramento Chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers -- or CRFG. These people are PLUM crazy.

Plum Crazy?
How is this a true statement? Do you see how many different varieties of PLUMS are on this table to your left? Case closed. Heaven awaits. Wait -- make that fruit tree heaven.

This is the next and most natural step that a person of questionable sanity takes when said person plants a backyard full of fruit trees. One variety of Pluot simply isn't enough. Not when there are five or six or seven different varieties that ripen at different times of the year.

Don't have room for five different varieties of pluots? No problem! That's the beauty of the scion exchange and the mad science called "grafting." One tree can hold many different varieties of fruit that ripen at different times of the year. No doubt that you've ran across something called a "Fruit Salad" fruit tree in your local nursery or Big Box store. The fruit salad tree offers three varieties of fruit grafted onto a single tree.

Inside the CRFG Scion Exchange
This is somewhat similar -- except you control what varieties are grafted. It's also not unheard of to graft Asian Plums like the Santa Rosa to an Apricot tree. Don't think that will work? Talk to one of the mad scientists at any scion exchange. They have stories to tell and tips to share. If you think it can't work, you will find someone to tell you that it can.

I suppose it would be wise to tell you, in simple terms, what a scion actually is before I drag you into this murky madness of year-round fruit and citrus production. A simple definition, provided by Merriam-Webster dictionary is: "a detached living portion of a plant (as a bud or shoot) joined to a stock in grafting and usually supplying solely aerial parts to a graft."

Nectarine Scions (Twigs)
In other words -- it's a twig that's been snapped off or cut off a fruit tree during the dormant season (winter counts as dormant season for fruit trees). That twig is then attached to another tree through the grafting process. If the graft "takes" or is successful -- the twig will sprout new leaves in the spring and will begin producing fruit over the next year or two.

Thanks to recent developments and techniques in the grafting process, most graft attempts are quite successful now. This wasn't always the case. There was a time and day when the process of grafting resulted in a success rate of 50% or less. I should know. I watched my father-in-law attempt to graft something (I can't remember what it was) to my mother's apple tree once. The experiment failed. It was never repeated.

Handy Dandy Grafting Tool (Gift From the Wife!)
But there are new techniques and tools that have been developed since that failure that have made the process of grafting almost foolproof. That, in turn, has led to the creation of a select group of people who are conducting experiments that Baron Victor von Frankenstein never would have dreamed of.

Ten different grafts on one apple tree? Sure! Why stop there? Graft a nectarine to a peach tree? Sounds good to me? Cherries to plums? Hey man! Whatever makes you happy!

CRFG Member John Valenzuela Explains Grafting Process
In the center of this recent scion exchange madness, a woefully under prepared Bill Bird would meet this guy: John Valenzuela. True to the patterns on his shirt -- John believes in growing fruit. Not just any fruit -- but all types and lots of them. John would be just one helpful person that I would run into during this exchange, as spread his own style and brand of Home Depot "You Can Do This" confidence.

My hands literally shook with excitement as I picked up bag after bag of fruit tree scions for literally every fruit tree and very fruit variety under the sun. You like nectarines? How does 20 different varieties of nectarines sound? Are plums your bag? There are HUNDREDS of different varieties here -- take your pick. Not sure what you want? Ask John!

Lady Williams Peach
It was then I noticed that most people had come prepared for this event with rolls of tape, pens, bags and markers. Once a certain variety of scion was selected, the name and information was written down on tape, attached to the twig in question and dropped into a bag. Onto the next station.

Bill Bird -- as you might imagine -- brought nothing. How was I going to keep track of all this stuff? Not to worry. CRFG members can spot a new member in their midst. They are usually the people standing in the middle of the madness, eyes wide open, sometimes drooling (OK -- in my case -- drooling).

Apple Scion Table
Someone -- I can't remember who -- would be kind enough to wrap some tape around a spare pen, stick it my hand, and tell me to get moving. Move -- I did. First to the plum table for that variety called Fairchild. Then, I would proceed to hop, skip and jump over to the pluot table where I discovered scions for Dapple Dandy, Flavor King and Flavor Delight! Then it was back to the plum table -- then cherries -- then nectarines! Back and forth! Back and forth!

One gets kind of dizzy collecting scions.

Those collected twigs of apples, pluots, nectarines, plums and cherries are currently sitting inside of a plastic baggy, kept moist at the bottom of the wife's vegetable crisper. She's just thrilled by this development -- but not to worry -- as yours truly will take the first steps into the world of fruit tree grafting later today.

Grafting that cherry to the cat's tail? Hey now -- that just might work....

My thanks to John Valenzuela and other CRFG members who only too happy to guide a lost person through the fruit tree jungle. John, a Horticulturist, Consultant and Educator, can be reached through his website. Access the CRFG website here, and the Sacramento Chapter is always welcoming new members to the madness.

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