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.

A Frosty Cold One?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

St. Patrick Tree Rose-Bird Back 40
The dead of winter really doesn't offer much in the way of garden blogging topics. There are chores to take care of, of course. If you're going to have a garden, you're going to have an endless list of chores that seems to grow with every passing year. You just can't "plant and ferget" as some people would think.

Sacramento Bee Garden writer (when are we going to add Editor to her title, hmm???) recently hosted a Garden Writing Workshop for bloggers like me, called "Germinating Ideas for Your Blog." Unfortunately, when one is fortunate enough to serve in the Office of Senate Republican Leader, one has no time for such outside endeavors. Maintaining a blog like this becomes a real chore. Sadly, I would miss this gathering as I've been forced to miss others.

Tree Rose in winter-Bird Back 40
But it does bring an interesting question to mind: Where do I find topics to write about? Let's be honest here friends, one can only write so much prose about heirloom tomatoes. After awhile, it just gets boring. And the last crime I want to commit is that of boredom.

I'm a fan of photos in the blog. I need and want color. It helps tell a story that mere words cannot. Therefore, if I see a particular picture in the Bird Back 40 -- like the one above or the other to your left -- that begins the process of "blog idea germination." But I also need more than just pictures -- I need a story to go with it. Sometimes -- if I'm very lucky -- the story carries a second meaning.

These photos represent the current state of the two tree roses that I have planted in the backyard. One is a Weeks "two-fer" (two different varieties of roses grafted onto the same root stock). The other is a St. Patrick, a birthday gift for the wife that is Venus several years ago when she was mourning the loss of her mother, Patricia, from cancer.

Tears of a Tree Rose
The photos you see represent the current state of both roses. I recently cut them back. And if you're wondering if roses *cry* -- well -- wonder no longer. The ice you see forming at the end of each cut represents sap escaping from a fresh cut -- a rose tear caught in the moment so to speak. It begs the question of "a frosty cold one?" Indeed.

I won't lie. Both of these roses gave me plenty of trouble at first. We get a lot of strong spring and summer winds blowing through our Sacramento River bottom home. Strong winds and tree roses do not mix. The stalks either bend or, in some cases, snap right in two. That's how the Weeks "Two-Fer" adopted the rather unfortunate name of "Two-Pieces." A spring wind snapped it in half during the first spring bloom.


Weeks "Two-Fer" 2009
But -- where there's a will? There's a way. The wood stakes that I had been using just weren't strong enough to support a tree rose full of blooms. Wood tends to bend -- and when wood stakes bend -- so do tree roses. One good blow from the north and SNAP! It's an emergency trip to the nearest nursery to hunt for a suitable replacement.

The nursery also carried the fix I was looking for in the form of strong metal stakes, sets of foam holders that attached to both stake and tree rose, plus some strong green gardening tape to hold it all together. I installed the fix last spring after the first big bloom, when once again the Weeks "Two-Fer" began leaning dangerously to the left.

I'm happy to report that the fix actually worked. The tree roses haven't been a problem since both stakes were pounded into the ground and fastened to each rose. They stopped waving too and fro during those surprise spring and winter windstorms. They took every gust like a champion. The stake "fix" also allowed the base of each tree rose to grow thicker and stronger.

It's my hope then that this "fix" is a permanent one. You see -- there are other -- more important duties to take care of on winter weekends like this. It's not necessarily garden related -- mind you -- but if you're a fan of a certain football team that resides in San Francisco, weekends like this have become very important.

There's not as much time for gardening on days like these. Not when Alex Smith is doing his best "Joe Montana" impression. The days of listening to the 49ers lose yet another game while working in the backyard are long gone. There's something special going on in the City by the Bay, kids.

As you might be able to tell from the photo, the question of "a frosty cold one?" takes on an entirely different meaning...

Indeed. That's where blog ideas are born.

I Was Wrong, Alex

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Paul Kitagaki Jr. - Sacramento Bee
It's time for a well-deserved Mea Culpa. If you've come to this post expecting to find gardening insights and information, you're going to be sorely disappointed. There are no vine-ripened tomatoes here today. No fresh-from-the tree-ripened peaches. There is only chagrin.

You see, this is my apology to the man to your right. That my friends is Alex Smith. He plays quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. Up until yesterday, Alex Smith had been the target of every football barb launched by a one Bill Bird and every other 49er fan. He was a first round draft bust. He was a complete and utter failure. He was the poster child -- so to speak -- of everything that was wrong with a woeful 49er football team.

Paul Kitagaki Jr. - Sacramento Bee
But -- every once in a great while -- a special moment comes along to prove that football fans are probably the most clueless people on this God's Green Earth. Wait -- strike the "probably" part. For today, I'm feeling a bit guilty and a bit melancholy. After all -- it wasn't all that long ago when I was blaming complete crop failures in the Bird Back 40 on a one Alex Smith (My Corn Fails Like Alex Smith).

It hadn't always been this way. Like many 49er fans I believed in Alex when he was first drafted. I lived through those miserable, losing years. I waited, patiently, for signs of improvement that never did come. During this time I was to suffer the slings and arrows from my big brother (a Charger fan) and many others who gleefully bragged that the 49ers had drafted a "bust." Alex would go down in the Pantheon of Busts, joining the likes of Ryan Leaf, JaMarcus Russell, Joey Harrington and others who came out of college ball with great promise -- only to fall flat on their collective faces.

In fact -- if you Google the phrase of "Quarterback Bust" today, Alex Smith's name still pops up on a number of search results.

Jose Luis Villegas-Sacramento Bee
It just goes to show that I'm not the only person with egg on his face. There are lots of clueless people on the face of this planet, and some of them actually write about football for a living.

It might be time for them to find a new line of work.

Alex Smith's performance against the New Orleans Saints goes beyond mere numbers. There is more there than 299 yards passing. One must look beyond his three passing touchdowns. The game was bigger than "the scramble," a thing-of-beauty, over-the-left-side rushing TD that sent Candlemistake Park fans into a tizzy. 

That final bullet to tight end Vernon Davis may earn a place in history books as "the grab," but Alex Smith's performance goes deeper than that -- much deeper.

Paul Kitagaki Jr. - Sacramento Bee
Alex Smith took a gigantic step forward on Saturday that no fan ever thought in his or her wildest mind that Alex Smith could ever take. He transformed himself from first-round bust, first-round disappointment, into an elite QB who can play with the best in this game and beat them all.

I'll be the first to admit, I had lost faith in him. The years of taunts from my Charger-loving brother and so many others (including the brother-in-law who bleeds Dallas Cowboy blue) had worked its magic. I was convinced. Alex Smith was bust. He was just no good -- no good at all. The 49ers would never experience a winning season again -- I firmly believed -- until he was cut, told to clean out his locker, and leave.

You may notice that I take a particular satisfaction that neither the Chargers or the Cowboys are in the playoffs this year. Both the brother and brother-in-law are strangely quiet today and have been far less vocal this entire season. The Charger fan brother is just sick with the realization that the 49ers and Alex Smith are one step away from what his multitude of playoff teams could never do: clinch a spot in the Super Bowl.

Paul Kitagaki Jr. - Sacramento Bee
By the way -- the brother is already picking Green Bay (even though, at the writing of this blog post, they haven't won a playoff game against the Giants yet).

Let this be my personal Mea Culpa then. This is my personal apology to Alex Smith. I'm sorry that I listened to the hateful words from my Charger-loving brother. I'm sorry that I let my Dallas Cowboy lovin' brother-in-law get to me. I should probably revoke my NFL fan card.

I know that Alex Smith is no fan of gardening forums. Perhaps one day he will be -- long after he's retired and he's turned his attention to other pursuits. I know he will not read this. But it doesn't matter.

I'm sorry Alex. I was wrong.

Photos in this blog posting were taken without permission from the Sacramento Bee, which this blog is linked too through Sacramento Connect. I have given proper photo credit for each photo used, and will be happy to remove them if found to be in violation of copyright rules.