Nothing Could be Finer Than to Graft a 49er

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Black Tartarian Cherry Tree
It's spring-time, and the peach trees are showing signs of unfurling those long-awaited pink buds that signals the onset of fresh fruit season.

Uh...Check that...

It's January in California. It's dry. It's dang warm. And, yes, the peach trees that dot the Bird Back 40 are showing an unmistakable sign that they will soon be in bloom. I suppose this is what happens when winter truly never comes. Oh -- yes -- we got our signature freeze conditions in December that put the stone fruit trees to sleep and zapped the juice clean out of my citrus trees. But other than that? It's been downright mild to say the least.

But one look at Folsom Stream (aka Folsom Lake) tells you that "not all is well" in God's Country. I've been around long enough to experience dry years in California. But I don't think I've witnessed anything like this. Rainfall is a stubborn thing that refuses to fall. Winter ski enthusiasts are all dressed up with nowhere local to go. Many local reservoirs, like Folsom Lake, are darn near empty.

Folsom Lake
The most telling sight that things are not the way they should be is that you can walk clear across the Bird Back 40 and not track mud anywhere. One needs water to make mud. Other than a few drops and spritzes here and there, I haven't seen it.

The dry weather, however, does offer some advantages. I CAN walk across the Bird Back 40 without sinking into a foot of mud. This is a vicious mud that has claimed its share of well-worn tennis shoes. The lack of mud means I can access every fruit-bearing tree nearby and not worry about sinking into a bog. This means I can get busy with the work of grafting.

49er Peach Scion Grafted to June Pride Peach Tree
I thought it to be a stroke of good luck last Sunday, when I stumbled across scions for the 49er Peach Tree at the annual California Rare Fruit Growers scion exchange. The 49ers would later engage the hated Seattle SeaHags in an epic battle for the NFC Crown. Finding scions for the heirloom tree known as the 49er Peach, I thought, was a stroke of good luck that guaranteed victory.

See how well that went?

But enough about the end of football season for many of us in Northern California. We have work to do! And that work involved grafting scions for the 49er and Sun Crest peach varieties. Both are quite famous. The 49er peach is considered an heirloom variety -- closely related to the Hale Peach. An author by the name of David Mas Masumoto would shine a light on the Sun Crest variety with his tribute: Epitaph for a Peach.

Sun Crest Peach Scion Grafted to O'Henry Peach Tree
Both are old. Both are treasured. But more importantly, both scions were taken from the Emma Prusch Farm Park located in San Jose. This 43.5 acre park, donated by Emma Prusch to the City of San Jose in 1962 to demonstrate the valley's agricultural past, features a rare fruit orchard where legendary fruit trees of the past reside and are well cared for. It's safe to say then, that any scion taken from Prusch Park is going to offer some great tasting fruit. This is provided my grafting skills have improved, which I hope they have.

Otherwise -- no 49er peach for us!

And so -- by taking advantage of the dry weather and solid ground, peach trees in the Bird Back 40 hold promising scions for the 49er and Sun Crest Peaches. One of the cherry trees holds several grafts for the Bing Cherry. Golden Delicious apple scions has been attached to the Granny Smith apple tree. You get the idea. Where there's a fruit tree? There's a scion attached to it.

Bing Cherry Graft on Black Tartarian Cherry Tree
Will these grafting experiments bear fruit? That's still anyone's guess. I suppose I'll find out in another month or two when most of the fruit trees really do begin to flower following a long winter's nap. This is the third time I've attempted to graft Bing cherries, one of my favorites, to the two cherry trees growing in the Bird Back 40. Here's hoping the third time is the charm. One of my Sun Crest grafts did actually sprout new growth last year (success!), only to curl up and die a month later (bummer!). Grafting is not an exact science. In other words, it always doesn't work. But when it does? It's an accomplishment to treasure.

One would think that winter is a slow time for gardening efforts, but it's not. This is also bare root season -- which happens to be the best time to plant bare-root fruit trees in the Bird Back 40. I always endeavor to add at least one or two new varieties to the backyard collection. Last year's effort involved Dave Wilson Fruit Cocktail trees -- five varieties of peaches grafted to one tree and four varieties of apricots grafted to another, single tree. This collection also includes the all important Aprium, a cross between an apricot and a plum that more closely resembles an apricot I'm told (pluots are also plum-apricot hybrids, but closely resemble plums). It has yet to yield fruit, so I'm hopeful that this season will be the charm, provided I can keep the thieving mockingbirds at bay (they mock me).

Grafting Tool (left) plus Grafting Tape
So what's new for this year? Something scrumptious -- I can tell you that much! As long as there's an empty spot to fill? There's a tree or three that can fill it. Room for raised beds that can handle more heirloom tomato plants? By golly, you betcha! The Bird Back 40 is always a "work in progress."

As for the Forty Niner peach scion? It's found a spot in original 49er Gold Rush Country. Seems like a good fit to me.

The Tree That Bethany Built

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Tree That Bethany Built
If Aretha Franklin can belt out a tune like The House That Jack Built (and boy can she ever), then I can most certainly tell you about "The Tree That Bethany Built." That tree -- the Flavor Finale Pluot planted in one corner of the Bird Back 40 -- is now a multi-studded pluot tree thanks to a co-worker in the State Senate named Bethany and her love for all things pluots.

What? Write about a lady other than the wife that is Venus? Shameful! But I've got to give credit where credit is due. Thanks to Bethany's efforts and gifts, the Flavor Finale pluot tree will now produce Dapple Dandy and Flavor Grenade pluots, to go along with the Flavor King and Flavor Queen pluot scions that I grafted to the Flavor Finale tree during my first attempt at grafting exactly two years ago this month.

Flavor Finale Pluots (Delicious)
Ever tried a pluot or two? You should. They are perhaps the most famous of the interspecific plum breeding efforts introduced by biologist Floyd Zaiger. A cross between a plum an apricot, they more closely resemble a plum and they happen to be one of the easiest trees to graft. I discovered this, quite by accident, during my first baby-steps at grafting attempts two years ago. I'm still not the best grafter in the world, but I'm a whiz with pluot trees, as are many others.

In other words, grafting pluots is like falling off a log. You can't possibly fail. Oh sure, one or two grafting attempts may not make it. That's to be expected. But after documented success on grafting scions to our Flavor Finale pluot tree -- and tasting the results of that success last summer -- I can proclaim that grafting pluots is nearly foolproof.

Flavor Grenade Graft to Flavor Finale Tree
In other words? If I can do this, you can do it too.

And, as luck would have it, the "Mother of All Grafting Celebrations" (Thank you Saddam Hussein) takes place this Sunday in Sacramento, when the Sacramento Chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers (CRFG) holds its annual "Scion Exchange." This yearly exchange takes place Sunday, January 19th at the Sacramento Cooperative Extension Center at 4145 Branch Center Road (near Highway 50 and Bradshaw Road exit). The fun starts at 10 AM and ends at 1 PM -- getting you home just in time for the start of Championship Football Sunday.

Not that I'm expecting my San Francisco 49ers to slap the Seattle SeaChickens upside the head silly. Because, I am. How can you not appreciate that Frank Gore run from the last meeting between these two? *Sniff* It brings a tear of joy to my eye.

Back to the point: The CRFG is open to all interested fruit enthusiasts. Never tried the process of grafting before? Well my friends -- now is the time to start. It's never too late to get busy. Because where there's a fruit tree -- there's a scion that fits it. And there's only one thing better than a tree full of fresh fruit: That would be a tree filled with two varieties of fresh fruit.

Sign Leading the Way to Scion Exchange
So, if you find yourself wild about walnuts, or plain nutty over nectarines, this is the weekend for you and every other fruit fanatic in the Sacramento area. It doesn't matter if you find yourself in a panic over plums or apricots make you anxious, because the scion exchange offers the cure to your ills.

And -- as for that very special Flavor Finale Pluot tree growing in the Bird Back 40? The Tree That Bethany Built finally holds a Flavor Grenade graft that promises to be the answers to all my ills. Why, you ask? You are the curious one, aren't you? Actually, pluots do just fine on their own, but they do even better with a second tree nearby. Not just any tree mind you, but a "pollinator" tree. In my case? The best pollinator for a Flavor Finale tree happens to be the Flavor Grenade Pluot. The best pollinator for the Flavor Grenade tree happens to be the Flavor Finale Pluot.

Handy Dandy Grafting Tool with Grafting Tape
So, what happens when you combine the two into one, plus offer other varieties like the Dapple Dandy, Flavor King and Flavor Queen? What happens is this: a summertime of fresh fruit ripening during all months and all phases. That's one tree and a summer's worth of different harvests.

Now you tell me: what could be better than that?