Cutting Scions with CRFG

fig tree in heritage orchardLast year at 18th and Rhode Island, Tree and I got to talking about fruit trees, pruning, collecting scions for grafting and his new Omega grafting tool, which he was revved up about.  Later that night, he sent me an email with the schedule for the California Rare Fruit Growers (CRFG) Scion Exchange.  The first event caught my eye. Cut/bag scions at Emma Prusch Park, San Jose. Saturday, Jan 3; 8 am till mid-afternoon.

On the drive down the 101, the early morning sun seemed to be right in the middle of the road, blinding all of us who dared to drive in the southbound lanes. Forunately, the park was easy enough to find, it’s a pretty big space.  I was greeted by a rooster and hen patrolling the parking lot, or maybe they couldn’t remember where they had parked.

It seemed quiet at first, but the Meeting Hall was bustling with activity.  At the door I met Karl Gross, the coordinator of the event and a living, breathing, perpetual-motion machine.  I introduced myself as a friend of Tree’s, and he responded with a sideways look, “Yeah, we all are.”
We got to work unloading labeled bundles of cuttings from a pickup truck. While unloading the bundles, a stick fell to the ground.  As I went to pick it up, one of the other volunteers mentioned, “Are you sure which bundle it fell out of?  If not, you’re better off just leaving it.”  And I guess that was a pleasant reminder of how careful we must be and how important this task was. We piled the bundles inside the meeting hall and after the truck was empty, Karl paired me up with a “cutting buddy” and quickly ran down the process. 

“So you two head out to the orchard, the trees that should be cut are flagged and labeled with yellow tape.  Usually one guy cuts, the other collects, then after you’ve finished, bundle it all up real tight with the tape, place the bundle on the path, and find another tree.  We’ll go around and collect the bundles, and some people will bring the bundles in whenever they come back here, so feel free to grab a bundle if you head back in.”

We each found a pair of pruners, borrowed a set of bypass loppers from one of the other well armed volunteers, and were on our way.

We crossed the main lawn to head out to the Heritage Orchard.  As we passed through the Redwood Grove, we could see the path was already lined with bundled cuttings from the cherries and European plums.

On our first tree, I was the “stick collector” and watched as my “cutter” looked over the tree.  I asked him how he decided what to cut.

“A good scion is going to be about as thick as a pencil, anything less and there isn’t much to work with.  It’s the new, one-year old wood that we’re after, long, straight, and nice buds.  We’ll cut anything above eye level, anything growing down.  When we make a cut, we try to locate and cut at the collar, so that the tree will heal nicely, and then he showed me an old pruning cut that had healed properly, forming a ring around the wound.

A volunteer at work on a neighboring nectarine offered, “Don’t worry too much about the aesthetics when pruning the tree, these are for scions.”

We went around cutting, collecting and bundling for a while.  While working the loppers on an Early Methley Asian Plum tree, I said I didn’t think I’d ever eaten an Asian Plum.  Nope.  Apparently most plums I’ve eaten (the juicy red and purple ones) are Asian Plums.  And this one, the Early Methley, is the earliest plum (as far as when they ripen).

After a while we headed back in (grabbing a bundle of scion wood from the path).  Volunteers and CRFG members filled a few rows of long tables, cafeteria style.  Each bundle was cleaned and trimmed into neat little scions.  These were divided into 5 one gallon zipper bags. A little spritz of water and the zipper bags were sealed.  One bag was placed into each of the five jumbo sized, super strong garbage bags, one for each of the participating chapters of the CRFG (Monterey, Santa Clara Valley, Golden Gate, Redwood Empire, and Sacramento).  We must have filled over twenty jumbo garbage bags with Ziplocs filled with scions that day.

After the field work was complete, we all went inside for a hearty potluck. One woman explained how she would chip-bud with thicker scion wood.  And the new omega tool, that very tool which peaked my curiosity in discussions with Tree, was the talk of the room.  Its basically a pruner with a special blade, which creates ideal cuts for grafting. Other discussions ranged from protein content and vegetarian diet choices, hot and cold composting techniques, chill hours and lime sulfur spray, various ways to keep outdoor potted plants warm, and sweet potatoes bigger than your head.

This coming Saturday, January 2, 2010 the magic happens all over again, at the Scion Exchange Prep Day at Prusch Park, there’s more information about the event on the Volunteer Dashboard.