Sharing the Bounty

Sharing the Bounty

Mendocino Permaculture Winter Abundance Fair

by Andy Balestracci

My first memories of fruit trees begin with an autumn kindergarten class trip to my town’s family-farmed apple orchard, Bishop’s Orchards, in coastal Connecticut. The acres of apples seemed to stretch to the horizon, a paradise realm of apples that still, to this day, sets the benchmark for how a “MacIntosh” should taste.

Tapping into the bounty of Nature can have long-lasting benefits. On the winter day 35 years ago when Barbara Goodell first learned to graft apples, she was surprised how simple the process was. From the 100 apple trees she grafted with her husband, Rob, and friend, Patrick Schafer, 99 survived. At $1 per rootstock, it was a great investment. Many of those same trees bear fruit to this day on their property outside Boonville, providing a yearly harvest of a number of apple varieties. Some are used for cider, others for baking, and still others are best eaten right out of your hand.

With a 99% success rate under their belt, the Goodells and Patrick “wanted to share that success and get everybody doing this for their own orchard,” explains Barbara. So they started the scion and grafting exchange.

“With our friends Lee Davis, Mark Albert and Patrick Shafer, we soon started hosting a variety of events all around the county, visiting successful homesteads, ranches, gardens, and especially people who seemed to have a clue about living in harmony with nature.” Some of these venues blossomed into their own yearly gatherings, like the Butler Ranch Cherry harvest and the annual Zeni Ranch Chestnut gathering (mentioned in the Fall 2016 Word of Mouth).

Eventually, a yearly event evolved in Anderson Valley, held at the beginning of February. First located at the AV High School Ag Department and, more recently, at the fairgrounds in Boonville, the gathering offers free seeds and scions provided by local farmers and gardeners, root stock for sale, and workshops on grafting.

Scions are the prunings from last year’s growth on fruit trees. These cuttings can be grafted onto a hardy rootstock, which then grows into a new tree that provides fruit identical to those from the graft’s source tree. All the apples, pears, plums, and apricots you buy from your local market are from grafted trees. You won’t get the same Gravenstein apple if you plant the seed from an apple you just ate—it would be its own unique product of cross-pollination from two parent trees. That isn’t to say that happy mistakes don’t occur, but for consistency, you need to use grafts.

The MacIntosh apple is a perfect example: all of the “Macs” that have ever existed came from a chance apple tree seedling and an observant farmer. John MacIntosh discovered some wild seedlings on his Dundela, Ontario farm in 1811. One of them produced exceptional tasting apples. Grafts from that one tree produced a commercial MacIntosh industry that amounted to 40% of the Canadian apple market in the 1960’s.

The best way to learn fruit tree grafting is with an experienced teacher. Come down to the County Fairgrounds in Boonville on Saturday, February 10th, and attend one of the free workshops at the Winter Abundance Fair. Now celebrating its 35th year, this homegrown event offers a diverse sampling of what grows best here in Northern California, and particularly in our varied microclimates in Mendocino County.