April 1, 2015

I’ve been suffering from the unavoidable conundrum of a garden blog.  When it’s gardening season I’m too tired at the end of the day to write anything and too busy during the day to do so.  We’ve finally got some rainy weather, an odd thing to say this time of year in Oregon, and I’ve found a little energy to update the blog.

The last couple of weeks have been hectic as the warm dry weather has continued.  It’s still much too early to put in warm weather crops, but I’ve got carrots, beets, peas, onions, spinach, lettuce and other greens in the ground and the lettuce in the greenhouse is looking good.  I’ve been focusing on getting starts going in the greenhouse, both for my use and for sale at the local farmers’ market in a few weeks.  I’m also running into another problem which is that I have so many flats of starts in the greenhouse I’m running out of room to put plants in the beds.

I did put my greenhouse tomatoes in the ground on March 25 this year, just a couple of days earlier than last year, and they’re looking pretty good so far.  Of course, once they went in the ground, the weather started to turn and now we’ve got several nights forecast in the mid-30’s for the next few days.  I’ve broke out the row cover and installed it in the greenhouse to cover the beds with at night.  Since it’s only used at night I put 2-3 layers of row cover on and it gives them almost 10 degrees of additional warmth, in addition to the protection offered by the greenhouse, so even the tomatoes should be fine down into the low or mid 20’s which isn’t likely.

March 28 was the date of the annual Lane County Propagation Fair, springpropagationfair.com, which is an incredible event put on every year by volunteers in Eugene.  It’s a huge scion wood and seed exchange, all done by volunteers and all free.  They offer what seemed like hundreds of varieties of apple scion, almost as many pear, asian pear, plum, peach, and cherry, and also an incredible variety of grape cuttings for rooting.  Honestly I never knew there were that many varieties of grape.

I have been to the event in the past, but never at the opening and I didn’t realize how busy it is.  I got there about the time it opened and there was a line at the doors wrapping around the corner of the block.  I was able to find a parking space 4-5 blocks away and by the time I made it back the doors were open and the line was inside.  It was so packed I basically had to follow the crow as moving was difficult, the space was a little small for a while, but after 20-30 minutes the early birds had grabbed what they wanted and were headed out or were in line to get their stock grafted and the aisles thinned out a bit.

On the other hand, about 20 per cent of the apple varieties, 10 percent of the pears, 90 percent of the cherries and most of the more unusual offerings such as hardy kiwi were already completely gone, which is why the big rush at the opening of the doors I assume.  I got most of the varieties I was after in particular and found a number of new ones to try.

BTW, if you intend to go sometime, here’s a tip.  You’re moving in a crowded room and you’re picking up scion wood and trying to label it, as you want to remember which is which.   The experienced folks there have a roll of masking tape, generally blue it turns out, hanging off their neck by a loop of string like a pendant, plus a sharpie to write with and a bag to store their treasures in.

In addition to scion wood, they also sell a number of different root stocks for $3 each and have volunteers who will do the grafting for you if you’re prepared to wait, as it gets quite busy, and they ask for a $2-$3 donation for the work to go to fund the event.  There are also tables of seeds that have been donated and outside a collection of miscellaneous donations, such as the bucket full of Jostaberry cuttings I took down.

It turns out that one of, if not the, largest collection of pears is right here in Corvallis at the National Clonal Germplasm Lab.  The people from the propagation fair hit their orchard in the Fall and sample the pears, then return in the Spring to take cuttings for the fair from their favorite trees.  This year I got about a dozen varieties of apple and almost as many pear once I saw the variety of pears that is actually available.  I’m afraid I’ve always been blinded by the overwhelming prevalence of Barlett and a couple of other varieties, which are fine, but it turns out that the breadth and depth of pear varieties rivals that of apples.  Last year I had the opportunity to dry a large amount of pears and they were fantastic, so I decided I needed to commit more space to pears.

Here’s a partial list of what I needed up with in the way of scion wood this year.  Apple –  Orleans Reinette, Newtown Pippin, Pendragon, Prairie Spy, Reinette Gris du Canada, Roxbury Russet, Winter Banana, Moyer, Honeycrisp.

I see I need to update my own list of varieties and finish this list later, but the bottom line is I grafted about a dozen varieties of apple and about 10 varieties of pear, plus a few plum and cherry.  Of course, it’s up to my (lack of) skill and nature to see how many take and what varieties I end up with.

I put all the grafted babies in a nursery bed to keep track of them this summer and make sure they stay watered.  More later, I need to go uncover the greenhouse beds as the sun’s coming up.