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Posted 9/24/2014 12:30pm by Judy Lessler.

For the Chronicles of Okra, I have been reading about the history of agriculture and have found some translations of ancient writings--Varro, Pliny and so on. This week I found a very interesting contemporary article on the history of grafting. Here are some cool things I found out. The article is A History of Grafting, by Ken Mudge, Jules Janick, Steven Scofield, and Eliezner Goldschmidt. I found it with a Google search and was able to download the PDF.  

Gathering of grains and pulses began about 10 to 12 thousand BC. Pulses are legumes like chickpeas, lentils, and peas. Soon after, these were domesticated. I am not sure when the Neolithic Era, which is defined as settled agricultural communities, actually is considered to have started. The Neolithic transition includes the development of towns and settled communities, clearing of land, and other characteristics of agricultural communities. Apparently there is no start date, and the transition occurred at different times all over the world. However, food collected from trees fruits and nuts were also an important part of the diet of these more settled communities.  

Growing new trees from the seeds of existing trees was problematic in that they did not breed true. Thus the first orchards were confined to fig, olive, pomegranate, grape, and date palms which can be propagated from cuttings or division of root stock. This type of orchard production was wide spread by the 4000 to 3000 BC. It was not until about 1000 BC that apple, pear, and plum orchards were wide spread. By then people had discovered grafting. This greatly facilitated the spread of fruit orchards and the improvement of varieties.  

Grafting involves cutting a scion from the desired tree, making a matching cut on the rootstock, and binding them together by carefully lining up the vascular cambium layers of the two trees. No one knows how ancient people discovered this. Whoever did was the creative genius of his or her time and has had a larger impact on the world than either Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, or modern innovative heroes. I suspect that it was discovered in many places by many people.  

When we made our grafts for the coming pear orchard, we wrapped them with masking tape and covered the tape with a tar that kept water out and held moisture in. The ancients used a mixture of lime, bark, mud, and hair to seal the graft. They were aware of the need to keep moisture in, and not having any tape or tar, they sometimes suspended a pot of water over the graft and let water drip on the graft to keep if from drying out.  

The ancients did not know about genetics, and some reasoned that the roots of a plant determined the nature of the fruit and growth because of the liquid that flowed from the roots up into the tree. This posed a serious problem for explaining why, for example, a red rose grafted on a white rose only produced red roses. No hybrid mixing was observed. One theory was that the scion sent down its own roots through the branches and trunk of the rootstock and was, thereby, able to maintain its innate characteristics.  

So cool.

Posted 9/23/2014 8:44am by Judy Lessler.

Creating a Pear Orchard

Harland's Creek Farm is located on  the Alston-DeGraffenreidt national historic site.  When my husband and I purchased this property in the 1970's, we just knew it was a beautiful piece of land with an old house on it.  Later, we found some old farming records that dated back to the early 1800's. We donated these papers to the NC Department of Archives and History, and they, in turn, had the house declared a National Historic House.  Later some of the land was also put into a national historic site.

We did not have heat; we had kudzu growing everywhere, including the porches which we did not consider as a valued alternative to heat. But, we had a fancy name and aspirations to go with it. 

One of the first things we did was to clear kudzu.  We uncovered old pastures, old roads, and an old orchard.  The orchard was to the east of the house and contained pear and apple trees, all of which were gnarled and cracked here and there. We harvested the fruit for many years, and I made pies, apple sauce, and served cooked pears over ice cream.

The pear trees were an Asian pear variety and some were more than 30 feet tall. Over the years, these trees died out, but, occasionally my husband, who died in 2002, would bring up some that he had found in the woods at an old building site. I pretty much forgot about them.

In 2011, I had to cut down most of a stand of trees that were on the south of our main growing fields because the pines and hardwoods had grown tall and shaded the fields. One small Asian pear tree was not cut because if was of no interest to the loggers. In a fit of joy at having survived the logging or maybe just better growing conditions, it put out several bushels of pears--without spots and with absolutely no attention from us farmers. I realized that this was an offspring of the pears in the old orchard and that it was totally adapted to the conditions on our farm. Thus, we came up with the idea to make it the basis for an orchard.

I talked to my uncle, Uncle LQ, who taught horticulture for years, and he recommended that we graft them on a smaller tree to keep them from growing 30 or 40 feet tall. Unfortunately LQ died in late 2012, and our plans to do this together were never to be. Thinking of him and of this tree that had such a long family history on this farm, I decided to go ahead without LQ.

I did some research and contacted Lee Calhoun who is a master orchardist and author of Old Southern Apples. Lee came out to help us and we grafted about 100 trees this spring. About 50 of them have survived. We are now in the process of preparing the planting area.  The first step has to be putting up a fence to deal with the pesky dear.  We should have a full crop in 5 years. 

 

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