Tag Archives: Trees

Grafting: Apples and Pears, 2014

Sometimes things go “almost” exactly as planned

DSC_0026These cuttings were taken from an apple tree of the variety “Duchess of Oldenburg” last winter, and grafted onto semi-dwarfing rootstock in the spring.

Blossoms on grafted cuttings are very unusual in the first year.  Usually a grafted tree will grow a stem in the first year, branches in the second year, then blossom and bear fruit in year three or four.  I’m not sure what happened here, but it makes for a curious photograph.

Most of the other 40 apples and 5 pear trees I grafted this year have a more conventional appearance.  That is, they are either alive or dead.  Below, scion-wood from the apple variety “Akane” was double whip-and-tongue grafted onto M9 rootstock.


The whip-and-tongue graft has been quite successful for me.  A strong union is formed over the first year, allowing the grower to handle the young trees (re-potting, planting etc) without worrying about breaking the graft.  Below, this “King of Tompkins County” apple is pictured one year after grafting, with the paraffin tape removed.


About 80% of this spring’s grafts were successful.  That leaves me with plenty of trees, but sadly missing some of the varieties I had hoped to cultivate.  Perhaps a trade is in order…next spring I will have yearling apple trees available (all my varieties are good) if anyone can provide me with cider apple and perry-pear scion wood.



Public Orchards Around Puget Sound

My ideal brewing operation would produce apple and pear ciders to my exact specifications, at a scale which precisely offset my cider consumption.

A Cider Spider at Piper's Orchard

Assuming Elizabeth and I were to each enjoy a pint of cider per day (for breakfast, perhaps?) we would need to start with 3/4 ton of milled and pressed apples, which would eventually yield about 100 gallons of cider. But Federal Law sets the production limit for our household at 200 gallons per year, suggesting that we should either increase our consumption to two pints each per day, or make more friends.

All things considered, we decided that one ton of apples and pears would probably meet our needs. However, the trees in the Agate Orchard were in rough shape. The original varieties were not known to crop heavily or consistently, so I anticipated only a few hundred pounds of apples per year until the orchard was improved.

It would be necessary to scrounge, beg, trade, and perhaps even poach most of that ton of fruit. We needed to find other trees, other orchards, and other orchardists to help fill our barrels.

Small private orchards have proven indispensable, but the following are public or “open-to-the-public” places were one can harvest, sample, or perhaps just admire orchards of apple and pear trees:

Magnuson Park in Seattle is just down the street from my neighborhood. Asidefrom boasting a huge lakefront recreational area and the off-leash dog park where Pearl rolls in the mud each week, there is a small orchard of a few dozen trees, very deliberately laid out on dwarfing rootstock. There is a diversity of varieties here that is not found in most orchards of this size. The selection is mostly of critically acclaimed dessert apples. However, the size of the trees and proximity to the playground encourage careless picking in the Summer (before the fruit has even ripened), so the full potential of this orchard is not always realized in the Fall. There is a second string of older apple and crabapple trees along the water, on the other side of the park.

Socked Apples at Magnuson Park

Anderson Island is the Southernmost island in Puget Sound. Accessible only by ferry, it is the location of several old farms and orchards. The Johnson Farm (Anderson Island Historical Society) has a small and neatly kept dwarf orchard of the traditional varieties: Spartan (Elizabeth’s favorite), Liberty, and Gravenstein.

Johnson Farm, Anderson Island

Remants of small homestead orchards can also be observed in yards and pastures throughout Anderson Island, and near old playgrounds like (private) Interlaken Park.

Interlaken Park, Anderson Island

Piper’s Orchard at Carkeek Park in Seattle is a great example of a historic orchard maintained and renewed in a traditional way. Surrounded by forest, century-old trees tower above or lie fallen beside younger trees, planted and cared-for by volunteers (including Elizabeth and myself).

Piper's Orchard

There is a quantity and variety of fruit here that is unmatched by other public orchards, and an admirable attempt at public outreach and education. This site features at least 20 varieties of apples and perhaps 10 varieties of pear and plum. The fruit can be picked and enjoyed freely after the Festival of Fruit in mid-September. The knowledge and skill communicated by the Stewards of Piper’s Orchard has been critical to my understanding of old fruit trees, as well as the harvesting and preservation of fruit.

Family Trees

Some time ago, my father-in-law suggested that I might make an attempt at brewing hard apple cider. Burt had eaten my homemade meals, read about my research in brewing biofuels, noted the trends in the beer and wine industry, and synthesized one of his best ideas ever (apparently Elizabeth was an accident). I agreed that cidermaking was something I should try… but I dawdled for over a year before starting my first batch.

Why did I put aside his suggestion for so long? Why did I follow my first employer to California? Why did I wait five years before putting a ring on my wife’s finger? Because I am obsessed with escalating the degree of difficulty of my own life.

Buying a gallon of apple juice from the supermarket and adding a packet of brewer’s yeast wasn’t stimulating enough for me. I needed a project that touched on issues historical, genetic, socioeconomic, and familial. I didn’t want to make cider from the contents of a shopping cart. I wanted cider fermented from sunlight, and the air and soil of some secret archetypal garden. I wanted to brew something significant.

Last year my parents invited Elizabeth and I to Agate, WA to see my great-grandparent’s homestead, which had lain neglected since I was very young.

Orchard in Winter 1950The Agate Orchard in Winter, circa 1950

The Orchard, Spring 2012

The orchard 60+ years later. From left to right: A sample of surviving apple, plum and pear trees in Spring.

The orchard there (est. 1934) and I (est. 1984) had for 20 years been awaiting each other.  Since my parents were busy remodeling the house and hauling away the refuse of 85 years, I requested the care of the fruit trees in exchange for the harvest… all of it… as well as permission to plant another orchard of my own design.

Tree Condition, Spring 2012

An old Northern Spy Apple. This tree was carelessly sawed back and left to grow tangled branches with a drooping habit.  The weak and twisted growth will be pruned, the upright and healthy saved and allowed to bear fruit.

We walked the orchard together, the apple blossom falling and the warden blossom full throughout that orchard in the forest. My mind was flooded with possibilities of future work and reward.


Blossom of a European Pear of excellent flavor but unknown variety.  This particular tree is in poor health, but will be saved by grafting a branch onto new roots.

We drove over the bridge and through the woods toward home, where I learned myself everything there was to know about planting, growing, and pressing apples for cider.