Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny spring day and I happily spent at least some of it inside. The annual Seed Swap and Scion Exchange took place at the Common Ground Country Fair Grounds in Unity yesterday. If you’ve never been to the Scion Exchange you’re really missing something special.
Another harbinger of spring, this annual event is a wonderful opportunity for those of us with an interest in self-sufficiency, historical preservation and taste bud satisfaction to get together and pick through small bundles of twigs in the hope of finding a gem.
More specifically, we’re looking for scions. Scions are twigs collected from trees in the winter pruning season. Specifically, they are taken from the growth of the previous year (the freshest growth) and are nothing more than a means of transporting genetic material.
If you’re eating an apple from the grocery store or your local orchard, you’re eating an apple that grew from scion wood, not seed. Apples (with very few exceptions) do not come true to type. If you want a Cortland Apple Tree, you need to make a clone of another Cortland Apple Tree by grafting scion from the original onto a host apple tree or root stock.
Enter the Scion Exchange. This event is held every year at the end of March and it never ceases to amaze me how many of us flock from our farms in droves. Yesterday I took a friend of mine who had never experienced the Exchange but is getting into growing his own fruit trees. He was giddy with excitement and he wasn’t disappointed.
We got there early, right when it officially opened and it’s lucky we did. We had to park quite a way from the Exhibition Hall where the event is held and by the time we left an hour later, there were cars parked on both sides of the road for half a mile in either direction.
When you enter the hall there are three tables full of bundles of scion wood. Although anyone can bring scion and lots of people do, my understanding is that most of the scion is provided by Fedco Trees. This is an amazing service they provide each year in the hope that more people will find the joy in grafting, starting and maintaining a home orchard and reaping the benefits in the most amazingly tasty heirloom fruit varieties.
The atmosphere inside the Exchange is hard to describe. Picture a rock concert near the front of the stage. Except everyone is incredibly polite and friendly and will spontaneously begin chatting about their orchard, or a specific type of apple and why it’s great or awful, or the difficulty they’ve had in getting one type of pear scion to ‘take’ (successfully graft).
Now, although everyone is polite there is a funny feeling in the air. It is a barely suppressed urge each person has to get the specific rare variety they came for AT ALL COSTS! Plus, everyone is carrying around long sticks and in their haste people sometimes forget where the ends are swinging, jabbing and pointing. When I say ‘people’ I mean ‘me’. Sorry for that Northern Spy Scion in the jaw ma’am.
My friend and I each left with our treasures rolled in plastic trash bags and placed lovingly into a large cooler filled with snow. This week I’ll begin grafting. I raise fruit trees for Fedco Trees and currently graft about 150 each spring. I’m really good at grafting but not that great a raising the trees. I have trouble with voles and ice damage and…let’s just say there’s more to this than grafting, putting them in the ground and waiting a few years for an apple to fall on your head. But I’m getting better! Each spring dawns with the hope for improvement. And I’m that much closer to the season when all the scrambling between my fellow farmers, hobbyists and enthusiast, from old conservatives in barely recognizable John Deere hats to young progressives with crocheted, rainbow purses, pays off with crisp, sweet, fresh snacks and a root cellar and freezer full of a huge variety of fruit from right here on the farm. Local Food. Eat well – be well.