The ManyTracks Orchard
2017 - 2022
It started with the L'Anse pears we had tasted at Della's Birthday Polka Party (see main Pears page for story). We had our two pear trees, Stacey and Summercrisp, growing and soon to be fruiting, plus the old venerable rather inedible 'chokepear', and though we'd been adding and grafting apples for some years I hadn't even thought about pears. Until that day. Suddenly I knew I needed to get some rootstocks (no wild pears around here to graft onto), get a scion from that L'Anse tree, and try our hand at grafting pears which, thankfully, I had heard were as easy or easier than apples.
Obtaining scions wasn't an issue, but finding rootstock appropriate to our climate was. I researched possibilities and decided the hardy Pyrus usseriensis Siberian, or Harbin, pear made the most sense for here. I didn't want to take the chance of having my hard won pears die during a test winter. Though to be fair, the chokepear has certainly weathered all kinds of ups and downs and vagaries of the upper Midwest weather in fine shape for 40 years, I just don't happen to know what rootstock it is. I assume it is common Bartlett seedling stock but it could also be an OHxF stock. And Stacey on OHxF97 at 15 years old is hale and hearty. So maybe I'm worrying overmuch. But for ease of mind and hardiness I decided on usseriensis, commonly considered the hardiest pear rootstock for the cold northern zones.
However, it is not commonly available. Most orchardists don't need that kind of hardiness and the other rootstocks are most recommended, used, and available. I soon ran out of places to look and people to ask, unless I wanted to buy a minimum of a lot of 100. As enthusiastic as I am about adding pears to the orchard that number was definitely outside my plans. But a mention of my dilemma to the ever helpful folks on growingfruit.org forum brought an offer from a member to sell me 5 usseriensis rootstocks he had extra and leftover from last year. I accepted with appreciation though we had a bit of a challenge because of the difference in weather from Kansas, where he and the rootstocks were, and the U.P. which was having an unusually cold late spring. But he managed to keep them in cold storage and dormant until I said it looked like the snow and cold was receding so he could ship them. They arrived the end of March and though the ground was just barely thawed (one slightly shady spot had to wait a number of days for the frost to finish retreating) I managed to get the five planted and well settled before time to graft the end of May. Thus our new pear adventure began in 2017.
A very mild, dry winter with an early warm spring so we grafted earlier, May 17. A four day low 20's freeze a week later didn't affect the grafts since thankfully they were growing yet. The only new pear grafts this year were two more Sierra grafts on Summercrisp branches. They are all doing well.
We ended up cutting down badly fireblighted Stacey, and all her grafts, of course. And all the grafts on the fireblighted Chokepear died except the L'Anse grafts. The usseriensis rootstock that had several varieties grafted on was also hit and the only graft to survive was 2019 grafted Nova. It grew nicely this year and I'll cut off all rootstock branches next year.
The young grafted trees are all doing well, as are the root grafts. No sign of any fireblight on any of the young trees.
We did two root grafts - a Nova scion onto a chokepear seedling planted last year in the nursery, and a scion from a local pear onto an Oikos seedling pear planted in 2018. Both grafts took and grew well, the first about a foot and the second 20".
Did several grafts on the Chokepear, but they all died later with the fireblight, as did all previous grafts except L'Anse. Same with four grafts of Southworth on Stacey, along with all previous grafts (ended up cutting down badly fireblighted Stacey in 2021).
Grafted more Sierra on Summercrisp. They took and are growing fine as are all previous grafts. It won't be long before Sierra is the major variety on this tree.
I ordered another Patten scion from Bob Purvis in Idaho, to replace the Patten that died last year. I wanted one other variety to graft to the top of one of the usseriensis rootstocks, the lower branches having been grafted to Nova last year. Sort of hedging my bets in case I didn't like Nova or it didn't thrive, though I must say last year's graft is healthy and vigorous. As Purvis didn't have any other varieties I was interested in I again ordered from the USDA ARS NGS. But it seemed frivolous to have them send just one or two sticks (their scions are very well packaged and shipped in a box, unlike those of us who exchange scions who usually just put them in a padded envelope). So I ordered three - Gifford, Flemish Beauty, and Hudar. Unfortunately, the Government shutdown included this hard-working, understaffed office right at the time that the scions needed to be cut. I, and others, assumed there would be no scions sent this year. But dedicated volunteers stepped in to do this big job and to my surprise my scions arrived February 8. I was very happy to send in a donation to cover postage.
So then I had to decide where I was going to graft these wonderful gifts, as I didn't have rootstocks for all of them. Not to worry, the chokepear had plenty of branches to graft to, though appropriate one year growth was a little hard to find. Stacey also. And the usseriensis rootstock that was going to get one graft on top got two additional grafts on side branches, conveniently spaced and sized. So much for my promise of no more than two varieties on a rootstock. But it will be very interesting when these fruit to see if there is any differences in the fruit on the three or four different rootstocks. All 12 of the grafts took and grew well. All of last year's grafts likewise. It was a good year. But I think I am done adding varieties.
In addition to the above we bench grafted one of the Patten scions onto a young seedling chokepear I had growing in the nursery, putting the graft very low near to the roots. Then I planted it deep, burying the graft 3-4 inches with two buds above ground to grow, in the hopes that the scion would root thereby getting a Patten pear growing on its own roots. It will be many years before we'll be tasting fruit from this tree, if all goes well, but meantime I can imagine great success!
I noticed an interesting thing this season - the leaves of the different varieties have quite a bit of variation one from the other, in their shade of green, the color of the border, red or green, the shape; even though they might be growing on the same rootstock tree. There is much more variation among them than I see in the apples, though there certainly is differences there, too. The fruit will be different so I guess there is no reason the leaves wouldn't be, nature isn't at all inclined toward sameness. It is something that will be fun to watch as they mature.
2018 - The More the Merrier
It was a tough winter and I lost the Patten grafted rootstock. Bummer. But the rootstock regrew from the roots and we will re-graft it next year. I for sure will graft another Patten. All the rest of the previous seasons grafts made it through the winter (and summer).
But this was a new season and new grafts. This was our year for grafting - 43 grafts total, the most we've ever done. Sixteen of them were pears, but only 4 varieties. This year I obtained from the amazing USDA Agricultural Research Service, National Plant Germplasm system requested scions of 3 varieties - Nova, Sierra, and Southworth. The scions they sent were generously long and healthy. So I decided to graft onto (1) usseriensis rootstock, (2) the chokepear, (3) the Stacey pear, and (4) the Summercrisp pear. Not all on all four options but at least three. There were some iffy experiments due to short stubs on the usseriensis rootstock (which only 1 of 4 grew) but everything else took. It will be real interesting as time goes on to compare the differences on the various stocks. I have read others' experiments along these lines which have stated sometimes quite different quality fruit from grafts on different stocks (most orchardists only graft onto one known and familiar rootstock).
The fourth variety we grafted is from an unknown tree growing and fruiting in our neighborhood, likely a Bartlett or that type, planted possibly in the 40's or 50's. A neighbor asked if we'd graft a piece onto their pear tree (which seldom had even a reasonably good crop) as they knew this tree had good fruit. Unfortunately, it was late for cutting a scion, early June and an unusually warm June at that, and the tree was in full bloom. The rest of the grafting had been done the last week of May with nicely dormant scions. But we went over, found some last years growth that didn't have any blossoms and took green cuttings. I picked out the best, matching sizes, and we grafted several onto their tree. Some I stripped all the green leaves off, others leaving two leaves cut in half. When done we had a few leftover sticks in the plastic bag so when we got home I figured we might as well stick them on something and maybe one will grow. So onto the chokepear and Stacey they went. I was running out of places to graft! These didn't pop out with leaves like the other grafts but at the end of summer two of the grafts had swollen live looking buds, so there is hope. This wasn't the best job of grafting and rather a miracle if they grow. But if not I plan to get better scions next year as the tree has good fruit and has survived many winters here.
2017 - Let the Grafting Begin
As exciting as grafting is to the orchardist, there's really not much to show for many years. I've happily shown off my new orchard area of small grafted rootstocks - then realized what it looks like to others as one receives the polite but doubtful, "mmm, yes, how nice." So it's definitely best not to show off your handful of scions you are so excited to get, those 6-8" pieces of branches. It takes a lot of faith, and probably even more imagination, to see the future trees and all the fruit in those little sticks. Better to head your casual friends right over to the already fruiting strawberries or blueberries, hopefully ripe and edible.
But like most passions there is no need for justification or explanation. Those who share the bug will want to hear about every variety and every experiment and every failure and every success. Best to spare others; just share the fruit when it comes along, which is a fun to anticipate.
So, this our first year of grafting pears, all whip & tongue grafts. We added several Patten and several of the L'Anse pears to our stable. Pears graft fairly easily, similar to apple. Some scions went onto their own usseriensis rootstock, to be one-variety pear trees. Others were grafted onto shoots on low branches of our large, old 'chokepear'. Partly for backup in case an own-rootstock graft dies, and partly in hopes of one day getting a branch of edible fruit on this not-so-edible pear tree. We also grafted Savignac but none of them took. One seldom gets 100% takes with grafting so it's hard to say why. Sometimes it's a poor scion, sometimes an incompatibility with what you are grafting to, sometimes it's just the way it is. I was very happy to have six grafts take and grow.
Unfortunately, midsummer one rootstock with a L'anse graft died. It was the rootstock with the smallest amount of roots when planted so it could be there just wasn't enough to keep it growing. When I pulled it out there hadn't been much if any new growth in the root-ball. I was happy to have other L'anse pear grafts growing.
Patten is an old variety that gets good comments from others growing pears in challenging cold climates, both for hardiness and quality of fruit. That's one reason I chose it. But the other is because in the first half of the 1900's there was an orchard planted at the MSU Chatham Experiment Station. Actually, two orchards, the first early one didn't survive as they tried growing a number of varieties that simply couldn't handle the cold and winter of this Upper Peninsula location. There is very little information that has survived about this or the subsequent orchard sadly, but one note I found said that though this first orchard was not a success they were not giving up and were planting another. A few other random reports indicate the second orchard was a success and was still there in the 40's and early 50's. That's about all I know (all of the old Bulletins and records from the early years of the Chatham Experiment Station were thrown out some years ago). But, when I was inquiring about the orchards the current MSU farm manager found and sent to me a photo labeled 1944 of a Patten Pear tree growing in the Chatham orchard. I'm excited about having one growing here.
Copyright © Susan Robishaw
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