Farm Updates and the Home Orchard Society

Welcome to spring! What I don't want to talk about in this post is the weather and how awful it's been, other than to explain that the weather is the reason there have been little to no significant updates on the farm and garden as of late. Just enough has happened over the course of this punishing winter, however, to warrant a photo here and there. I also recently attended my first Home Orchard Society fruit propagation fair and, of course, took photos. So, come along with me now as we highlight the positive at spring's arrival.

Frida cam! She's been my buddy a lot out in the garden, a real companion. More on the girls later.

 The Home Orchard Society's fruit propagation fair was an eye-opener. I knew little about them, save for what my friend and colleague Nicole shared. With her encouragement, we both set out on a Sunday Morning to experience this annual event together.

From their website:
If you are a serious orchardist or perhaps a curious hobby gardener, the Home Orchard Society provides you with the best source of information and knowledge, mixed in the context of like-minded friendships, to make fruit growing an enriching experience.

The Home Orchard Society, established in 1975, is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to assisting both novice and expert fruit growers, preserving heirloom fruit varieties, and promoting the science, culture, and pleasure of growing fruit at home. Our original 59 charter members grew into this nonprofit, educational and self-help organization that today has well over 700 members scattered worldwide. The vision of “growing good fruit at home” has taken root.

We always welcome and encourage new members. Check us out.  Get in touch!

The lines were long to get in. Fruit is fun! The anticipation builds.

There was this guy selling root stock out of his truck. Or maybe he was a vendor. At any rate, we overheard people in line talking about what trees they have and what they are after. A whole group of farm geeks! We were in heaven. I was honestly surprised at how many people were there and did not know what to expect.

Held at the Clackamas County Fairgrounds, the same venue as the annual Master Gardener's Spring Fair, so I was familiar with the place. This time instead of crazed gardeners, I was surrounded by crazed orchardists.

So I quickly learned the rules. All the scion wood you want is free, but one per bucket, thank you very much. In each bucket is a separate variety of any number of fruit trees or vines. The idea is to share, to increase diversity and to preserve some of the varieties that are difficult to find elsewhere. I love this idea.

There were SO many varieties of apples. They also had pears, quince, cherries, persimmons, figs, grapes, medlars, plums, kiwis...

So. There I was, excited to get this free scion wood to be grafted to rootstock and have a new tree for the orchard. Little did I know that it's a really good idea to have masking tape and a pen to label what you grab. Uggg. I learned the hard way and ended up with a handful of mixed persimmon and fig wood. At least the pears had labels on them or I would have been dubbed the dunce of the day. As I said, I'm learning and had no idea what I was doing.

The people! By the time we left an hour or so after it opened, many of those buckets were empty. There are hardcore fruit growers out there, I'm pleased to say.

Yay for persimmons! Let's see if I actually end up with a tree or a frankentree. Time will tell in my great experiment.

There was a nice selection of appropriate books.

A lot of the apple wood was specifically for cider making, a very booming business.

See? A whole wall dedicated to cider making tools. Okay, not just cider tools but grafting and pruning tools.

There were a couple of fruit tree nurseries there, too. One Green World was there, among others.

Blueberries, lingonberries, strawberries . . . they had a fine selection.

Local honey and supplies, too. They also had orchard mason bees for sale.

This man was giving a grafting demonstration. He was a very popular booth at this event, it was difficult to get close enough to hear him, but I did manage this photo!

My lovely comrade Nicole! She and her family has five acres in Scappoose and have started a wonderful farm, Ferreira Family Farm. They hope to provide local restaurants and families with the freshest veggies available. They had a booth at the farmer's market last summer but will be focusing on CSAs this year. I've had her produce and it's wonderful. Here she is in line to purchase root stock.

So the deal is this: You get scion wood for free (which determines the variety of fruit tree you are growing) and pay $5 each for the root stock of your choice that is compatible with your scion wood. Then they get grafted on to one another and voila, you have a tree! The reason for this is the root stock determines the size and often vigor of your tree (and disease resistance in many cases). If, in other words you let that apple seedling grow to maturity on its own roots, it will likely get 40' tall and be covered with apple scab. BUT if you could shrink it down to a reasonable size so you can effectively prune it and harvest the fruit, it would be a much better situation. Plus, you will likely have more resistance to diseases. That's why root stock from other trees is used. You rarely if ever get a fruit tree on its own root stock.

Here are my heroes. I took my confused scion wood, purchased appropriate root stock and then got in line to meet these wonderful people. They did the actual grafting and helped to i.d. the "sticks" I was carrying around with me. They also grafted the HUGE scion wood to a teeny tiny root stock (that's what was given to me), which was quite the challenge. No match for these two, however. The idea, for the record, is to graft the same size scion wood to the same size root stock. D'OH!

That wraps up my first fruit propagation fair. Why did I go? To learn about it, the group and to hopefully get a few fig trees. Turns out, they don't need grafting, rather you just root those cuttings. OK. Now I have three mystery persimmon trees (remember I didn't have tape to write their names down on and i.d. the sticks? I went back to see if I could match them up with others in their buckets, but the buckets were empty by the time I got back to do so.) I also have a couple pear trees, so yay! It was fun to spend time with Nicole, too.

Now onto farm business. We have sad news to report. Our dear Betty didn't make it. She was very very ill, we gave her and the flock medication, but after a solid week of suffering, she's gone. We are heartbroken about it, but I think that's how it goes with chickens. They are very vulnerable creatures, to be sure. It is very difficult not to get attached to these girls, but I can see I need to toughen up a bit. Sad no matter how you add it up. She is missed.

The remaining three are in great health, I'm happy to report. Here, I caught them soaking up a RARE sunshine moment.

Did I mention they are laying regularly? Here is Mega Egg, courtesy of Effie, our gray beauty.

Mega Egg! Ha ha...we laughed out loud when we saw this. Turns out it was a double yoke.

 Here's our champ!

On to the gardens. A few days here and there I focused on weeding the meadow area. I know, it looks terrible. Just wait until the sleeping roots below come to life. 

This is my weed pile. I've been slowly and steadily weeding between the wildflower and grass seedlings I sowed last year that have emerged. It's tedious but also therapeutic.

Here's Facilities Manager and his mother, Miss Sharon, who was out for a visit from Idaho. FM was digging a trench for me as we're doing a bit of landscaping at the edge of the garden, more on that another day.

OK, one more bit of sad news. Danger Garden, look away. All of my agaves died this winter. I got very tired of schlepping them in and out of the garage, so kept them all near the house for the winter in a sheltered locale. That was no match for this winter, however, and I lost them all. I have decided I don't really have the time to baby any plants, at least not now. I should have gifted them to those who would properly care for them, but I honestly did not expect them to die. Even the hardy ones in the ground succumbed to 18" of snow and temperatures below 10 degrees. So I move on. There, I said it.

What I'm replacing them with is sepmervivums or hens and chicks of all shapes and colors. They have a bit of spikiness to them and are totally hardy. This lot survived outside at the nursery where I work, so I know they will be fine.

Recent acquisitions: A Chaenomeles 'Hollandia' or quince from Gossler Farms Nursery earlier this month. While it has yet to bloom, the buds and their color is still appreciated.

From Joy Creek Nursery a Drimys winteri or winter's bark. This evergreen tree will reach 20' or so at maturity. It is not very wide, so will be a perfect tree for a location near the house where I can enjoy it out of our bedroom window.

Working for Joy Creek Nursery has taught me to appreciate a whole range of plants I previously knew little about or had much interest in. Pulmonaria 'Benediction', a shade loving woodland perennial with silvery spots on its leaves sports the most glorious blue flowers. If it's really happy it might seed around a little.

Here's my Quercus hypoleucoides also from Gossler Farm Nurseries. I blogged about it last time and wanted to show the specimen I bought. It will be planted once the dead maple is out of the way.

Facilities Manager made me a compost area! I'm thrilled. We use it every day. When I say we, I mean FM, myself and the chickens.

A sweet little surprise I thought I'd share. In the lower southeast corner of the property we discovered a seasonal spring. This is the very corner of the area we are going to plant the vegetable garden and orchard. I decided to keep this intact and add some wood and stones to slow down the trickle and keep water in the soil. I've also planted some Mimulus guttatus or yellow monkey flower, a native bog-loving flower that the bees really dig. I'm turning it into a tiny little habitat. We've seen birds bathing in the shallow pools that we've created. 

Speaking of veggie gardens, I've successfully started seeds! This is early on when they were germinating. Now up and growing away are broccoli, cabbage, onion, leek, celery root and celery starts. I feel like a proud student. 

A bit of my planning...

I leave you with a photo of a frosty violet, taken at my friend Nicole's garden the morning we went to the propagation fruit fair. Winter has left us, spring is here. Let us celebrate by putting on our boots and gardening, once and for all. Yes, it's been a rough winter for many of us. We need this spring more than ever, we welcome it with open arms. Hooray for plants, plant people and their generous spirit. I'm very fortunate to be surrounded by people with big gardening hearts. I hope you are, too. They've been my saving grace this winter. Thank you.

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I love hearing from you all! Happy gardening everyone, and yes, I can say it finally, happy spring! 


  1. Your winter weather may have been terrible but I'm impressed by how well you've made use of your "down time." Learning to graft fruit trees! Starting your veggie garden from seed! I wish I had room for an orchard - the guy we bought our house from crammed fruit trees in willy-nilly during the year he lived here before selling but many of the trees were poorly selected for our warm climate (stone fruit is tough to grow here) and he over-crowded plants. He also ignored the city's view conservation ordinance but then that may have been a purposeful act of defiance toward the tree-hating neighbor up the street (who was not mentioned in his pre-sale disclosures). I gave away some of the trees and others died but, if I had just a little more room, I'd add some climate-appropriate selections here. I desperately want an avocado tree.

    I'm sorry you lost Betty but the remaining girls are troopers - that mega-egg is something!

    1. Thank you Kris, you always know the perfect thing to say. I guess we have been busy in our "down time" after all.

      Sounds like you have an interesting relationship with the neighbors - oy! I'd love an avocado...can you squeeze one in? :)

      Yes, it's sad about Betty. The others are great, they have definitely become pets.

  2. Frida's close-up right as the page loaded made me laugh out loud. She seems like a character. That fruit fair looks intense! I'll have to keep that kind of event in mind if I ever have room for my own orchard. Sorry you lost Betty. That mega-egg is mind-boggling! I like the picture of one of the tiny tigers surveying the meadow.

    1. Haha..I'm glad it worked! It made me laugh when I took it and then when I looked at the photos on the computer. The fruit fair was intense but so friendly, really.

      The Mega Egg was crazy. Effie is our champion egg layer to be sure! Oh, and Hobbes in the meadow...I chose that photo of the dormant meadow with Hobbes in it for scale. And for fun. Besides the chickens, he's my other outside companion.

  3. The Mega Egg made me giggle out loud while reading - a rare occurrence for me. Thank you for the joy after a long day...give your chicks a pat for me. Sorry about your loss of your dear Betty.

    1. Oh, good - I'm glad you got a giggle out of it! We all laughed here, too. So glad it brought a smile to your day! Nature does that a lot.

      Thanks for the kind words about Betty.

  4. So sad to hear about Betty, I didn't even know you had a sick chick. It was drier and warmer here this week too, I got a lot of weeding done. It is wonderfully therapeutic.

    1. Thank you Alison. She was really sick for about a week which is a long time in chicken years.

      Glad it was a bit warmer and drier, let us hope it continues. Weeding = therapy, right? I should be pretty fricking sane, by that measure.

  5. So sorry about your Agaves, but it's not like you don't have lots of other things to focus on...and this winter was HARSH! Your mega egg, oh my god. Poor chick!

    1. Thanks, Loree...I was a bit embarrassed to show it but I had to come clean. Thanks for the understanding :)

      This winter, I will say, SUCKED. Worst one I can remember for a number of weather related reasons. But we move on, hopeful of a week of dry days in a row.

      And Effie and that egg..we respect the Effie more than ever. What an accomplishment! Ouch!

  6. Let the orchard adventure begin (well, I guess it already has). I've had my eye on Drimys winteri at work...can we get away with having all the same plants in our gardens? This post makes it feel like spring, even if the puddles in our yard do not.

    1. Oooo, I think you need a Drimys winteri. We can get away with it, Rickii!

      I know what you mean about this post makes it feel like spring - most of these photos were taken on the one sunny day we've had as of late. The day I was mostly indoors. D'OH!

  7. Glad I finally caught up on whats happening in your garden. I really could use a whiteboard to stay on task or keep my farmer on task perhaps. Lets hope for a wonderful spring.


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