March 16, 2011.

 

 

 


Nick Botner’s Farm: a rescue conversation.

 

 


As Nick Botner approaches his 85th birthday, he is suddenly giving very serious thought to selling his Yoncalla farm. As many of us are aware, the 120-acre property is also home to one of the largest and most diverse fruit collections in the world. Its impending sale presents the very real possibility that the collection will be lost. Indeed, no matter who the property goes to, without active restoration work from a seriously committed fruit-enthusiast or group, this unique collection seems likely to succumb to a slew of ‘under-management factors’, such as anthracnose infection which is now well established there.

And yet, whereas the planting density in Nick’s orchard (many thousands of trees are spaced on 3’-5’ intervals with little in the way of pruning) and the lack of a disease-management regimen have contributed to a pressing need for intense restoration work, the mounting disease-pressure of recent years has, ironically, afforded an unparalleled opportunity to note which varieties have continued to perform well in the midst of extremely challenging conditions.

Austin Jones, who spent six months with Nick in 2011, paid special attention to varieties which showed notable resistance to apple scab and powdery mildew infection. Indeed, his observations also suggest some varieties demonstrate partial resistance to anthracnose infection. I have attached a précis of his observations below.

Austin’s work confirms that disease-resistant varieties significantly outperform more susceptible varieties and that Nick’s orchard is home to many such varieties which are:

·   not commercially available

·   not available through the National Repository Network

·   the only known accession being grown in the S. Willamette Valley

·   the only known accession being grown on the North American continent

The severe tightening of restrictions on sharing genetic resources in recent times means that Nick’s collection, assembled from official and unofficial sources over the past two decades, could not be assembled afresh, no matter how many resources an imitator, official or otherwise, brought to such an effort.

Simply put, Nick’s orchard is a one-of-a-kind genetic goldmine. In addition to disease resistant varieties, Nick's orchard includes a tremendous amount of other useful genetic material: extreme late-flowering, red-fleshed, columnar, and long-keeping fruit, for example. As Austin observes, “There is so much useful material there, it is almost impossible to place a value on it.” Without intervention therefore, it is clear we will soon lose one of the largest, most diverse and useful genetic concentrations of apple diversity on earth. And, of course, Nick’s orchard is also home to a surprising variety of grape, cherry, plum and pear varieties.

Given today’s realpolitik, there is almost no hope of rescue assistance from a tax-funded organization – institutional plant stewards are desperately fighting for their own survival. Bluntly put, the cavalry aren’t waiting in the wings, and waiting on the emergence of a magic wand is a preposterous notion. If the material in this orchard is to be saved, a grassroots, team effort is our best, if not our only, option.

So where to begin? There is a pressing case for duplicating a portion or the entirety of the existing orchard on a new site. There is room on Nick’s land to do this but, of course, such a course would presume on a buyer prepared to purchase 120 acres in support of this cause. Do we have a million dollars and the wherewithal to pull this off? Today, no, even as we have a commitment from Austin Jones to move to Yoncalla to steward the land and any rescue effort should we be able to raise necessary funding. My strong sense is that Austin is entirely capable of orchestrating a rescue effort and managing the farm organism as a whole should the opportunity arise. Austin is keenly aware of the public-domain value of Nick’s collection and I have every confidence that if we are looking for someone to oversee a rescue effort, he’s our man.

It therefore seems timely to draft the basis of an initial response we can circulate among that rarified group of fruit enthusiasts who clearly perceive the immense value of this genetic resource, and the threat its loss represents. Here then, is the loose outline of a working plan.

No up to date inventory of the orchard exists. Hundreds, if not thousands of trees, remain un- or poorly-labeled, even as there exist paper records. Inventorying and mapping the orchard will tell us what we are dealing with, and allow us to shape the beginnings of a coherent response. We anticipate an initial inventory could be made by a dedicated team over the course of a weekend. A paper analysis of those results would, of course, take longer, but would allow us to better assess the shape of the challenge we face and, for example to prioritize the rescue or not of particular varieties or the orchard as a whole. Members of the Home Orchard Society may be the best, indeed the only, group with the understanding, interest and skillset required to make an inventory. An inventory may be a basic requirement for underpinning a rescue of any form.

Austin returned to Yoncalla for a brief two-week visit very recently. As we toured the property in the back of Nick’s pick-up we discussed the outlines of a potential orchard-rescue plan. Here’s what our discussion, continuing by email, suggested:

Locate 10 flat acres. Surround it with an eight foot tall deer fence. Graft each variety onto a dwarf rootstock such as EMLA 26, Mark or Geneva 11. Once grown, place into an orchard on a grid of 8 x 8 feet. That would allow about 680 trees per acre. At that rate 10 acres would be sufficiently large to duplicate all of Nick's orchard. This spacing would also allow a small tractor to make passes both north-to-south, and east-to-west, crucial for the control of rodents and weeds such as blackberry and grass. In all, we anticipate it would take 3 to 5 years to graft and establish a new preservation orchard. Close examination of nursery stock would halt the transmission of anthracnose. There already exist field resources on site to raise and protect nursery stock, and to establish and maintain an extensive orchard. It is difficult, though not impossible, to imagine duplicating Nick’s orchard from a distance.

I hope this document prompts the beginnings of a serious, continuing conversation relating to carrying on the legacy of Nick’s remarkable achievement. His work ethic (at 85, he still regularly puts in a full day’s work, carrying on into the early hours of the morning) and three decades of ardent collecting have gifted the fruit world a unique, impossible-to-imitate resource. That his collection requires rescuing now, presents an unparalleled opportunity for grassroots fruit enthusiasts to play a hands-on role stewarding one of the world’s most needed plant collections, at a crucial point in history.

Here, then, to whet your appetite, is Austin’s quick-list relating to his field observations of highly disease-resistant, and somewhat disease-resistant varieties.

Regards,

Nick Routledge

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HIGHLY DISEASE-RESISTANT VARIETIES

 

GREEN SECTION

N.Y. 74840-1 (Row 4, # 5)

N.Y. 75441-67 (Row 4, # 21)

Reinette Grise Du Canada (Row 4, # 46)

Co-Op 12 (Row 5, # 7)

Transparent De Croncels (Row 5, # 15)

Mela Carla (Row 5, # 20)

Type-2 (Row 7, #4)

Sundance ‘Co-Op 29’ (Row 12, #14)=

Novaspy (Row 12, # 17)

D 1497 (Row 14, # 8)

Zlatna Resistenta (Row 17, # 17)

 

BLUE SECTION

Erwin Bauer (Row 3, # 1)

Starr (Row 4, # 89)

Porter’s Perfection (Row 6, #12)

MacShay (Row 6, #14)

Prima ‘Co-Op 2’ (Row 6, # 36)

Priscilla ‘Co-Op 4” (Row 6, # 35)

Nova Easygro (Row 7, # 18)

Liberty (Row 7, # 50)

Zabergau Reinette (Row 8, # 42)

William’s Pride ‘Co-Op 23’ (Row 9, #32)

Merton Russet (Row 10, # 36)

Reinette Grise Parmentier (Row 10, #56)

Fill Barrel (Row 10, # 78)

Freedom (Row 10, # 103)

N.Y. 65-707-19 (Row 10, # 118)

Herfordshire (Row 10, # 135)

Nova Mac (Row 11, # 127)

N.Y. 61-345-2 (Row 12, # 3)

Baskirian Beauty (Row 12, # 119)

 

RED SECTION

Lowell (Row 1, # 45)

N.Y. 75-414-4 (Row 1, # 85)

Wynooche Early (Row 2, # 21)

Drews 2R (Row 4, # 130

Rozmary (Row 6, # 128)

Florina (Row 6, # 142)

 

BLACK SECTION

Improved Dove (Row 0, # 22)

Schwitzer Himberapfel (Row 0, # 51)

Dufflin (Row 1, # 42)

Reinette Montfort (Row 2, # 18)

Piker Yellow (Row 3, # 7)

Saarlander Mostapfel (Row 3, # 17)

Minnehaha (Row 4, # 15)

Gaver Jubilant (Row 6, # 3)

Alpha 68 B (Row 6, # 38)

Doux Tardif (Row 8, # 31)

Co-Op 28 (Row 9, # 18)

Co-Op 34 (Row 9, # 25)

Colozette (Row 10, # 23)

Grosse Mouche (Row 10, # 24

Co-Op 16 (Row 10, # 38)

Moira (Row 10, # 39)

Doucet Rouge (Row 10, # 43)

Minnesota 447 (Row 11, # 25)

Co-Op 14 (Row 12, # 7)

Co-Op 18 (Row 12, # 9)

Co-Op 31 (Row 12, # 14)

Co-Op 36 (Row 12, # 15)

James Kirk (Row 12, # 30)

Rural Russet (Row 14, # 30)

PRI 1176-2 (Row 16, # 1)

PRI F2 (Row 16, # 19)

 

SOMEWHAT DISEASE-RESISTANT VARIETIES

 

GREEN SECTION

Golden Reinette (Row 18, # 38)

 

BLUE SECTION

Akane (Row 8, # 57)

Winter Red Flesh (Row 9, # 93)

Red Section

Novak 7 (Row 1, # 32)

Zeke's Long Keeper (Row 1, # 135)

Bessimianka Michurina (Row 3, # 22)

Bethel (Row 3, # 46)

Aargaur Jubilaums (Row 3, # 75)

Kalco (Row 3, # 120)

Anis Aliy (Row 4, # 19)

Pepin Chernenko (Row 4, # 20)

Breugger Reintee (Row 4, # 45)

Dabinette (Row 4, # 46)

Hanson's Red Flesh (Row 4, # 49)

Reinette Marbrea (Row 4, # 135)

Red Flesh (Row 4, # 137)

Carla (Row 5, # 11)

Leonard Transparent (Row 5, # 131)

Okabena (Row 6, # 137)

 

BLACK SECTION

Altlander Pfankuchanapfel (Row 1, # 3)

Reinette De France (Row 1, # 48)

Claus Winterprinz (Row 3, # 16)

Radoux (Row 3, # 41)

Bedan Des Parts (Row 4, # 18)

Dayton (Row 4, # 34)

Tiefblute (Row 4, # 48)

Clear Heart (Row 7, # 43)

Rott Jarnapfel (Row 7, # 47)

Daux Belan (Row 8, # 16)

Improved Lambert Pippin (Row 8, # 29)

Frequin (Row 11, # 4)

Rouville (Row 11, # 18)

P22R 77-66 (Row 13, # 37)

P6 R28 (Row 13, # 40)

N.Y. 73334-35 (Row 13, # 42)

Pomme Thoury (Row 15, # 25)

PRI 1312-6 (Row 22, # 20)

Fuero Rous (Row 22, # 22)

  

 

 

March 16, 2011