Heirloom apple display at the Watauga County Extension office.

Heirloom apple display at the Watauga County Extension office.

My grandfather, a diligent record keeper, made daily entries in his garden log books. When he passed, I inherited a 25-year collection of them and have loved these tattered treasures ever since. My grandfather wrote about the weather, garden events and daily happenings; events large and small are captured on their yellowed pages.

When my parents brought me home for the first time my grandfather wrote in his log: “March 27. Good Friday — Went to Sears, got estimate on car. Visited Mrs. Rupp — left box of preserves for Glenn and Margie — got baby girl today.”

Quizzing my mom about that day, I learned that my grandparents brought homemade applesauce — one of my dad’s favorite treats. With a new baby at home, I’m sure it was a welcomed gift. My grandmother was a great cook but some of her magic belonged to my grandfather who supplied her with terrific ingredients.

My grandfather grew about 20 varieties of apples in his small backyard. With so many varieties it seemed something was always ripening that my grandmother could put to good use.

I should mention that all of these varieties grew on a single tree because my grandfather had mastered the art of grafting. Whenever he encountered an interesting apple he would convince the owner to give him a cutting and then carefully graft that cutting onto his own tree. The grafted branch would develop and produce fruit as if it had not been removed from its parent tree.

These grafting experiments went on for years. As a child I thought his tree looked a little scary. A few branches would bloom, then puffs of color would pop up on the other side, and more appeared later — but the blooms never covered the whole tree all at once.

Then clumps of fruit would appear, one branch red, another green, another yellow and so on. Dr. Seuss couldn’t have imagined a better scene.

Most of the varieties my grandfather tried came from local farmers and other apple enthusiasts, not the usual varieties you would encounter at the grocery store. So I was thrilled to discover the Watauga County Extension office is having a plant sale and some of the varieties of heirloom apple trees they are offering are ones my grandfather grew.

Paige Patterson, horticulture agent at the Watauga Extension office explained the trees in their sale are grafted onto m-111 rootstock. This type of grafting merges two plants so they grow as one. The top portion of one plant (the scion) is grafted onto the roots of another plant (the rootstock) resulting in a tree that possesses traits of both the scion and the rootstock. In the case of the extension plant sale, heirloom scions were grafted onto the rootstock of semi-dwarf trees, resulting in smaller heirloom variety trees that require less space to thrive.

Watauga County Extension’s plant sale lasts through the end of March. They have over a dozen varieties of apples available, thornless blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, grapes and asparagus. All of the varieties on offer are appropriate for the mountain region and you can tap into the expert advice Extension has to offer. There’s more information about the sale and how to place your order on their website, https://watauga.ces.ncsu.edu/2018/01/2018-fruit-plant-sale-order-deadline-march-30-2018/

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email: info@absentee-gardener.com.

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