I just read an article in ACRES USA magazine (comes from Texas), which calls itself ‘the voice of eco-agriculture’. It is a great source of all kinds of natural farming information, I highly recommend it.
Anyway, the article talked about a guy named Felix Gillet, who emigrated from France to California in 1853. He developed a nursery business which the article credits as the grand-daddy of much of California’s agriculture, especially wine. He brought over literally hundreds of varieties of plants from Europe, and was successful in getting them growing in California. Included were 241 varieties of grapes, and 40 varieties of cherries.
This brought to mind the notion that varieties of agricultural plants were being developed by seed selection in the Roman Empire and its successors since biblical times. After all those generations of selection, they have developed varieties so specialized that this kind grows best on the east side of the hill, and that on the west side, hence the 241 varieties of grapes from France.
Which reminded me that back in the day when our world made sense, the Dryden Tree Nursery kept jackpine seed collected around say Eagle Lake separate from that collected around say Lac Seul, because natural selection over the thousands of years since the ice age meant seedlings from seeds collected around Eagle would do much better if planted near Eagle Lake than if planted around Lac Seul. And vice versa. It would be nice to think we are still that sophisticated.
And this reminded me of The Plum Tree. Buildings in early pioneer days were built on a foundation of Tamarack poles or logs, no stone or concrete to be seen. Many abandoned homesteads, here and all across the prairies and Ontario, are marked by a tree or trees which must have been planted, an unnatural pattern or a kind that does not grow locally. Those trees are often the only sign that people actually ever lived there.
I remember some 60 years ago my dad came home from plowing a field for Tom Schneider on an abandoned homestead off the end of Glengoland Road South. He had collected his cap full of plums from a tree, which (other than the field) was the only evidence that the place had once been somebodies home. They were wonderful, bigger than the ‘wild’ plums found on many pioneers’ homesteads, translucent green, sweet and juicy. Clayton Schneider says the last time he visited that old homestead that tree was still there, but looking pretty shabby.
Wouldn’t it be a great project for local foodies to seek out and find plants adapted to our unique soil and climate, like that old plum tree. Trees still growing, or farm or garden seeds saved and selected over generations. Aunt Thelma has been developing her own variety of tomatoes by saving seed from the best specimens each year for a number of years; her variety did well in my garden this year.
Perhaps there is somebody out there, skilled in grafting trees, who could talk to Clayton about a twig off that marvellous old tree. I can still taste that delicious plum from 60 years ago.