Grafters X Change Year 1 -- Branches and Networks

teas &/ in trees


— Marisa Prefer

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Decolonizing the Orchard -Grafting with indigenous and naturalized trees.

The rapid onset of climate change has created urgent conditions where traditional First Nations’ agricultural and permacultural practices could once again play an important role in North American food systems.

Crops managed by First Nations often showed a great deal of phenotypic diversity, enabling adaptation to a wide range of growing conditions that might be experienced over long time spans. For example, corn varieties (maize) cultivated by southwestern peoples for millennia, can appear quite different in a drought year versus a wet year, as the diverse gene pool can express physical characteristics contingent on environmental conditions as well as show a range of morphologies within a given season, as a kind of genetic backup plan. This adaptive heterogenicity was clearly regarded as desirable by first peoples, as it reduced the likelihood of total crop failure and was maintained in the gene pool, in polar opposite to the way plants are bred in agro-business today, which emphasizes consistency in form and yield. (See Raoul Robinson’s ‘Return to Resistance’)

The growing of fruit trees is no exception. Modern-day orchards are grown on a small variety of rootstocks that confer uniform dwarfing characteristics to expedite mechanical harvesting, to resist known diseases and to produce consistently in a narrow range of environmental conditions manipulated by irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides. Compare this with the traditional first people’s cultivation of crabapple (Malus fusca) along the Pacific coast of North America. This species, still esteemed by tribes in the region for the small but easily preserved fruit, is a part of an ancient Beringian flora that made its way across the land bridge and is now native from Alaska to California. It is highly adapted to conditions that would be impossible for most commercial varieties, tolerating saltwater inundation, soggy and cool maritime climate and yet also summer drought. Malus fusca forms a natural guild with salmonberry Rubus spectabilis, often germinating in the berry’s thorny thickets which protect saplings from browsing by ungulates. It varies considerably in growth form and fruit size and groves exhibiting desirable characteristics still mark the sites of ancient habitation up and down the West Coast, where they were once carefully tended in conjunction with root gardens and bivalve mariculture. Though an important food crop for aboriginal people, Malus fusca also plays a vital role in the nonhuman ecosystem, its flowers producing nectar for insects, its fruits a favourite of birds and many mammals.

Malus fusca also makes a highly resilient rootstock for Eurasian apple varieties and confers some of its resilient qualities to the scions, allowing merchantable orchards to be grown in what would otherwise be marginal conditions. This has the added benefit of not impairing the ecological functionality of the host tree in its biome.

But why stop at crabapples? It turns out several native and naturalized woody plants such as hawthorn (Crateagus) and Mountain ash (Sorbus) make good rootstocks for popular fruits with the decided advantage of already being adapted to the landscape. They can be maintained without fencing if grafts are attached above the browse line, allowing deer and other ungulates access to fulfill their ecological roles, consuming fallen fruit, depositing their valuable manure and keeping grass nibbled down under the trees as they would in natural woodland. Such ‘hyper’ orchards serve to add functionality to an existing ecological community, adding a layer to what is already present rather than excluding or trying to replace it through intensive inputs of energy and material.

In my workshop on ‘Decolonizing the Orchard’, I join local practitioners in identifying opportunities for this kind of botanical partnering here in the postcolonial landscape of the Northeast, demonstrating some simple grafting techniques and tips on winter plant identification.

— Oliver Kellhammer

How to collectively graft toward Community Orchards from Hard/Graft, Dublin.


Grafting your own fruit trees is a sociable and affordable way to collectively create future orchards.
Eight trees makes an orchard.

1. You will need an allotment or small piece of land to start a fruit tree nursery. (We had two plots in 2 community gardens)
2. In February collect scion from heritage fruit trees and your favourite apple trees.
3. Order in Root Stock (We have grafted apple and pear trees.)
4. Advertise Grafting workshops for community groups, neighbours and friends
5. Get a trained grafter to lead the workshop and impart their knowledge and skills to the group via a skill share.
6. Each person takes one tree home and leaves the rest of the grafted fruit trees behind for the nursery and future orchards.
7. After two years in the nursery the trees are ready to be planted out to future orchards.
8. Identify vacant land and possible sites for future community orchards.
9. People interested in having a community orchard are invited to identify a site and take 8 of the trees.
10. The orchards become shared spaces which support pollinators, people connect to a seasonal cycle and around which community harvest and local food gathering and food sharing can happen. 


‘Hard/Graft: towards community orchards’ is an art project by socially engaged artist, Seoidín O’Sullivan

SEEDSONGS -with Ryder Cooley Zoey Kroll

Husk Cherry:
Hearty plant, low lying fruit, looks like a tomatillo, tastes like a pineapple.

Extinct Dodo Bird:
Large tropical bird, stayed close to ground (she could not fly), ate low-lying fruits.

Spring Action:
Serenade the dodo bird back to life with the Voluptuous Dodo song. Plant seeds, steward plants, share fruits.

More text here (full song, full instructions and backstory
and here


Asphalt Cut-Outs for Staying with the Trouble

We offer “Asphalt Cut-Outs” as a small physical and sensual gesture for interacting with paved land that has suffered disturbance and accumulated toxicity. Carved out by hand with chisel and mallet, Asphalt Cut-Outs are minimalist in shape and humble in size, ranging from six to seventeen inches wide, and taking geometric or organic shapes, some referencing human or plant bodies, like the vulva or the leaf. Removing the asphalt in this way allows for the “airing out” of the compacted soil below, creating a small “(re)disturbance” that begins the process of rewilding, eventually creating a small weedy island ecosystem in a sea of asphalt.

The Cut-Out process as we practice it is laborious. It is intentionally time-consuming, precious and delicate while simultaneously loud like a jack hammer, destructive but also rhythmic, demanding and invigorating. The opener must be attentive to small, slow changes as their body vibrates against, into, and through body of the land. This invites us to attend to land that has been traumatized, to soil compressed under the asphalt. We face our own complicity in the sociocultural structures that made it possible, even preferable, to take this life-giving substrate and lock it away. The opener of the Cut-Out travels forwards and backwards in time, contemplating past and future, while anchored in the present by the crumbling of the asphalt and the breathing and expanding of the moist, perhaps toxic soil, infused with the detritus of generations colonization and industrialization. Through repetitive movement and slow progress, the process asks that we stay with the trouble, opening up to multisensorial inputs (grasping, rocking, singing, dancing to the rhythm of the pounding mallet).

What does it mean to unlock soil that is both life-giving and toxic, to take that airing out into your own body, and let it leave again? Is this a healing process? Of What? Who heals who? In the small gesture of an Asphalt Cut-Out, we seek to face entanglement with past damages, and perhaps take a small step on a path leading towards decolonizing nature and ourselves. Thus we offer Asphalt Cut-Outs as a recipe for Reciprocal Healing for a Multispecies Commons.

Asphalt Cut Outs Visual Score End

Root Crown Excavation Using Compressed Air — What is a Tree Doing Underground?

Roots in urban soils experience greater extremes of temperatire, pH and toxicity than almost anywhere else. And yet sometimes plants thrive in these circumstances.

Lots of great attention has been paid to plants and soil chemistry by artists and activists, but as an arborist I think of the structure of the space that roots occupy.

The first issue for me is access to oxygen. It isn’t popularly recognized, but roots need oxygen to turn the sugars made by the leaves into all sorts of things. A highly-compacted, anaerobic soil is a place where roots can’t grow because oxygen can’t get in and CO2 can’t get out.

A couple decades ago Nina Bassuk of Cornell’s Urban Horticulture Institute patented something called CU Structural Soil. It is comprised of fairly uniform pointy stones, a bit of nice soil, and some hydrogel to make the soil stick to the stones. It can be compacted for engineering purposes without becoming anaerobic because gases and roots  can move in between the stones.

Around 2001 I started excavating urban soils using a tool which blasts the soil from the roots using very fast-moving air. And I found that tree roots were often doing fine amongst the compacted debris that cities are built on. Especially when the debris is masonry, pockets of uncompacted soil are well protected under bricks and concrete.

Though such sites are often alkaline because of all the mortar and concrete and plaster, many species of trees seem to thrive there. One possible reason is that the mutualistic combination of fungi and tree root hairs (mycorhizae) can alter the pH by up to two points in order to make soil nutrients more available.

Finally there is mulch. It keeps soils moist and reduces competition from plants you are not trying to grow. In the photo here, a fairly common urban mulch has been applied over almost the entire root system of two Honey Locust trees in Troy, NY. Though the blacktop probably heats up the soil rather than moderating temperature as most mulch does, it reduces compaction!

All these roots involving themselves with chunks of concrete and bricks is a fine way to avoid the uprooting failures often seen on sites where a thin layer of topsoil was placed on top of compacted poorer soil

So my recommendation is to plant more (and bigger) trees while embracing the ways of urban development.

— Jack Magai

Ruderal Reunion: Back to Basics on Post-industrial Soil

When opportunities for affordable land is scarce and rural acreage lacks the community support of a city, urban homesteading on post-industrial plots is a practical option. In places like Troy, New York — once the fourth richest city in the country — vacant lots are available for purchase through a simple bidding process. Nonprofits like the Sanctuary for Independent Media have acquired lots to protect them from becoming the all-too common parking lot or junk yard. This sort of radical land-grabbing and conservation transforms plowed-under buildings into opportunities for community rehabilitation — an invitation to grow public oases.

Founded in 2011, Collard City Growers became the Sanctuary for Independent Media’s outdoor, environmental classroom for local youth in search of “something to do.” Since then, the project has expanded from a modest garden on one vacant lot to a block-wide ecological experiment devoted to care of tree crops, medicine and dye plants, wildlife habitat, and the surrounding community.

Led by self-proclaimed “Plant Freegans,” Azure and Christian have helped to re-wild and remediate Collard City Growers’ through strategies driven by creative frugality and diverse community connections. Using free resource platforms like Craigslist, they have initiated value exchanges with strangers — offering garden services for horticultural rewards like plant stock, organic matter (free poo!), and friendships with fellow earth worshippers who come from all walks of life.

To begin creating your own oasis for free, follow these simple steps:

  1. On Craigslist, create a posting in the free section that reads: “Free Perennial Plant Thinning” (in Spring) or “Free Fruit Tree Pruning” (in Fall/Winter/dormancy)

Sit back and watch the e-mails from fellow plant geeks roll in! You will acquire valuable plant stock for free while making some new friends!