First graft of history

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Preserving as much of the historical identity of the Schaeffler House in Hillsboro as possible is how Stan Harder sees his role as director of museums in Hillsboro.

On Friday, Harder and Joel Garrett attempted to preserve remnants of a historic pear tree on the grounds of the Schaeffler House.

“This tree was cut down by city officials because it was damaged by the recent ice storm and they found the center of the tree was hollow,” Harder said. “The Schaeffler House was built 95 years ago, so we’re estimating this tree to have been approximately 90 years old.”

Harder’s interest in preserving the tree stems from his attempt to duplicate the authenticity of the grounds surrounding the Schaeffler House, grounds which were formerly home to a fruit orchard.

When the 90-year-old pear tree was cut down several weeks ago, Harder harvested numerous living twigs or “scion wood” from the tree and refrigerated them, packing some in ice and others in wet paper towels.

Harder recently was contacted by Garrett, an art teacher in Nickerson.

Garrett called Harder in an attempt to harvest scion wood from the Russian cherry trees located at the historic Peter Paul Loewen House in Hillsboro. Garrett wanted to start some trees in his own orchard.

“Growing historic fruit trees is a hobby of mine,” Garrett said. “I hope to be able to do that when I retire.”

Garrett, who owns an orchard, found buying stock from nurseries to be too expensive, so he began studying how to graft trees to save both money and older trees.

“It’s actually grafting scion wood, or water sprouts (juvenile limbs) from existing trees onto existing roots of the original tree,” he said. “You actually make a new tree from old parts.”

After Harder and Garrett talked, Garrett agreed to help Harder graft parts of the pear tree at the Schaeffler House in exchange for parts from the cherry tree.

Harder had hopes of creating as many as eight new trees to be planted north of the Schaeffler House with Garrett’s assistance.

Garrett said his work with grafting trees has been a learning experience.

“The first year I had problems, and I think it was mainly because I let the roots get too dry,” he said.

Garrett’s primary objective is to match existing roots with scion wood based on similar size.

First, the root is split and then the bark is removed from the scion wood. That piece of scion is inserted into the root, taped and sealed with pruning sealer and eventually planted as seed stock.

“I like to have an inch or inch and a half of contact between the scion wood and the root,” Garrett said of the process, which is more commonly referred to as a saddle graft.

“The goal is to keep the graft from drying out long enough to seal the wound and the parts to grow together.

“Usually it takes two weeks or less to tell if it was successful.”

Garrett said the variables in the process are whether he’s working with a good, live root and whether he has good contact on the cambium (formative layers) responsible for secondary growth.

By day’s end, Garrett had “manufactured” as many as a half dozen replica pear trees, which were planted in hopes of recreating the Schaeffler orchard.

Only time will tell whether the project will be a success, but Harder said he believed the original orchard growers would be pleased with their efforts.

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