HNHS nutrition, wellness class students to leave tasty legacy behind

As his daughter, Nila (left), looks on, Jason McClure of McClure Orchard and Winery explains how tree grafting works to an audience of nutrition, wellness and agriculture students at Huntington North High School Thursday, April 5. McClure used “gold rush” and “pixie crunch” varieties to show how grafting is accomplished, then donated the two trees to the high school for its courtyard garden.
As his daughter, Nila (left), looks on, Jason McClure of McClure Orchard and Winery explains how tree grafting works to an audience of nutrition, wellness and agriculture students at Huntington North High School Thursday, April 5. McClure used “gold rush” and “pixie crunch” varieties to show how grafting is accomplished, then donated the two trees to the high school for its courtyard garden. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Originally published April 12, 2018.

Some Huntington North High School nutrition and wellness class students won’t get to taste the fruits of their labors, but after the donation of two grafted apple trees from an orchard in Peru, they’ll leave a legacy that up-and-coming students will enjoy and continue to care for.

The students, members of Jan Hildebrand and Dayna Stump’s classes, as well as visiting ag class students, received a donation of two apple trees from Jason McClure, of McClure’s Orchard and Winery, during a guest class lecture and demonstration.

McClure visited the class April 5, and began his demonstration with a pop quiz on where apples – often called America’s favorite fruit – originated. The students were amazed to learn they originated in the areas of Afghanistan and China. The fruit came to Europe via the silk trade routes.

“America had crab apples; those were the only apples growing in the U.S. at the time of the European invasion,” he added.

The McClure farm raises about 130 varieties of apples. Jason McClure brought two of them, “pixie crunch” and “gold rush,” to graft onto sturdier (but less delicious) apple root stocks.

“The seeds, if you plant them – say you want a red delicious tree – those seeds will not give you a red delicious tree. The only way to get a red delicious tree is to graft it,” he said.

McClure carefully cut the scion, or root-end twig, making a sharp, clean, diagonal cut with a grafting knife, as he explained the different parts inside and outside the twig. He then made a similar cut to the desired fruit tree twig, being careful to make sure the cut ends fit flush together and the juices inside were flowing in the same direction.

He strengthened the potential of making the graft “take” by adding a “whip and tongue” back cut to the scion and the twig. Then he pushed them together, matching the cells inside each twig together.

“The first couple of years, the tree will give everything to the root,” McClure explained. “You’ll be in college or trade school or the military when these trees start producing fruit.”

He used a rubber band to lash the two twigs together, then pulled out a wax ring commonly used as a toilet seat floor seal, much to the amusement of the class. He pulled off a hunk of wax from the ring and applied it to the graft site, making a waterproof seal over the graft. Then he allowed the students an up-close look at the grafted result. The tree is then ready to be planted, with two inches from the soil to the beginning of the graft.

The rootstock is meant to be the foundation of the tree. It already has grown to the point where several years can be shaved off waiting for fruit to appear by grafting, rather than planting seeds. The graft site will eventually develop a knot as the two ends become one. The students will monitor the growth of each plant.

“Apples cross pollinate, so that’s why you have two trees,” he said, holding up both of the newly-grafted trees. “You have to have two apple trees, so the pollen from one pollinates the other.

The benefits of grafting were evident to the students when McClure showed them that it takes three to four years to get fruit from grafting, but around 10 years to obtain fruit from planting seeds. In addition, the seeds of one variety of apple will not produce the same variety because of cross pollination.

“You can’t get the apple tree you want by planting a seed,” McClure added. “But the only way to get the exact apple you want is by grafting.”

The apples grow on “two-year-old wood,” he explained to the students, so the first year is branch growth only. The second year, buds will branch out, and the following year, those will produce apples.

Hildebrand says her class was very impressed by the demonstration. The students will take over now that the grafting has occurred.

“They will be monitoring their growth and taking care of them until they’re able to be planted,” she says. “I’m hoping it’s just a matter of a few weeks … hopefully we plant them in the right places, and we don’t lose our light – our direct sun.”

Already, the courtyard has been home to tomato and pepper plants, and has young rhubarb, asparagus and blackberry plants coming up, despite the wintry spring. The students will harvest the food they grow in the garden and learn how to cook it in the school’s foods lab, using a farm-to-fork format. They have made tacos and tomato sauce in the past and cooked up omelets, flavoring them with the peppers, Hildebrand says.

“There isn’t anything that we’ve brought in from the garden that we haven’t used in class,” she adds.

When the young grafted apple trees have reached enough growth, the students will plant them outside in the courtyard garden and take care of them. But they won’t get to taste the apples. It will take about three seasons before apples are numerous enough to be harvested for eating. At that time, the emerging HCCSC eighth-graders will be at the high school, and the trees will be their inheritance to cultivate so that future classes can benefit from the upper classmen’s investment.