Pittsboro, NC: On a cold sunny morning last month, Creighton Lee Calhoun Jr. stood in his orchard, surrounded by 300 heirloom apple trees, and took some cuttings, or scions, to graft onto rootstock for new trees.“You have to have new growth, something that grew last summer,” said Mr. Calhoun, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, pointing out the smooth reddish bark of a young shoot on an old West Virginia variety named Jugg.
He snipped it off with his sharp Felco pruners, cut the supple branch into 10-inch lengths (each with a few buds) and wrapped them with masking tape in a bundle marked “Jugg.”
“Old-timers would bury them under the leaves on the north side of the house,” said Mr. Calhoun, 77. “But I put mine in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.” When the danger of a hard freeze is past, these scions can be grafted onto young rootstock.
The practice is lost to most Americans, who think an apple is a Red Delicious, which tastes like white sugar, or a Granny Smith, often picked too green and stored so long it tastes like the bottom of the refrigerator drawer. “They’re strange-tasting, gummy, probably from long-term controlled storage,” said Mr. Calhoun, who would no more eat a supermarket apple than an old shoe. Mr. Calhoun is the author of a recently revised compendium of 1,800 antique apple varieties, called “Old Southern Apples.” He is also one of a cadre of collectors across the country who are passing on their own rare apples, through scions and grafted trees, to younger men and women starting nurseries or preservation orchards, or simply planting a few trees in the backyard.