Obituary for the Home Orchard Society

Gravenstein applesToday I’m singing a dirge for the Home Orchard Society, yet another victim of the coronavirus—although, like so many volunteer-run nonprofits, this one was barely staying on its feet when the virus delivered its final blow.

Until recently, HOS appeared to be in glowing good health. Established in 1975 to serve the entire Pacific Northwest, the organization was an invaluable resource for Oregon and Washington fruit growers. In the fall the old hall at the Clackamas County Fairgrounds would fill with crowds of people sampling hundreds of varieties of apples and pears, eating them as fast as HOS volunteers could cut up the fruit. You could choose your favorite cultivars and order grafted trees to pick up in spring, at the Fruit Propagation Fair. Or you could come to the spring fair and join the crowds at the tables again, this time grabbing not for fruit but for free scionwood cuttings. An HOS volunteer would graft each of your scions onto rootstock as you watched, or you could take home the scions to graft yourself. At other tables you could pick up “fruit sox” to protect your apples organically, mason bee supplies to improve pollination, and books about fruit growing to read when the rain kept you indoors. The organization published its own quarterly journal, The Pome News, which was mailed to every member. HOS also maintained a nearly two-acre demonstration orchard at Clackamas Community College and held workshops and cider pressings there. If you lived close by you could join the arboretum’s CSA and pick up a boxload of fruit every week—apples, pears, grapes, figs, persimmons, kiwis, plums, pawpaws, and quinces.

All this was a tremendous amount of work for the board and other lead volunteers, especially when the membership grew to more than seven hundred. The old-timers who had been growing, pruning, and grafting fruit trees all their lives, who knew how to foil the Northwest’s formidable confederacy of microbial and insect pests, were dying off, and younger members lacked time, experience, or both. The membership director resigned, and no one else wanted the job. Joanie Cooper, the organization’s longtime president, was now running the Temperate Orchard Conservancy, a living collection of five thousand apple varieties, and couldn’t take on more responsibilities. So when Covid-19 forced the cancellation of first the spring Fruit Propagation Fair and then the fall All About Fruit Show, as well as all the summer workshops at the arboretum, things fell apart. A few days ago the board sent members a short note asking for their assent in terminating the association.

Those who are dissatisfied with the selection at the local garden center or who, like me, need scions for trees whose grafts have failed, must now figure out where to turn. The Agrarian Sharing Network, a Eugene-area organization with a similar but more limited mission, managed, last spring, to provide grafted fruit trees in dozens of unusual varieties to gardeners in Sweet Home as well as Eugene;  anyone could order trees online and pick them up at curbside. This was far from the vision of the ASG organizers, who for the preceding few years had held a series of small, neighborhood propagation fairs around the area. When the virus lets us resume holding social gatherings, perhaps the ASN can return to its vision, and perhaps that vision will prove sustainable. For now, I’m finding out what fruit varieties my neighbors are growing, because I just might want to ask them for some scions.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, home fruit culture will be harder without the Home Orchard Society. We’ll need to find new ways to cooperate if we want to continue preserving heirloom fruit varieties and furthering the art and science of growing good fruit at home.

13 thoughts on “Obituary for the Home Orchard Society”

  1. This is just sad. I’m so sorry. When we lived in Eugene, I got to know Nick Botner in Yoncalla and he opened up a whole new world. I want to be in the loop, if possible, as something else evolves. We just moved to Bend and so I need all the help I can get in establishing a new fruit garden. I have connected with the incahoots heritage apple folks here, who I think Joanie and Shaun are also connected with. Keep on keeping on.

  2. Hello, do you know if there are archives of articles provided earlier? I was excited to find a reference to this organization for detailed info about fruit sox for apples and pears.
    I’m fighting an ongoing battle with coddling moth and wanted to give this method a try. There’s so much conflicting info on what bagging material to use. Very sad this well loved organization has been retired. 😟

    1. The only thing left on the HOS site is the forums. They include a good discussion of fruit sox, here:
      After hanging onto a bag of footies for several years without using them, I finally got around to using them for my Belgian fence, a few of them in 2019 and about 40 in 2020. For me they have been an enormous help. Some critter ate holes in two of them, but it was neither a coddling moth nor a maggot. I also saw a little damage around a few stems where the bags had come open at the top–but again, the damage wasn’t from coddling moth or maggots, and it was superficial. Soaking the sox in water with a little Surround stirred in is no trouble at all. The sox are reusable, too. I will definitely use them every year from now on.

  3. When I read that HOS was going away it broke my heart. Its not like I don’t under stand last year was truly horrible for everyone. Word of HOA’s struggle came as my own husband was in the ICU at Good Sam. I could only focus on one dire thing at a time. Steve survived! I am overjoyed but The loss of HOA is terrible. This is the first year I didn’t graft my trees. I missed getting together with my garden family who understand that my obsession with little sticks! Worse yet, I am afraid we will loose so much genetic diversity with out HOA. Is there something I can do now that I am out of my own personal dark place ?

  4. Earlier this year I was thinking about how it would be nice to have a fruit tree then I looked at the Ornamental Plum in our front yard and thought, why not graft some edible fruit onto it. Searching the web I found the HOS and their scions sale only to find that the HOS was no longer – ah, once again too late to the party and missed out on all the fun.

  5. I was talking to Joanie before it ended. I didn’t realize that there weren’t that many other volunteers like ourselves. One positive thing that she said was that she believes that in a short while, there will be a new organization in the near future, run on a leaner basis, by younger, more tech-savvy people. It won’t be HOS, but it will be something positive for the community and food growers.

  6. My family were charter members of the HOS and now that working on my one apple tree is so difficult I started looking for someone who truly knows how to prune a gravenstein. This morning I thought of the HOS and wondered if anyone had a business . What a blow, to find it disbanded. We had so much fun, so much effort and so much learning through this group. What great memories! I have a dwarf tree that my father grafted, and 15 years later my son moved to my new place in Troutdale. If anyone knows of knowledgeable pruner…..

    1. Pat, I struggled every year in pruning my Gravenstein. The variety’s tendencies to grow long, horizontal limbs and bear at the tips are confusing. As my tree got big I found I needed to saw off limbs to a top bud, so the tree grew upward as well as outward. (I must say, though, that those horizontal limbs are easy to climb. I loved sitting or standing in my Gravenstein tree. In fact, I have been enjoyed sitting and standing in Gravenstein trees since I was a kid.)
      Thinning is very important with a Gravenstein, since the apples have short stems and so tend to push each other off before they ripen.
      Some possible sources of pruning help are Master Gardeners (call your local Extension office), the Home Orchard Education Center, and the Agrarian Sharing Network.

  7. Where can I order these socks? My trees have the codling moth infestation I have 5 fruit trees.

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