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Grafting a link to Basalt’s past

Scott CondonAspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times
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BASALT Jerome Osentowski’s determination to preserve fruit trees whose roots can be traced back to immigrants who flocked to the valley is paying sweet dividends in Basalt.Two rare, sweet cherry trees have been dying slowly in the yard of a family home on Homestead Drive in Basalt. This spring it became evident that they wouldn’t bloom again.”They are the only ones left in town,” Osentowski lamented.Sweet cherries are rare in the upper Roaring Fork Valley because they don’t do well at high elevation. They don’t really thrive until Peach Valley, between New Castle and Silt, he said.Osentowski estimated the trees to be 60 years old, but they likely have ties to one of the first families to settle in Basalt. The trees are within the Lucksinger subdivision, named after a family that homesteaded the area around what is now Lake Christine.Legend has it that Christine Lucksigner brought a grafted apple tree with her when the family relocated. Their 120-year-old apple tree still bears fruit near the lake. Numerous seedlings from that apple tree are spread around Basalt.Michael Thompson, a Basalt architect and fruit enthusiast, said the Lucksingers planted numerous fruit trees in the high ground on the western end of Basalt. Descendants owned the Lake Christine area and the lot into the 1960s, he said.Osentowski, a permaculturist with a farm on the shoulder of Basalt Mountain, and Thompson launched an effort a few years ago to take an inventory of old fruit trees in the area and preserve them. They sought out the healthiest among the old trees between Aspen and Peach Valley.

Their inventory identified close to 150 trees in 70 varieties that were worthy and possible to save. Osentowski estimated he’s grafted new trees from the grand old ones for the past six or seven years. He sells the clones at his nursery.Fortunately, the preservation effort targeted the sweet cherry trees on Homestead Drive before they croaked.

Two years ago, Osentowski took root stock from another variety of cherry tree that is disease-resistent and better-prepared to handle Basalt’s elevation and climate. Onto that root stock he grafted scion wood from the grand old cherries. Scion wood is a cutting from new growth.The vertical cut where he grafted the root stock and scion wood is still evident on the sapling. The splice was wrapped until old and new fused. The sapling has a couple of 4-inch branches to show for its two years of growth. The sweet cherry clones are slower to grow than other grafted trees for reasons Osentowski cannot determine.He made 10 or 15 grafts from the two old cherry trees. Only two or three survived.One of those survivors will make for a historic moment for the Heritage Fruit Tree Preservation Project. Bel and Emily Carpenter and their 2-year-old daughter will get a sapling to plant in their yard. It will be the first time a clone has replaced an original tree since Thompson and Osentowski launched their project.The changing of the guard in the Carpenters’ yard will take place later this spring.

Fruit tree owners who want to learn how to pass the seeds, so to speak, of their trees themselves or take better care of their trees can take advantage of two workshops this spring.Thompson is teaching a free tree-pruning workshop Saturday, April 21. For details, call him at 927-4458.Osentowski is teaching a grafting workshop at his Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute on Sunday, April 22. It will include instruction on pruning to get the greatest bounty from trees, a tour of Osentowski’s gardens and greenhouses and lunch for $50. For directions and carpooling information, call Osentowski at 927-4158.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.


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