Propagation is a great and cheap method of producing offspring in both plants and animals. Propagation is usually thought of in the context of plant, so let’s briefly cover animals first.
I read recently with sadness about readers on survivalblog having problems with their rabbits being good mothers. This is the first characteristic I look for in a new breed of livestock. Modern breeds of cattle and poultry, in particular have been specialized for particular traits and mothering ability has taken a back seat. This is one reason I prefer heritage breeds listed through the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. These breeds often do not excel at one single trait, yet do many things very well. Losing stock is expensive and inconvenient during the best times, and can mean the difference between life and death post crunch.
The Dexter cattle breed is the smallest, regular size cattle breed and is very docile and manageable. This is important because I have small children that I want them to feel comfortable walking around the barn. Many owners halter break even their bulls to lead. The cows are great mothers and very seldom have difficulty giving birth. It is extremely rare for birthing with Dexters to require assistance.
I also raise Silver Fox rabbits. The does are wonderful mothers and give birth to large litters. I have never lost a kit to something that was not directly attributable to my mistake(s). This includes first-time mothers. These rabbits are large (10 – 12 pounds) and have a high dress out percentage.
Modern Turkey breeds are bred for their large breasts. This has the undesirable side effect of prohibiting them from breeding naturally. What a tragedy to find post-Schumer that those turkeys you bought at the co-op will not be reproducing unless you step in to help. All that you need to know is how to collect semen from Tom turkeys and artificially inseminate the hens.
Where propagation really shines is in plant production. Just about anything you can find in a nursery and many fruits and vegetables in a grocery store can be propagated. Just a few from the produce shelves that I have successfully propagated include potatoes, sweet potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, horseradish, Haas avocados, limes, wild persimmons, wild cherries, and tangerines. Fruits such as apples, plums, pears, cherries, apricots and peaches do not propagate very successfully from seed since these are most often grown on rootstock that is different from the fruit that is actually produced. Think of the seeds from these fruits in the same manner as seeds saved from hybrid vegetables. The growing results are similar for different reasons. Unprocessed nuts from the wild or from the grocer’s shelves will breed true, but the time from planting to reaping takes many years (Brazil nuts and Cashews are processed even when sold as “raw” since the nuts and shells contain a level of poison that must be steamed out). Finally, grapes, scuppernongs (muscadines in the South), bamboo, blueberries, raspberries, gooseberries, and blackberries are so easy to propagate that everyone should start with these.
| One method of propagating is called layering. This is mostly used for vines. Grapes, gooseberries, and scuppernongs are the vines I have successfully worked with. Take the vine that has current year’s growth and simply burry a 6 inch section of it about a foot or so from the end. I usually wait two months and then cut the vine where it is buried on the parent side of the dirt. Dig up the vine and replant in its own spot. It helps the process along to scrape, cut, or abrade the outer layer of the vine before burying. I make 3 – 3 or 4 inch long cuts just through the outer layer. It is also helpful to place a brick on the vine to hold it down. I can easily get 10 vines from each parent plant. Done every 2 month over a normal growing season, a grower could easily layer hundreds of vines per year from one parent. I only layer my vines once a year because I usually find so many other chores that need to be done.
Layering also has a slight twist that I have used on Blueberries. Take a small muslin bag of peat or compost and wrap it around the branch where you have scraped down to the cambium layer as you would to layer a vine. Secure the bag so it will stay in place for 6 to 8 weeks. Keep the bag wet, and within 6 to 8 weeks, the blueberry branch will have new roots and will be ready to cut from the parent plant.
By taking cuttings from certain trees, you can successfully propagate many different types of trees found in your garden center. Leyland Cyprus, and blueberries are two plant where I have used cuttings successfully. I use this method only when some other method does not work well for me. It is a little more demanding method to get right. Some trees/bushes are more successful with propagation through cuttings at different times of the year and some do better with green, soft wood while some do better with brown, mature wood. Basically, take a 6 inch or so cutting near the tip of the branch. Strip the greenery from the 3 inches closest to the place of your cut. Dip the cut end in a rooting hormone available at most growing centers, and stick the cutting in a growing medium. I have successfully used sand mixed with potting soil. In several months, you should have roots on the new young plant. Keep watered well and in a warm, sunny location, preferably a cold frame or greenhouse in the winter until the spring and then transplant to the permanent location.
Apples, pears, Asian pears, plums, apricots, cherries, and peaches are easily and cheaply propagated through grafting. To graft a fruit tree, taking cuttings from parent trees (scion wood) in the spring before the fruit trees break dormancy and start budding. The parent tree will determine the type of fruit bore on the new tree. Order your rootstock to arrive about the same time. The rootstock determines the size of the mature tree and the resistance of the tree to disease, pests and weather (wet and cold tolerance). There is rootstock that is specialized for each type of fruit. Do your research or ask the nursery that is selling you the rootstock. If the scion wood is cut before the rootstock arrives, wrap them in a wet towel, sawdust, or sand and store them in the refrigerator until ready. Cut the rootstock and scion so that the diameter of the two is near the same size. The cut to join the two pieces is hard to describe, but the cuts are made to each piece less than a half inch long along the length of the wood. The pieces are fitted together like fingers meshed together. There is a tool that makes a puzzle piece cut in each end that joins the two pieces. The tool costs about $60 and I don’t think the blades can be sharpened. I use a simple knife to make the cuts. The cuts fit together so that the joint is secure and then the graft is taped with a special tape that doesn’t damage the tree. When the two pieces are joined, the cambium layers (the slick layer just under the outer bark) must be touching. Pot the new tree and set out in its permanent location next spring. If the graft does not take, but the rootstock lives, a new graft can be tried the following spring. Also, be sure the scion wood has at least 4 buds and is joined so that it is pointed in the same direction as is grew on the tree. It is easier than you think to graft them upside down. The $15 to $20 tree can now be propagated onto $2 rootstock to produce new trees. One word of warning, some recently developed fruit cultivars are protected through the Patent and Trademark Office (I am not sure of the proper term) and should not be propagated without permission.
I won’t mention bamboo, raspberries and blackberries other than to say it is hard to keep them in the areas where intended. New shoots can be dug up and transplanted to a new area. A border of sheet metal or metal roofing scraps can be buried 12 – 18 inches below ground level has been successful for me in keeping bamboo from becoming a nuisance.
Propagation of vegetables from the produce section is great fun to do with the kids. Try anything and everything that you or your kids think might be fun. Don’t worry if you waste a few dollars.
I have successfully planted slips from potatoes bought from the store. I know that they are sprayed with something to prevent or delay them from budding, but I always have a few that manage to bud anyway. I have planted then and had some success from such. I always have better luck with seed potato slips, but I have grown potatoes this way and it is fun to try.
I take sweet potatoes and slit them lengthwise in half and lay them in a pan of water covered with some potting soil. I usually do this about January. The slips send up vines that I plant as soon as the weather permits.
Tangerines and limes have been grown by planting the seeds from the fruit. I have produced fruit, but not in any abundance.
Wild cherries, wild persimmons, horseradish, and Jerusalem artichokes have been grown successfully by planting the entire fruit or root and waiting for the produce.
Possibly the most unique thing I have tried is the California Haas avocado. I have been successful about half the time I have tried to grow them. Several times, it was my own stupidity in damaging the new plant and it didn’t live. Take the large seed out of the avocado. The California Haas has the hard, golf ball sized seed in the middle, not the softer and larger seed in the Florida avocado. I soak the seeds for about two weeks and let them start to split. Once this process starts, take three toothpicks and insert them in the side of the seeds just enough to support the weight of the seed just above the midsection with the pointy end pointed down. The idea is to space the toothpicks in such a manner as to keep ½ to 2/3rds of the seed submerged in a cup of water. Now wait, and wait some more. After perhaps three months, roots should come out the bottom, followed by a single stem out the top. At this point, you can plant into a pot. I just started playing around with avocados last year and have not had any produce from my small trees.
Some other produce on the horizon that I will be experimenting with next is kiwi, orange, acai, peanuts (a legume), lemons, sunflower, etc. It is fun for me and the kids and it is teaching us about what works and what doesn’t. Most of my experience has been from trying my luck at different things. I am sure that in at least a few instances, there may be better ways or more efficient ways of propagating. There are usually several ways to reach the same result. Your USDA climate zone will determine what you can leave outside year round and what you have to bring in to a greenhouse or garage. I am in zone 7, so I protect the avocados, pineapples, tangerines, and limes in winter.
JWR Adds: I have long been of the opinion that it is the multiplier effect of plant propagation and livestock breeding (described in the preceding article) that marks the difference between merely surviving, and thriving, in the midst of a disaster. Get the training, build up a reference library, secure the essential supplies (and fencing) and practice these skills. Even someone occupying a studio apartment can set themselves up to grow copious quantities of sprouts. Some day you may be very glad that you did!