In his email he asked, "Why plant seeds and get a big unmanageable tree? Why??" That is a very good question.
The next generation
It is a little known fact that a tidal wave of new apple rootstocks are being released. The previous generation was based on apple rootstock that were "collected" and categorized in Britain in the 1920s. Those rootstock were given names like M-9, M-7 and such. Some of those rootstock, clones actually, were several hundred years old. Only a few of them were suited for the rigors of North America.
Around 1970, it was realized that improvement required more than the haphazard application of the scientific method. A team developed a list of 12 essential priorities (primarily resistance to diseases and early/heavy/quality fruit production), another 8 that were important and 4 that would be helpful. They established benchmarks for each priority and started identifying genetic material that might contribute toward meeting those goals.
It was a very long slog. Priorities changed as new problems became economic concerns.
Are seedlings tougher?
At one time a fruit grower could confidently say that seedlings were tougher than the commonly available size controlling rootstock that had been semi-randomly selected under western European climatic and pest pressure conditions.
That is not a good call when looking at these new rootstock coming onto the scene.
In a typical year, the "Geneva" program produces more than 20,000 seeds. They are from controlled crosses where elite size controlling rootstock were crossed with dream-dates that have the potential to compliment the elite rootstocks weaknesses and buttress their strengths. An example would be Ottawa 3 (a dwarfing rootstock) crossed with Robusta 5 (an incredibly tough crab apple).
|Collar rot killed ornamental plants|
|Fire blight can kill the roots, which then results in tree death.|
That knocked the number of survivors down to 2000.
|Woolly apple aphids. They also go below ground and attack the roots.|
That knocked the number of seedlings from 20,000 to less about 500. From there they are culled for leaf diseases, smooth wood, winter kill and thorns. By the end of the first year the breeders have culled 99% of the seedlings while a ruthless producer of seedling rootstocks might have rouged out a whopping 80%.
That is, the team at the "Geneva" project exert 20 times more selection pressure than even a ruthless producer of seedling rootstocks.
"Why plant seeds and get a big unmanageable tree? Why??"
So the question remains. I am not growing seedlings because I think they are tougher.
|This is what 850 "Ben Trio" seeds looks like.|
I am growing them because I can. I have the seeds. I have the garden space. I don't have oodles of money to buy size controlling rootstock. And frankly, I am in a holding pattern until these new "Geneva" rootstocks become more available.
|A typical set of yards in Fabulous Acres.|
I am not growing seedling rootstocks because they produce more/sooner. Almost any size controlling rootstock is capable of producing 30 pounds of fruit per tree in its third growing season on a good agricultural site under best management practices. A seedling rootstock is doing well to produce its first fruit by the fifth growing season.
I am growing those big, unmanageable apple trees because Fabulous Acres is not a good agricultural site and its residents are not professional farmers. Those big, unmanageable trees might be able to survive and and grow tall enough to find some sunlight. They might actually produce some fruit in that environment.
I intend to share some of these seedling rootstock with Marcus, if he wants them.