Plant propagation is a cost-effective way to increase the number of plants in your home. It also allows growers to create new varieties of plants with unique characteristics resistant to disease. All together plant propagations support the continuation of particular plant species and ensures access to your favorite plants.
Chris Homanics, a local plant breeder that grows in the Snoqualmie Valley, recently sat down with the Local Food Initiative team to discuss the importance and impact of plant breeding and preservation.
“It’s not just about growing seasonal produce,” said Chris Homanics, as he explains the importance of plant breeding, “It’s more reliable, over the years, to also be augmenting our diets with chestnuts, apples, figs, grapes, mulberries, and they each have a role and a season. We can meet our nutritional needs by providing many different foods throughout the season.”
Growing up in the Snoqualmie Valley, Chris Homanics was always strongly interested in nature and wildlife. He recalls enjoying watching flocks of birds and catching frogs and toads, and raising an ant farm. His family was also involved in supporting community gardens and kitchens; through this experience, he found his love for gardening.
Chris also frequented Garden Avenue in Redmond and local community gardens, where he was inspired by the gardens and greenhouses and would tell his family that he wanted to grow up as a farmer.
Despite his desire to become a farmer, he became a data administrator for a local tech company. But, after experiencing a decline in health, he decided to focus on improving his health. While on his health journey, Chris learned he was allergic to gluten, so he researched alternative carbohydrate-rich foods and came across tree nuts.
“I can’t eat wheat, so I started researching some of the other carbohydrate sources, and that led me to trees like chestnuts, walnuts, and other nuts, so that got me interested in nut trees,” said Chris.
Chris started growing nut trees and researching the types of nut trees and medicinal plants in the pacific northwest. This led Chris into botanical exploring. Botanical exploring is a form of scientific research that includes identifying plant(s), collecting data about them, and observing them in their habitat.
Plant propagation work and plant breeding work
Coupled with his love of farming and strong interest in botanical exploring, this led him to the work he does today. Which includes nursery work and plant preservation.
Chris describes his nurturing and preservation work in a few simple steps, “receiving or collecting lots of varieties and then growing them out, then creating collections and evaluating them.” Chris does this work with a variety of plants, but he’s specifically interested in increasing access to perennials through his plant propagation work and plant breeding.
“Propagation means to make more of,” Chris explained, “and part of that work entails receiving a variety of plant seeds, growing them, creating a collection, and then releasing the best to the public.”
“I also do a lot of plant breeding work, and so to do that, I need to create a lot of spreadsheets and analyze a lot of data to figure out if I’m making advancements or not,” Chris said.
There are a few ways Chris propagates and breeds his plants to create the best varieties. Some of his techniques include propagating via seedlings, cuttings or root divisions, and, lastly, grafting.
One way he successfully breeds and propagates plants is by using a technique called “grafting.” He describes the process as when you take cuttings from a plant and combine them with the rootstock of a plant.
“So basically I’m putting a piece of scion and combining the cutting with the rootstock,” said Chris, “the plant can basically reconnect their phloem, which the phloem is like the plants of the vein, and so they reconnect, and the cutting will eventually gain dominance and grow.”
Grafting allows for the combining of plants, which according to Chris, “may help with resisting diseases, waterlogging tolerance or size of the plant.”
Chris works with various plant varieties like apples, kale, potatoes, cactus, figs, and many more. One plant variety that Chris has been experimenting with has been perennial plants.
Perennials, as Chris describes, are plants that can live for many growing seasons without re-planting seedlings. It allows for growth year-round instead of once or twice a year. Which will increase access to food and will make it easier for farmers.
Currently, Chris is doing direct sales, working directly with farmers to get them specific varieties of plants that are specific to their needs. Farmers come asking for particular types they’re having trouble finding, and sometimes he has the plant they’re looking for, and other times he goes and finds the plant and propagates it for the farmer.
With his research, Chris hopes to open up his own nursery to provide a variety of plant types for consumers.
“Basically, creating and being able to offer enough diversity that somebody can, or you know a farm can offer fruit quality for as much time of the year as possible locally,” said Chris, “I’m going to try and do that with as many different types of plants as possible. Because I have this idea of like the holistic human, part of the holistic human is a holistic diet, and part of that is meeting as much of our food needs locally.