I. V. Michurin Reference Archive

The History of the Establishment and Development of the Nursery

Source: I. V. Michurin: Selected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1949.
First Published: Khozyaistvo TsChO, 1929
Online Version: Sally Ryan for the I. V. Michurin Reference Archive (marxists.org) 2002.

At the first possible opportunity, as far back as 1875, when I entered the service of the Ryazan-Ural Railway, I began to spend all my free time and all the money left over from my salary on gardening.

After thirteen years (from 1875) of comprehensive theoretical and practical study of plant life, and especially of practical horticulture, of its needs in Central Russia, after a special tour of inspection of all the better-known orchards and nurseries of the time, and after personal tests of the qualities of fruit plants suitable for cultivation in the central and northern parts of European Russia, I arrived at the conclusion that our standard of horticulture was extremely low.

The assortment of plants was extremely poor and, in addition, it was corrupted by various semi-cultivated and sometimes altogether wild forest trees. At that time the most widely cultivated of the varieties of tolerable productivity were: apples--only Antonovka, Borovinka, Skrizhapel, Anis, Grushovka, etc.; pears--Bessemyanka, Tonkovetka, Limonka; sour cherries--Vladimirskaya and its seedlings; plums--various seedlings of damson and blackthorn.

Only rarely did one find in our apple orchards a sparse scattering of a few varieties of foreign origin (Reinette, Calville). There were no winter varieties of pears at all. As for sweet cherries, apricots, peaches and grapes, all these species of fruits were only rarely met with in hothouses and no one ever thought of cultivating them in the open ground. Under the conditions prevailing at the time, and with this kind of an assortment, there could be no hopes of orchards yielding anything like considerable profits. Yet the annual import of fruit from the South and from abroad cost the central and northern regions of the country many millions of rubles. It was clear that if we were to examine the established varieties of fruit plants in each region (Northern, Central European Russia, the Urals, Eastern and Western Siberia, the Caucasus and Central Asia) from the standpoint of profit yields and ruthlessly eliminate all varieties which proved unprofitable, then the list of remaining really profitable plants would prove a very small one indeed.

It became obvious that there was an imperative need to add new and better varieties. However, in doing so it was important not to repeat the mistake made by earlier horticulturists, who vainly hoped to acclimatize foreign varieties, but to produce from seeds our own new, improved hardy varieties for each separate locality. These were the ideas that prompted me to establish, in 1888, a nursery for the express purpose of producing new, better and more productive varieties of fruit-bearing plants. At first I endeavoured to achieve this goal by cultivating and selecting seedlings from the seeds of the best native and foreign varieties. But the results I obtained convinced me, in the end, that this method did not produce a sufficient degree of improvement in the new varieties. It turned out that the choice seedlings of the best local varieties were only slightly superior in quality to the old varieties, while the majority of seedlings from the seeds of foreign varieties were not hardy enough and perished from frost.

I had to resort to hybridization, i.e., cross delicate foreign varieties selected for high productivity and good flavour with our local hardy strains. This enables the hybrid seedling to combine the qualities transmitted to it by heredity from the crossed parent plants--the beauty and improved taste of the foreign varieties with the endurance of our local frost-resistant plants.

Then, in the subsequent years, by practical experimentation the best methods for achieving the aims set were worked out. Along with this, definite techniques were acquired in applying a suitable regimen in training seedlings of new varieties (a detailed description of varieties will be found in the first volume of my works, published by the Novaya Derevnya Publishing House).

In 1900, when it was found that the new variety seedlings must be trained on lighter soil, I had to move the nursery to a new site six versts away, where the work continues to this day. Over two hundred new varieties have been produced, many of them in no way inferior to the best foreign strains. Their profit yields are from two to ten times as high as that of the old varieties.

In addition, a complete set of wild kindred plants necessary for hybridization has been acquired from foreign countries and from all parts of the Soviet Union. At present the nursery does not require any material from abroad; it has all the cultivated and wild species and varieties of plants it needs. This I consider to be one of the nursery's outstanding achievements, for now it has its own Reinettes, Calvilles, winter pears, sweet cherries, apricots, Reine Claudes, sweet chestnuts, walnuts, black gooseberries, Caucasian pshat, large-sized raspberries, blackberries, the best varieties of currants, early-ripening melons, attar roses, frost-resistant, early-ripening varieties of grapes, yellow cigarette tobacco and many other new species of plants useful in agriculture.

Experiments have recently begun in methods of propagating fruit plants by cuttings, layers and, finally, by rooting the leaves alone.

We are beginning to cultivate new species of plants, never be fore grown in our localities as, for instance, apricots, almonds, four kinds of Actinidia and red acacia. In addition, over two hundred specimens of the newest varieties of trained and selected hybrids of the species enumerated above are now being tested. Their number increases from year to year.

By order of the Government the foundation was laid in 1921 for a propagation division of the nursery. We started with a plot of two hectares formerly belonging to a monastery and in the course of seven years, thanks to the efforts of Comrade Gorshkov, the head of the division, it had gradually expanded to 158 hectares in 1929. This area is distributed as follows: 22 hectares--orchards, 26 hectares--nursery and seedling school, 44 hectares-truck garden, 11 hectares--farm crops, 3.3 hectares--experimental plot, 49 hetares--wooded park, 3.3 hectares --unused land, one hectare--buildings and 37 hectares--ploughland for a new nursery. The division includes a museum demonstrating the achievements of my work.

In 1928, the grafted fruits and berries supplied to all parts of the Soviet Union was in excess of forty thousand. Two hundred thousand specimens were grafted in 1928 and vet it is absolutely impossible to meet the overwhelming demand for plants. Up to one hundred requests are received by mail in a single day. Hardly one-tenth of the orders received are filled. This is due, on the one hand, to the shortage of materials available for distribution, and also--and this is the main reason--to the fact that demands come from places with utterly unsuitable climatic conditions. Requests come in from the Transcaucasus, Northern Caucasus, the Crimea, the Transcaspian region, Kazakhstan, the Urals and Siberia, from our western border regions, from localities in the extreme north of the European provinces, etc. But the new varieties I have produced in Tambov Province can be grown to full advantage only in Tambov and neighbouring provinces under the climatic conditions to which they are accustomed. In the far South their dualities will not show up to the best advantage. In the North, on the other hand, they may suffer from harsh climatic conditions. Consequently, only a very limited number of orders from these areas can be filled, and only by way of experiment.