Clonal Propagation: First Reflections of a Cansbridge Fellow

Tinetendo Runako Wamambo
Cansbridge Fellowship
4 min readJul 1, 2021

An essential concept in permaculture and agriculture, in general, is clonal propagation. This tool allows farmers to breed plants from a parent stock and prevent genetic diversity found in plants grown from seed. I know you are wondering why you would want to avoid genetic diversity of all things. However, in the world of plants, genetic diversity is synonymous with uncertainty. Will the fruit be big? Will the plants be resistant to disease? Will it be female or male? These uncertainties drive a need for clonal propagation since it ensures a predictable outcome for your crop. This reliability is built through selective breeding over many years to arrive at the “ideal” product. As an innovator, it is wise to employ clonal propagation as well. There may be communities with needs that can be accounted for by an idea that already exists but must be imported or “propagated.” In practice, propagation can be divided into four distinct phases, which I believe mirror my ambitions, and what I expect to gain from this experience: the growth phase, taking cuttings, root formation, and transplantation.

Myself in the greenhouse on a sunny day

The Growth phase

While in the growth phase, the parent plant nurtures the new growth in preparation for when it’s severed from the main plant. I see myself as new growth which is being facilitated by many. The Cansbridge fellowship has welcomed me and recognized value in my ideas. I’m grateful to the Dean of Engineering, Jim Nicell, for supporting unconventional opportunities for students in the McGill community, Katya Marc, who helped me throughout my application for Mitacs funding, and Benoit Boulet, who has agreed to be my Mitacs supervisor. These people have made it possible for me to work at Fiddlehead Nursery and learn about permaculture and small-scale agriculture from Ben Caesar, an expert in the field who is contributing to my growth and knowledge. I am still in the growth phase at the moment and will probably never stop learning.

Taking cuttings

To properly propagate a plant through cuttings, you must take the new growth of that year. The choice of which section of the plant is cut determines whether the propagation will be successful. In my mind, the cut branch represents two things. First, the idea that you would want to propagate. At this moment, some ideas are rejected because they do not show promise or some elements of the ideas are omitted so that it is compatible with your final implementation. Secondly, the cutting represents the moment when the individual because independent. I would say that I am still “new growth” being nurtured. I have not acquired enough knowledge from my internship to be able to implement it independently. However, I am getting there quickly. My future goal is to build a productive farm on a small piece of land in Zimbabwe. So far, I’ve been able to identify which elements I want to propagate to my property back home. I’ve also identified which factors to omit from my design to make it compatible with the Zimbabwean climate, mainly the use of plants that reflect the region’s ecosystem and the needs of the people there.

Fiddlehead Nursery Greenhouse
The “Cutting”: 3D model in Sketchup of the greenhouse (in progress)

Root formation

Root formation is the point in propagation where the cutting establishes itself in a controlled environment like a bubbler and becomes more and more independent. The root formation stage is tied closely with the Cansbridge fellowship and why I joined it for my journey. For an idea to become a reality, you need supporters, given that I intend to work in Africa, which is rapidly developing relations with Asia. The Cansbridge fellowship will act as a support system “roots” that allows my ideas to be compatible with Asian business culture. I will be able to get more insight into the intersection between African and Asian ventures, consequently understanding how to tap into resources that support my ideas and make my “cutting” viable. By the end of the summer, I will truly understand how Canadian small agriculture ventures interact with Asian multinationals and use that knowledge to thrive in a more globalized world.

Transplantation

Finally, after the cutting has developed roots, it must be planted in the soil and grow independently. I think this phase represents what comes after this summer. The connections and roots that I will develop will be the foundation for the future. However, it will also be the time for me to return to the growth phase and be fruitful using the knowledge I’ve acquired. At this time, I plan to implement all that I have learned back home in Zimbabwe and complete the propagation cycle.

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