Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin – was very famous and one of the most important Russian and Soviets botanist, plant breeder and geneticist. He create more than 300 varieties of high productive fruit, berry and vegetable plants. Showed a simple and environmentally friendly way to improve the varieties of commercial plants.
Supported by the Soviet government and recognized by the world as a great scientist of his time, praised by grateful memory of descendants… He really had a very difficult way to his dreams and goals… Way, which was full of poverty and pain, but, at the end he won!
A happy childhood and the beginning of creativity
Ancestors of Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin were minor not rich noblemen and landowners in Ryazan province. His grand-grandfather, grandfather and father were people very interested in botany and gardening, and got a large collection of fruit plants and agricultural library.
Father of I.V. Michurin, Vladimir got home education and worked at a weapon factory at Tula. After retirement he went to live on his land Vershina (near the village Dolgoye-Michurovka), for gardening and beekeeping. He had connections with “Imperial free Economic Society for the Encouragement of Agriculture and Husbandry” and got seeds of the best plants and literature from them. He tried and promoted new agricultural methods. During long winters he taught peasants’ children literacy at his home.
According to some sources Ivan Vladimirovich was the 7-th child in the family and all of his older brothers and sisters had died in childhood.
His mother Mariya Petrovna, had a weak health and died, when I.V. Michurin was 4 years old. Not knowing his mother, the boy had a strong connection to his father. From early childhood the boy and father done all work in garden and apiary together. At the age of eight he was perfectly able to produce budding, copulation and ablactation of plants.
His first children’s diary, dated 1869. In his diary 13-year old boy describes the study of climate change statistics and use concepts such as: «climate conditions», «start of flowering», «crop yield”…
Young Ivan Michurin was especially interested in seeds, which he had the hole collections. He selected seeds from the best quality fruits and berries. He planted these seeds and grow, obviously tried to get better crop… Perhaps already in those times he was interested in questions of heredity.
Most likely, in addition to his relatives, the boy was influenced by the nature of their land: Vershina was in the valley of the rivers Vershinovka and Vyazovka, in the neighborhood with the Russian riverside forest with birch, oak, alder, and hazel, wild apple tree, full of tall grasses and flowers.
The whole area, abound clean streams, overgrown ravines and hills, glades and edges… Full of birds and small animals, was filled with birds singing. Young naturalist knew in these places almost every bush. The appearance of the first flowers, ripening berries or mushrooms did not remain without his attention.
Hard start to life and crushed dreams
He started his education at home and then in 1872 graduated from County school of Ryazan province. During his study he dedicated nearly all his free time to gardening. Often he spent his holidays at his aunt’s small manor near Birkinovka village. Tatyana Ivanovna Michurina was kind, very smart and educated woman. She loved gardening too and treated his nephew with care and participation. They read a lot and worked in garden, and had a lot of interesting talks.
After school, his father tried to prepare young Michurin to enter the St. Petersburg Lyceum (privileged higher education institution for children of nobles in the Russian Empire). He paid for special course, apparently a lot of money. But at the time, when young Michurin, dreaming of higher education, began to prepare to exams his father suddenly ill. In addition their land and house was mortgaged and then sold into debt.
Unfortunately his aunt Tatyana Ivanovna was not rich and though she took care of young boy, she couldn’t pay for such education.
Uncle, Lev Ivanovich helped young Michurin to enter to Ryazan men’s gymnasium. But these plans were no future too… Michurin was fired from gymnasium. It’s hardly to tell what the reason was. Officially he was fired because of disrespect to the authorities, but according to rumors the reason was, that Lev Ivanovich refused to give a bribe to the gymnasium’s director, with whom he was in bad relations.
Dreams of young men about high education and scientific work were crushed… Such beginning of adulthood could broke character of many young man but not Michurin!
In 1872 he moved to Kozlov city (now Michurinsk) where he planned to start his gardening and breeding work. He didn’t leave (for a long time) these places to the end of his life.
Difficult start of great work
First 3 years after his movement to Kozlov, Michurin couldn’t work with plants as he had to earn money for his living.
He lived those years in condition of poverty, boring and hard low-payment job with 16 hours working day… He had a very few happy moments when he could work at his favorite business: geographical distribution of fruit plants, botany and familiarization with the catalogues of the best agricultural companies in the world.
That hard times he managed to work as: money cashier in the freight office of the cargo station «Kozlov» (now Michurinsk, Moscow — Ryazan railway station)., some shot period as an assistant of chief of this station, adjuster of clocks, signal and other devices on the section of the Kozlov-Lebedyan railway line, later he opened repairing shop of clocks and other devises in his flat…
Only in 1875 he managed to rent the abandoned manor near Kozlov, with garden of 500 m2. He spent there all his free time from his railway work. Collected more than 600 pieces of fruit and berry plants and started his selection work.
While collecting plants Michurin faced problem of low quality of old Russian plants’ variety. He had to spend money on species from south and from europe. He wrote in his memories:
«The assortment is extremely poor with semi cultured and even wild trees. Tolerable varieties in productivity figured: the Apple trees: Antonovka, Borovinka, Skrizhapel, Grushovka; pears: Bessemyanka, Tomkovitch, Pineapple; cherries: Vladimir; plum: various sloe, sloe-plums… As for cherries, apricots, peaches and grapes, these kinds of fruit plants only occasionally met in greenhouses, about their culture in the open ground were not even a mention…»
That years he continued to learn Russian and foreign literature about gardening, but it weren’t enough information about improving and selection of plants in it. He had to explore a lot independently by putting experiments.
«Of course, like anyone who starts a new venture, at the beginning of my work, I fell into big mistakes. Especially I’ve lost a lot of efforts and time in vain, by experiments of acclimatization some of the best foreign fruit plants…»
The 8th of august 1874 Michurin married Aleksandra Vasilyevna Petrushina, they had got 2 children. After a few years of relatively decent life (Michurin was an assistant of chief of station Kozlov) Aleksandra Vasilyevna shared with him all the hardships and difficulties to the end of Her life.
After a couple of years, rented land was full of plants to the end. So he couldn’t continue to his work. His attempts to make more compact planting (for growing young plants for sale) couldn’t improve situation. He realized the needs to buy a bigger piece of land… For that he had to count all the costs and cut the most family spending.
In 1877, with bank loan he managed to buy manor with garden on Moscow str. in Kozlov city. This land was mortgaged with the term of 18 years.
First Michurin’s varieties and hybrids were bred there. Raspberry: “Kommerciya” (Commerce, Коммерция); Cherries “Griot grushevidniy” (Griot pear-shaped, Гриот грушевидный), “Melkolistnaya polu karlikovaya” (Small-leaved semi dwarf, Мелколистная полу карликовая), “Plodorodnaya” (Fertile, Плодородная), “Krasa severa” (Beauty of north, Краса севера) – hybrid of Vladimirskaya rannaya and White Winklers’ cherry. But that land was either filled with plants soon.
By the end of 1887, Michurin had known about piece of land (without House) near village Turmasovo which was for sale. That land was of 7 km from Kozlov city near Lesnoy Voronezh river. Michurin thought that it was very convenient land because of ground quality, in spite of the fact, that only half of 13 hectares was convenient for gardening.
He had so small amount of money that closing the deal delayed for nearly a year. Michurin risked everything: he sold almost all the planting material, lived starving, worked to exhaustion, took a bank loan under half of the land. To the May of 1888 land had been bought! He only had 7 rubles in cash and a lot of debts.
Not having money to hire a carriage with horse, all their family had to carry all planting materials by hand for the 7 km. They lived without house 2 seasons, in the hut made from available material. Michurin had been working all previous years in railway station and had to work one more year, walking 14 km a day to the station and home and had only 1 meal a day at night: bread, onions and salt water.
It was his victory, paid by 13 years of hardship and hard work! Ivan Vladimirovich moved to a new place his most valuable seedlings and started the first commercial nursery in Russia, which will soon become his main income and his favorite business of his life.