Mary Shelley and her Dr. Frankenstein would be proud. Human ingenuity at it’s best – fruit tree grafting and the creation of the most awesome and peaceful fruiting monster – !Frankentree! My inspiration for this has been stated before. Last year I learned how to graft down at the Seed Saver’s Exchange farm from Dan Bussey. At the same time I also met via the internet Steven Edholm who writes the blog Turkey Song, and inspired me with his !Frankentree! Since then I have gotten much better at grafting (but still learning), formed The North American Scion Exchange, and have met a bunch of other people who are continuing to inspire and teach me! Following is the story thus far…
When I first learned the craft of grafting, I was taught using the whip and tongue method. I did a bunch of grafts last year using this method, but because of a lack of practice, the wrong kind of knife, and a lack of other proper grafting supplies, only four of the approximately 20 grafts I did took off and were successful. It was disappointing, but a good lesson. Since starting down this path of a DIY lifestyle so long ago, the best way I learn a new skill is by failure. I am no longer scared to mess up and make mistakes. That doesn’t mean it is not frustrating, but by making mistakes it makes me focus harder and do the extra needed research and homework to be successful the next time around. This year I have switched to a new grafting technique called Cleft Grafting. It is a much easier graft to perform, and in most cases just as effective. Below is a series of photos to show how the cleft graft works.
So far all the grafting I have done this season has been top working a tree. Top working is the process of turning over an existing tree to a new variety. Top working a tree has many benefits – if you are unhappy with your current variety, you can top work it with cleft grafts (and other methods) and switch over to a new, tastier or more productive variety. Another aspect of top working a tree is the time in which you will receive fruit from the newly grafted scion wood. The overall age of the tree, and specifically the rootstock, is what really influences fruit production. Son of !Frankentree! started life out as a Haralred, grafted onto to some kind of semi – dwarf rootstock. He was planted about four years ago, and he was at least two to three years old when he got planted. I have been getting Haralred apples off of him for about two years now. Last year when I started grafting onto him, the one apple that took and successfully grew is an apple named Gold Rush. That scion wood put on over a foot and a half of growth last year, and I will be getting one Gold Rush apple this year. So it is not the age of the grafted scion wood, as much as the overall age of the tree that impacts fruit production.
Sometime in the next week or two, I will be receiving my shipment of rootstock for more grafting. This time it will be not just apples, but also plums, peaches, and cherries. I am grafting up a few trees to give to friends, some will find homes here at the homestead, and a lot of them will be going to my in-laws as the start to our new cider orchard. We have mapped out a space and have room for about forty trees in the orchard – I will hopefully be bringing out at least twenty successfully grafted trees this fall to plant! Stay tuned for more grafting updates!! Cheers!