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So this is a handout I just put together for a few grafting workshops I will be teaching in the upcoming weeks!  I am pretty excited to be sharing some awesome homesteading skills with people who want to learn how to graft trees!  If any of you want to use this handout in a workshop you are a part of or know somebody who might be interested in this, please share far and wide, and feel free to leave comments and thoughts below.  Peace & Cheers

 

Why We Graft

Spring_Farm_Work_--_GraftingFruit tree cultivation has been a part of human history for thousands of years.  Since before records, farmers and gardeners across the globe have traditionally incorporated fruit trees into their landscapes.

 

Occasionally some of these fruit trees have displayed characteristics or flavors that were sought after or defined the benchmarks of what makes a great fruit.  These trees, the ones that were prized for their unique and delicious fruit were propagated through grafting, which is a way of vegetatively cloning a specific variety of fruit tree.  Any grafted fruit variety will be genetically identical to the plant it was taken from.

 

By taking a cutting of the fruit variety that is intended to be grafted, and properly attaching it to another tree or rootstock that is genetically compatible, you in essence can build a new tree to suit your needs – whether that be for flavor, preserve old genetics, trial new varieties, or for climatic factors that are suited to your growing spot.

 

Tree grafting dates back to at least ancient China and was used throughout the Roman empire.  Early use of grafting was most likely inspired by nature.  Occasionally trees in nature will graft themselves together when twisted and overlapping branches grow together.  When humans figured out that they could do something similar, it allowed them to become orchardist with many trees of the same variety.  This allowed for the cultivation of uniform fruit trees, and making harvest easier and more efficient

 

Types of Grafts

There are many types of grafts that can be used when creating or updating trees.  The most common type of grafting is bench grafting which is done in late winter or early spring.  This requires a piece of rootstock, scion wood, and grafting supplies.  Bench grafts can be done inside at a kitchen table or a workbench, and they are the easiest way to make new trees with named fruit cultivars.

 

Another type of grafting that you may find yourself doing someday is called top working or frame working an already existing tree.  This allows you to grow many varieties of fruit on one tree, or completely change what variety a tree is growing over to a new one.  Luther Burbank, the famed plant breeder from California, had a plum tree with over 300 varieties on it, so top working a tree can be a lot of fun!

 

As a beginning grafter, there are only two grafts that you really need to know about, the cleft graft and the whip and tongue graft, both of which can be used in bench grafting or top working a tree.  The cleft graft is the easiest of the two to perform, but the whip and tongue when performed properly can give you a stronger graft union, and ultimately a stronger tree.

 

Which ever grafting technique you are using, the most important thing you need to do is to properly line up the cambium layers on the scion wood and the rootstock (or branch that you are top working).  The cambium layer is the inner layer of bark that produces the growth rings inside the tree, adding new layers of phloem and xylem each season.  The better the cambium layers match up, the more likely the graft will properly heal leading to many years of fruit production.

 

crown-cleft-grafting-fruit-treesThe cleft graft is a great place to start grafting due to its simplicity.  All it requires is a centered, vertical slice down the rootstock (creating a cleft), and making two identical cuts on either side of the scion wood basically turning it into a slim wedge.  The scion is then inserted and slid down into the cleft of the stock, all the while keeping the cambium layers lined up.  The cleft graft allows you to use smaller scion wood with a bigger diameter stock.  Once you are happy with the alignment of the cambium layers, wrap your graft with grafting tape or a binder, and then coat with wax or parafilm to help prevent desiccation.

 

87138_whip-grafting_lgThe whip and tongue graft is a bit more difficult than the the cleft graft, but with a bit of practice becomes quite easy.  The whip and tongue is prefered when the scion wood and your grafting stock are of almost similar diameters.  It allows you to maximize cambium layer contact, and makes for a stronger graft union.  Both the scion wood and the stock get a long diagonal cut that when put together, line up and form a new single branch or tree.  The secret to a good whip and tongue graft is the second cut you do on each piece which creates the “tongue”.  This tongue allows the two pieces to lock together, and because of the natural elasticity of the wood, this does a great job in helping the graft union to heal very strongly.

 

Both the cleft graft and the whip and tongue are great grafting techniques and with practice you can attain close to 100% success with either one. Regardless of which one you choose to use, lining up the cambium layers is the most important part of successful grafting.  Always remember to wrap your grafts tight using either a rubber band or grafting tape, and then finish them with parafilm or grafting wax.  Coating the graft union and the scion wood with grafting wax or parafilm will keep the wood from drying out.

Materials

 

  • Rootstock – Rootstock comes in in many different types.  Usually they are selected for their dwarfing traits, their resistance to certain blights, or their abilities for growing in certain conditions.  Just remember, use apple for apple, pear for pear, etc..
  • Scionwood – Scion wood can be collected from neighborhood trees, local orchards, or be obtained through trading networks like the North American Scion Exchange.  Store them in a plastic bag, with a lightly damp moist towel and they can keep for up to a few months.
  • Grafting Knife – You can purchase any number of grafting knives through amazon or other websites.  They can also be made out of old steak knives or you can just use a razor knife.

 

    • Grafting Tape or Rubber Bands – You will want to use one of these to help tie the graft together.  Both are fairly easy to use and find.  Some people also use old plastic bags cut into strips.  Experiment away!
    • Grafting Wax or Parafilm – You can purchase grafting wax online, or you can also use the wax ring that is meant for toilet installs.  Parafilm is relatively cheap, can be purchased online, and is superior to wax – super easy to use and no clean up!
    • Labels – Labeling your grafts/trees immediately is very important.  You may think you have a great memory, but eventually you will forget.  You can use plastic tags and a sharpie marker or even better is aluminium tags that are completely weather proof.

 

  • Band Aids – Grafting is a lot of fun, but remember, you are using a sharp knife, be careful, take your time, and try not to cut yourself!  Oh yeah, have fun too!

 


Resources

 

 

Books

 

  • The Apple Grower – Michael Phillips
  • The Holistic Orchard – Michael Phillips
  • The Grafter’s Handbook – RJ Garner

 

Notes

 

 

 

 

 

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Here is a slip

Here is a slip

There are many reasons I live my life the way I do.  As a husband and father part of my responsibility in life is to help insure that my family has what it needs to survive, ie, food, water, a roof over our heads, and some simple (but very much appreciated) indulgences from time to time.  I found in Urban Homesteading a way of procuring some of these necessities of life through my own hard work, persistence, innovation, and a spirit of experimentation.

Throughout the last decade I have tried  many hands on, DIY skills – gardening, beekeeping, building stuff, fixing stuff, breaking stuff, making soap, homebrewing,  learning about mushrooms, learning about website development, and many other crafts, hobbies, and obsessions!  More than any one project, my biggest teacher in this time has been failure.  Not failure in the way it can make you give up, but failure that makes you dig deeper and try again until you get it right.  Failure as inspiration.

Sweet potatoes are one of those failures turned into a success.  I think back to the winter of the multiple and massive polar vortices (‘13-’14) and how I came across a youtube video of someone who was growing sweet potato slips.  Put simply, sweet potato slips are genetic clones of the “mother” sweet potato that are produced through rooting vegetative cuttings.

Nothing could be simpler right?  Actually it is pretty simple, but there is one major thing I learned from that first attempt 2 winters ago.  The sweet potatoes I used were most likely treated with  Chlorpropham or a related chemical that prevents the natural growth of a starchy tuber in its quest to reproduce and pass on its genes.

Fast forward to this year and I made sure to start with a higher quality, organic sweet potato that we got from the local co-op.  This simple step, using an untreated sweet potato, has made all the difference in success versus failure.  While it has taken almost two months to get to where we are at, 3 of the 5 sweet potatoes are exhibiting vegetative and root growth.

Here they are chillin' in the dim February afternoons...

Here they are chillin’ in the dim February afternoons…

Aside from a few sweet potatoes. you will also need a few jars, toothpicks, and water to grow your own sweet potato slips.  Stab the tubers about halfway down their length so the toothpicks are sticking out like arms (3 of these in a roughly triangular arrangement).  This will allow you to suspend the bottom half of the tuber in the water.  I keep mine in a south facing window, and top off the water whenever they need it.  Then all you have to do is wait!

Once the sweet potatoes are actively growing, and each slip is at least 3 inches long, you can remove the slips and the little chunk of tuber where they are growing out of with a small sharp knife or razor.  Pot this up in a nice mix of compost for another month or so and then plant out.  Or atleast that is what I have read and watched.

At this point the experiment is still live, so I will be doing an update on them as the season progresses.  But so far a few key points to get started with are 1) Use an organic sweet potato 2) Start early.  I believe I got mine started in mid February, next year I will start them in January. 3) Have fun and experiment.  Try a few different varieties and compare growth rates, vigour, and eventually taste.  Maybe you will find a new passion and geek out on sweet potatoes for a few seasons and collect as many exotic sweet potatoes as you can find!  Until then, Peace and Cheers!

 

 

 

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A Jar of Green Herb!

A Jar of Green Herb!

I know what you are thinking, and sadly the jar filled with green herb is not legalized marijuana!  While Minnesota is making strides with the legalization of medical marijuana we are still aways from legalized recreational use.  Yes, someday I hope to write an article espousing the benefits (which there are many) of both medical and recreational cannabis, but this short article is about a very different plant altogether.

 

As I have written about many times before, we grow a diverse array of plants throughout our extensive gardens.  Some of them are fairly uncommon perennials, fruiting shrubs, and vines and others are very common plants found throughout many gardens.  Its fun having so much diversity, but it is even better when you find a new use for something as simple and common as celery.

 

We have grown celery, Apium graveolens for years now.  Typically we have always harvested the ribs for use in soups, stews, salads and roasted vegetables, and have used the leaves as an addition to soup stock.  This last summer however, I dried the leaves as a means of preservation.  And that is the green herb in the jar, dried celery leaves!

 

The dried leaf of celery has an aroma and taste very similar to when it is fresh, but it is deeper and more earthy as well.  This winter I have used it in much of my cooking.  It is a great addition to any soup or stew, I have added it to bread dough when I make an herbed loaf, when making rubs for meats it works very nicely with all the other herbs and spices that are found on my spice rack, it adds a depth to veggie dip, and is a great all around herb that I am excited to have available.

 

PreservingFoodCoverI came across the idea for drying celery leaf in the book Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning.  It documents many of the traditional food preservation techniques found throughout France.  From lacto fermentation to drying, and the use of oils, salt, sugars, and alcohol in preserving food, it has many great ideas on preserving the surplus harvest from your garden.

 

Its also a fun book, because it so simply illustrates the depth and tradition that is found in European cuisine.  Not only do they know how to use all parts of the celery plant, but there are recipes for black currant jam with honey, lemons preserved in salt, lacto fermented veggies, and cherries soaked in brandy.

 

This spring as you begin to plan and plant your gardens keep in mind that there are many ways of preserving the harvest.  Some of these ideas won’t be new to you, but others may revolutionize how or what you grow!  You may have a treasure just waiting for you that has always been there, and maybe it will look good being kept in a jar!  Peace and Cheers!

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Grafting Class with Andy!

Grafting Class with Andy!

Happy winter everyone!  There has been a lot of great stuff happening here at the Dead End Alley Farm, so much in fact there has been very little time for contemplation or writing.  For the last two weeks my time has been occupied with a home remodeling project, knocking out a wall to make a bedroom bigger. While I am not quite done, the end is in sight and it will be back to planning for an exciting spring and summer!

 

This autumn I contacted a couple of local community education programs with a few proposals for teaching classes.  To my surprise, both groups got back to me relatively quickly with a positive reception.  So this spring I will be teaching a few fruit tree grafting classes, and then this summer I will be doing an Intro to Urban Homesteading class, but more on that one later.

 

Coming up on Tuesday, April 28, I will be teaching a 2 hour long grafting class at the local high school from 6:30-8:30 PM.  Here is the link you will need to register and pay.  All participants will go home with 3 grafted trees (I will have extra supplies for sale) and the basic knowledge to continue on with this age old, homesteading skill.

 

So if you are in the Twin Cities (Minnesota) and want to learn how to graft fruit trees, come join me for a fun evening of hands on learning.  Please feel free to contact me either through email or on Facebook if you have any questions or comments.  Also, if you are interested in hosting a grafting class please let me know and I can supply you with more details.  Until next time, Peace and Cheers!

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Some truly wild seeds - Honey locust pods, wild onions, autumn olive, cornellian cherries, purple asters, siberian pea shrub, and a wild black berry that was collected in Italy over the summer.

Some truly wild seeds – Honey locust pods, wild onions, autumn olive, cornellian cherries, purple asters, siberian pea shrub, and a wild black berry that was collected in Italy over the summer.

For a decade now, I have been a seed saver.  I have saved tomato seeds and squash seeds.  I have selected and saved my favorite beans to plant again, and I have tended garlic cloves and potato tubers from year to year.  I have collected perennial herbs, flowers, fruits, and vegetables, and have planted trees that will produce into my twilight years.

 

These seeds and genetics represent a true investment and a savings account for the future.  David Holmgren, one of the founders of Permaculture and author of Permaculture: Principles and Pathways devotes quite a bit of time on the subject of saving seeds.  He argues that anyone preparing for a future that will have fewer fossil fuels available to use should include seed saving into their toolbox of skills and cultural knowledge.

 

Purple potatoes...

Purple potatoes…

When we save seeds, not only are we preserving genetic material, but also the accumulated solar energy of one summer’s growth to be used again in a future garden.  This tradition is as old as agriculture itself.  When we stopped roaming the wilds in search of food, and instead settled down to cultivate the Earth, seed saving assured a future harvest.

 

For right or wrong, feeding our world’s population now largely depends on industrialized, annual based agriculture.  It is very efficient at turning oil and natural gas into edible calories, but it comes with a steep price.  Habitat destruction, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity (both wild and domesticated), the dismantling of small scale farming traditions, and our seed sovereignty are all threatened by industrialized agriculture.

 

But as those of us who have seen the writing on the wall (when it pertains to the negative consequences of big ag) , and have begun the transition to a Permaculture based lifestyle because of these warning signs, we can begin to put a halt to all of this destruction.  One farmer or person alone is not enough to change the course of current events, but just like the seeds of a dandelion, the more of us there are, the better chances we have of thriving and finding a place to put down roots.

 

The world, or more specifically humanity, is at a cross roads.  We are at a place where we can decide as to whether we follow the path that industrial agriculture is leading us down, or the path that allows the wild seeds to flourish and heal the landscape.

 

Garlic for planting

Garlic for planting

Our gardens, as an extension of ourselves, our bodies, and communities, have a place in nature.  While humans may display traits similar to an “invasive specie” a lot of the time,  we can also play an important role in helping to heal some of the wounds we have created.  As more of us see the evidence that our current path leads to destruction, it is only through conscience choices and a concerted effort that we can find a better and more resilient path to walk on.

 

That path, the one that leads to a future where we care for the Earth and all its inhabitants is possible.  Its already there, waiting for us to first find it, and then be brave enough to follow it.  It is there behind the monocrops of corn and soy and wheat and rice.  It is there when the blood from CAFOs is washed away.  It is there when we can move past the “40 hour” work week and find truly meaningful work for ourselves to participate in.

 

That path starts in our hearts, our  homes and our gardens.  It is weedy, and gnarled, and imperfect.  It nourishes our bodies and inspires our dreams.  It starts as a young sapling and ends up an old, twisted oak with deep roots.  It is found in a tomato vine and a bean patch, a chicken coop and a beehive.


That path starts with our seeds.  Those that contain the genetics of the food we eat, and those that start as dreams and finish as stories that we tell the next generation.  Our seeds need to be protected and propagated, they are the future.  Save them and plant them and tend them so that others can do the same in turn.  Peace and Cheers.

A path into the future...

A path into the future…

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owentree2

A boy and his dog, and a tree…

I give thanks for my wife and my kids,

and the land, and the house that we call home.

The bees that pollinate the flowers, the trees that grow,

the weeds that heal, the seeds that spread.

 

I give thanks for the talents and skills

that I have cultivated and grown.

Critical thinking, grafting, and gardening of the self

DIY Loving, mending, and building of life.

 

This Good Earth is my home,

It is where I come from and where I end.

 

It is star dust and water,

saw dust and food.

Compost and manure,

Veggie and fruit.

Mushroom and meat.

Worm and bug,

Chicken and duck.

Apple and orange,

Leaf and root.

 

It is freedom. It is health.

It is endangered. It is sacred.

It is our home, and we only have one…

We may be at a place in history, that someday is remembered as a turning point.  A time when we realized how far our nation had fallen into fascism.   A nation ruled by racist, sexist, and homophobic bigots and killers…

Let us move on, and shed the extra weight of intolerance and bigotry.  No, we don’t have to all be alike, but we need to learn how to live together and celebrate our common ground…

Let us listen to the land.  We are as much a part of nature as polar bears or dandelions.  Let us once again find our place in this grand experiment.  Let us leave a bigger handprint, than a footprint and take a proud seat in the counsel of nature…

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A true Minnesota grown fig!

A true Minnesota grown fig!

This has been a topic I have wanted to write about for a long time.  But due to a slow progression in this experiment, lack of actual results, the loss of some of my original photos of this project’s inception, and my habit of starting something and then setting it on the back burner for a while, an aritcle about growing figs in Minnesota has been well over three years in the making.

 

Back a handful of years ago when I was really starting to get into growing perennials, permaculture, and basic plant propagation, I came across a video of a guy somewhere in New England who was propagating and growing his own figs.  I watched that video, and subsequently, many more about folks who had fallen in love with growing fig trees.  My interest was piqued!

 

It seemed like an interesting project.  Even though the prospect of growing a plant in Minnesota that originated somewhere in the Middle East seemed like a fools errand, I easily located fig cuttings through the North American Scion Exchange and the experiment began.

 

I learned rather quickly, that there were an awful lot of people like myself growing figs in all sorts of different climates, and many of these folks take it pretty seriously.  Northern climate greenhouses dedicated to this Mediterranean delicacy, and collectors who seek out rare and exciting varieties from throughout the world.  Just like apples (or any other fruit for that matter), the folks growing figs do it out of love and a sense of horticultural adventure with a dedication that I find inspiring.

 

I am not going to go through and show you step by step on how to root fig cutting or the best way to over winter a fig in a cold climate.  There are already plenty of other folks out there doing these things with much greater success and with more knowledge than I have to learn from.  But what I am going to do is share my excitement, my small victory, and the short story behind my adventure of figs thus far!

 

While my love affair first started because of youtube videos and those first few fig cutting I received in the mail, it wasn’t until my short stint working at a Trader Joe’s that I got my first taste of a “fresh” fig.  They were small little things, picked before they were ripe and shipped thousands of miles to end up in the produce section.  I knew these were less than perfect specimens, but once ripened on the counter they were still good and I could catch a glimpse of what a truly delicious fig must taste like.

 

Adrianno's backyard orchard.

Adrianno’s backyard orchard.

Fast forward to this summer.  At the end of June, I was lucky enough to participate in a family vacation to the North eastern part of Italy.  The small town of Polesella where we spent the majority of our time, is located in the Po river valley, and is the main fruit growing region of the country.  Adrianno, one of the family friends we went to visit, has a backyard orchard the likes I have never seen.  Apples, pears, plums, apricots, nectarines, persimmons, grapes, currants, gooseberries, and yes, figs all had a home in his backyard paradise.

 

My son Owen with a basketful of fresh, Italian figs!

My son Owen with a basketful of fresh, Italian figs!

And it just so happened that the time of year that we found ourselves in this northern, mediterranean region was peak fig season!  It seemed that almost all yards had a fig tree (along with gardens and other fruit and nut trees).  We were spoiled for 9 days with some of the best food I have ever eaten, and my curiosity with figs bloomed into an exotic passion.

 

There is no way I can quite explain how good those figs in Italy were, but I will just say that there is nothing quite like them.  I know I will never be able to grow figs like that here in Minnesota, but it doesn’t mean I can’t try, right?!

 

Figs in Minnesota!!??

Figs in Minnesota!!??

So as this summer progressed, I realized there was a good chance I may get a small handful of figs from my half a dozen small fig trees.  While most of them have aborted and dropped off before they fully ripened, I finally grew a fig to near perfect ripeness!  It was great!  It was small, but it was a real fig, from a tree I started from a cutting oh so long ago.  And the taste?  While not quite the figs from Italy, it was juicy and sweet, and contained all the curves and mysteries that seduces a new lover!

 

As of this writing it looks like we may get three more figs from our trees.  While I am smitten by figs, I truly know very little about what they need to thrive when grown in containers in a northern climate.  The information is out there, so really it is just setting aside time and energy and focusing on some of the finer details about what figs really like.

 

But I can say one thing, figs are one of my motivations for building a four season greenhouse.  If the day ever comes that I find myself with a badass bio – shelter, a fig tree or two will find a home on the interior north side.  Until then, I will keep growing, propagating, and experimenting with figs in the expectation that climate change may be slowly making these northern climes more hospitable to these wonderful trees.

 

So there it is, my love story with figs.  It is an incomplete story, and one that I hope to add many pages, and maybe even chapters too.  Luckily we live in an age that is overflowing with information.  So what follows are some of the more interesting things I have come across concerning figs.  First, anyone who gets bitten by this fruit and has a question, check out the forum, Figs For Fun.  It is a great resource for the amatuer and expert grower alike.  There are comprehensive variety lists, discussions on all aspects of figs, and most likely you will be able to find plenty of folks who will be willing to help you get started for very little money.

 

Another source that I found helpful was on episode #89 of The Agricultural Innovations Podcast.  While a bit of it was a little esoteric for my liking, the main body of the interview was very informative and helpful.  This podcast has a lot of other stuff to offer as well, so check out The Agricultural Innovations podcast for more brain food!

And I will finish with a video my friend Little John made of his adventures foraging figs in southern California.  So if you are one of the lucky ones to live somewhere that figs grow without the freezing temps of the north, please enjoy them and know that there are others of us out there who are a bit jealous of what you have!  If you find yourself in a climate like mine, know that it is not completely impossible to enjoy this exotic fruit, you just have to work a lot harder to realize a harvest.  Peace and Cheers…

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