Saturday, May 12, 2012
After a morning of hard work mucking out Betty’s sheep barn, the Allegheny Fellows and community members gathered in the afternoon sunlight to learn from a local and grafting extraordinaire, Kirk Billingsly.
Grafting is an essential part to any orchard as fruit trees do not create seed that will grow into the same tree as its parent. Thus, one must manually join branches of the desired fruit tree (scion wood) to the root stock of another. The rootstock is chosen based on its growing height: dwarf tree (6-8’), semi-dwarf tree (10-12’), and standard tree (15’+). One who aims to build a home orchard may wish to use dwarf rootstock for fruits easily accessible while an orchard tends to use semi-dwarfs for a larger crop. Kirk provided M7 rootstock from 18th century France, a semi-dwarf.
To graft, the cambium layers (green layer between the bark and hard wood) of the root stock and scion wood are matched and over time bond together into a single tree. Kirk used the analogy that the cambium layer is to a tree as stem cells are to humans; the cambium layer will grow to be one with the foreign wood, just as stem cells will clone into other cells. Kirk, whom I began calling captain, led us in the whip and tongue method of grafting. A lucky twelve of us practiced this grafting method which we soon learned is slightly more difficult than expected! You see, Kirk’s deft hands made the process look simple. Despite a few minor injuries, we produced twelve beautifully grafted trees! When finished, Kirk demonstrated a cleft graft on a wild apple tree.
Our whip and tongue grafted trees will remain in their pots and well watered until planting in the fall. If the grafts took, we should see buds in 2-4 weeks.
Kirk served us a special treat at the conclusion of the workshop and passed around samples of hard cider that made us all salivate.
Having grown up in New England, apple season is a very special time and I look forward to the experience of this season in Virginia! Plus, there are many more varieties here to try!
Varieties grafted on 5/12/12: Baldwin, Cortland, Northern Spy, Stayman Winesap, Spygold, Grimes Golden, Winter Banana, Golden Russet, and Arkansas Black.