Monday, May 20, 2013


   Eric confessed yesterday that he was done grafting for the year (but this morning that's sounding a little too final). This may not sound like a big deal, just another farm task completed, but then again, you've probably never lived with an obsessive grafter. Let's start with a quick lesson on grafting. In short, you connect a piece of wood from an outstanding tree on any random tree and that transforms that tree into an extension of that outstanding tree. Take an apple tree grown from an apple seed, for example, and you'll get an apple tree that will most likely produce a fruit not fit to eat. Now cut a twig off a good apple tree and graft it onto the sorry apple tree and now it too will produce wonderful fruits. It's an ancient practice, talked about even in the Bible. While some of Eric's good wood comes from neighbors or a remarkable tree found growing in a ditch somewhere, he gets most of his wood sent to him through the mail. Yes, grafting addicts mail each other twigs! These folks typically meet each other on a fruit forum chat group. They discuss to exhaustion the pros and cons of all known cultivars of mulberries, they console each other about the coming emergence of the 17 year cicadas that could decimate their orchards, they post pictures of their first blossoms of the year; they are fruit and nut nuts. And they share wood. Often it's an exchange, you send me this and I'll send you that. But sometimes they force their favorite varieties on each other, like a package that arrived this spring full of seedless native persimmon cultivars we just had to try. In any case, the 6 inch pieces of wood arrive carefully packed with damp paper towels sealed in plastic bags labeled with names like Rosseyanka, Shinseiki, and Thomas Myers. They are cut in the winter before the trees start to grow and stored in the fridge until the trees they'll be grafted onto are ready. Soon the fridge produce drawers are all taken up with twigs. A friend suggested we could serve dinner to a family of beavers with all the wood in our fridge!
   In practice, it's interesting, especially when grafting season begins. First, he grafts onto potted plants to be planted out after the graft has established itself. At our house, many of these potted plants found their way into the house "because it's warmer in here and the trees will be ready to graft earlier." I envisioned delicious Asian persimmons and accepted, for a time. The other method is field grafting. Here you have a seedling already established in the ground where you want it, no need to dig a hole or to worry about watering transplanted trees. All you have to do is graft onto it. You simply turn a weed into food. Our pastures and fence lines are full of useless callery pears (with tiny bad tasting pears like the ornamental Bradford pears) and persimmons and mulberries of unknown quality and possibly non-fruiting male trees. So Eric has put wood of known pear or persimmons onto them, marked them with flagging tape (a reminder not to let the cows graze too close). But here there is less control as the elements can be hard on the delicate new grafts. Little tin foil bonnets protect the persimmon sticks until they get established. Many times a weeks, Eric takes the kids out on the graft march into the fields. They too can now spew off the technical terms: scion, stock, cambium, banana graft, bark graft, whip and tongue...
So grafting season is pretty much over. And now we watch as the new buds swell, turn green, and expand into new branches. Yesterday I was checking on the bean planting and Eric came over and asked if I wanted to go look at the nearby Hana Fuyu graft. Jokingly -- although he takes his grafts too seriously to have gotten the joke at first -- I immediately responded that I already had. Once the tree begins to fruit it will be another story: I'll be at least as eager for the fruit as he is to see his buds grow. Our farm is quickly growing into a forest of seedless persimmons, and sweet, crunchy Asian pears, thin-shelled black walnuts, big fat pawpaws, and delicious mulberries. We look forward to sharing, too.

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