Archive for grafting

Grafting 101.4 Follow Up – Aftercare

Posted in grafting, Grouse Mt. Farm with tags , , , on June 1, 2014 by Grouse Mt. Farm

It’s now late May/Early June and the pear grafts I did for the last post are growing well and preparation needs to be done to protect them from breaking out. If all goes as planned, the grafts will grow quite a bit this year and the graft union usually isn’t strong enough (especially with a bark graft) to support all the growth when the wind blows.

After a Little More Then a Month After Grafting

After a Little More Then a Month After Grafting

We had a good take, all the scions are growing. They could grow four to six feet in the first years growth, thats a lot of stress on the union. Some people nail supports to the tree and use twine or green nursery tape (my preference) to secure the new limb to the wood support. Instead of nailing in to the tree I tie the supports to it with twine. Figure which direction you’d like the graft to generally go, with the support (I use bamboo poles, 1″x 2″ wood or metal electrical conduit or tree branches will do) against the trunk and then tied around the tree to secure it, then tie the grafts to the supports, easy.

Tree With Supports

Tree With Supports

I like to leave the supports for at least a couple of years while the graft union grows and strengthens before removing the supports. Sometimes if, if the growth is strong, the new limbs will set fruit on the second or third year, heavier supports may be necessary for a season or two. Generally after four or five years supports are no longer needed.

Grafting 101.3 Start Cutting

Posted in grafting, Grouse Mt. Farm, organic fruit with tags , , , on May 4, 2014 by Grouse Mt. Farm

We’ll start with grafting a pear tree. We decided that after many years it wasn’t very productive for all the years and inputs we put in to it, so graft it over to another variety. This tree is on the big side of what I’d recommend doing, but it can be done on bigger trees, but it’s more effective on smaller diameter trees. The main problem with doing big trees, is that with that much wood exposed, it has a higher probability of rotting until the grafts grow enough enough to cover the wound. On a smaller tree that might only take a season or two, depending on how well the graft does, vigor of the under stock, aftercare etc. But hopefully this will get the point across so it can be applied to varying diameters of trees.

As I’ve said before, grafting is a fairly simple and straight forward process, but it can be dangerous. The knives need to be very sharp and you have to cut through the wood with a fair amount of force, and restraint, and NOT cut yourself. It’s not hard for me to imagine seriously cutting or dismembering a digit, So: SAFTY FIRST!! Always cut away from yourself and know where the knife you are in relation to each other. The following pic is how I learned and has proved safe for me and many other grafters for years.

Recommended Method of Holding Scion Wood When Cutting a Graft

Recommended Method of Holding Scion Wood When Cutting a Graft

Notice that I’m holding the scion with my left hand held firmly held to my chest to stabilize it, while with my right hand holds the knife and pulls to my right to make the cut, away from me into space. Having the wood stabilized makes it much easier to make a good cut(s). Always cut away from yourself, whatever cutting you may be doing (kitchen knives, chisels, saws etc.), a rule to live by! I recommend gathering a pile of prunings (scion wood) and taking some time to practice making the cuts, over and over until you can make a fairly smooth flat cut and feel comfortable with it, like anything it does take practice. It’s too easy to make a faceted, not flat cut, which won’t work as well if at all, then a nice flat, smooth cut. Best if you can make the finish cut in one smooth motion. (It may take a few swipes to achieve the final cut)

On to the grafting: First you need to make the saw cuts and clean up the prunings, I recommend a fresh saw cut before proceeding . If you’re doing big tree, you can cut it down well before you graft, but leave the intended limb long and cut to the desired spot just before beginning to graft. Look for as smooth and straight a section to facilitate the process.

1. Cutting the Understock

1. Cutting the Under Stock, Notice the Bark Slipping From the Wood

This graft is called a Bark Graft, you need to wait until the bark is ‘slipping’, this is when the bark easily peels away from the wood, usually late March to early April here (North Central Washington State, USA). Make two vertical cuts through the bark about  the width of the scion wood you are using, if the bark is slipping it’ll peel right off the wood. With bark this thick and somewhat crusty it takes a bit of force to get through it. This cut is made with the bark knife, made from a Old Hickory type kitchen knife that has all but about 2 to 2 1/2″ cut off of it (check out the image in my previous post). I put scions about 3″ apart around the circumference of the tree, this helps to bring the callous around to begin the closing up of the wound.

First Cut on the Scion Wood, This Goes Against the Tree

First Cut on the Scion Wood, This Goes Against the Tree

Back Cut , This Side Goes Against the Bark

Back Cut , This Side Goes Against the Bark

Side View of the Scion

Side View of the Scion, Wedge Shaped

The above photos show how the scion looks after it’s cut, ready to be inserted into the cuts on the tree, or under-stock. As I mentioned earlier, you want a nice smooth, flat cut to achieve as much contact between the scion and tree as possible.

The Scion Inserted Under the Bark

The Scion Inserted Under the Bark

Scions all Inserted

Scions all Inserted

The above pics show the scions inserted and ready to wrap and paint. Notice the small ‘half moon’ portion of the scion cuts sticking just above the surface of the wood.

The Graft Wrapped

The Graft Wrapped…

And Painted

And Painted

To finish, the grafts need to be wrapped to secure them and hold them tight to the tree. Make sure there are no gaps in the taping and that it goes a bit below where the cuts start, to insure it won’t dry out. Then the paint, apply liberally around the scions and across the top of the tree, on a bigger tree we usually leave a unpainted spot in the middle in case it gets hot early and sap begins to flow, it gives it a place to escape. Push the paint down into the cuts and goop it a bit around scions. This paint works best in warm weather, it dries fast and smooth and elastic. In colder temps it can get a bit chalky. When ever you put it on, I recommend coming back in a day and re-apply to cover any cracks which may and likely will develop. Also, cap the scions with a dab of paint, but don’t cover the scions with paint, they’ll won’t breath and it ends up rotting them.

In a Couple of Weeks the Buds Will Begin to Push

In a Couple of Weeks the Buds Will Begin to Push

They will begin to show some action in a couple of weeks. Depending on how fast they grow, in late spring to early summer aftercare is important, to secure the the new, tender growth so the wind doesn’t blow them out. I’ll post more on that later.

 

 

Grafting 101.2 Tools

Posted in grafting, Grouse Mt. Farm, Pruning with tags , , on March 30, 2014 by Grouse Mt. Farm

Grafting is a fairly straight forward process, you don’t need many tools, but specific ones. Basically a sharp knife, or knives, depending on what kind of grafts you’re doing. I love tools so I try to use good quality and try to have what I need. If you’re only going to do a few grafts then using and/or modifying what you have may be the most prudent, rather then spend money on something you may not use again. Below is a picture of what I use when I graft.

Tools I Use For Grafting

Tools I Use For Grafting

 

Starting with saw, used to cut the tree (if the tree is bigger then a lopper could handle, or to not tear a branch up too much with a lopper). Some times a chain saw is in order if the tree is bigger, although you can cut a biggish tree with the hand saw, it makes for a much cleaner cut. Once again depending on how much there is to do and how much energy you care to or can put out. Then the loppers and hand shears, basic pruning tools used to clean branches out of the way and the hand cutters for the same and cutting scion wood to size, and useful all the time for work besides grafting. The tape we use is ‘grafting tape’, but it’s basically a vinyl tape. Some people use tape with adhesive which will work, some also use black electrical tape, which I discourage because of the excess heat generated by it in the heat of summer. I like 3/4″ or  1/2″ width, but sometimes it comes down to what you can find. The green nursery tape is widely available and works well. Basically you’ll be wrapping the cuts with the tape to cinch the grafts together and to keep the cut from drying out and to keep moisture and contaminants out as well. The yellow paint is also used to seal in and seal out, traditionally  a wax mixture was used, but we’ve found it difficult to keep it in the cut during the heat of summer, and not too easy to apply. We use Farwells Grafting Seal, available at nursery supply, hardware stores or on line. It washes off with water when still wet, but when it dries it’ll stick for years (don’t wear your best cloths when applying!) Not shown is a sharpening stone. It’s important to keep a keen edge on your blades, for ease of cutting and to keep tissue damage (on the scion wood) to a minimum. I prefer water stones over oil stones (oil and water refer to the liquid used to float the steel particles off the stone), my favorite are  combination 1200 and 4000 or 6000 grit water stones (wood working supply houses).

On to the knives: Having worked as a professional grafter I ended up making my own knives to suit my needs and because I couldn’t find what I wanted commercially. They are made from a old cross cut saw blade (the ones you might see with a painted mountain scene on it in a rural cafe) it’s good steel which holds a edge well. Short of that there are other options: Victorinox (Swiss Army Knife) makes a grafting knife which is the economical alternative to the Tina brand knife. I love my swiss army knife and carry it everywhere I go but the blade doesn’t hold a edge very well, it’s made from stainless steel. The Tinas on the other hand use a high carbon steel blade which holds and edge well, but is prone to tarnish and rust if not cared for. I recommend the Tina, but they are at least twice the price. In the pic above, from left to right are a folding Tina knife, my homemade and another modified knife used as a bark grafting knife (I’ll explain it’s use in a future post).

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A few blade details: Most knives have what is called a double bevel. That is the angle that makes the edge of the blade which slopes in from both sides of the body of the blade to the cutting edge as shown below in the above image. It works well for cutting vegetables, whittling and whatever else you may need to cut with a knife. But for a grafting knife a single bevel makes the work much easier, it facilitates a smooth flat cut on the scion wood. As shown above, it’s the same bevel that chisel has, a single slope coming from the top of the blade to the cutting edge. On a grafting knife, the top of the blade depends on whether you are left of right handed. I am right handed, and looking at the blades in the photo above shows them from above, with the bevel sloping down on the left side of the blade. For a lefty, if the knife was flipped over, the slope would go from the top to the right edge.

Next post we’ll start grafting.

Grafting – 101.1

Posted in grafting, Grouse Mt. Farm, organic farming, Pruning with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2014 by Grouse Mt. Farm

I’m going to try to do a fairly complete series about grafting fruit trees, step by step throughout the spring and aftercare through the summer. For a quick read on grafting, what it is and why do it, check out this link of a blog entry I wrote a few years ago: https://grousemtfarm.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/grafting/ and look up other resources where ever they may be .

I’ll be working with common fruit trees: apples, pears, peaches, plums, apricots, cherries and walnuts. Some fruits are easier to graft then others. Apples and pears are probably the easiest, with the soft fruits a bit more finicky (mostly timing) and difficult to get a good take. Walnuts are the most difficult for me, I’ve only had scant success grafting them, but we will try… The techniques are similar with other species then those I’ve mentioned, mulberries and persimmons are fairly easy. If you want to try something else, I recommend looking up the specifics for the species on the web or library etc.

The first step is to collect scion wood (pronounced sign or sine). The wood must be collected when the tree you’re collecting from is dormant, mid to late winter is good. If early is the only possible time, as long as it’s dormant and you provide good storage it should be fine too. If it is collected too late in the winter/early spring, the scion will begin to grow after being grafted before it has fused with the tree you’ve grafted to and in short order exhausting  its reserves and drying out. When all goes well, the tree and scion form a connection then as the wood comes out dormancy it’s tapped in to the tree to provide the energy it needs to grow and survive.

Gathering Scion Wood

Gathering Scion Wood

Moderately vigorous one year old wood is optimum for scion wood. That means a branch that had grown in the previous season. Sometimes called suckers, generally upright growth about the size (diameter) of a pencil or slightly bigger, much bigger just makes for more difficult cutting when we get to the knife work. I’ve marked (rather crudely, I admit) an approximate point where you could cut scion wood from, on this particular tree (this tree was grafted two years previous, note the tape and paint on the trunk).

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The second photo shows, in my opinion, optimum sized wood. The piece to right and apart from from the grouping of three is the top of the piece cut, this is usually soft and pithy, it may work , but I usually discard it. The others are firm mature wood ready for storage. I wet a few pieces of newspaper and wrap the scion wood in it, place in plastic bag and in to the refrigerator. Not too wet, but you don’t want it to dry out either, and protect from freezing. AND, remember  to label as to what variety it is, it all looks the same when grafting time comes!

I usually begin grafting cherries in late march or early April because cherry wood doesn’t keep well and begins to sprout while in storage. Apples and pears in April here, and the other soft fruits the third to fourth week in April, during a bit of a warm spell, if possible. The walnuts I’m still trying to figure out, but more towards the end of May when the weather has warmed up. I’ll write about tools in the next post.

Black Locust

Posted in grafting, Grouse Mt. Farm, organic fruit with tags , , , , on May 15, 2011 by Grouse Mt. Farm

Apple Tree on a Seedling Rootstock

With most newer apple orchards, the trees need to be staked up because of the dwarfing rootstock they’ve been grafted to can’t support a fruit laden tree. In the old days (1970’s and before) all apple trees were grafted onto seedling rootstock ( as it sounds, plant a seed, grow for a year then graft the desired variety on to it ) which will make a full size tree with out need for staking.
* For clarity: A rootstock is what a cultivar (Fruit variety, i.e McIntosh, Jonathan etc.) is grafted or budded to a few inches above ground level making it the tree. All orchard trees are grafted, there’s too much genetic variability in a seed to expect to get the same fruit from planting a seed of the variety.
Research and development on dwarfing rootstock have been going on for many years, but the common use of dwarf and semi dwarf trees for 30 to 40 years. The advantages of using dwarfing rootstock are that the trees are smaller, they come in to bearing sooner and are easier to manage. The disadvantages are they may not be as winter hardy, they need support, and are generally more susceptible to disease and variations in soil and climate.

Apple Tree with M-26 Rootstock and Black Locust Pole

What does all this have to do with Black Locust you may be wondering, read on. When we started here, we planted a handful of apples on seedling trees and the rest on Malling 26 rootstock, a semi dwarf which needs support. It produces a tree about 10′ to 15′ tall and can be kept shorter with pruning. When we planted we used pressure treated 2″x 2″ wood supports ( P.T. wood was allowed by the WSDA (Washington State Department of Agriculture) Organic program, but has since been disallowed. The posts were far too small to hold up a mature tree with a load of fruit, and many have rotted at ground level so to replace them means using some kind of steel support or Black Locust!

Black Locust Poles waiting to be Planted

Another planting we did on our place when we started was with Black Locust trees, I call it my thorn orchard. The wood is known to be strong and rot resistant, which makes it great for fence poles or tree stakes. It’s not native here ( North Central Washington state) but grows well almost everywhere, too well in many locales, it can become a pest. The trees are thorny and spread easily especially if the roots are disturbed and it readily sprouts when cut (renewable).

Thorn Orchard

It works well for us, being a small operation, to use Locust poles to replace our decaying tree stakes, not so much for bigger orchards unless a commercial source of Locust poles were available. So easy, plant trees, wait 20 years and then harvest poles!

Another Use for Black Locust, Lathe Turned Vessels

Black Locust is an extremely hard, durable and beautiful wood which has many uses besides poles and firewood. Myself being a woodworker I’ve been fortunate to come across Black Locust wood and burl which is great to work with.

Black Locust Burl

More benefits of the Black Locust are its fragrant, nectar rich blossoms each spring and it fixes nitrogen in the soil.

Black Locust Blooms

Blossom thinning

Posted in Grouse Mt. Farm with tags , , , , , , on May 8, 2010 by Grouse Mt. Farm

Many trees, not just fruit trees will make a heavy fruit or seed crop one year and not so heavy or blank the following year. It takes a lot of energy to produce a crop that often the tree needs the next season off of fruit/seed production to recoup its reserves.
One of our spring chores is to thin the blossoms of the apples, they seem to be the main fruit we grow that benefits from this practice. Some varieties such as Gravenstein, Tydemans Early Red, Gingergold, Honeycrisp, Galas and others are particularly prone to biennial bearing.
Blossom thinning is a time intensive process and can be tedious and mind numbing after a few hours! But its also quite nice especially if its warm and the bees are buzzing and the sweet fragrance of apple blossoms fills the air. We mostly use our fingers to pluck the blossom cluster off, although sometimes we use our Felcos (hand pruners). My method is to consider each blossom cluster as a fruit, and thin the clusters about the same distance I would when I thin the small fruits in June, about six to eight inches apart. We can do the work by hand here because our place is small and apples aren’t the only thing we grow. Bigger conventional orchards use chemical thinners and organic growers generally use lime sulfur and fish oil during bloom. The idea is to kill off many, but not too many , blossoms to ensure a return bloom next year. Its tricky, you don’t want to do too good a job, because you never know what the rest of the spring will bring i.e a killing freeze ( this goes for hand and spray thinning).
We’ve had great success over the years with return bloom, even on notoriously difficult cultivars, but we do have a couple of varieties that don’t seem to respond to blossom thinning at all. Even though we also thin the fruit in June, the time is past when even heavy thinning then won’t bring a return bloom. It needs to be done in a timely manner just before to a week or two after full bloom.

before and after blossom thinning