MOFGA grafting workshop

This Saturday I went to MOFGA headquarters in Unity, ME to learn how to graft fruit trees. The class was taught by a couple of professional orchardists, names Delton and Bennett (didn’t get last names), and covered bench grafting, inlay grafting, and summer bud grafting.

We spent most of the time learning whip-and-tongue “bench grafting” wherein a small piece of scionwood (year-old wood taken from a tree of the desired variety while dormant in early March or so, and refrigerated to keep it dormant till late April or early May, when the bark starts to slip on the trees outside and they are ready for grafting) is coupled to a year-old rootstock to make a new tree of the desired type. Basically you take a sharp knife and slice each end off on a diagonal to give an elliptical planar face about .75-1″ long, then make a shallow cut down the axis of the stem and perpendicular to the long face of the ellipse, about a third of the way from the pointy end (and just distal to the pith). You try for pieces that are the same diameter, but if they don’t quite match up you favor one edge rather than splitting the difference. When you mate the two faces together, the axial cuts catch against one another and hold, such that the scionwood is held provisionally in place. Then you wrap the whole thing tightly in tape (parylene, like from lab supply, or electrical tape supposedly works fine) or with a rubber band, and clip it off so there are just two buds on the scion. In a couple of weeks, the cambium tissues will have begun growing together, and by the end of the summer the scion should have thrown up several inches of new growth. I did about half a dozen apple varieties, and a couple of pears. We then went outside and the instructors demonstrated inlay grafting or “topworking”, where an existing branch is basically decapitated and a new variety spliced on. This is a much simpler technique; basically the branch is sawed off square, axial cuts about an inch long are made through the bark and the bark lifted slightly at the edges, and scions with a single diagonal cut are inserted against the sapwood, taped over, and covered with wound dressing compound. A 2 inch branch would get two or three scions, and of all the ones that take the healthiest is selected and the rest cut away, after the others serve to help the wound heal around the end of the saw cut. We also learned bud grafting, though it’s not the season for that, so they had to handwave a bit, but I think I got the idea.

The techniques didn’t actually seem that hard (at least to a kid who grew up carrying a pocketknife and whittling) but it was great to see it actually demonstrated rather than try to figure it out from reading in a book. For instance, the “cleft graft” which is amply represented in books (where the sawed-off end of the branch to be topworked is split axially and a double-beveled scion is slipped into each side of the cleft) is apparently obsolete by reason of being too much work and less reliable than the inlay or “bark graft”. I am optimistic that most of the grafts I made will take, but the proof is in the budding, and I’ve got a bucket of first attempts in the folks’ garage to be planted out in a couple weeks to see how quick a study I really am.

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