Grafting, James Kirk, and the Beatles

Dear Readers,

Say you want to plant an apple tree. So you bite into a Honeycrisp apple, save the seeds, dig a hole in the yard, and put a seed in. You expect to have Honeycrisps in a couple of years’ time. Right?…

Wrong! The seed that you planted will create an apple tree, but that apple tree may not resemble a Honeycrisp tree at all. Lisa explained it like this: two people get together and have a baby. Can you expect that baby to be exactly like its parents? Not at all! Same with fruit trees. So your “Honeycrisp” tree may bear good apples; but it’s possible it will have yucky apples, or no apples at all, or it may be prone to disease, unlike its parent tree.

So, where do apple trees come from? Most orchards graft their trees, which means attaching the branch of one apple tree to the trunk of another. The result will be apples like those from the branch you’ve attached. There are several kinds of grafting; we used whip grafting.

Ike has a long list of apple varieties he wants to plant– see above. He ordered a few scions, or small, budding branches, of each variety. We grafted them onto the rootstalk, which is a generic apple tree that will provide the root system for the tree once it’s planted.

Here’s the fun part. Using a knife, the grafter makes a cut that exposes the inner wood on one end of the scion, and the same cut on one end of the rootstalk.

The grafter makes a slit in each cut so that the scion and rootstock will fit together.

The two pieces have to fit together as exactly as possible. They will heal into one piece, so the more exactly they fit, the easier it is for them to heal neatly.

Here’s the connected wood, all wrapped up to heal. That rubber band covers special grafting tape, both biodegradable. Once the tree has healed and grows, the bandages will snap off.

Each tree is labelled and put in a bucket of water, roots down.

Are you all ready to plant your own orchard now? Grafting is actually the easy part. What comes next is more challenging– keeping the tree healthy once it’s planted in the ground. Disease, pests like insects and rodents, and weather can be harsh enemies to young trees.

Claudia (on the far right above) was a rock star, grafting with Ike for hours and hours. The rest of us bandaged up the trees and labelled them. We listened to the Beatles, thanks to Karen’s Ipod, and Ike told stories of his various adventures. After such meticulous work for so long, we got pretty silly towards the end of the day. There were lots of giggles.

Speaking of giggles: there are some goofy apple variety names out there, like James Kirk, which Ike ordered because he likes Star Trek. We already grow Enterprise apples, so all Star Trekkies will feel welcome at our orchard. Here are some other funny ones, from hundreds of tree varieties that have been grafted at North Star:

Bloody Ploughman (yum…?)

Freiherr von Berlepsch (try pronouncing that, let alone saying it three times fast)

Lord Hindlip (sounds like a Princess Bride character)

Green Cheese (again. yum…?)

As always, feel free to comment and ask questions!

Laura Beth


4 thoughts on “Grafting, James Kirk, and the Beatles

  1. You have a lovely way of sharing your experiences that is both educational and heartwarming, not to mention much appreciated. : )

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