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Branching Out: Fruit Tree Grafting

Long ago I witnessed magic. There were no cauldrons or potions, yet it was magic to my young, farmboy mind. It was magic in the form of fruit tree grafting, and though decades have passed it is still just as magical to me.

when grafting a fruit tree, use tape to seal graft

Use tape, grafting compound, or a homemade product to seal the graft.

An old veteran owned a large apple orchard two farms over and I often walked through it as a shortcut to the county road. One sharp April day when I was passing by, Harold Bualmer was on a ladder cutting limbs. Noticing me, he waved me over. He always had apples in his pockets and offered me what he called a “winter apple,” which to me looked like, well, an apple. He said he was pruning back the limbs and ground suckers to keep everyone behaving themselves and would use the fresh cuttings for grafts.

Being a bold child, I asked what a graft was. The old gent laughed and asked if anyone had ever shown me the orchardist’s secret. He climbed down from the ladder and told me to gather a bundle of cuttings and follow him.

Harold selected a sturdy tree with several low wrist-thick limbs. He produced the knife he had sliced up our snack of apples with, wiped it on his sleeve, and then began to work. First he trimmed off a few tiny suckers—“nuisance twigs” he gruffly called them—then, on a fairly flat area, he made a tiny, shallow triangle-shaped notch in the limb.

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Grafting May Aid Watermelon Crop

WatermelonsThe watermelon crop has declined dramatically in Washington because of disease, but Washington State University researchers are developing a solution that involves grafting watermelon plants onto squash and other vine plant rootstocks. “We’ve lost about a third of our state’s watermelon production over the last 10 years because of Verticillium wilt,” said Carol Miles, a professor of vegetable horticulture at the WSU Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center in Mount Vernon. “Growers have switched to other crops that are less susceptible.” The fungus also affects tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and many other crops and plants. “Grafting is very old technology, going back over 1,500 years in China,” said Miles. “Farmers in Japan have been grafting watermelon since the 1920s. In the Mediterranean region, farmers have been grafting watermelon, tomato and eggplant for almost 20 years. We just need to find out what works best for our region, and we’ll solve the Verticillium wilt problem.”

This article appears in the May 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.