Where is Michaela as we begin to graft?!
We are at a disadvantage even more this Spring due to the short-term loss of Michaele, our small fruits and vegetable manager, who had back surgery last week. She will be a huge miss for us as we get going, but she is doing well and we hope to have her back in a month or so. I do hope she has that hearing checked though. She will be pleased that we got the first plants in the ground today. The ground was dry enough to work so we laid down some biodegradable plastic yesterday and put the peas in today. It doesn’t look like much but we put in 5900 plants by hand. What is really impressive is that three guys transplanted those in three hours. She will be pleased that we got the first plants in the ground last week. The ground was dry enough to work so we laid down some biodegradable plastic yesterday and put the peas in today. It doesn’t look like much but we put in 5900 plants by hand. What is really impressive is that three guys transplanted those in three hours (that’s not a typo). We are doing more grafting this year, and it is a time consuming job. There is a narrow window of time to get the grafting done. It starts when the sap begins to flow in the spring, but ends before the trees grow vegetation or green tissue, leaves, shoots, etc. After that point the grafts will not take because the sap flow becomes too heavy. The type of grafting we do is called bark grafting. The tree we want to graft onto is cut down as low as possible while leaving a couple of side branches, which are also cut to stubs. One limb must be left to allow for photosynthesis. Once the tree is cut, we insert the scion wood (shoots of the desired variety that we cut during the winter) of the variety we want to have. Each scion wood shoot is cut to three buds, wedged at the end, and then inserted into a cut made in the bark of the tree. The goal is to get the cambium layers – which are between the bark and the hardwood to match and the cells start to grow together. After the scion wood is inserted, we paint it with a tree paint to keep it from drying out.
We have always done a little grafting each year with a lot of success. Usually we do it to replace a variety we have too much of or to add variety to a pick-your-own block. To me, the key to success is not just the correct timing, but that we make sure the paint is thoroughly applied so the grafts do not dry out. Then, periodically, we must repeat paint applications. If we don’t, the paint will crack and allow for the graft to dry before it heals over. If the grafts dry out, the grafts will not take. These trees are what we would call “third leaf” which means they will be going into their third growing season. We will harvest some apples from those trees this year. We must be careful though, because over-cropping might cause some of the branches to break at the graft union. That union will continue to strengthen with time where breakage will no longer be an issue.
Deer can also be a problem as they LOVE to eat the tender shoots of the young grafts. A solution, and you can do this to any plant deer like to munch, is to tie a couple of small but pungent soap bars on the grafts. This usually will keep the deer from eating the young shoots. Blueberry Gall has been a serious problem the last few years. The female lays her egg under the stem, which swells and grows the gall. To combat this, we remove all the prunings from the field brush where they are then taken away and chopped. We remove and chop it as far away as possible to remove Blueberry Stem Gall Wasps that may be left in the cuttings. We will also walk the fields before pruning to try to cut out as many as we can get. It seems odd, but it’s hard to focus on getting the gall and prune at the same time so we do the separate hunt. The Gall Wasp can cause significant damage, but oddly only effect certain, mostly, later varieties. The best control comes from physically cutting the galls from the plant. Removing them by hand and then carrying all the prunings from the field is labor intensive, but field sanitation is the best control. Above is a picture of a successful gall hunt.