As I mentioned in my gardening overview page, I grew up surrounded by apple orchards, in “apple country” Ontario, Canada. I remember driving past Knights Appleden near Wicklow on my many trips to my father’s appliance store in Cobourg. We went to Applefest in Brighton several times. When the The Big Apple theme park in Colborne was built, I was one of the many kids from my elementary school who was invited to fill the place up while they filmed their promotional videos. I remember having “apple wars” with the other kids in the neighborhood. I remember scratching my eye on a whack of tiny, long apple branches that I couldn’t see from a distance, as I zipped down the icy hills on my GT Snow Racer in the moonlight. Heck, I even remember taking refuge from an ornery cow in an apple tree on my Nanny Hall’s farm and I couldn’t have been any older than four at the time!
In short, I have many fond memories related to apples and as a result, I look upon the crunchy fruits with fondness.
Recently I was standing in my kitchen and, as often happens, a random question popped into my head. “Are pears a more ancient version of apples?”, I wondered. It seemed reasonable to me, from my experience eating them over the years and my memories of the gnarly old pear trees we had in our yard when I was growing up. With their stone cells (that gritty stuff you feel when eating them) and their meat being more woody until they’re ripe, the notion that they were the precursors to apples seemed fairly logical. So, I read the wikipedia page on pears, which revealed that both pears and apples originated in central Asia, they are indeed related, with pears being an older fruit, but pears and apples developed independently of each other. Interestingly, they (and most other fruit trees) are part of the Rosaceae (rose) family of plants. That said, pear and apple trees are different enough that one cannot graft them together to form a “Peapple” or “Applear” tree.
Of course, this lead me to read the wikipedia page for apples and that’s when it happened. I saw a picture that caused an olfactory memory. This is the picture of a Malus Sieversii, also known as a “wild apple” from the region of Kazakhstan where all apples originated, caused me to taste, smell, and almost physically recall the time I bit into the best apple I have ever eaten – an apple from an old, mangled tree that lived smack in middle of a slowly overgrowing orchard near my father’s house. It was in this moment, my passion for the subject was reinvigorated and I decided, “what the heck, I have the space and I’m not getting any younger… Time to grow some trees!”.
My father talked about grafting different varieties of apples to the tree that was in our yard, but sadly I didn’t really take an interest in it at the time. I assumed it was some kind of complicated, labor intensive task akin to weeding, so I proceeded to forget about it for a good twenty years. Well as it turns out, after watching some excellent videos by Stephen Hayesuk and reading about the subject on the University of Wisconsin website, I learned that the process of grafting is far simpler than I had imagined. In principle, it’s actually an amazingly simple procedure! Though, I bet it takes a lot of practice to master it.
With my new found knowledge, I decided that I’d start small and attempt to add some white flair to our beautiful pink crabapple tree, by grafting on to it two scion from our neighbour’s apple tree. The idea being to enhance the looks of the tree, rather than to produce a whack of lovely edible fruit.
I am sad to say that our neigbour’s tree has seen better days, but for a very old tree that has sat mostly forgotten for many years, it’s still an excellent producer with a fair amount of new growth. I have no idea what kind of apple tree it might be, nor am I able to tell if it is the result of a grafting or simply a random tree grown from a seed. Looking at what little I know about the history of our properties, which is simply that his house was “the old farm house”, my house was built much later (1950s) after the farm land was partitioned into lots, and the barn that is immediately behind his apple tree (which is on another neighbour’s land) was not part of the original farm, it’s really hard for me to say if his apple tree is one that’s left over from a long since torn up orchard or if it has always been a lonely tree. Either way, at the moment the only apples in our immediate area that I am aware of are his fruit tree and my crabapple, which conveniently are close enough for the bees to cross pollinate (as indicated by our trees bearing fruit). None the less, this tree produces huge white flowers every year that I think would look fantastic mixed in with our crabapple.
And with all that back story covered, here are some captioned pictures of my first attempt at tree grafting. Keep in mind that I had to use what was available to me at the time.
I’m really not sure how well these grafts will take (I did two, an East and a West side), as I collected the scion wood in early April. This is not the optimal time of year for pruning, though it is still cold here at night and many days too and the tree branches looked dormant still. In any event, it was more fun to give this a whirl a few weeks late rather than wait an entire year just to try it out.
My next apple tree project will be to root some chutes from my crabapple so that I can use them as root stock. The tree is at least ten years old and has had only minimal pruning in the last seven years, so it’s obviously a nice dwarf tree that grows well in the yard – Perfect for using as the base of future fruit producing grafting experiments.