Spring is just around the corner in South Australia, and the pressure is on to finish the pruning and grafting of our fruit trees before the sap starts to rise in earnest in a few weeks time. Almonds, citrus and Christmas plums have already flowered, and so the rush is on to complete the soft stone fruits (apricots, plums, nectarines and peaches), cherries and the pome fruits (pears and apples), all of which grow well here on the Adelaide Plains.
Small kitchen gardens generally have room for only a few fruit trees, and so the idea of grafting many ‘scions’ or ‘budwood’ (same thing) of different varieties onto a common ‘rootstock’ has some appeal. That way one can have, for example, early-, mid- and late-variety apricots providing a steady supply of fruit throughout summer from a single ‘fruit-salad tree’. One can even have nectarines grafted onto peach trees, and apricots onto plum trees.
While our veggie garden has improved over the years, our orchard has gone into decline, simply because we knew nothing about pruning and grafting, and this seems to be impossible to learn from a book. Any confidence one gains from sitting inside and studying the pictures in the ‘how to prune’ book vaporises once one goes outside and is confronted with a real, scraggly under-performing tree.
So this year we joined the ‘Rare Fruit Society’ here in South Australia, and this year, for the price of one bare-rooted fruit tree from a nursery ($50), we purchased over 50 little sticks of ‘budwood’ at a dollar each. Then we watched a live presentation of how to graft them onto our existing trees. ‘Budwood’ is just little sticks containing leaf and fruit ‘buds’ cut from producing trees in late autumn the year before. These can be swapped among friends in the same way that we already swap vegetable seeds.
In the past few years we’ve lost two huge apricot trees to possums that have descended upon us as the drought in the woodlands and hills nearby has seen them invade well-watered suburbia looking for a feed. Apricot budwood is a favourite, and these trees have been stripped bare during summer nights. We’ve been forced to cut our two large apricot trees back to stumps in our search for sap-bearing wood that is still alive enough to graft onto. Soon we will have to fully enclose the whole orchard to have any chance of fruit for ourselves.
So here are a few photos of our first attempts, using ‘whip-and-tongue grafts’ for grafting same-size budwood onto existing twigs, and ‘cleft grafts’ (made with a chisel) for grafting scions (another word for budwood) onto large stumps. Now we wait!