Whip graft close up

Graft, The Good Kind & Tomatoes Galore

PRUNING NUT TREES lecture and demonstration, April 26th, at New York Nut Growers meeting. for more information.

GRAFTING WORKSHOP, here at the farmden, on May 3rd. Theory, demonstration, and graft and take home your own pear tree. Contact me for more information.
  Pest problems, due mostly to having a poor site and living east of the Rocky Mountains, have made me give up on growing apples — almost. Last year’s cicadas and this winter’s deer took their toll also. One problem, I realized, is that my trees are super-efficient, super-dwarfs that I made by grafting chosen varieties on special rootstocks. The problem is that super-efficient, super-dwarfs are also super-finicky about growing conditions. So I decided, instead, to try semi-dwarf trees that would be more tolerant of a less than perfect environment.
Long story short: I’m going to replant with five varieties of great-tasting apples — Macoun, Pitmaston Pineapple, Hudson’s Golden Gem, Ashmead’s Kernel, and Liberty — on G.30 rootstock. Unfortunately, such trees are not available anywhere, not even from Cummins Nursery (, which specializes in high quality trees of a range of varieties on a range of rootstocks. They do have those varieties (on other rootstocks), though, and they do have G.30 rootstocks, which I bought and received last week.
And so I set about making new trees, by grafting. The graft of choice was a whip graft, an easy graft to make, especially with apple. Grafts done this time of year are called “bench grafts” because they can be done at a bench or table, indoors, at a time when it’s still too early to plant outdoors. As is usual with bench grafts, my rootstocks were bare-root, nothing more than a 18-inch-long, pencil-thick stems with some roots at their bottom ends. Perfect.
Now for the grafts. Step one was to cut through near the top of the rootstock and near the bottom of the scion with a smooth, sloping cut. Step two was to match the cut faces of the two sloping cuts. Step three was to bind them together; I used grafting rubbers but cut rubber bands work equally well. Step four was to prevent moisture loss from the graft. I covered the graft with either Tree-Kote or Parafilm, the latter a stretchy, waxy material.
Step five is aftercare. The completed grafts could be kept in cold storage until ready to plant out. Even better is to expose the graft to warm temperatures for a week or two to promote callousing, which is a proliferation of undifferentiated cells that mark the first step in joining of stock and scion tissue. I potted my grafts up and put them in the greenhouse for good callousing and to spur the beginnings of new root growth from rootstocks.
Whip grafting is easy; still, certain requirements must be met for success. The rootstock and especially the scion (the stem of the variety for grafting) must still be in their winter sleep, or nearly so. Check. The rootstock and the scion must be sufficiently close botanical kin. Check; G.30 and the various scion varieties are the same species. The cambia, the layer just beneath the bark, of stock and scion must be touching or at least close. Check; I accounted for different diameters of rootstock and scion stems by lining up one side of their sloping cuts.
The grafts will need to be nursed along this year. With good growing conditions, they’ll be ready for planting out next spring. With luck, a sufficiently green thumb, good weather, and three clicks together of the heels of my red slippers, I’ll be biting into a Macoun apple here in four years.
Graft union, after a few years
I realize today that it’s as much fun to sample varieties of tomatoes as it is pleasurable to eat homegrown tomatoes. That’s one rationale, at least, for my sowing seed of 21 varieties for planting this season.
Why so many, when probably growing 5 varieties would satisfy all my Lycopersicum esculentum needs? That would be Sungold for the best cherry tomato, San Marzano for the best — or one of the best — canning tomatoes, Amish Paste and Anna Russian as excellent eating and canning tomatoes, Belgian Giant for its unique, delectable flavor, and Carmello for good flavor and earliness from a full-size, smooth and almost perfectly round tomato. Okay, 6 varieties.
After last summer’s tomato taste-off, I could not help but also grow Lillian’s Golden, the winner. And Blue Beech, which, besides good eating, makes a uniquely flavored sauce. Brandywine is a top contender in any best tomato taste-off, so I’m trying Black Brandywine. Perhaps its my imagination, but “black” tomatoes all seem to have a rich, tangy flavor. That’s why I also sowed seeds of Cherokee Purple. German Giant and Paul Robeson got good reviews. Valencia is a pretty and flavorful orange tomato. Nepal is very good.
I’m generally averse to planting any new varieties of cherry tomato because Sungold is so far ahead of the pack. (One year I tried 20 new cherry tomato varieties; 18 weren’t worth eating.) Still, the mother of a reader of this column insisted that she grows a very productive cherry tomato with a delectable flavor; I’m trying it, merely labeling it “Cherry Tomato.” I’m also growing Gardener’s Delight cherry tomato, a variety I grew and enjoyed decades ago, and which disappointed me last year. This year’s Gardener’s Delight, from a different source, might taste different. I’m also growing Ping Pong cherry tomato, which I enjoyed — but can’t remember why — when visiting Hudson Valley Seed Library ( last summer.
I also can’t remember why I ordered seed of Weisnicht’s Ukrainian tomato, but I’m growing it.


Finally, after many years, I made it to the library. No, not the book library. The seed library, the Hudson Valley Seed Library.
Hudson Valley Seed Library is neither an ordinary library nor an ordinary seed vendor. It all started in 2004 in a book library, the public library in Gardiner, NY, where Ken Greene was working as a librarian. Working where people borrow and return books got him thinking about — why not? — setting up a library where people “borrow” seeds and return them also. With seeds, the “returns” are even better than with books. One borrowed seed of an annual vegetable or flower gives, in return, hundreds of seeds by the end of the season, in addition to tasty vegetables or colorful flowers.
Ken eventually left the Gardiner Library to put his energy into growing — literally — what became the Hudson Valley Seed Library, which began business in 2008. What about the borrowing and returning? Seed-growing takes a certain amount of know-how. To maintain trueness (that is, a seed from a packet labeled Buttercrunch lettuce snuggled into the ground actually grows into a Buttercrunch lettuce plant), Ken started growing most of the seeds for sale himself.
But the “library” part continues. For a nominal membership fee, anyone can become a community grower. In addition to a discount on the cost of the Seed Library’s seeds, community growers get to grow out seeds to return to the library. Each year presents a different variety to grow for all the members. And — most

importantly — they get an education on how to best grow the plants, maintain trueness, and collect the seeds for the year’s variety. So a promiscuous vegetable, such as cucumber, whose female flowers mate easily and readily with any cucumber pollen, needs different treatment than, say, a tomato, whose flowers maintain greater fidelity because each one has both male and female parts, and just a little vibration — a breeze, perhaps — unites male with female parts. This year, community growers harvested Blue Pod Capucijners Soup Pea seeds. Dwarf Sunflowers are on the docket for next year.

The weather was still warm and sunny when I visited the library in early October. Erin, an enthusiastic gardener/farmer who works there (and is working with some Otto File polenta corn seed I gave her), took me on a quick tour of the seed storage shed and the packing shed, and showed off their new seed-cleaner.
Rather than looking like a seed factory, a field for growing seeds can look like a very beautiful garden. Especially with flower seeds. Rather than just a flower bed of zinnias, spread before me was a small field electric with colorful, large heads of Dalhia Zinnias staring up at the sky.
Tasting some of the vegetables was fun, and put two varieties on my list for planting next year. Pink Ping Pong tomatoes were the size and shape of ping pong balls, with no similarity beyond that. The flavor was smooth and sweet, but not too sweet, and plants were still yielding well going into October.  Scarlet Ohno turnip sports a scarlet skin that encloses a white flesh having streaks of scarlet. After scraping two-inch diameter roots clean with my knife, I cut slices to eat; the flavor raw was excellent, right out in the field, no doubt enhanced by the surrounding forest getting ready to put on its autumn show, the bright sunlight, and the clear, blue sky. (Scarlet Ohno also tasted good the next day, sliced onto a plate on my kitchen table.)
A certain number of Hudson Valley Seed Library seed packets cry out to be looked at. No ho-hum drawings or photos on these packets. Ken commissions artists to do illustrations, not necessarily of the

vegetables or flowers, but of an artist’s representation of the particular variety. So Calico Popcorn’s packet, illustrated by Jacinta Bunnell, sports a line drawing of an ear of popcorn against a colorful calico backdrop. A German Shepherd — Ken’s old dog, Kale — with a mouthful of kale decorates the packet of Dino kale illustrated by Michael Truckpile.

The originals of each year’s new artpacks (not every variety gets an illustrated packet) are featured in an art show that begins locally and then travels around the country. To see the schedule, go to
As I sit here writing, yeast and Lactobacilli bacteria are having a field day, feasting on moistened wheat flour that’s expanding by the minute as carbon dioxide is generated and trapped in dough. My bread is rising, bread made from seeds I saved for eating — wheat — grown this summer.
I finally tired of looking at the red pillowcase of wheat seedheads that had been sitting on the floor in a corner of my kitchen since the end of July. Whacking the pillowcase was supposed to knock the wheat berries off the stalks; it didn’t, not sufficiently, at least. A reader suggested pounding the pillowcase with a shoe. I did it, and — voilà — one cup of wheat berries from a 15 square foot planting. I ground the wheat into a flour in a coffee grinder.
Fourteen hours later: The bread has been baked, cooled, and sliced. The flavor? Excellent, but no different from my other breads. The yield? One-third of a loaf.
I had wondered how much land would be needed to grow a loaf of bread and now I know: 45 square feet, at least for me, a beginner in grain growing. Average wheat yields in this country are about 40 bushels per acre, which translates to twice my yield, in which case a loaf could be squeezed out of about 23 square feet. However, wheat yields can run as high as 150 bushels per acre — something to strive for (a loaf from 6 square feet).