Visions of cider apples danced in my head … but we are going to have to wait another year before we are ready to plant our own cider orchard. So I was happy to help out and learn from fellow cider maker and budding orchardist Adam. It was a perfect day for planting trees in the Pacific Northwest. The morning fog soon burned off and we enjoyed a gloriously sunny day with grand views of the snow covered Cascades.
I’m looking forward to coming back a few years down the road to see these trees in production and to sample some of the product.
This season we were more careful about keeping notes on the apples that went into the different batches of juice; and we experimented with a couple of commercial yeasts as well as natural fermentation. That resulted in 5 distinctly different ciders for us to taste and blend.
It’s really interesting how the same juice can turn out quite differently depending on the fermentation process; even more striking are the differences due to the apple varieties; and then you can start blending – the possibilities are endless.
Not all of these ciders were awesome. But we were pretty pleased that we were able to create one excellent unblended and two decent blended ciders. Onwards to bottle conditioning…
Parsnips took the garden giant crown for the second year running; but this time not because of impressive height, but due to the size of the root. I could hardly believe how big this thing was when I dug it up. What’s more, it was a volunteer plant that had seeded itself from last year’s growth, so no work on our part was required – my favorite kind of gardening.
Oh, and it tasted good too, as soup and in a roasted vegetables dish.
Most of my grafting experience thus far has been with stem grafts, which involves fusing a piece of scion wood onto the existing tree or root stock. I’ve become pretty comfortable grafting apple, pear, quince, and plum trees this way. However, stone fruit like cherry and peach do better with bud grafting. In this case, grafting is performed in summer; and only a single bud with a sliver of bark is tucked into the bark of the host tree. The injury to the host tree is much smaller and heals over faster.
The success rate of bud grafting is generally higher and it is the preferred technique in commercial grafting. The downside is that you need to wait until the following year to see the bud begin to grow. I was dubious about this technique, but I’m happy to note that my bud grafts from last year are leafing out.
Here’s a nice example of an inverted T bud graft of plum on plum:
When I graft, I am usually bark grafting on established trees. An important step in this process is sealing the insertion point to prevent the grafted scion from drying out. On smaller limbs, electrical tape works well: it exerts pressure on the graft union while sealing it. The downside is that you have to come back later to remove it; and it’s not well suited to larger diameter branches and trunks.
I’ve tried latex paint and commercial grafting wax, but had issues with both of these. I think I’ve finally hit on a good solution: a soft grafting wax that can be slathered on like butter. It’s easy to apply, doesn’t stick to your fingers, doesn’t wick into the graft union, and doesn’t need to be removed like tape.
And the best thing is that you can make it yourself: simply melt 1 part of bees wax in 3 parts of vegetable oil. Here’s what it looks like on a recent job:
So far, things are looking good. All of the scions have leafed out since I grafted them a month ago. The wax coating did shrink and crack a bit, but it was easily fixed by molding it back in shape. In one spot, a bird had eaten away most of the exposed wax, but it didn’t damage the scion. I think I will be using this technique a lot going forward.