Success in the nursery

It’s so nice when things work as they’re supposed to!

A successful grafted cherry tree in the nursery
A successful grafted cherry tree in the nursery

The grafting in Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery finished a few weeks ago, and now we can see whether it worked or not. Excitingly, most of them did!

This is always a time of some trepidation, as we’re faced with irrefutable evidence of the quality of our grafting technique.

While our mentor (and Katie’s dad) Merv is always there teaching and advising, he’s handed over the actual grafting to us – so there’s no hiding any more. The success or failure is ours to own!

So it’s incredibly gratifying to see that our success rate this year was actually pretty good, and definitely better than last year!

Spring is also when we get confirmation on whether last summer’s budding was successful. We always check whether the buds appear to have “taken” before we cut the rootstock back to the bud in late winter, but you’re never really sure until you see this:

It’s also a good time to check whether the establishment pruning you did in on your young trees in winter has produced the desired effect.

The point of making a heading cut (as we describe in Pruning Young Fruit Trees) is to create new branches, in the desired location in the tree.

And here’s an ideal result, where the three shoots directly below the cut have all started growing, creating three new branches in this young cherry tree exactly where we want them.

Success is so satisfying!

Harvesting rootstock trees

Back in August 2018 we tried an experiment to grow our own rootstock trees, in a technique called a stool bed, and the results are out – we’ve just done our first harvest!

Merv harvesting apple trees from Carr's Organic Fruit Tree Nursery stool bed
Merv harvesting apple trees from Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery stool bed

So, did it work?

Well, yes and no.  We have two different sorts of trees in the bed. The first is a semi-dwarfing apple, and they worked fantastically well. We planted just 10 rootstocks of a semi-dwarfing variety called MM102 – we think they’ll perfectly suit our customers.

From the initial 10 we layered into the stoolbed trench, we harvested more than 60 trees! And that’s just year 1. We fully expect to get more than that next year.

Apple rootstocks with lots of roots being heeled in
Apple rootstocks with lots of roots being heeled in

The other rootstock in the stoolbed are cherries, which are notoriously hard to grow from either seed or cutting, so stoolbeds are the traditional way of growing them.

An unsuccessful cherry rootstock from the stoolbed
An unsuccessful cherry rootstock from the stoolbed

We started last August by layering 20 cherry Mazzard rootstock trees, and while we also harvested more than 60 of these, they were much less successful, particularly in the root department.

For some (as yet unknown) reason, root development was very slow. Some trees had enough roots that we’re confident they’ll grow well, but some trees only had a couple of roots, and some had none at all!

Lots of the rootstock trees grew over-large, which makes harvesting them extremely difficult – if we didn’t have Merv’s expertise with his secateurs we would have struggled to get them out of the ground at all!

This excessive vigour is also possibly one of the reasons that roots failed to develop on some of the trees, as it seemed to be more of a problem on the larger trees.

Fingers crossed that next year’s crop of trees is smaller, and much rootier!

Growing Your Own Fruit Trees From Seed

One of the interesting things we do here at the farm is grow fruit trees from scratch, as well as teaching other people how to do it, which is lots of fun.

Pear seed ready to be planted to grow rootstock trees
Pear seed ready to be planted to grow rootstock tree

Some trees are grown from cuttings (e.g., plums) and some are grown from seed. We usually grow our own peach, plum, pear and quince rootstocks this way.

These days we look after the Growing Abundance juice press (which in turn is on long-term loan from the generous folk at The Little Red Apple in Harcourt), which means that Ant can use it to juice his apple and pear seconds at the end of the season.

Ant pressing apples for juice
Ant pressing apples for juice

It’s a great press, and being able to juice fruit from apples grown here on the farm (in those years when there’s a good enough apple harvest) yields enough delicious organic apple juice to share around, as well as plenty for Ant to turn into cider.

Lots of lovely apple juice
Lots of lovely apple juice

But it also means we can easily save the seed to grow organic apple rootstocks. We’ve grown all the apple trees we’ve planted here on the farm that way, a tradition which is now being continued by Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery.

Regardless of whether you’re growing trees from cutting or seed, they don’t grow “true to type”. They grow trees called rootstocks, which are used as a base to graft known fruit varieties onto.

Apple pulp full of seeds
Apple pulp full of seeds

Growing your own trees is a year-round process, with different small jobs to do at different times of year – just like all gardening really! We provide a full grafting calendar in our Grow Your Own Fruit Trees for Free course.

This is the right time of year to be:

  • Gathering scion wood from varieties you want to use for grafting in spring, and storing it correctly to keep it in good condition.
  • Gathering plum cuttings and storing them in damp sand over winter.
  • Gathering seed from apples and pears, extracting the seeds and storing them in damp sand.
  • If you’re planning a tree nursery, preparing the soil.
A box of sand for storing seed
A box of sand for storing seed

Does it sound complicated? It’s really not.

Grafting is an ancient method of preserving heritage fruit varieties that has been practised for hundreds of years, and continues to be passed from fruitgrower to fruitgrower today.

Newly emerged apple seedling
Newly emerged apple seedling

We think teaching people how to grow their own fruit trees from scratch is one of the most important skills we teach (through our grafting courses) because that’s where true fruit security starts.