My 10-year-old daughter broke her pinkie a few weeks ago while battling to catch a football in a Hail Mary melee on the school blacktop. She had surgery to pin the bone together so it would grow back properly. “She’s going to need a few sessions of finger therapy,” the surgeon told us afterward. My other daughter, who had accompanied her sister, smiled mischievously and whispered: “That’s where you talk to the finger to make it feel better about itself.”
While I’ve known some farmers who have talked to their trees in the springtime to encourage a successful fruit set, there’s a practice farmers employ that reminds me much of a surgeon fixing bones. It’s called grafting—it’s when tissue from one plant is fused with the tissue of another plant. Farmers graft their trees for multiple reasons. Whether it’s to help protect against disease or pests or to change varieties of fruit in order to diversify their crops, grafting can be an important tool for farmers to employ.
A farmer’s graft of a plant has a big impact on the outcome of their work. If a farmer takes an existing tree and cuts it diagonally on the trunk, leaving the root-stock in the ground, she/he can then graft a new scion (a new plant selected for its flowers or fruit) on top of the root stock. You may have read about this practice in the wine-grape industry as a way to help produce grapes with more hardy root stocks that are resistant to certain diseases. Backyard farmers can have fun with this concept too by taking an existing tree (say a plum tree) and grafting individual branches with new kinds of other fruit stems. If done correctly, so that the vascular tissues of both plants fuse properly, you could have a backyard tree that produces plums, peaches, and nectarines—oh my!
Sounds a bit Frankensteinian, but it’s just the way that humans have learned to adapt their farming techniques using natural methods. At this time of year, we’re hoping that the weather favors the farmers’ methods for propagating their trees by allowing for proper flowering, which leads to sweet summer fruit.
Enjoy & Be Fruitful!
—Chris Mittelstaedt, email@example.com