Sunny Slope Orchard

Sunny Slope Orchard
In the coast range foothills overlooking the Sacramento Valley

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Our mobile chicken coop

Chickens are wonderfully peaceful, productive and amusing animals to have around. Their gentle clucking and enthusiasm for all things food add a wonderful presence to our farm. And their talent for converting kitchen scraps, worms and bugs, and feed into fresh eggs while adding fertility to the soil is recycling at its best.

But these busy eaters need to be contained and also protected from predators. About a year ago I built a mobile chicken coop, often called a "chicken tractor." This pen on wheels is a 5' x 10' cage with a secure roosting and nest box space above. The wheels allow easy moving so the hens can enjoy fresh ground to scratch for worms or eat fresh greens while staying safe from hawks, raccoons and other predators. The mobile coop makes it easy to use the chickens' scavenging and fertilizing skills to good advantage in the garden. After digging potatoes, I move the coop over the spud plot and the hens dig and scratch for slugs and wire worms, cleaning out pests while leaving their fertilizer behind for the next crop. Prior to planting broccoli and carrots, I roll the coop over the plot to pre-weed, de-bug and fertilize the ground. And when a garden plot is to be fallow for a season I plant it with a chicken-friendly cover crop and when seed heads mature, roll the chickens in to feast on seed heads and bugs.

Our mobile chicken coop, made from 2x2 redwood and plywood

Retractable wheels raise the coop 4" off the ground. The wheels are just behind the balance point of the coop, so after lowering the wheels it is very easy to lift the front handle and pull the coop around. The video below shows the lifting mechanism: a steel lever (1" x 2" channel iron) pivots on a shaft running through the coop. The wheel axles are offset 4" behind the shaft, so when the lever is rotated 90 deg. the coop lifts 4".

The nest box lid opens for easy egg collection

Nest boxes inside view

The side door opens for cleanout of the roosting area

A sliding door keeps the hens extra safe from predators that might dig under the coop at night. I added a mechanism to automatically open the door at dawn for those times when I might not get outside bright and early. It is operated by a used automobile window motor I found on ebay, powered by an inexpensive gate opener battery, a timer and some switches. I designed it so that I must manually close it in the evening since I want to check that the hens are safely at roost before closing. A cheap 1/2 watt solar panel keeps the battery charged at all times.

An automotive window motor operates a door that automatically
lets the hens out of their roosting box each morning

A battery, timer and switches operate the automatic door. A 1/2 watt
solar panel keeps the battery charged.
The video below shows the door being operated manually. The mechanism contacts switches at the fully closed and fully open positions, to interrupt the current and stop the motor.

Recipe: Sweet Potato Frittata
With our steady supply of fresh eggs, one of our go-to meals is frittata, a baked mixture of vegetables, potato, onion, cheese and eggs. The recipe link below containing butternut squash is a great variation. The creamy squash blended with the eggs really covers up the "eggy" character of regular frittata, making a slightly sweet rich body for the dish. Since we grew sweet potatoes in the garden this summer we have started substituting them for the butternut squash and can report that this version works equally well.

Link to Butternut Squash Frittata recipe

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Indian summer views, and a book report

Here on November 12th we are enjoying beautiful T shirt weather, perfect for working outside. Unlike in the heat of summer or the usual November cold, we have been able to tick off projects comfortably and in good time: knocking and shelling walnuts and pecans, weekly harvesting of persimmons and lemons, spreading compost and planting the winter cover crop, and much more.

The only thing not to like is the lack of rain. After the previous two low-rainfall years our wells are barely producing and the trees are stressed. So we wait impatiently, eagerly checking long range forecasts for some sign of relief. So far every projected storm has been a mirage, but we keep hoping. In the meantime there is nothing to do but enjoy the beauty of fall. Here are some recent orchard views:

Apricot trees are a blaze of yellow

Peach trees combine red and yellow

Persimmons leaves go all out to capture "best of show"

We are picking Fuyu persimmons weekly for restaurant
and on-farm sales
Our Meyer lemons are showing their appreciation for the
compost, kelp and minerals they received this year with
great size, color and flavor 

Our winter wheat plot is off to a great start and we look
forward to many great loaves of bread next summer

A great book for the home orchard enthusiast

For anyone wanting to grow backyard or small scale fruit and nut trees, the book The Home Orchard, Growing Your Own Deciduous Fruit and Nut Trees is an invaluable resource. Published by University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, this book offers a wealth of information from choosing the best varieties for your climate, to soils preparation and planting, to growth cycles and tree care, through cultural practices such as irrigation, fertilizing, pruning, thinning, harvesting and pest control. I recommend it highly, available here:

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Homemade Bread from Home Grown Wheat

Why grow your own wheat?
With bread flour being inexpensive and easily available, why would anyone want to grow their own wheat for flour? Certainly not to save money, since small scale grain growing is a long and labor intensive process. The ground must be prepared and planted, the crop needs to be tended for many months, then harvested and the grain threshed from the heads and cleaned of chaff, and finally ground into flour.

For us there are two reasons to grow our own wheat: First there is flavor. A wheat berry is a complex, nutritionally dense seed that will keep very well when stored whole and dry. But once ground into flour, oxidation begins to degrade flavor and aroma. Taste a nut right out of the shell compared to chopped nut pieces from a plastic bag on the store shelf, or fresh squeezed orange juice compared to that from a plastic bottle and you get the idea. Fresh baked whole wheat bread made from just-milled flour is an experience in taste and aroma that makes pre-sliced store bread seem a very sad imitation.

Of course one can easily buy wheat berries from a food coop and eliminate all the work of growing and harvesting, so reason #1 is not critical. But another reason to grow grain might be for the satisfaction. Just as someone might grow a vegetable garden even though great produce stands abound, or raise a few laying hens even though eggs are cheaper at the store, growing grain can be as satisfying as growing anything else. Since wheat is such an ancient and basic part of agriculture and a fundamental part of the human diet, growing our own feels an important way to connect to something greater than ourselves. So despite the fact that it doesn't "pencil out," it seems important and we really enjoy it.

What to plant
There are many varieties of wheat: high and low protein, winter or spring grown, white or red, modern hybrids or heritage varieties. Because I use wheat for yeast-raised breads, I want a high protein (high gluten content) wheat. And because I want maximum yield for my trouble, I want a high-producing modern hybrid. And having little water for irrigation, I plant a winter wheat, sowing in the fall so it can be watered almost entirely by rainfall. For the second year I am using this hard red variety.

TIP: When buying wheat berries at a coop or such to mill your own flour for yeast breads, you will want to know that it has a high gluten content that will produce a tall, light loaf. A simple seat of the pants test is to put a dozen or so berries in your mouth, lightly mouthing them until they soften enough to be chewed. Once they begin to break down keep chewing but do not swallow the grain. A nice high gluten wheat will soon transform to the texture of chewing gum. In fact you can easily continue to chew it just like gum. You can be sure that that wheat will have good yeast bread rising qualities. But if the wheat just becomes mush then it will make loaves the texture of bricks unless a high proportion of white bread flour is added.

Preparing the ground for planting
I will plant the wheat in rows about 8" apart, giving enough space to run a wheel hoe down the row while the wheat is small, but close enough together so that the tall spring growth will help shade out weeds later in the season. But the most important weed control strategy is to first pre-irrigate the plot to cause existing weed seeds to sprout. Then after a couple of weeks I spread compost and any needed amendments and lightly till the plot, killing all of the initial weeds.

This year's wheat plot has been irrigated to sprout weed
seeds, then for two weeks our mobile chicken coop is moved
across the plot for some free fertilizer and chicken feed.

Compost has been spread and the ground is lightly tilled

I use a simple Earthway seeder set up to drop about 16 seeds per foot with rows 8" apart, at a planting depth of 1-1/2". Another planting method is to make shallow grooves with a harrow or by hand with the corner of a hoe, then dropping the seeds in by hand and covering with a rake. In any case it is best to keep the depth between 3/4" and 1-1/2", and to firmly press the soil over the seeds to ensure good seed/soil contact.

The Earthway seeder has a variety of seed plates for
different sized seeds, and a scribe to mark the location
of the next row. 

Ideally enough early rain will fall (or irrigation is available) to germinate the wheat by mid November so it will achieve some good growth before the cold weather of December - January. Then as spring days warm and lengthen, growth will jump and form many large grain heads for a high yield. Weed control and adequate nitrogen, phosphate, and water are key needs in the spring. 

At the end of January 2012, last year's wheat plot was off to
a good start. Growth will stall over the coldest months,
then take off in February.

A wheel hoe is a real labor saver for weeding between rows,
possible only when the wheat is very short. The stirrup part
is available in different widths to fit row spacing.

In spring the stems are tall and the grain
heads emerge from the terminal leaves

Barley (left) and wheat (right) later in spring, with heads
well filled out and starting to lighten in color

As the crop matures the leaves and stems will turn dry. At that point it is time to test the grain by picking individual grains from a head and squeezing them. First they will have a milky liquid inside, then progress to a doughy consistency, and eventually the grains become very hard. The wheat should be harvested as soon as it is completely dry and hard. It will then be fully mature and will store without molding. But waiting too long will risk loss to birds or heads shattering during harvest.

The grain is ready to harvest when all leaves are dried and
the wheat berries can no longer be dented with your teeth
For our very small plot we have found it easiest to walk down the rows with fruit picking buckets and snap off the heads at their base. This avoids dealing with all the straw during the threshing step.

A Youtube search on 'threshing grain" will provide many methods of small scale threshing. We have found that dropping the heads into our chipper/shredder (with the engine just idling slowly) works well. This knocks the wheat berries out of the heads thoroughly but damages almost none. We then winnow using a fan to separate the wheat berries from the chaff. The secret here is to drop the threshed grain and chaff in a slow stream like a waterfall, starting the drop well above the fan. The grains, being heavier, separate and fall faster than the lighter chaff so when the mix enters the air stream the chaff is easily blown away. Shown below, two large bins and a trailer catch the material. the first bin catches almost all grain, the second a few grains and some chaff, and the trailer all chaff. The first two bins are then winnowed a second time and finally the grain is poured into shallow trays and any remaining bits of straw are pulled out.

Winnowing the grain after threshing in a
chipper/shredder. Dropping the grain from a bit
above the fan works best

Final drying and storage
Once clean the wheat needs to be more thoroughly dried before storage. We put the grain into a tub with a screened bottom and set it over the fan inside our solar fruit dryer. Other methods are to build a wooden box with screen on the bottom, set it up off the floor on blocks and attach a fan to the bottom to force air through. When thoroughly dry the grain will store well in an airtight(and bug tight) container in a dark place.

As with any crop, yield varies widely depending upon plant variety, growing conditions, soil fertility, etc. An average wheat yield could be about 5 lb./100 sq. ft. with reasonable growing conditions. Last year despite very low rainfall we were right on average with 35# of wheat from 650 sq. ft. and 39# of barley from another 650 sq. ft. We grew the barley for chicken feed.

Milling flour
We have used three different grain mills and are totally sold on our latest, the Nutrimill. It is extremely fast (4-1/2 cups of flour takes just over one minute), dust free, simple to use, and is adjustable from medium to very fine flour. We normally mill the flour just before making bread so the flour is still warm from milling and is as fresh and aromatic as possible.

Nutrimill grain mill

Baking bread the easy way
To simplify the process we use a bread machine since they do a wonderful job of kneading. But few do a great job of baking. We used to use an older machine just for mixing and kneading, then we would remove the dough, form the loaf, let it rise and bake in the oven. Results were good but it took lots of baby sitting the dough through all the steps. Recently we've upgraded to the Zojirushi Virtuoso and can report that it does the job start to finish perfectly, turning out beautiful loaves just by adding the ingredients and pushing a button. It's expensive but worth it.

The Zojirushi bread machine

The finished product, 100% whole wheat bread from
home grown wheat!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Tomatoes on My Mind

From our pantry, L-R: Whole canned Juliet tomatoes,
tomato soup, pizza sauce, tomato puree, and tomato salsa
As the summer days grow shorter, it is comforting to gaze at our pantry shelves weighted down with jars of garden produce. For us, tomatoes are a sturdy year-round staple, so we preserve them in several ways. Here are two of our current favorites:

Both of these are tested recipes which can be canned safely at home with a conventional water bath or steam canner. We recommend them highly.

However, for years we have also successfully canned a friend’s delicious tomato soup recipe, even though it hasn’t gotten an official seal of approval from a university or government testing lab. Our research into food safety gave us confidence in this recipe. Here are a few of the resources we found very helpful in our research:

  • The Ball Blue Book was introduced in 1909 and is still a must-have for every home canner, even those of us who grew up canning with our mothers.
  • The National Center for Home Food Preservation is another invaluable resource.
  • In California, contact the University of California Cooperative Extension office to find food preservation classes in your home county. The Extension classes are taught by trained Master Food Preservers.

But, back to our untested recipe: to can or not to can was the question. Traditional wisdom (Mom) always held that botulism cannot grow and form toxin in acid fruit. Tomatoes are an acid fruit. Ergo, there is no botulism toxin in canned tomatoes. However, in recent years many low acid varieties have come onto the market. In addition, non-acid additions like onions or celery reduce acidity of the recipe. Several lessons that we learned helped us decide how to safely can and use our soup recipe.

First, at the recommendation of a Master Food Preserver, we now use a digital meter to test the pH of every batch of tomato soup and all other tomato products before processing. The readings we get are consistently between 4.0 and 4.3 depending on the recipe.  Any tomato product over 4.6 is too low in acidity to be canned safely without the addition of bottled lemon juice, citric acid or vinegar. When measuring pH, we always test the tool with the correct calibration solutions before using it. The soup (or other product) should be tested at room temperature, not when it is too hot or cold. As with any tool, it is important to read the instruction manual and follow the directions.

Digital pH meter for testing acidity
Secondly, the bacteria Clostridium botulinium itself does not harm humans and is in fact widely found in soils. But it produces a toxin under anaerobic, low acid conditions that is potentially fatal. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control  and Prevention, “Despite its extreme potency, botulinium toxin is easily destroyed. Heating to an internal temperature of 85° C [185° F] for at least 5 minutes will decontaminate affected food or drink.”  See

Further, food-borne botulism poisoning is rare in the US. The CDC reports that In the United States, an average of 145 cases are reported each year. Of these, approximately 15% [22 cases] are food borne. And the mortality rate for these cases is 3 to 5% [one death].
See for more detailed data.
Since traffic accidents kill over twenty thousand each year, it would seem that driving to buy your canning lids is actually much more hazardous than eating carefully-preserved home-canned tomatoes.

Finally, a pressure canner raises the internal temperature of the product higher than the boiling point, which will kill botulism spores. So, a good pressure canner might be a wise investment for the serious food preserver.

Sometimes though, the simplest methods are the best. Our fast and easy way to can tomatoes is to run them through our Champion Juicer, a sturdy workhorse from the 1970s. The juice oozes out of the throat of the machine and is captured in a small bowl. We save this juice to freeze for risotto or soup stocks. The pulp is thicker and extrudes through the mouth of the juicer into the larger bowl. Nothing is wasted.

Our trusty Champion Juicer

The pulp is heated to the boiling point, poured into jars and canned either in a pressure canner, boiling water bath or steam canner, following the directions for timing as per the relevant manual. We abandoned the boiling water bath in favor of a steam canner years ago; the water bath kettle full of water was heavy to lift and slow to come to the boil. And the steam canner uses far less water and thus require less energy to heat.
The steam canner is fast and energy efficient

So we encourage everyone to do a bit of research, sharpen your knife, and get in the habit of home canning to bring year round nutrition, economy and above all home grown flavors to your pantry. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

After a successful harvest, time to catch our breaths

We're enjoying a slower pace after one of our busiest harvest seasons ever. Cots and peaches ripened 2 weeks earlier than usual, then plums and figs piled on soon after instead of waiting their turn. And except for plums, the harvests were close to record setting size. But we managed to get it done, picking, sorting and selling over 5,000 lbs. of fruit plus canning, drying and freezing lots more seconds for ourselves.

Now the picking buckets and ladders are put away, the bird scare machines are taken down, and we are back to setting our own pace instead of answering to the schedule of quickly ripening fruit. One important post-harvest chore is cleaning up all remaining fruit from the trees and orchard floor. Fruit hiding among the leaves or fallen to the ground due to wind can harbor insects and fungal diseases that cause problems the following season. Apricots and peaches are especially prone to brown rot and unless cleaned up can become fungus bombs when the fall rains come. So we scour the trees for any remaining "mummies" caught up in the branches, then pick up all traces of fruit we can find on the ground.

Apricot mummies like these can broadcast fungus
spores if left on the ground during winter rains

Another chore coming up is removing the sticky crawling insect banding from the trees. After major earwig problems last year, we banded all the cot and peach trees this spring with Tanglefoot. This was a time consuming job involving first smoothing the rough bark on the older trees, then filling in remaining crevices with latex caulking, then wrapping the trunk with soft foam rubber. All of this was to prevent earwigs from crawling under the banding to avoid the Tanglefoot. Next we added a couple of layers of plastic stretch wrap, and finally painted the wrap with Tree Tanglefoot Pest Barrier. (Because it can soften the bark, this goop should not be applied directly to the tree.) Happily this work reduced our earwig damage to near zero.

Earwig barrier of foam rubber, plastic stretch wrap
 and Tree Tanglefoot sticky pest barrier
But earwigs are one of those critters that are both good and bad: bad when they eat fruit, but good in that they can be valuable predators of other pest insects. So now that harvest is over we will remove the outer layer of stretch wrap, leaving a non-sticky layer that the earwigs can cross as they forage the trees for aphids, borers, and other pests.

Apricot Galette

Lay the sliced fruit out in a single layer, sprinkle
with a bit of sugar and chopped nuts if desired
Galettes are rustic pies that are super simple to make and delicious when filled with good fruit.  We recently used some of our last apricots to make this beauty.

You can find an easy recipe for fig galette hereJust about any fruit can be substituted. For juicier fruit like cots or peaches just sprinkle a bit of flour onto the crust before adding the fruit, to absorb the extra juice.

Fold over the edges of the dough 

Bake 45-50 min until the edges are golden

Serve it up!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Our orchard bird scare machines - don't laugh, they work!

Surrounded by woodlands, we have a high population of birds so our little orchard is a magnet for fruit eaters. And being the only active orchard nearby, every bird in the area has us in their sights. We used to lose 50% or more of our fruit to birds, so out of desperation I started experimenting with mechanical means of bird control a few years ago. The result is several home made bird scare machines that have been really successful, reducing our losses to below 5%.

Though these contraptions take major effort and time to set up and maintain every year, we would not be able to leave the fruit on the trees long enough to fully ripen without them. Since our passion is growing fruit with the best flavor, we do what we need to do to get that tree-ripened quality. And as a bonus, these devices get lots of smiles from passersby.

My first design below we christened "Bye-Bye Birdie". This one effectively prevents bird damage in the immediate area, about a 100 ft. diameter circle, and can be moved from place to place with the tractor as different trees ripen:

To cover larger areas I came up with the "Rope-a-dope" systems in the next videos. These are temporarily set up in a given area just before harvest, then taken down for storage. This first one covers about 1/4 acre with around 50 mature apricot trees.  

This next one covers a similar sized block of peach trees.

And this one uses just a single rope strung over three cot trees that are away from the main group.

Another system in my arsenal is the "bird blower." This uses an electric leaf blower, run through PVC pipes, to power flapping plastic bags. It can be easily set up to defend a single tree or expanded to cover larger areas. For hard to protect crops I alternate between this system and the rope-a-dope to keep the birds wary.

So this time of year we have to put up with a bit of noise and fairly frequent repairs and tweaking of the bird scare machines. But without them we would not be able to provide customers with truly tree ripened fruit, or the hearty chuckles they get when witnessing the dancing ropes and milk jugs for the first time.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Our 2013 harvest projection

Our dry warm spring has produced a heavy fruit set with very little fungus damage. Peaches are looking gorgeous as always, and the cots, which always suffer fungus spotting during rainy springs, are looking more perfect and spot-free than they have in several years. After a busy spring of thinning excess fruit, foliar nutrient feedings, mowing down the cover crop and banding tree trunks with Tanglefoot to prevent earwig damage, we're looking forward to a great harvest season. We are now getting close to harvest, setting up our famous bird scare machines and watching closely for any last minute problems. Today (May 20th) we've just eaten our first ripe apricots and have four almost-ripe peaches on the kitchen counter. We're feeling our annual fruit fever taking hold. 

Right now our best estimate is fruit sales will begin approx. June 1. We will be emailing our customer list with updates as we know more. Anyone wanting to receive email notices of fruit sales please send an email to to be added to our list.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The magic of grafting

Why is grafting necessary?
The seeds of most stone fruits will not reproduce fruit identical to the parent. In addition, such seedlings may not be hardy, disease resistant or vigorous. So healthy long-lived fruit trees are made by grafting, which is the joining of two different plants so they grow as one. In the case of fruit trees, the fruit bearing part ("the scion") of the desired fruit variety is grafted onto the root and lower trunk ("the rootstock") of a compatible variety. In my previous post I described how to produce your own rootstocks from root suckers of existing trees. Here I will show some of my favorite grafting methods.

Other reasons for grafting
I graft onto rootstocks to make new fruit trees from scratch, but also to restore older trees where their tops have died back but that still have viable roots. A more common reason to graft is to add additional varieties to an existing tree. For instance by grafting additional types of peaches onto a single backyard tree you can enjoy an extended harvest as each variety ripens in succession. Still another purpose of grafting is to change a tree to a different variety of fruit altogether, in cases where one variety is not performing well in a given climate or an improved variety is favored.

The mechanics of grafting
The basic principle of grafting is that the cambium layers of both rootstock and scion must be mated together so they will ultimately connect. The cambium is the one or two cell-thick layer of tissue responsible for expanding growth of plants. In fruit trees, this is basically the boundary between bark and wood.

I use two basic types of grafting. Dormant season grafting is done before spring growth starts, when both the rootstock and scion are dormant. The second type, bark grafting, is done after the rootstock begins growth in spring, but with scion collected in winter and artificially kept dormant by refrigeration. I've had good success with both and often choose one or the other based upon convenience and work schedule. For either dormant or bark grafting there are multiple ways of forming the graft union depending upon the size of the scion and rootstock.

A wild plum root sucker sprouting
from the base of an old apricot tree
Dormant grafting
At right is an old apricot tree with the top dying back, but a vigorous sucker has sprouted from the wild plum rootstock low on the trunk. So to preserve the tree I grafted apricot onto the rootstock sucker, and if the new graft grows well the original trunk can eventually be completely cut off leaving a new apricot top on the original roots. I've done this on many of our trees with good success. Most often the new top will grow very quickly since it has a full grown root system already in place.

In this case I did a dormant season "whip" graft, selecting apricot scion from a healthy dormant cot tree. The scion wood is cut in mid to late January while still completely dormant, and the grafting done immediately. 

Apricot scion matches the
wild plum rootstock diameter

For a whip graft the scion should be the same diameter as the rootstock sucker so the cambium layers of both will have maximum contact. The scion is cut to a short length having 2-3 buds.

Matching cuts on scion and rootstock

 Using a very sharp knife, matching tapered cuts are made to both parts. Success depends upon good contact between the two parts. After making the knife cuts I generally refine the cut with a sharp block plane to ensure perfect joints.

Refining the bevel cut with a block plane

A notch cut is made about 1/3
the length of the bevel cut

Next a matching tongue is cut in the bevel of both scion and rootstock. This allows the two parts to interlock and increases contact area of the cambium layers.

The scion assembled
into the rootstock 

Scion and rootstock are then slid together, with the tongue cuts interlocking. Side to side lineup is important to ensure the cambium layers contact.

Scion and rootstock are held
together with rubber band

The scion and rootstock are then wrapped tightly with rubber band or green stretchy plant tie tape.

sealing the graft joint and
scion end with grafting wax

All exposed cut tissue must be immediately sealed with grafting wax or other sealer to prevent drying out.

Finally, a paper bag should be tied over the graft to protect from drying winds and bird damage to the buds. After 3-4 weeks a slit can be cut in the bag to monitor progress of the graft. This shot was taken January 20th. For the next few weeks I peek impatiently at the graft, waiting to see growth.

On March 3, the scion has begun to grow, but this is a critical stage - the paper bag must be kept in place to protect from birds and drying winds.

By March 21 I see success, the graft has definitely taken. Protection from high winds and physical damage is still needed, but my future replacement tree is on its way.

Bark grafting
Rootstock sucker cut off and ready
to accept multiple grafts
At right is another candidate for "reincarnation". The top of this old peach tree is in decline, but the root system is strong and has sent up suckers. I will graft the original Springcrest peach scion onto the rootstock suckers, creating a new top on the original root system. The branched sucker offers multiple sites for grafting which will increase the chances of success.

With bark grafting the rootstock must be coming out of dormancy so the bark peels freely from the core. So beginning in mid-late March I test for "bark slipping" by making a shallow "T" shaped cut in the rootstock bark and test with the point of a knife to see if the bark will easily lift and separate from the wood below. When the time is right and the spring sap is beginning to flow the thin bark will lift easily and separate from the wood inside.

Here I have cut off the large 1" diameter rootstock sucker and also two 3/8" diameter side shoots.

Bevel cut on scion
On the 1" rootstock I will insert two scions. For larger stems more scions could be used to speed healing of the graft union.

First scions are selected and cut to length with 3 buds. A smooth bevel cut is made on the scions, opposite the lower bud.   

Next, a shorter bevel cut is made on the opposite side, leaving a chisel edge that will slide easily between the bark and wood of the rootstock.

Then two vertical cuts in the bark are made, matching the width of the scions. The scions are then slid in under the bark.

Rubber band or green stretch tape is then used to bind the scions tightly in place.

All exposed cuts are then sealed to prevent drying out. I have found elastomeric roof coating to work very well.

Now for the 3/8" diameter sucker I use a "four flap" graft. This is a can't-miss technique since it offers much more cambium contact than any other method. 

Scion prepared for "four flap" graft

For the four flap graft the scion must be the same diameter or slightly larger than the rootstock. Four flats are carved into the scion, leaving a thin line of bark at each corner.

Rootstock prepared with four
vertical cuts through the bark

The rootstock is prepared by making four vertical cuts and peeling back the bark like banana peels. 

Then the woody core of the rootstock is cut off.

Next the scion is set in place and wrapped tightly within the flaps of rootstock bark. All grafts are then sealed and covered with paper bags while I wait hopefully for signs of growth.

Successful grafts

At left, all four scions have taken and are growing well. 

The above are just some examples of grafting technique. There are many more, easily found through online research or horticultural organizations. 

I always enjoy grafting, I guess because it seems somehow magical that two growing organisms can be spliced together like woodworker's cabinetry joints and then begin growing as one plant. My first grafting experience was as a child, carving holes into the big broad leaves of my mother's prickly pear cactus and plugging in small pickle-shaped cacti of another type. Seeing the little peanut cactus growing out of the side of a big broad cactus leaf was fascinating, and I still enjoy seeing the magic today.