Sunny Slope Orchard

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

Monday, March 25, 2013

Home made fruit trees

When I bought our property in 1971 the orchard was a motley assortment of neglected and dilapidated fruit trees, relics from the famous Vacaville early-ripening fruit region. But it was late May and delicious cherries were ripe, followed soon by Royal apricots, Spring Crest peaches and various plum varieties, all with flavor beyond anything I had ever experienced. Without question I took on the job of preserving those old trees and propagating more.

When I talked about planting more trees, my old Italian neighbors showed me how their father started his orchards from scratch. Upon immigrating from Italy, he started most of his own trees by rooting cuttings and grafting them. Having little money but ample youthful ambition, I did just that.
Scion from Royal apricot being prepared
for grafting to wild plum root stock

Because a tree grown from the seed of a great apricot, peach or plum will not produce the same fruit as the parent, these and many other fruits are propagated by grafting wood from the desired variety onto a particular root stock. The root stock is a compatible type of tree that has good disease resistance and vigor but does not usually produce great fruit of its own. Apricots and plums are normally grafted onto a wild plum root stock. Peaches must grow on a wild peach root, and cherries on a wild cherry root.

Fresh leaves indicate this peach root stock
cutting has begun to take root. It will be grafted
to a Springcrest peach the following winter
So my old neighbors showed up one winter day with a handful of dormant wild plum cuttings, 15"-18" long lengths of suckers that had sprouted from the base (below the apricot graft union) of their homestead apricot trees during the previous year. As instructed, I stuck them in the garden about 6" deep and kept the soil wet. In spring the cuttings began to sprout leaves. Keeping them well watered, I let them grow through the summer, developing root systems and small branches.

The next winter I dug the dormant rooted cuttings and planted them out in the orchard, filling in empty spaces in the grid. After this second season of growth, I then grafted them to apricot or plum the following dormant season. Now except for a handful of original trees, our apricot, peach and plum trees have all been "home made" just this way.

Next post I'll show some of my favorite methods of grafting. Meanwhile, our warm dry spring has been perfect for pollination, so most trees are bristling with tiny fruit free of the fungus spots caused by late season rains. On the down side the lack of rain means low well levels and lots of stress for the trees this summer. But like us they will just have to make do with what they have.

A new peach tree in its
second year after grafting.

A grafted peach in its fifth year