Grafting is a technique used to change the variety of an apple tree by inserting a section of an apple (budding limb) limb into the stock of another tree. The insert, or scion, then begins producing and the lower portion, or host, serves as it’s root system. This way we are able to use the root systems of undesirable varieties (sorry Red Delicious fans). This allows us to try some new, old or exciting apple varieties at the Orchard and determine those that are worth planting on a larger scale.
This process starts in February or March while the trees are still dormant. Our Orchardist braves the weather and heads out into the orchard to scout the trees for the perfect scion specimens. The scions are gathered and stored until late spring.
Once the bark on the apple trees starts slipping, typically mid-late spring, it is time to start grafting. We typically use two grafting techniques- the whip and tongue method and the bark graft method.
We use the whip & tongue method when the wood is a year old and about the diameter of a pencil. We match the diameter of the host tree to the diameter of the scion. A tongue cut is made allowing the scion and the host to lock together.
We use the bark graft when the wood is older than a year or the diameter is larger than 3/8-1/2 of an inch. A portion or branch of the host is cut back and the scions are then placed snuggly inside the cut. Within 2-3 years the scions will begin producing apples with the host tree serving as it’s root system.
Grafting has allowed us to add 20 different varieties of apples onto trees that were once Red Delicious. Some of these are Heirloom varieties such as the Cox Orange Pippen, Esopus Spitzenburg and Reinette Simirenko. Others are newer, even experimental, such as the ME-8256. The ME 8256 was developed by Russell Bailey at the University of Maine in the ‘50s and offered to growers to try in their orchards. Our scions came from the orchards set out originally by Charley Fillibrown in Waterford. The ME 8256 doesn't have a name yet. We are looking forward to naming the ME 8256 here this Maine Apple Sunday, September 13, 2015!