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Scoffers & Wet Blankets

It is an easy thing to scoff… a little wit mixed with ill nature, confidence, and malice will do it; but though they venture boldly yet they are often caught in their own trap.

— Izaak Walton 

The rain ceremony in Boonville last Saturday was answered so promptly that at least one of Lucian’s (he’s the patron saint of scoffers) adherents — me — got caught off guard. I did not actually attend the lunchtime rain ceremony at the Seed, Scion, and Cutting Exchange. After a long morning of classes on fruit tree grafting, I went home and put my bedding in the wash. The blankets were not quite dry by nightfall; and, so, scoffing at the efficacy of the rain ceremony — dismissing it as superstitious grandstanding, actually — I decided to leave the blankets on the line over night. Result? Wet blankets.

Granted, it wasn’t much of a rain. But the event was attended with another auspicious dispensation from Mother Nature. A heavy fog lifted at precisely 9:00 — just as the gates opened — and the sun came out to warm the crowds of fruit tree enthusiasts, as if it were all part of a Greater Plan.

Scoff if you want, but more and more Valley People are attending these kinds of events, as even the most myopic cynics have been looking up lately to see if the sky really is falling. Our government reassures us daily that “the economy is in recovery, jobs are being created, Americans are going back to work in greater numbers than ever before, income disparity will soon balance out, everything will work out fine…”

But just to be on the safe side lots of ordinary urbanites have taken a recent interest in things like woodstoves, vegetable patches, hen houses, and fruit trees. Maybe it’s just a trend, but there seems to be more motivation behind it than mere nostalgia for the back-to-the-land movement of the early 1970s.

The event was very well attended. There were a lot of middle-aged and retired people who were out to learn how to plant, prune and graft fruit trees. And I fit that category, too. The fruit trees at The Compound have been in decline, if not a state of ruin, for years and propping up the sagging, rotting branches has not helped much. Some skillful know-how is called for. And for that know-how we had Tim Bates of the Apple Farm on planting, trimming and pruning, and a grafting clinic with Steven Edholm and Richard Jeske.


There were buckets of rootstock everywhere and long tables laid with cuttings; the varieties were abundant and the prices affordable. The AV Teen Center had a Café Latte set up for refreshments. Other tables included handcrafted soaps from the Albion Farmers Market, local grass-fed lamb — and skins — from Alice Woelfe-Erskine of Boonville, pickled vegetables, fish, and mushrooms from J.D. Streeter — the Pickle Guy — and kombucha from Mountain View Fermentation by Chris Marchio.

A lunch was served after the rain ceremony, but I had hurried home to transcribe my notes into a plan for saving our pear and apple trees and to practice the art of grafting while the classes were fresh in my mind. As Mr. Edholm pointed out, watching a film or reading a booklet on grafting is not the same as having some hands-on instruction and actual practice.

The first order of business is to sharpen up a good grafting knife, and the next thing is to get out a box of bandaids, because in making the necessary cuts you must cut in the direction of your hands and fingers.

I do not recommend trying to graft fruit trees after reading my article, but some of the basic nomenclature may prove useful to the casual reader, or even inspire further reading.

Scions are the cuttings to be grafted onto the tree or rootstock — this is done when the scion is dormant. The cambium is the membrane between the bark and the wood of a tree, and the cambium of the scion must match up with the cambium of the rootstock in order for the graft to succeed. There are a number of techniques, such as the whip & tongue graft and the cleft graft. After the scion is grafted on, it is wrapped in a cloth tape and sealed with Dr. Barwell’s patented grafting wax, which is similar to a thick latex paint. The wax seals the moisture in the graft — otherwise it would dry out and die.

I got a pile of scions and branches out of our drought-dry burn pile to practice on and in the next week or two, when the cuts on my fingers heal up, I shall be ready to work on our sad fruit trees.

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