In the late summer of 2009, Joyce’s nephew, Will, came to visit and help me clear some trails through our woods. One of the trails was smothered in wild grape vine. As we began clearing it, we realised that the tree that we were uncovering was an apple. And there were a couple of apples still on the tree. Using a stick, I flipped it into his hands. It was large, yellow-skinned and completely unblemished. There were no signs that insects had bored into it. So we sliced it open to find the flesh completely unblemished. Biting into it, our eyebrows shot skyward. It was crisp, juicy, and SWEET! I was pretty sure that it was a wild apple since this area of our property hasn’t been under cultivation for at least 40 years. Since each apple tree that grows from a seed is unique, i.e., the seed does not come true to the parent, my first thought was that we might have something special. To “reproduce” the tree, I would need to graft a scion onto rootstock. Scion wood should be last year’s growth. But in a tree that has rarely or never pruned, growth slows and it’s difficult to find and identify last year’s growth. I knew that pruning would produce water sprouts which would be the scions I needed. Finding rootstock was a far bigger problem than I expected: it didn’t seem to be available in Canada to the amateur who only wanted a few rootstocks. I finally found someone in British Columbia who would sell me the dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties that I was interested in. As I was placing the order, I decided to increase it so that I could propagate my own rootstock even though I had only a vague idea of how to go about it. As it turns out, that decision was inspired because the BC seller no longer makes rootstock available.
So I placed at order for six each of M9, B9, M26 and M7 which arrived at the end of March 2010. So I had rootstock but immediately was confronted with a significant difference in diameter between the rootstock and the scion wood that I had. OK, time to slow down a bit and think. I needed to find a hands-on mentor since I didn’t have a lot of rootstock to spare. And the scion wood was a bit sketchy since the tree had only just been pruned and hadn’t produced water shoots yet. I decided not to have a go at grafting that year but I had no place to put the rootstock. Rubbermaid to the rescue.
And so they sat all summer long on the veranda. They bushed out quite nicely and only one died. But along came the fall and once again the problem was what to do with the rootstock. I figured they might die if they stayed on the veranda all winter long. So I decided to sink the Rubbermaid containers into one of our raised beds reasoning that the roots would be surrounded by the soil of the bed even though they weren’t growing in it. Then we had a heavy downpour and the containers were overflowing and I realized that there were no drainage holes. So I got a bit extension for my drill and drilled ½” holes into the bottom. Sometime one-thing-leads-to-another can be tedious. So there they sat tucked in for the winter.
Fast forward to spring 2011. Bud break in the orchard was matched by bud break in the rootstock. I still didn’t have a mentor but the previous spring’s pruning had produced lots of identifiable new growth. There’s a small-ish window for grafting before bud break. Miss it and you might as well wait until next year. I missed it but things have progressed well nonetheless. First of all, a friend directed me to someone he knows who grafts fruit-trees so the mentor problem may be solved. And I did a fair bit of digging trying to find out how to propagate apple rootstock. I found lots of very poor descriptions that talked about stooling and layering but weren’t very complete. Then I found The Step by Step Guide to Plant Propagation and the process became much clearer.
So I transferred that rootstock from the tupperware containers to a raised bed. There is a second technique called trench layering. I decided to try both.
In the process of layering, I found that one of the rootstocks had sprouted from below the soil and that the sprout had roots.
That and this video on raising your own apple tree rootstock
make me feel I’m on the right track. I hope so because that yellow apple in the woods already has a name – Will’s Gold.