Mid-winter grafting; one trunk, many apples

A blue-tongue lizard enjoying the winter sunshine in the gardenIt’s a mid-winter Sunday on the Adelaide Plains and the sun is shining from a blue sky, the temperature is heading for a maximum of 21 degrees C, and even a blue-tongue lizard has come out to soak up some warmth in the winter sunshine. Perfect weather to get the grafting done before the warmth of Spring starts sap flowing in the fruit trees and bud-burst comes upon us…

Granny Smith apple before pruning and grafting begin Out in the front yard stands a Granny Smith apple tree that I’m gradually bringing under control after letting it run wild for far too long. Year after year, Codling moth, parrots and possums have destroyed the green cooking apples produced by this old tree. Then, some years back, I joined the Rare Fruit Society of South Australia and learnt a bit about grafting; this old Granny Smith is the most tolerant of trees for a grafting beginner like me. Furthermore, grafting will allow this one tree to supply us with a dozen different types of apple over a longer fruiting season from an established root system in a limited space.

The ‘Rare Fruities’ – as they are affectionately known – have a grafting night every July and we went along about a fortnight ago to purchase scion wood (short lengths of dormant apple, apricot, nectarine, peach and almond budded twigs). These have been kept fresh in an old outside fridge, well away from the tantalising and wakeful aromas of the cook’s own refrigerator inside the house.

'Scion wood' taken from other apple varieties that will be grafted onto the Granny Smith apple tree using the rightmost grafting knife.At the top left of the photo is a French ‘Bahco’ grafting knife purchased locally, while on the right is my hand-crafted German knife purchased in the Fatherland while all the other tourists were buying up big on postcards and ice creams. Not shown is the box of bandages I inevitably need for that moment when my concentration drifts away from the razor-sharp knife in my hand to one of those other two dozen fascinating subjects jostling for space in my head.

 Run-away vertical growth typical of this apple tree; the centre will need to be pruned out and the overall height reducedI’ve learnt to make ‘whip-and-tongue’ grafts, as these are perfect for joining together grafts of about the same diameter.  First I prune the tree with pruning saw and secateurs to remove all the vertical growth that apples are so good at pushing up in a single season, and to get the tree back to working height with all the extraneous twigs and branches removed. I only graft on one side of this particular tree, leaving the other side to bear Granny Smith apples in case all my efforts at other flavours come to nought. This year’s apple grafts are Cox’s Orange Pippin, Fuji Red, Royal Gala 1, Canadian Red, Summer Strawberry and Braeburn Red. The same tree after pruning and ready for grafting to begin All buds below the graft are trimmed off. All fruit that develops on these grafts during the first year will also be removed lest they sap the strength of the developing graft or snap it off altogether.

First an oblique cut is made at the end of the scion wood that the buds point way from. Next the same type of shallow angled cut is made on the rootstock wood (the Granny Smith bit). A straight cut is ‘rocked’ into both these angles about 1/3 of the way down from the tip. (This gentle rocking action prevents excessive force leading to the knife slipping and taking a finger off!)

Creating the 'whip and tongue' graft on the psion wood...

...and here on the Granny Smith rootstock

Then the two pieces are gently married together by dextrous pressure on the ‘tongues’ of the ‘whip’ cuts. Joining two 'whip and tongue' grafts togetherFinally the whole joint is bound up with ordinary electrical tape that will be left on for six months or more to splint the new graft while it heals. Normally I’d use white tape to reflect radiant solar heat from the graft, but this year I’ve run out, so it’s back to black. One can buy fancy grafting tapes, but readily-available electrical tape also has the perfect combination of stickiness married with relaxation under pressure as the graft swells. Another completed graft, with an ornamental pear tree in the background against a blue winter skyThe taped graft is labelled in the vain hope that I will one day be able to identify the apple variety that it produces

Over the coming months I will return again and again to these branches below the grafts, removing any Granny Smith foliage that develops to prevent it diverting nutrients away from the new apple branch being formed.

Now for the peaches, nectarines, apricots and almonds down the backyard…they are much more likely to be disappointing compared to the robust apple.

Cabbage Earliball #2

A while back (beginning of June) I wrote about this cabbage. Well, here it is, the same head, all nicely grown and soon to be harvested. The rest of the cabbages in the same bed are of various sizes, just perfect. So we should have a continuous supply of cabbage, instead of one big glut.What's your favourite use of cabbage or recipe? Coleslaw? Sauerkraut?


Green Macerata (which does not look green to me, but who am I to bicker?) and more of the purple cauliflower. The latter has opened up heaps, so I just pretend I am harvesting purple sprouting broccoli. Looks exactly like that to me. We'll be having veggie feasts. I am not complaining. :)

How to save tomato seed – the last step

It’s almost exactly the middle of winter, and the seed-saving tasks left over from summer are coming to an end – just tomatoes and sunflowers still to sort out…

Collecting tomato seed was described here, while photos of the tomato seed fermenting in their own juices can be found midway down the article here. Tomato seed is separated from the fermenting fluid that cleanses it by pouring the seedy fluid onto carefully-labelled absorbent paper kitchen towels and setting them to dry in a sunny windowThe gelatinous gloop that surrounds the tomato seeds has been left to do its job inside the storage containers, and with luck, the various diseases that can be carried forward from one tomato crop to the next via the seed have been nuked by this fermentation process.

From here on, it’s only a matter of pouring the seedy fluid onto carefully-labelled absorbent paper kitchen towels and setting them to dry on a sunny window sill.

Seed tins (old coffee containers) are labelled with a permanent black text-pen on removable duct-tape stuck on the lid and dated 7/11 for July 2011 With that step behind one, seed tins are labelled and dated (7/11 is all I will write on them to show a storage date of July 2011) then seed is scraped off the paper towel with a sharp knife or just a fingernail. So hey presto, seed for next year’s crop is stored in the seed collection, to be opened gratefully in a few months time when there’s a hint of spring in the air and my thoughts turn to the next tomato crop.

'Tommy-toe' cherry tomato seeds after scraping them off the absorbent paper

It seems like slim-pickings, but when one plants only thirty or forty tomato plants each year, this is more than enough seed to carry a home gardener into the next season.

Sorting bean seed for storage

Quite some effort goes into harvesting and processing our ‘Lazy Wife’ bean seed for use next summer. And not just for our own backyard garden – by disseminating surplus seed, I am able to encourage others to grow on this wonderful old heritage variety of green eating bean.

These beans were shelled over a month ago, and have been kept ever since in an open sieve in a dry sunny spot away from mice and damp. With a cold wind blowing outside under grey skies, the laborious task of ‘bean sorting’ holds more appeal than usual…

Almost one third of the crop that was shelled is unfit for seed-saving. These seeds are separated out by firstly sieving out the small seeds and debris through the large sieve in which they have been air drying. Then all the seeds that are distorted, discoloured, misshapen, wrinkled or already under attack by bean weevils are hand-picked out of there and thrown into the compost.

Distorted, discoloured, misshapen, wrinkled beans are discarded. Some are already under attack by bean weevils.

Good seeds have uniform size, shape and colour. This careful selection process ensures that the ‘best-of-the-breed’ continues on.

These 'hand-selected' beans will be used for next year's bean crop, and as gifts to fellow gardeners.

The big danger for bean seed is the inevitable ‘bean weevil’. Even though only a few months have past since the pods were picked and dried, some seeds are already showing the tell-tell signs of bean weevil attack; one or more small neat 1mm diameter holes drilled right through the dried bean seed. And sure enough, a vigorous shake of the bean sieve sprinkles a number of these 2mm long culprits out onto the kitchen table; the little devils can be seen below taking this opportunity to make more bean weevil eggs!


So the hand-selected beans are placed in old coffee tins (my standard seed containers) and will spend 24 hours in the deep freezer to kill off all weevil eggs remnant in the bean seed; the bean seeds will themselves survive these low temperatures

A walk through the winter garden

With the arrival of grey skies and the onset of the gentle winter rains here on the Adelaide Plains, one might easily forget the vast arid desert on our doorstep to the north, a desert twice the size of Germany in South Australia alone. Not for nothing are we known as the driest state in the driest continent. Yet despite almost thirty years living with the Aussie gardener, the German cook has seen almost nothing of this vast hinterland. So with the rains sustaining the garden, there was just time for a one week dash north into the sunshine, and a memorable helicopter flight over Lake Eyre and Cooper Creek where it crosses the Birdsville Track.

Lunch in a creek bed south of the coal mining town of Leigh Creek in northern South Australia

Helicopter flight from Marree South Australia over Lake Eyre

Rock formation near Arkaroola in South Australia






Brocolli, parsnip and chinese cabbage seedlings just planted into fibre pots in mid-winterBack home again, and the garden has survived, although everything has slowed down as the temperatures have dropped. Nevertheless, planting still goes on in a never-ending cycle of germination, growth, harvest and going-to-seed.

While we relish all the usual soft summer fruits such as figs, peaches, apricots, grapes and nectarines, plums and berries, winter time on the Adelaide Plains is citrus time; oranges, lemons, limes, mandarins and grapefruit flourish and provide plenty of Vitamin C just as the rest of the population starts to catch colds and flu.

Washinton Navel eating oranges bearing in mid-winter on the Adelaide Plains in South Australia

Grapefruit on the world's most reliable tree; it bears abundant fruit year after year with almost no inputs.

Plenty of green things are doing well – broccoli, silver beet, beetroot, fennel, nettles, peas and potatoes.

Silverbeet for the chooks, and brocolli for the humans...

Garlic, leeks and onions are also underway; their biggest competition in this rich black soil comes from self-seeding nettles which will swamp them unless hoed out.

Young garlic, leek and onion seedlings getting underway in the winter garden. These will not be ready for harvest until mid-summer.

'Aquadulce' broad beans being grown for seedBroad beans are one of the few seeds that germinate readily under these cold conditions; these ‘Aquadulce’ broad beans are part of my rare seed collection being grown on for seed rather than food.

Down in the asparagus beds, the ferns have died off and will soon be cut back with hedge shears to allow the asparagus spears room to poke through in spring. Once trimmed off, compost made over several years in a Gedye Bin from household scraps will be added to the bed to keep the fertility up.

Asparagus bed in mid-winter before the ferns are cut back to ground level A Gedye Bin (left) produces rich fertile soil (right) from household scraps. The bin sits upon a brick base that prevents mice from tunneling up inside it looking for a free feed and a warm home.