Grafting Workshop with Chester Dott from Forbidden Fruits Nursery

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Rain, Rain, Rain!  That’s what you can expect at Mullumbimby anytime of the year.  Reputed to be the second wettest place in Australia, and already this wet season, they’ve had 2.67m. Mullumbimby is about 1½ hours south of Brisbane, and a short distance north of Byron Bay. A good number attended the grafting course, forty-nine in all, mostly from the Sub-Tropical Fruit Club in Brisbane.  To everyone’s delight it was a beautiful sunny day – apart from two brief showers – just to remind us we were in Mullumbimby!

Chester Dott and his wife, Ketut, hosted the day and it was a pleasure to be in their company and enjoy the warmth and hospitality of their home and place of business. The day began with Chester giving a thorough explanation of all the materials and tools associated with grafting and budding.  This included grafting tapes, plant I.D. tags, plastic bags to cover new grafts, and the correct sharpening of grafting knives and plane blades. Following this, we were taken on an orchard walk for the purpose of learning how to select grafting wood.  Chester took selections of Carambola, Black Sapote, Mango, White Sapote, Longan, Wampi, Star Apple and Citrus.  These were promptly defoliated by secateurs, tagged, and wrapped in moist newspaper so that on return to the house there was no confusion about variety, and no dried out wood. After the walk we were all ready for a bite to eat, and eat we did! For a small cost we were treated to a delicious Indonesian vegetarian lunch, prepared by Chester’s wife, Ketut, and a friend visiting for the day.  I didn’t know what I was supposed to eat first, but it didn’t matter – it was all fabulous (as it turned out I ate the dessert first!) How would you go cooking hot food for 49 visitors to your house?  Well, they did and everyone was well satisfied.  The black sticky-rice pudding with coconut cream was a big hit with me! If the food was fabulous, equally was the view from the front veranda where we ate.  In the near distance were the picturesque valleys of Mullumbimby neatly framed by the nearby huge Ice Cream Bean trees and in the far distance the majestic Mt. Warning National Park with its unmistakable peak of Mt. Warning.  Talk about an appetizer! After lunch Chester demonstrated the grafting techniques for the selections he had made on our walk.  He told us he can graft up to 400 plants a day if he has help moving plants into position. Unfortunately, we ran out of time to see a demonstration of an orchard tree being “top-worked”.  This is where the branches are pruned back hard, and another variety grafted onto the tops of the cut limbs or shoots growing from the cut limbs.

The following are a few points of interest that I noted throughout the course of the day:

1.    The best times to graft are the days leading up to a full moon.

2.    Most grafting or scion wood should not be refrigerated but used as fresh as possible. 

       The exception is deciduous trees like: persimmon, fig, apples, pears and stone fruit.

3.    Use methylated spirits to sterilize grafting tools.

4.    Put a dab of grafting paint on the top of the scion or any open cuts in graft area.                     

       This is to prevent disease, & to stop the scion from drying out.

5.    To grow seedling apples for rootstocks use Granny Smith seeds. This applies anywhere on the East Coast.

6.    When grafting a tree already growing in your yard/orchard, do your graft on the sunny side.  This gives a better success rate                  .

7.    Fast growing plants/rootstocks don’t need any leaves below the graft union eg. White Sapote, Mango,  

8.    Avocado. Carambola, etc.  Slow growers like Macadamias, Black Sapote should have some leaves retained on the rootstock below the graft, if possible, to improve success rates.

9.    A graft can be done anywhere on a tree.  On most nursery stock, the graft is found on the lower part of the trunk.

10.  Keep soil dry when grafting/budding citrus.

11.  Longans have very hard wood so use a small plane to make angle cuts on scion and rootstock.  Graft October and late March (Spring & Autumn) Longans are very difficult to graft successfully.

12.  Sapodilla – graft in hot weather.

13.  Ringbark (cincture) branches of Longans and Macadamias to be used for scions.  Leave on tree for up to two months to build supply of sugar in the scion.  This will improve chances of a better success rate.

14.  Choose vigorously growing young rootstocks when grafting.

15.  Don’t overwater the rootstock because when you cut the top off the tree to do the graft, the roots are not able to take up the excessive moisture.

16.  Don’t let the cut surface of the rootstock dry out. If it does, then recut a little off immediately prior to doing your graft.

It was late afternoon when we finished the workshop and folks were keen to get home, but then we had to pass by the nursery.  Now who in their rare-fruit-mind can pass through a nursery of exotics without a bit of a gander!  Yes, I bought a couple!  One, a native I’ve been after, an Atherton Oak that bears edible nuts and a grafted Rollinia.  This cultivar is a selection by Chester that comes highly recommended.  All his grafted selections are prefixed with the nursery name “Forbidden Fruits” indicating place of origin.

This was a rare opportunity to learn from someone who has been in the business a long time.  I’m sure all who attended, appreciated Chester’s willingness to share some of his hard earned experiences with us, making our path to learning a little easier.