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Four apple trees

By John Gould / June 10, 1983



After Jack Nicklaus persuaded me not to oppose him this season on the professional golfers' tour, it occurred to me that I might find it hard to amuse myself during the prolonged hiatus Maine contrives between winter and spring. But fortune favors the brave, and clean living promotes salubrity, and I have not wanted for action. I have just finished grafting an apple tree, which took a good part of March and April, although not exclusively. Betimes I seeded some flats, stacked a little wood, made my pleasant visits to the bank to see Cynthia , and yammered at clamdiggers who walked to the shore across my winter rye. I'm a gentle grafter (O. Henry wrote about me) but have not done any since we sold the ancestral acres and moved to tidewater and indolence. Resumption of the art was triggered right here on this page.

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Had to do with Red Astrachan apples. Recalling boyhood memories of the best appie-soss of all, I lamented the lack of Red Astrachans. Readers rallied, and I learned that some plant nurseries still offer that variety. I knew that, but I'm leery. Some time back I bought a half dozen alleged Red Astrachans, but they came on dwarf stock and in four-five years their fruit disappointed me. I think two of them were Ben Davis and the other four were not. I'm grateful to those readers, but I also had an offer of true, oldtime scions from long-established family trees, and these are the ones I've just grafted.

There's a bit of a story about how I happen to have a tree onto which I can set scions. About a dozen years ago, after we'd left the farm, I had a letter from a nursery in Minnesota, asking me to help with a problem. They would like to send me (the letter said) four apple trees at no charge. One was to come by United Parcel Service, one by ordinary parcel post, one by parcel post special handling, and the fourth by parcel post special delivery. Would I report the order in which they arrived, and their condition? This would guide them in making their spring shipments into New England. I imagine anybody can guess how that worked out. UPS delivered the first tree to my doorstep on the Friday. On Saturday the R.F.D. carrier brought the tree by ordinary parcel post, leaving it by the roadside box, along with two notices that special handling and special delivery mail was at the post office to be picked up. As the post office closes at noon on Saturdays, I got the third and fourth trees Monday, after they had dried nicely over Sunday. However, all four trees did well when I planted them. One was set behind the house on my land. The other three were planted on a neighbor's land, and my neighbor was glad. That next winter a rabbit girdled his three and they ceased and desisted. Mine did fine, and the third year it bloomed and produced about a peck of red apples that had the consistency of an acetate rayon sponge and the flavor of a sawdust baseball. I think it doesn't take much to be an apple in Minnesota.

I neglected that tree after that, and allowed my wild blackberries to surround it. But when this spring I got a package of Red Astrachan scions in the mail, I had only that tree to set them in, and I went to pruning and shaping. I trimmed it back to a whisper and made ready to graft. I found my long-unused pruning knife in a box on the shop shelf, oiled it and honed it and made it ready to shape the scions. I found, also, my old tin can of grafting wax. Trowbridge's Grafting Wax. I had two sticks of wax from long ago, as well as what was left in the melting can. Made by Walter E. Clark & Son of Orange, Connecticut, one stick was in the ''old'' package, and I was glad to read that the ''new'' package was adopted in November of 1934.

I do the cleft graft, which is easiest, Split the small limb into which the scions will be set, matching the cambrium layers of bark to facilitate the formation of parenchyma cells in the callus tissue. It isn't the wood that's joined, so to speak, but the sap-bearing bark. Not all grafts produce what the pomologists call a good physiological union. Hence I won't know for some time if my Minnesota refugee will make a suitable host for a Red Astrachan. Things may turn out smooth as silk, or I may get joints that are bumpy. Oh, yes - I suspended a gallon plastic milk jug on a string so it waves about the vicinity. This is meant to keep birds from perching on my scions and dislodging them. So, fingers crossed all, and come around in four years and see if you like Red Astrachans.