A Sure Hand and a Sharp Knife


Andrew Weidmanapples

One of my favorite early spring activities involves a sure hand and a sharp knife. I admit, it’s not an activity most people think about, but it does keep me (mostly) out of trouble. What am I talking about, you ask? In a word, grafting.

I’ve been grafting for about 15 years now, after attending a public workshop with my dad the year after I moved into Patmar House. I don’t actually have any of those original trees any more; mainly because at the time I had no idea what apple varieties I wanted to grow. That workshop had scion wood for about a hundred different varieties of apples, both antique and modern, with intriguing names like Sops-in-wine, Kandil Sinap, and Calville Blanc d’Hiver. There were so many possibilities to explore, far too many to decide on just two.


And this was before I even tried to make the graft. Sure, I had just sat through the 20-minute class, frantically taking notes, trying desperately not to miss anything vital. Even with the ready assistance of several grafting instructors, I was all thumbs, barely keeping the knife in my hand and fearing I’d carve the fingers from my other hand. I have no doubt I did just about everything wrong that year, making the same cut several times, and frustrating myself to no end. 

You know what? Both of my grafts survived. Despite my best efforts, they knitted together, formed trees and grew. They grew long enough for me to learn how to prune properly (by pruning improperly), and to learn the importance of carefully choosing the placement of permanent plantings in the landscape (by, you guessed it, choosing poorly). They even grew long enough to allow us to sample the fruits of that mostly random, mostly romanticized selection of two varieties of antique apple. Life is too short, and an apple tree’s lifespan is too long for blindly grabbing at varieties. There are reasons why we don’t have those two trees any more.

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