Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hard graft

The last few college days have involved rather a lot of practical work. We've been out in the polytunnel or on the plots doing everything from sowing seeds and collecting propagation material, to planting trees and creating raised beds. (The latter two requiring more bending and spade work than my back was really comfortable with.) But I was very enthusiastic when we got on to grafting fruit trees. The particular form of grafting we carried out is called 'whip and tongue grafting' and refers to the specific angled cuts that need to be made in both the rootstock and scion to ensure that there is good contact of the cambium (the growth tissue) between the two. The technique is described on the RHS website here. Armed with my brand new grafting knife, I set about practising ahead of the timed assessment.

practice graft in the polytunnel using a grafting block

Once I'd got the hang of the intricacies of the cuts, the practice grafts were relatively easy as they're done at bench height using offcuts from apple trees pushed into a grafting block to simulate the rootstock. It is quite a delicate operation though because the most natural way of holding each 'twig' while you're cutting it always seem to be with your non-cutting hand in direct firing line of the blade should it slip... 

And later it was time for the assessment, where we had to complete 3 grafts onto planted rootstock in 20 minutes. Being at ground level is a bit more difficult than bench level - you can either bend right over to work close to the ground (not great once you're over 35, to be honest) or kneel on a grafting block (a bit tough on the knees but bearable for 5 mins at a time). We each had a line of 3 rootstocks and a choice of scion - I decided on Blenheim Orange. I finished my grafts well within the 20 minutes, fully labelled and trimmed to an appropriate height. Suburban Orchard here we come!

My three grafts in line, front to back. 


  1. Unfortunately the practicalities of being a gardener do involve sore backs and aching muscles! I'm rather envious of your course as I'd love to find a good RHS course near me. I'm full of admiration as I imagine it takes a lot of dedication and commitment to keep going, especially in the cold winter months. Would love to know more about your course!

  2. My course (at Capel Manor College) is only 1 day a week and thankfully we did lots of classroom-based learning during the worst of the weather! I did 2 exams in mid-Feb and have 2 more in late June. Am eagerly awaiting my first lots of results - they're released at the end of April!

  3. You must have felt a great sense of satisfaction Jules and hope that you gave yourself a pat on the back afterwards. If it were me I would probably have cut myself under the pressure :)

    1. There were 2 knife-related injuries in my group on the day... Nothing too serious though.

  4. Wow! You have done a very good job! Very interesting course!