Good Fruit Grower

October 2015

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34 OCTOBER 2015 GOOD FRUIT GROWER I t is said that Californians change fruit varieties as freely as other growers change socks. Topworking trees to keep the roots and shift to different variet- ies is far less widely practiced in the East than it is in the West, but at DeFisher Fruit Farms in Williamson, New York, Dave DeFisher uses side grafting and cleft grafting to transform orchards. While Dave and his father, Bill, still primarily produce apples for pro- cessing, they have topworked orchards to change from less desirable processing varieties to better ones, to change from processing varieties to fresh market ones, and now they are changing orchards to incorpo- rate more hard cider varieties, as cider demand is boom- ing and specialty hard cider trees are diffi cult to fi nd. During the Lake Ontario Summer Fruit Tour in June, DeFisher's message to visiting growers was, think before you push those older blocks. Not only can you capture the benefits of existing roots, you should think twice before taking out some older vari- eties. Many older varieties that are out of favor for fresh or processing fi t very well into the hard cider world. In 2012, the DeFishers opened Apple Country Spirits and went into business selling distilled spirits and hard apple cider from the fruit they were already growing on the farm. On a shelf inside, Applejack, an aged bourbon-like product, was selling at Jack Daniels' prices, $43 a bottle. Several Cornell University specialists were in the orchards during the tour to speak about some of the methods and benefi ts of topworking. Mario Miranda Sazo, the Lake Ontario Fruit Programs cultural practices educator, noted that planting an orchard can entail two to three years of soil preparation followed by two to three years' growing time before much production is achieved, whereas topworked orchards can produce fruit the year after grafting. Not attractive Matt Wells, who replaced Alison DeMarree as Cornell's production economics and business management educator, said that grafting is a quick way to convert an orchard, assuming the grower is happy with the existing rootstock and spacing. Topworked orchards are "not attractive," he said, but the cost is lower. Instead of paying $8 for a whole new tree, it costs 50 to 75 cents for each stick grafted, and it takes only one on a small tree or about three on a tree four inches or so in diameter. The "power" in the established root propels swift growth. DeFisher said he uses two different grafting styles, depending in part on the size of the existing root. On the larger ones, he cuts the tree off, leaving two or three scaffold limbs at the bottom to serve as "draw limbs" pulling water and nutrients. He grafts about three of the new scion sticks, each about six inches long, around the edge of the cut stump. Cleft graft- ing matches the cambium layers on the two. He uses a small bamboo stake to support the shoot until the new graft union is strong. When the graft shoots are established, he will choose one to be the central leader and either remove extra shoots or bend them down into scaffold positions. On smaller trees, he uses a side graft. The new scion shoot is grafted Before you PUSH TREES Older orchards can be repurposed to new uses or topworked to new varieties. by Richard Lehnert "There are no rules, and very few cider snobs." —Ian Merwin

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