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Keith Borglum likes to eat well. And that greed for ever more variety and freshness compels him to graft.

Not the financial kind. The woody kind.

The medical practice management consultant starts, repairs, sells and merges medical practices. But his own prescription for health is an apple a day, or maybe a plum or a peach. And having a job that enables him to work at home, keeps him close to his virtually endless supply of fruit.

"I can sit home at my computer but then, run out and pick an apple if I want," he said.

A member of both the Slow Food movement and the Redwood Chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers, Borglum maintains 30 to 40 trees on his 2?-acre ranchette in rural Santa Rosa. From that small orchard he harvests more than 100 varieties.

Borglum and other fruit-tree enthusiasts maximize their harvest and their space by grafting multiple varieties onto one tree. He has as many as six to 10 varieties feeding off a single trunk.

It's a process that may sound like advanced gardening but really requires only a few careful and well-placed cuts. A "scion" or tiny cutting from the tree you want to duplicate is slit and bandaged onto a similar cut branch of your host tree and left to heal and mature. If it takes you'll have fruit after several seasons.

"The most desirable fruits and vegetables from the perspective of quality are those you grow yourself," he said. "Because often the most delicious kinds are not uniformly shaped. They're a little lumpy. Maybe they're multi-colored or they don't ship or store well. There is such a difference between having the best quality and variety of fruit and just having the best condition picked fruit right off the tree."

Fred Revetria has been grafting for 35 years, starting with a little apple tree for which he paid the princely sum of $1.99 in the early 1970s. He was living in Daly City on a small suburban lot. As his taste buds became more and more spoiled by fresh fruit, his desire for variety ran smack into the reality of his limited space. So he started experimenting with grafting multiple varieties on the same trees, eventually buying an old apple orchard in Sebastopol.

Now he maintains 129 trees, from apples and pears to peaches and loquats, most with multiple grafts. In fact, he may be angling for a record. He has one bounteous Rome Beauty grafted to bear 99 varieties of apples. And more than 80 of those grafts are mature enough to produce.

"I've got another 12 to add," he declares.

Each grafted branch is meticulously marked with aluminum labels he cuts from soda cans and ties with old telephone wire so he never forgets what he has. He also maintains a detailed notebook for cross reference.

Revetria happily eats his way around the tree, never tiring of apples. That is the other advantage to grafting, he said. A single variety tree ready to harvest can produce more apples than a man — or his family — could eat in the short window when the fruit is fresh and ripe. Grafters like Revetria have figured out that a few branches will produce just enough.

A master gardener, he now teaches other fledgling gardeners and homeowners how to get the greatest bounty from a small yard through grafting. His next hands-on workshop will be Feb. 20 at the Sebastopol Library.

Winter is the optimum season for grafting, while a tree is dormant, although there is a window in summer, when the bark is slipping and loose on the branch and you can cut into it and peel it back.

"You can use bud grafting, which is just cutting a bud off the tree you want to graft and inserting it into a little cut into the back on the graft. That has to be done in summer when the tree is in full growth," says Phil Pieri, who has more than 100 trees packed onto an acre in the Petaluma countryside.

For the beginner, the easiest trees to graft are apples.

"They literally jump together," says Pieri.

Within his acre he has a fruit stand of choices: 20 varieties of apples, 10 varieties of peaches, six to eight types of apricots, 12 to 14 varieties of pears, four to five varieties of cherries, 10 types of citrus, three to four different avocados, 15 to 20 types of plums and a dozen different peach varieties.

"I'm always looking for something different," says Pieri, who also is a member of the Rare Fruit Growers, whose mission is to find and preserve varieties not normally found in the supermarket. Every January they throw a scion exchange in Sebastopol. But they trade informally all the time.

You can technically graft not only different varieties of a single fruit onto one tree, but multiple types of fruit. Revetria, however, said he doesn't recommend it. He once tried a "fruit salad" tree with all the different stone fruits.

"It was a botanical nightmare," he remembers with a chuckle. "They all do their own thing and they do it at a different time." Different types of trees have different watering needs and different pests to deal with.

"You can fool around a little with nectarines and peaches. But I always put apples on apples and pears on pears."

If you can't attend a how-to workshop, there are plenty of good short demonstration videos on YouTube. But here are a few tips to follow:

When choosing your scion look for new growth from the previous year from a branch that is about the diameter of a pencil. That's the easiest. You'll want a cutting with the length of three buds, to give you a selection or back-up since some might not develop.

Choose a branch that is approximately the same diameter as the scion. Select a branch that is pointing out rather than in, so your tree will have a nice shape and remain airy inside.

Remove any hardwood at the bottom of the scion and immature wood at the top. Slice a shallow angled cut down the middle from the end, going down about a half inch. Make an identical cut on the branch to which you'll be grafting. Slip the cut scion into the branch so the insides are touching and then bandage it. A lot of grafters like to use large rubber bands. Revetria suggests covering the wound with tree seal, available at many farm supplies and garden centers like Harmony in Sebastopol. This black gooey substance will create an airtight bond to protect the scion from drying out. When dried, the black cover also will help it absorb more heat, facilitating growth.

After the branches have fused, you can cut off the rubber band and paint the grafted area with a white paint if you'd like, to mark the graft. Make sure you label it with something like Revetria's homemade hanging aluminum tags in case you forget what variety you put on the tree.

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204.

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