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.