If you’ve got a small space but an appetite for a fresh-picked fruit, there is no reason to despair. You don’t need a huge orchard to fill your fruit bowl. Not only can you grow multiple varieties of apples on a single tree. You can even grow an entire fruit salad on the same rootstock.
Yes, you can grow your own “Fruit Salad Trees,” a tree grafted with cuttings from different fruit trees in the same family. It works with both citrus and stone fruit.
Imagine the ease and space-savings achieved by having just one tree that will give you peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots and peachcots? Or how about a citrus tree with not just lemons, but limes, Mandarins, oranges, tangelos and grapefruit?
It’s done through the magic of grafting and budding and there is an art to it. On Sunday, the Redwood Chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers will hold their annual winter scion exchange at the Santa Rosa Veterans Building. The gathering, open to all, is a chance to pick up cuttings, or scions, for free. Choose from a world of fruit, from apples, pears, plums, peaches and pluots, to plumcots, nectarines and grapes, jujubes and more. Admission is $5.
Members say that anyone with even a 6-by 6-foot patch of open sunlight can grow a tree with tasty fruit, even if it’s only in a trashcan of soil sitting on pavement.
The group will also have rootstock to buy for $3. And for a nominal fee, members will graft on the cuttings you’ve collected. Or you can take in a grafting demonstration and learn how to create your own multivariety wonder tree.
That’s what David Ulmer, a retired ophthalmologist, will be doing the day of the exchange. Grafting, grafting, grafting.
He grows close to 400 varieties of fruits on his tightly planted one acre hobby farm in Sebastopol. He keeps track of his varieties in a database. But he’s lost track of how many actual trees he has. He figures at least 100. Many although not all, are multi-grafted trees.
To make the best use of his space, this committed fruit collector, who is perpetually nosing out new varieties, will also plant four trees close together in one hole, and prune them so they’re clear in the middle and growing outward.
“When you look at them from afar, it looks like just one tree. You keep the middle opened up so they’re not coming at each other from the middle. The main thing you have to do is get varieties that grow at about the same rate from rootstocks that grow at about the same rate,” he explained. It’s an overcast January afternoon in his mini-farm, where espaliered apples and pears grow along fences surrounding it. The only hint of the summer bounty ahead are the last of the persimmons, which he has left for the birds.
But winter is a good time to plan ahead.
While the main reason for multi-grafting is to maximize space, there are other benefits. Most people can’t eat all the fruit from a prolific tree. Ulmer and his wife Jana, an avid vegetable grower, are serious cooks and use much of what they grow, freezing what can’t be consumed before it goes bad, giving away to friends and donating to the local food bank. But still there may be extra.