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Three rosy red apples on a tree in an orchard Three rosy red apples on a tree in an orchard

Learning the skill of tree grafting with Incredible Edible Wakefield

By Sarah Ward

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

This quote by Martin Luther, 15th century German theologian and religious reformer seems particularly relevant in the midst of all the turmoil in the world today but one group, Wrenthorpe Community Orchard, part of Incredible Edible Wakefield, has taken his thinking a step further.

They haven’t only planted an apple tree, they’ve planted a patchwork orchard and they don’t just plant any old fruit trees they have learnt the skill of grafting!

Grafting is a form of propagating new fruit trees using buds or twigs – the ‘scion wood’ from an existing tree and fusing it onto a branch or stem of another tree – ‘the rootstock’, which is selected for size, suitability to site and tolerance of certain soil conditions.

Wrenthorpe had a history of being a fruit growing area but over the years more and more of the area’s old orchards and fruit trees had been lost to housing development so, fed up with hearing nothing but doom and gloom on the news, and inspired by the Incredible Edible ethos, Sue Nicol, decided to make use of the unloved and neglected pieces of land that her and most communities have to plant new fruit trees.

Sue founded Wrenthorpe Community Orchard as part of Incredible Edible Wakefield in 2013 and the group worked with a housing association to create their first mini orchard of about 12 fruit trees in the grounds around a local community hall.

These first trees were heritage varieties chosen to reflect the fruit growing tradition of the area and were funded by asking local people to pay to sponsor or dedicate a tree to a loved one.

Though successful it was an expensive way to go about things so the group looked for a cheaper alternative and came across the idea of grafting.

The advantages were obvious:

  • Cuttings could be taken from existing trees in the area to propagate local heritage varieties
  • Rootstocks could be used appropriate to the size of land available for planting
  • It was cheaper than buying from nurseries or garden centres
  • It avoided the well-known potential for cheap, shop bought trees to turn out, 5 years later, to be a different variety to the one on the label!

In 2015 a training day was arranged with The Northern Fruit Group showing members how to take cuttings and graft them to rootstocks and since then grafting sessions have become a yearly event, proving a great way to get everyone together in the late winter/early spring when there isn’t as much for groups to do outdoors.

The group has had many other successes, creating three mini orchards, collecting tonnes of local surplus fruit, running community juicing events and a school orchards club and organising well loved yearly Apple Day events but February/March fruit tree grafting get togethers remain a fixture in their calendar.

Due to their growth the group has recently renamed as Incredible Edible Wakefield Urban Harvest but, thanks to their fruit tree grafting sessions, their roots(tock) will always be in Wrenthorpe!

Different organisations run training on fruit tree grafting across the country, so have a search on the internet to see if there’s a course near you.