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Incoming BYTES
contains highly variable subject matter including commentary on the mundane, the extraordinary and even controversial issues. At Incoming BYTES
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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Life's Little Successes

Life's little Successes

See the black tape?    Every once in a while we should step back and check  the trees in the forest.  I check the ones in the yard too, while I'm at it.   I do  like checking trees; it comes honestly, and  I observe them carefully.   Closer examination is often required to see  mind-shattering, clever details.  When you focus on details, you often find surprises, too,  pleasant ones.   What seems normal is not.   Sometimes, persistence pays.  The strange and unusual can happen.

Let us digress with purpose.  Just for today,  pretend the world is  not in difficulty,  that wars are not in progress, and  that major  economies, even  countries are flirting with bankruptcy.   Let's ignore the weather which is haywire,  wreaking havoc upon the land  with unmitigated flooding, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, forest fires, and drought world-wide. Let's forget that we can't afford to take a wonderful vacation to an exotic land.
While we're at it, let's totally  ignore petty, corrupt politicians,  stuffed-shirts,   the self-entitled, the talking heads on television, and the  at-times sordid lives of  Charlie  What's-his-face  and So-So GaGa  in Hollywood .
Let's focus on life's little successes instead.  Let's talk about growing things.  Why?  Let's explain.   WE think happier is better. 

My friend Glory Lennon is a happy person. She is a wonderful  writer, blogger, and novelist,  but her blog "Glory's Garden" ( http://glory-garden.blogspot.com/ ) seems to be her happy  place. She grows things. She's an expert gardener,  she is knowledgeable.  She knows that day lilies don't have bulbs,  she knows what thistles are, even big ones;  she has two green thumbs,  and best of all, she  is always happy to help others with their gardening and floral  greenery challengerium.
  Glory may well  be the very zeitgeist of gardens, and doesn't charge  wampum for advice  or tips on how to grow stuff in front of your wigwam either.   No matter.  The point is,  I have been enjoying reading her blog for well over a year now,  that's longer than one growing season in gardening talk.  Good thing.  Things sink in slowly.   Let's not lose focus now, remember, patience is good, and persistence pays.
Back in 1994  I planted a skinny  McIntosh apple tree. It was a mere whip,  about 15 " high, no branches, and the size of a very skinny brown  pencil.  Despite my advanced gardening skills and encouragement, annual examinations and talking to  it,   in all this time (yep, seventeen years, threats and all )  it never grew more than 5' high, hm....actually it may  not even be  quite that high.

It is still not much more than an inch in diameter.  StuntedHeight challenged. Anemic looking.  Nary a blossom.   A  potential Charlie Brown Christmas treeSans vitamins or something.   Last year was definitely the last straw, time to cut it down.  Not so fast, gardening guy.   There's only one thing we hate around here  more than  wimps and quitters, and that's apple-tree-chopper-downers.  Apples, the fruit of the Gods and all that. 

The optimism in Glory's Garden  must have rubbed off on me.  "One more year...I'll GRAFT it."  I said, almost changing my mind,  the old fingers just itching to grab the axe.

THIS very spring, a few months ago,  while it was still looking leafless,   I was going to reverse direction again,  hack it down, and even made a cut on the base as I started to do so.    I  changed my mind at the last second.  It must have been the zeitgeist whispering.

Instead,  I studiously grafted a twig  (scion, that's apple talk)  from a producing "Sweet Sixteen" apple onto a  nipped-off handy branch, that would be  any arbitrarily chosen branch close to the trunk.   The theory is if a branch graft  will grow, you can eventually hack off  (in civilized terms, reduce)  the rest of the OLD tree and convert the whole thing to the new species.   Not a bad plan, since   I have had marginal to fair and reasonable to  erratic success grafting.   Out came the grafting knife and black tape.  A simple wedge graft. Match up the cambium ( that's the green stuff under the bark). That's how you do it. Crank it up with tape to seal it so no sap can escape.   Sap  has to go up into the graft  when the buds start growing.  All that sipping-sap makes it grow.
Well, that's the theory.

For the longest time the graft looked like a dud, completely hopeless.  A skinny stick with one end stuck in black tape.  No leaves.  Dried up buds.  Dead, falling off, and threatening to dry up completely.  The bark was even  beginning to wrinkle.  I clipped off  the top end of the graft stick  (scion, remember-- to real apple guys )   and sealed that cut  too.  

Nothing happened for a month, and the rest of the tree came into it's usual wimpy leaves, so in disgust,  I thought the best strategy was to simply ignore the whole tree for the season,  disassociate my hurt feelings and gardening soul from it, take revenge and viciously hack it down in the fall --after the  leaves dropped.
It's easier to do when the tree is 18 years old,  the age of majority for apple trees. Besides, in the fall, most trees look like  dead sticks without leaves  --much easier for sensitive  gardeners to hack down.   The  "chop it down with something , anything *sharp and get a real tree " concept came to mind.   (  THE *axe was indeed looking very tempting  at the time )

Surprise...I could not believe my eyes.  Three months later, a.k.a.  a few days ago, I discovered  the graft was not only growing, but it has  blossoms.  Apple blossoms.   That would be right, since the stick (scion)  I stuck on there wasn't from a spruce or poplar tree.  Success.    I held my breath. Are we there yet? A real dual- apple tree?

  Even  more confusing, the whole  tree began to grow like never before--putting on at least a foot of height.  The leaves are  now dark green, lush --  and healthy.   Why?  Grafting?   It's looking good!   I'll have a dual-species tree --if the original tree ever decides to blossom.

Maybe I half scared it to death with that sharp chopper. Maybe it just wanted extra encouragement, or company,  being an old tree and such.  No, it can't be.
I know.  I think the zeitgeist from  Glory's Garden  took over and  influenced it.  They can do that, you know.  I'll ask her.   She'll know.

that's my story and I'm sticking to it.



  1. What a great way to use those words!!! Yes, I think you have a winner here, Raymond! Love the story, gardening lesson, heartwarming friendship, etc. etc. etc. Oh, Glory, if this piece doesn't make you change the challenge rules, I'm afraid you might need to be grafted yourself:) haha

  2. Raymond, this may just be the best piece of writing I have ever read by you.

    What's more, you inspire. I shy away from putting certain stuff out there for fear of what people may think of me, but ... the wheels are turning. Well, they always have, I just always kept the spot light off.

  3. YAY! I love a happy garden story! What a beautiful photo and a most lovely apple blossom! I do wish you luck! My father is always grafting things in his tropical garden and can get two different colored flowers to grow on one tree. Awesome! I'm so glad your experiment worked for you. I've been meaning to try this myself. I may have to now. It does take patience, the one thing all gardeners need in abundance. Great use of the required words, too. Want a guest shot on Glory's garden? ;-)

  4. sharing success is an integral part of positive progress--i have saved many a tree by digging around their roots with bare hands after soaking the soil...seldom graft...infuse comfrey tea and nettle and coffee near the trunk...
    today i ate the first peaches of a dead peachtree..the tree was slated for cut off status, due to neglect and ice storms, it would not grow..i moved in 45 days ago and cut broken branches, built a well around it and soaked eggshells, nettles, and old vitamins overnight, repeated X 3...fruits are sweet and unexpected reward, i had not looked at the tree till this week--part neglect is a useful strategy in my small book of wonderment..
    i hope that your grafting comes to miraculous fruition. now going to check glory's site..

  5. @ M.J., Alex, and Glory, I thank each of you for the kind and inspiring feedback and commentary, they are always encouraging Thanks!
    @M.J., those words were stuck in my brain, I had to practice with them...lol

    @ Alex, be fearless--as a writer we must persist and say what needs to be said. Your latest NASCAR post on your "Heep of NASCAR" blog is a really good example.

    @ Glory, yes, DO try grafting, you'll be hooked--the process grafts itself onto your soul, it is SO interesting!

    @ Nadine, my first peach tree in Toronto was destroyed by cutworms just below the soil level, on it's FIRST blooming season, blossoms and all, I discovered a MASSIVE ball of peach tree sap just under the soil as the tree withered away. They ate ALL of the bark just below the surface. I knew nothing about grafting at that time.
    I was interested in your comfrey tea/coffee/nettles/ vitamin /concoction for tree food. I soaked some comfrey leaves chopped with some organic soil /water and left it in the sun for a week. It turned black, and ... Highly odiferous it was.... I wondered if it was a good thing to put on the garden.

    btw, KUDOS to you for reviving that peach tree, send me some peaches immediately... ":)) *alas, peach trees don't survive in this climate, but my apple tree graft has 7 or 8 blossoms setting fruit (Sweet Sixteen apples) ...amazing isn't it?
    I will have to remove most, maybe all for this season. YES, do follow Glory's Garden, you'll love it!
    Thanks again, everyone!

  6. when making compost tea or herbal infusion, i rarely allow sun or time to cure it..
    one batch of comfrey leaves, nettle leaves and marigold or tansy leaves.
    several vitamins and mineral tablets.
    eggshells, (crushed through blender) with water.
    coffee grounds, tea leaves, tobacco.

    soak in a bucket of tepid water overnight in a dark place--stir, crush and otherwise bother the mixture.

    scratch soil surface around trees and plants which need a booster shot..

    pour a full can or glass gently with comforting thoughts.
    then water slowly and deeply.
    cover with dry mulch, weeds or straw.

    ignore the area, come back in a week or so. repeat if necessary.

    this works as prevention and cure when initially planting weak seedlings or reviving older growth. it is a tonic and medic..for the garden.

    the slow process of each ingredient takes place underground. to ward off pests and nourish the roots..feel free to add anything you have on hand..

    one caveat: for tomatoes, avoid the tobacco as it may feed the fungus which affects nightshade (potato-pepper-eggplant) family.


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