Saturday 7 February 2015

Grafting (and Knowing Too Much about Cars?)

Our gnarly old apple tree. Route of main 'trunk' follows
yellow arrows.
That's 'grafting' as in splicing bits of apple together, not the Northern version of hard work; I am not claiming to be any more diligent than last year. You may recall that we have, tucked away at the bottom of what is now the pig run and ancient, gnarly apple tree growing on the steep bank to our North where there is the rusting wreck of an equally ancient outside toilet - maybe from the 1960's as Vendor Anna can remember it from her childhood.

Grafting a scion into a T-cut made in the
of a new-tree limb
The loo has long since collapsed down the bank and the tree has fallen down after it till, almost horizontal, it came to rest leaning on an old ash tree. Since then it has struggled to get back to the daylight above its original planting space by growing in a hairpin bend (see picture). In terms of its job as an apple tree it is a dead loss, all gnarly old wood, riddled with canker, very few blossoms and, in our experience, no fruit. It is also not in a position where you could realistically prune it to give it a new start in life. JD Bob remembers it as a fruiting tree and says that although he does not know the variety, it was a red striped apple, so maybe a Pippin of sorts.

Splice graft on 'twigs' of similar diameter.
I have often wondered whether we might resurrect it, in DNA at least, by taking graft material from its newer, less diseased wood, and splicing this onto a new rootstock. I have never done any grafting but I have seen plenty done. In a former life I worked for Geest (the banana outfit), but in Spalding we also had all the 'Van Geest' horticulture section who used a mainly Dutch labour force to mass produce their roses and fruit trees. The Dutch lads were on piece-work and would whizz along the rows, deftly cutting, splicing and binding in batches of 10,000 plants.

Baking with our own sausage meat. This
pie and these fine sausage rolls.
I have found some decent small branches/twigs on the old tree and, this week, an opportunity arose to buy 2 good rootstocks for €10 - Lidls were selling off some last bare-root dessert apple trees. I have tried 3 methods of grafting across 4 grafts. If they work, then 'happy days' - if not I will just grow the apple trees on till Autumn and have another go at a more sensible season (Autumn - the grafts like to do all their healing and scar tissue in the winter, so that they can romp away (hopefully) in spring, pushing sap through a healed cambium layer). These (3) are,,,

  1. Slotting a 'scion' of just green cambium and bark with a side bud (peel the heart wood sliver off the 'inside' face of the slip) into a T-cut in the side of a new-tree limb
  2. 'Side grafting' a piece of twig onto the end of a cut limb which is bigger than your twig, by matching the cut face of the twig to the cambium of a cut in the side (like the cut you'd first make in trying to sharpen a pencil)
  3. 'Splicing' a twig onto a twig on the parent tree which is the same size.
I am leaving the original (new) tree attached to act as a 'Mother limb' which can be cut away if the grafts take. I had no proper grafting tape so I used masking tape and string, and I had no graft-sealing gloop (or tree grease) so I'm just winging it. If we can get these grafts to take and grow, eventually producing the mythical striped apples, we will name the variety TK-Min after the house's previous owner. We'll see.

The Fiat gets parked with its nose in
the clouds. 
I mentioned previously that we were struggling with a strange car engine problem which was looking awfully like an expensive, open-engine job; a head gasket or burnt valves. Well, touching lots of wood and trying desperately not to tempt fate, we may have it sorted after a good few hours of diagnostics and trying things mainly by ace local garage man, Jimmy H who also turns out to be something of a Fiat expert by happy coincidence. I normally love all that investigation-diagnostics-problem-solving stuff (it's what I used to do at work) but it's not quite so enjoyable or relaxing when your mode of transport and ability to shop and buy stock feed depends on it.

Bleed nipple on water hose (screw removed)
I probably know more about Fiat Pandas now than it is healthy to know. My knowledge and experience has up to now been on old crocks like our family Morris 1000, my first car (an Austin 1100) and the 2CV. The newer cars I have owned since I started earning sensible money have all been on finance deals which tie you in to getting the car serviced at a main dealer (Thank you, Hidson's of Rainham, Kent), so all the new technology, modern engines and electronoics have passed me by. My old cars only ever had one ignition coil. I was unaware that even babies like our 1 litre Panda now often have 2 coils (each serving 2 plugs) or even 4. Our man Jimmy, with his disgnostic codes sussed that we had a miss-fire on cylinders 1 and 4, so was able (once 'we' suspected the ignition) to predict that Coil B was at fault, sourced a new one (only €30) and had it swapped out in 45 minutes.

The new metal rectangle here is our shiny new Coil B
I have also got to the bottom of the infamous air-lock problem in Fiat Pandas and sorted that. Panda's apparently have a design fault, with their heater matrix way higher than the radiator filler, so most people (including us for a while!) only manage to part-fill the coolant system and drive around like that in bliss of ignorance, ignoring the fact that the temperature guage rises when you idle and there are sometimes odd screechy noises where the water pump is pumping air (well, steam, mainly). We now know that to fill the system you must park the car with the front wheels 18 inches higher than the back (i.e. on a ramp) and open bleed nipples at various places plus have the heater set to max. This way, when you glug water into the filler, if you also squeeze the rubber hoses you will worry all the air out. I managed to get 3 more litres of water into the system which had seemed full (at the filler); the system only carries 5-6 litres, so we must have been driving around half full. Scary.

The ever more chunky lamb, Feste.
Finally, we have at last had a good thaw. The snow is all gone and the big pond is almost free of ice. Air temperatures were up towards 9ºC. There were a few bees out flying today, presumably enjoying the chance to muck out the premises. This is the sensitive time for them. We read that no bee colonies really die in winter, they die in early spring when they make the mistake of trying to start getting active (the queen starts to lay eggs, for example) before there is sufficient food 'out there', or enough that they can access. In deepest winter the whole colony clusters into a tight ball to keep the queen and new eggs warm (34ºC) and they can actually starve surrounded by all the food, honey and pollen stores because those reserves are an inch away from the cluster and nobody wants to leave the cluster to go and get them - if the individual bee body temperature drops to below 8ºC it will die. Tough times. We are pleased to see the temperatures back up at 9ºC so that the workers can leave the cluster to get stores in and leave the hive to go hunting pussy willow, snowdrop and crocus pollen and nectar.

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