Saturday, April 12, 2008

Fruitful Labors

At Kumu 'Aina Farm, for better, tastier fruit, you first have to get past the gnome.

This past weekend, owners Bob and Terri Mulroy opened their organic fruit farm in Kapoho to the community to host a workshop with horticulturalist Dr. Mike Nagao of UH CTAHR, sponsored by the Know Your Farmer Alliance. Grafting, pruning, and air layering are some tricks of the trade fruit farmers use to get more production out of their crops, and Mike shared his mana'o to fulfill our fruity fantasies.

So you’re tired of the stringy avocados in your backyard, and your lychee tree has lots of leaves but no fruit, and you want another tree exactly like the sweet longan you already have. What to do?

Tips for grafting avocados:

  • Scion wood and rootstock should be about the same diameter (about as wide as a pencil or your finger) so that the cambium layers match well and grow together.
  • Use scion wood that is mature and bulblike. Don’t use new flush or flowering wood.
  • Graft two varieties that fruit at different times of the year so that you get fruit all year! For example, graft Malama (October fruiting) to Green Gold (April fruiting). UH CTAHR recommended varieties are here.
  • Rubber band and parafilm are maintenance-free -- use it and forget it. The rubber band eventually disintergrates and falls off, and the buds burst through the parafilm.
  • Don’t graft a tree that is flowering or flushing out, because it is putting too much energy toward that type of growth and your chances of successful grafts are lower.
  • If your graft isn’t growing in 3 to 4 weeks, give it up and start over.
  • More info on avocados in another free publication from UH here.

Tips for air layering (longan shown here):

  • Use a pair of pliers to remove the outer layer of bark to expose the cambium – it’s what fruit farmers do in the field because it’s faster than using a knife.
  • Apply rooting hormone powder, wrap in wet spaghnum moss, and then wrap with plastic or aluminum foil. Tie both ends with twist ties.
  • Roots should grow out from the cut in about 4 to 6 months. If not, prune off and start over.
  • Tips for pruning fruit trees:
  • Prune off branches growing straight vertically.
  • Make cuts at an angle instead of horizontal.
  • Prune to the “collar” so that the area heals with a donut-shaped scar. Otherwise, dieback of branches may occur.
  • Remove no more than a third of the growth. If you remove more than this, you might end up with just vegetative growth and no fruit.

Tips from Dweezey the Fruit Hound:
  • Take frequent breaks in the shade.
  • Make friends.
  • Indulge in some juicy ripe organic tropical fruits whenever you can.

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