Hello Fellow Allotmenteers, Gardeners, Friends & Subscribers - wherever you are.

You'll notice that I've revamped the look of our newsletter. Also, with the implementation of a new programming script that I've used on our Gardeners Chat-Shed web-site, I can now mass mail-out to not just the Gardeners Chat-Shed members, but to ALL the registered members on both web-sites - including our Aeron Vale Allotment Society site! You can click on the logos above if you haven't yet viewed the two web-sites.

PLEASE ACCEPT MY APOLOGIES IF YOU RECEIVE TWO COPIES OF THE NEWSLETTER - that'll be because your e-mail address is registered with both sites.

For "non technicals" amongst you it now means that I can use the Gardeners Chat-Shed facilities to mass mail out one news-letter to EVERYONE! So welcome on-board you Chat-Shed members!

Whilst you Chat-Shed friends may be members of your own gardening clubs and allotment groups you can still share in what we have to offer here by way of gardening tips, news, information and gossip from the grow your own fraternity. There's something for everyone here! If you're not interested in our local gossip just scroll on down to something else.

If you want to catch up with past issues of our News-letter then you can go to our News-letter Archive and spend a wet afternoon entertaining yourself in front of your computer - thinking what you could be doing on your allotment plot if the weather was better!

IN GENERAL- since the last issue

Did you think our Newsletters had dried up? You would not have been blamed for thinking so! Time just goes by so quickly - even winter months seem to fly by and they USED to drag when we were younger didn't they? Amazingly it was August - the month of plenty - when our last news-letter was mailed out! Mind you there have been a few spanners in the works.

Our old Aberaeron Allotment Association imploded last September. I will not go into details here, but it was obvious that there was a dire need to move on. Since then we have formed a new allotment group called Cymdeithas Rhandiroedd Dyffryn Aeron/ Aeron Vale Allotment Society. This new group has now become established and should VERY soon be in a position to start allocating new allotment plots to those on it's waiting list. If you are interested and live in the Aeron Vale/ Aberaeron catchment area, then please go to our web-site ( and when you get there, click on this navigation button which you will see on the right hand side of our Home page:

The Aeron Vale Allotment Society (AVAS) hopes to work closely with the National Trust and will hopefully in the future be involved with helping new allotment groups to set-up and provide vegetable plots to local communities on land owned by the Trust. Nevertheless we should not count our chickens before they're hatched - there's many a slip twixt cup & lip! This project is still very much in it's infant negotiation stage.

It is however a very exciting project, with widespread potential outside our immediate area. As a society we want to promote and encourage the allotment movement across the country.

If you are reading this Newsletter and fancy forming an allotment group in your own area then you're welcome to CONTACT US and we'll help you through the process ABSOLUTELY FREE OF CHARGE!

Or you can download the documentation you will need by clicking on this blue navigation button

Available on our main Aeron Vale Allotment Society web-site.

There we are, you should be pretty much up to running speed now. So lets get down to the other interesting bits!


Got your Spuds in yet?

A friend of mine has an Irish partner and she says that her Dad used to say that all the potatoes should be in the ground by St Patrick's day - as you probably all know that's the 17th of March. I know that the Irish are the accepted experts when it comes to spuds, but potato farming on the south western tip of Ireland - with a balmy Gulf Stream influence that means all danger of frost is long past by the middle of March is a long shot from planting your spuds on this side of the Irish pond!

Even though I live on the west coast of Wales in the middle of Cardigan Bay - which is a tad warmer and earlier than a few miles inland because we also get a slight Gulf Stream influence - we can expect frosts up to the second week of May here, and over the last few seasons that's exactly what HAS happened. Lovely summer-like weather in March & April wind & devastating frost at the start of May.

NOW - as the humble spud originates in south America, it doesn't take an Einstein to work out how it reacts to frost! If the tubers are still nice and deep in their rows - should those late spring frosts sneak up - they'll probably be fine. If on the other hand they've peeked above the soil, then pray we don't have frost because those lush young dark green shoots will soon turn to a sickly black!

Life's difficult. We want to get our spuds off to an early start - not just for selfish reasons (like not being able to wait to experience that heavenly new potato and melted butter taste as soon as possible), but for more pragmatic reasons, like getting them grown and out of the ground before the evil blight comes lurking around in July & August!

I've got six forty foot rows again this year. As usual I'm growing quite a wide selection (I love comparing - I do the same with runner beans). My selection includes two regular favourites Charlotte & Pink Fir Apple. The others will be Winston (first early) a RHS Award of Garden merit (AGM) winner, Kestrel a show bench variety with exceptional flavour. The other two main crop varieties are Markies (an improved Maris Piper type that I haven't tried before) and an old heavy cropping and quite disease resistant favourite amongst allotment growers - Picasso.

By the time you get this news-letter you should have long ago got your seed potato purchases sorted! If not, no worries (as they say in Oz), you'll still (just about) catch the boat, but won't have time to chit (no - CHIT I said!).

Chitting is something that gardeners pre-occupy themselves with (a big topic of conversation for them in early spring). Whether it actually makes much difference is still being debated - and always will I guess. Commercial growers certainly don't have the inclination or the time to do it - potato tubers don't do it on their own in the wild. That's a valid point. If ever you're not sure how something should be done (like which way up should I sow this bean?) Think for a minute how it's done by nature in the wild, because that's what's preserved these plants for millions of years before you got your little mitts on them! In fact we often think we can improve on nature but most of the time we can't, we only stroke our own ego by thinking we can.

Show bench growers not only chit their tubers meticulously, they also rub out some of the "eyes" and concentrate on only about three eyes per tuber - that have been carefully selected for later show bench tuber growth. Each one to their own!

What I will say is, gardening is not just a practical pastime in order to save our families from starvation - as may have been the case long ago. As well as providing fresh, "clean of chemicals" food, it also has a therapeutic function that's intermingled with artistry and an eye for what makes you feel good when your peepers fall on something - like rows of tubers chitting away in an old cardboard egg tray by the shed window. Or bean poles/ canes in a double row with runners twining their way up. Hence the reason we all admire well cultivated neat rows and the symmetry of the traditional weed-free allotment veggie garden. As opposed to some modern uncultivated, "no dig" & "no work" Steptoe's Yard plots that we sometimes see!

All tree-huggers, eco warriors, planet savers and new age weed gardeners who are offended by this statement - you have a recourse. You can simply enter your name & address on a postcard (or back of a fag packet) to register your complaints  - using no more than six words please. Then  post it to this correspondent. Thank you!


If you can't source any seed potatoes locally at this late hour, our friend and web-site sponsor Ian Barbour of Jamieson Brothers Arran (JBA) Seed Potatoes will probably be able to help you out. Click on the graphic to your right.

How many tubers do you need? As a rule of thumb, a 35 foot row requires about 2.5Kg of seed potatoes (depending on variety size). You get about thirty tubers in a 2.5Kg bag. If you know how long your rows are and you also know how many rows you intend planting, then JBA have an extremely handy bit of software kit to calculate it all for you quite effortlessly. Here it is - have fun! 


Click on the


(Seed Potato)

Quantity Calculator

on the left to give it a go!


Rhubarb, of which here are approximately 60 species, originates around Siberia, and grows freely along the banks of the Volga, so it is a very hardy, frost resistant plant - in fact it needs a period of hard frost in the winter to produce the best stalks.

Because rhubarb is so hardy and will survive almost total neglect, it is often left to it's devices in preference to other more demanding vegetables. This is a pity, because with minimal treatment at the correct time it will flourish and provide you with delicious stalks at a time when little else is cropping in the garden.

In the UK, an area called the Rhubarb Triangle, a 9-square-mile triangle in West Yorkshire, located between Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell is world famous for producing early forced rhubarb. Because rhubarb is a native of Siberia, and thrives in the wet cold winters of Yorkshire, west Yorkshire once produced 90% of the world's winter forced rhubarb. The "forcing sheds" were, and still are to a lesser extent, a common sight across the fields in the area.

Rhubarb is a popular constituent of Glycemic Index (GI) diets. It is low in carbohydrate, high in vitamins and is also thought to speed metabolism and aid weight loss.

Rhubarb can be used to make wine as well as more common recipes such as tarts, crumbles and jams. In former days, especially after the war when sweets rationing was still in force) a common sweet for children was a tender stick of rhubarb dipped in sugar

Many consider rhubarb to be a tasty, tangy vegetable (contrary to what some may think it is not a fruit). But only the stalks of the leaves are safe to eat. The leaves themselves, which are large, may be tempting as a source of greens, but they contain high amounts of oxalic acid, which, unlike the calcium oxalate in dumbcane, enters the bloodstream. There it clots the blood, crystallizes in the kidneys, and eventually leads to death. During World War 1, the British government, in an effort to conserve food, mistakenly encouraged people to eat the leaf blades of rhubarb and many people died as a result.


"Not a lot of people know that!"

When Should You Sow Your Seeds?

An old gardener once said that if it's warm enough for weeds to germinate then it's time to sow! In reality, whilst there are monthly guidelines given by seed merchants as an indication of when you should sow your various seeds, that information should not be accepted as gospel - it's just a guideline.

A good example of bad advice is the myth that has grown up over the years suggesting you should sow your parsnip seeds in February. Unless you live on the Channel Islands I would strongly suggest that you resist the temptation - unless you sow them under cover - a seed at a time in a pot (by the way they DON'T like being disturbed - being a root crop you CAN accomplish it but it's NOT recommended). Parsnips should be lifted and eaten (not sown) in February - after they've had a bit of frost - that will greatly enhance their sweetness (starches being transformed to glucose at sub-zero temperatures etc. etc,).

Anyone silly enough to sow them in February will inevitably have a weak germination rate at best. At worst the cold & wet will rot the seeds before they have a chance to start their life. When that happens don't go doing the same as about 90% of gardeners do - blame the parsnip seeds and/or seed merchant and the parsnip's notoriously iffy germination rates, especially if you don't get new seed in every season. In reality the murdering culprit is the gardener himself, with his fetish about sowing parsnips in winter! Sow them in April and watch the difference in the crop come next February!

Each year your season will vary. Our planet and it's weather systems don't read  calendars any more than your seeds do. Calendars are a man made tool to help us roughly understand where in the year we are (stops confusion within our species)! One year the soil may be warm enough at the end of March another year it may be so cold that it would be better to wait until May. It's not an exact science. It's flexible, but generally speaking, most parts of the country will become dry enough to till the soil and warm enough outside to sow seeds between the middle of March and the middle of May. Other considerations are:

  • How hardy are the plants I'm sowing?

  • How far north am I situated?

  • Do I live near the sea?

  • How sheltered is my garden or plot?

  • Is the soil workable?

  • Is it dry and warm enough to sow?

You can get away with sowing broad beans in February. You would NOT get away with sowing French beans in the outside soil in February. For that reason the seed suppliers give you an approximate guideline.

As a rule of thumb, for each 100 miles north that you travel in the UK the season is generally a week behind (there are exceptions of course). Using this very rough guide, the season starts early in the south and progressively gets later as you go north e.g. if you sowed your seeds in early March in Tunbridge Wells you would probably sow the same seeds about six weeks later in Wick, up at the top end of Scotland.

Generally speaking gardens and plots situated near the coast tend to be earlier and are not as "late frost" prone. However, coastal locations can have their own set of problems - wind scorch is a very common problem - unless your spot is secluded & sheltered. Sometimes a few hundred yards difference in location can make a huge difference. The answer is to KNOW your site, study it and learn from others who have been located there a longer time.

If the mud sticks to your tools & feet, and you need wellies to walk across your soil because it's too sticky for your boots - FORGET it. It's just too wet and you will make an almighty mess trying to work it. Patience - wait for it to dry. Put your hands in the soil and squeeze a handful. If it remains a cold, solid, squelchy mess in your hand, then you're starting too early! Wait until it crumbles in your fist.

Is it warm enough to sow? The old Victorian gardeners were said to drop their trousers and sit in a seed bed to gauge how warm it was. If they could bear (no pun intended) their bare bottoms in contact with the soil it was time to sow! I doubt if you would get away with that as an excuse in court - if you drop your trousers on a public allotment site!

Have you got your seed wish lists sorted? It's usually a job for the winter, but humans being humans, many of us procrastinate to the last minute - I hold my hand up here, I have a little tendency to procrastinate and then get all flustered when time starts to run out and needs must. If you can't find what you're looking for locally (always support your local suppliers first), then give one of our on-line seed supplying sponsors a try.

Two of our main web-site seed sponsors are shown above. Click on the graphics to go to their sites.



To accompany this article there are two Fact-sheets that I've compiled which are available for you to download:

Fruit Trees - Rootstock Guide
Fruit Trees - Pollination Guide

I was fascinated by grafting when I was a boy at Tregaron County School, and got taught the basic (?black art?) theory about such things by dear old Mr Lewis - in what was called  "Rural Science Studies" (RSS) in those days.

Mr Lewis was an unassuming ex RAF Spitfire pilot and one of the nicest and most genuinely humble teachers that I've ever had the pleasure to meet.

Rural science mostly involved horticultural studies and we got a taste of it for one double lesson once a week. It was one of those early post war subject that was taught to all children in order to heighten everyone's knowledge about growing food - in case we experienced another war I presume! The school even had a big vegetable garden with a high chain link fence around it - so that we could practice in the day but not return later to take our efforts home to Mam!

It later got dropped from the curriculum, after all the fears that had sprung up from WW2 food shortages had calmed down and the panic had subsided (about 25 years after the end of that particular war in 1945!).

Personally I think they should bring it back for our children in this modern world we now live in - (RSS that is - not war!). It was one of the best - and, for me, one of the most interesting & practical subjects possible for youngsters. Not only should RSS be brought back, but along with it wood-work and domestic science (cooking & needle-work). The governments since the war, in my view, should also have perpetuated the "Dig for Victory" campaign (not that I can remember that one myself - being a product of the early 50s!). They should have kept it and called it something else more sexy, like "survival post capital collapse!". Perhaps "sexy" is not the word I'm looking for there!

I was totally engrossed in the techniques and methods of making one plant grow from another (perhaps it's due to the Dr Frankenstein that lurks inside most of us  - especially when we were young boys). More especially the thought of being able to grow different varieties of apples on the same tree was even more intriguing!

I always used to come close to, if not top of the class in RSS during most school terms  - perhaps that's where I should have concentrated my efforts, rather than becoming an electronics engineer as a professional first, and an amateur vegetable gardener on an allotment plot second. I dropped RSS somewhere along my educational journey through school - in preference for the more academic subject of Physics & some other more "modern" science offerings. However the old school's textbook diagrams of "Whip & Tongue" & "Saddle" grafts have stayed with me as an image in my memory to this day.

Few of us get a lot of opportunity to do fruit tree grafting on a regular basis - unless you happen own an orchard. Or if you hire yourself out as a professional grafter to more timid fruit tree growers, who subscribe to the old myth that grafting is a complicated and ticklish procedure, that can only be accomplished by someone with the intellect & the steady hand of a brain surgeon (hence why I called it a "black art" above). In reality nothing is further from the truth! It's not a "black" art at all. Grafting your own trees is very easy once you know the basics. The science behind grafting however is fascinating.

Why Graft?

A good question to which there is a VERY simple answer!

To those gardeners amongst us who are used to starting all their crops from seed, it may come as a surprise to learn that fruit trees are NOT grown from seeds (or pips as they are called) but are, in fact, grafted. This may seem a very unnatural concept, but there's a very good reason for it - and the answer again goes back to your school biology lessons.

Like us humans, the pips (or stones) produced by a fruit tree are unique to that particular tree, it is the only one of it's kind in the world and it's characteristics are a random mix of it's parents' genes. Exactly like us humans. The embryos produced that eventually grow into adult humans by two parents will always be unique. So you could have a fantastic new variety of apple created from a tree grown from a pip, or you could land up with something which is totally useless. In other words it's a lottery.

A fruit tree supplied from a nursery consists of two parts, the scion (the fruiting wood) which makes up most of the tree that you see above ground-level, and the rootstock which - as the name suggests - is the root & lower trunk. The join or "union" is easy to spot in a young tree - it is the kink a few inches above the ground where the scion was grafted on to the rootstock.

This marriage works because rootstocks are very closely related to scions - thus apple rootstocks are apple varieties in their own right, but where the main attribute is not fruit flavour but the overall vigour and eventual tree size. Plum rootstocks can also be used for apricots and peaches, which shows just how closely these species are related. Most rootstocks will produce edible fruit if left to grow naturally, but the fruit is usually small and poorly flavoured.

To guarantee the outcome of your fruit producing tree, a length of scion wood is grafted on to a rootstock. The scion has been cut from a known variety. You are in effect cloning the original and implanting it on to a donor tree. The result is you have a tree that will produce the exact fruit you expected, but it grows on it's "surrogate mother" -the rootstock that it was originally grafted on to! You can even graft more than one variety on to the same rootstock - how cool is that?

This process is really cloning at horticultural level, and it's been going on for a LONG time Grafting with detached scions has been practiced for thousands of years. It was in use by the Chinese before 2000 BC, and then spread to the rest of Eurasia. The practice was almost commonplace in ancient Greece. Without the development of grafting, heterosexual fruit trees such as apples and cherries would never have been domesticated, as their natural sexual reproductive method prevents useful genes from being passed on consistently.

Isn't that amazing? I certainly think so! Anyway let's get down to the nitty gritty of this "black art"!


An Introduction to Grafting

Most apple trees are produced by grafting the required variety (the "scion") on to a rootstock. The main reason for doing this is because the natural vigour (from low to high) of the rootstock helps to control the size of the mature apple tree. However rootstocks also confer other advantages and disadvantages.

The following table lists apple rootstocks in ascending order (1 - 5 with five being the most vigorous) giving an approximate indication of what the expected size of the mature apple tree would be.

Rootstock Types & Habits

Very Small

6ft /2m




10ft / 3m




Very Large

18ft / 5m

Type Ref. (name) Type Ref. (name) Type Ref. (name) Type Ref. (name) Type Ref. (name)





Bud. 9,













Bud. 118,


The most widely-used rootstock in Europe in the 19th century was called Paradise. During the 1920s researchers at East Malling Research Station in the UK were the first to classify rootstocks and develop new ones for specific purposes. One of their first rootstocks was "M9", which was developed from Paradise and another variety called "Jaune de Metz". (It is possible that "Jaune" refers to the golden yellow bark of this rootstock). Apple trees grown on M9 rootstocks are small, and they fruit very early in life - making this an ideal rootstock for commercial apple orchards, and it is indeed probably the most widely-planted of all rootstocks. East Malling Research Station, in conjunction with some other UK research stations at Merton and Long Ashton developed a range of virus-free rootstocks of which M27, M9, M26, MM106, M7, MM111, and M25 are in widespread use today. Note that the numbers in the East Malling series have no relation to the size of the tree - M27 and M26 produce trees which are respectively smaller and larger than M9!

 The table above should not be taken too literally. The ultimate size of a fruit tree - its mature height and spread - is affected by many characteristics. Local climate, soil conditions, and the species (apple, plum, cherry and so on) all play a part. Within species some varieties naturally tend to grow more vigorously than others. Bramley's Seedling apple trees for example tend to be bigger and stronger than Rubinette apple trees. However the most significant factor in the ultimate size of your fruit tree is its rootstock.

Furthermore, although we have created discrete size bands for convenience, in practice the performance of different rootstocks overlaps considerably.

When to Graft

Unlike budding, (which I'll focus on in another news-letter some time in the future) which can be performed before or during the growing season, most grafting is done during winter and early spring while both scion and rootstock are still dormant (by the time you get this newsletter it will probably be a little late to do it this year). Containerized plants may be moved indoors during the actual grafting process; after grafting, these plants are placed in protected areas or in unheated over-wintering houses. Field-grown stock, of course, must be grafted in place. Some deciduous trees are commonly grafted as bare rootstock during the winter and stored until spring planting. Indoor winter grafting is often referred to as bench grafting because it is accomplished at a bench.


 Selecting and Handling Scion Wood

The best quality scion wood usually comes from shoots grown the previous season. Select short lengths about the diameter (and about the length) of a pencil. In some areas the collected scion wood is often called “pencils” for this reason. Scions should be severed with sharp, clean shears or knives and placed immediately in moistened burlap or plastic bags. It is good practice during the harvesting of scions and the making of grafts to clean the cutting tools regularly. This may be done by flaming or immersing them in a sterilizing solution. Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol also works well as a sterilent, although it evaporates quite readily. An alternative sterilizing solution may be prepared by mixing one part household bleach with nine parts water (by volume). However, this bleach solution can be highly corrosive to certain metals. Another sterilizing fluid that can be used, and which is easily available is Mentholated Spirits.


For best results, harvest only as much scion wood as can be used for grafting during the same day. Select only healthy scion wood that is free from insect, disease, or winter damage. Be sure the stock plants are of good quality, healthy, and true to type. Scion wood that is frozen at harvest often knits more slowly and in lower percentage. If large quantities of scion wood must be harvested at one time, follow these steps:


  • Cut all scions to a uniform length,

  • Keep their basal ends together, and tie them in bundles of known quantity (for example, 20 scions per bundle).

  • Label them, recording the cultivar, date of harvest, and location of the stock plant.

  • Wrap the base of the bundles in moistened burlap or sphagnum, place them in polyethylene or waterproof paper bags, and seal the bags.

  • Store the bundles for short periods, if necessary, either iced down in insulated coolers or in a fridge at 0o – 1o C (32o to 34o F)

  • Never store scions in refrigerated units where fruits or vegetables are currently kept or have been stored recently. Stored fruits and vegetables release ethylene gas, which can cause woody plant buds to abort, making the scions useless.

  •  Keep the scions from freezing during storage.


NOTE: In grafting, as well as budding, the vascular cambium of the scion or bud must be aligned with the vascular cambium of rootstock. In woody plants the cambium is a very thin ribbon of actively dividing cells located just below the bark. The cambium produces conductive tissue for the actively growing plant (Figure 1). This vascular cambium initiates callus tissue at the graft and bud unions in addition to stimulating tissue growth on the basal ends of many vegetative cuttings before they have rooted.

Figure 1. Cross section of a woody plant stem.


Types of Grafts

Nurserymen can choose from a number of different types of grafts. This section describes only those basic types of grafts used on nursery crop plants.


Cleft Graft

One of the simplest and most popular forms of grafting, cleft grafting (Figure 2), is a method for top working both flowering and fruiting trees (apples, cherries, pears, and peaches) in order to change varieties. Cleft grafting is also used to propagate varieties of camellias that are difficult to root. This type of grafting is usually done during the winter and early spring while both scion and rootstock are still dormant. Cleft grafting may be performed on main stems or on lateral or scaffold branches.


The rootstock used for cleft grafting should range from 1 to 4 inches in diameter and should be straight grained. The scion should be about 1/4 inch in diameter, straight, and long enough to have at least three buds. Scions that are between 6 and 8 inches long are usually the easiest to use.

Figure 2. Cleft graft.


Preparing the Rootstock.

The stock should be sawed off with a clean, smooth cut perpendicular to the main axis of the stem to be grafted. Using a clefting tool wedge and a mallet, make a split or "cleft" through the centre of the stock and down 2 to 3 inches. Remove the clefting tool wedge and drive the pick end of the tool into the centre of the newly made cleft so that the stock can be held open while inserting the scion.


Preparing the Scion.

In cleft grafting, one scion is usually inserted at each end of the cleft, so prepare two scions for each graft. Select scions that have three or four good buds. Using a sharp, clean grafting knife, start near the base of the lowest bud and make two opposing smooth-tapered cuts 1 to 2 inches long toward the basal end of the scion. Cut the side with the lowest bud slightly thicker than the opposite side. Be sure the basal end of the scion gradually tapers off along both sides.


Inserting the Scion.
Insert a scion on each end of the cleft, with the wider side of the wedge facing outward. The cambium of each scion should contact the cambium of the rootstock.


Securing the Graft.

Remove the clefting tool from the cleft so that the rootstock can close. Pressure from the rootstock will hold the scions in place. Thoroughly seal all cut surfaces with grafting wax or grafting paint to keep out water and prevent drying. If both scions in the cleft "take," one will usually grow more rapidly than the other. After the first growing season, choose the stronger scion and prune out the weaker.

NOTE: The temperature of grafting wax is critical. It must be hot enough to flow but not so hot as to kill plant tissue. Recently, paint-like sealants have replaced wax in many areas because they are easier to use and require no heating.


Rind or Bark Graft

Bark grafting (Figure 3) is used primarily to top work flowering and fruiting trees. In contrast to cleft grafting, this technique can be applied to rootstock of larger diameter (4 to 12 inches) and is done during early spring when the bark slips easily from the wood but before major sap flow. The rootstock is severed with a sharp saw, leaving a clean cut as with cleft grafting.

Figure 3. Bark graft.


Preparing the Stock.

 Start at the cut surface of the rootstock and make a vertical slit through the bark where each scion can be inserted (2 inches long and spaced 1 inch apart).


Preparing the Scion.

Since multiple scions are usually inserted around the cut surface of the rootstock, prepare several scions for each graft. Cut the base of each scion to a 1 ½- to 2-inch tapered wedge on one side only.


Inserting the Scion.

Loosen the bark slightly and insert the scion so that the wedge-shaped tapered surface of the scion is against the exposed wood under the flap of bark. Push the scion firmly down into place behind the flap of bark, replace the bark flap, and nail the scion in place by driving one or two wire brads through the bark and scion into the rootstock. Insert a scion every 3 to 4 inches around the cut perimeter of the rootstock.


Securing the Graft.

Seal all exposed surfaces with grafting wax or grafting paint. Once the scions have begun to grow, leave only the most vigorous one on each stub; prune out all the others. Bark grafts tend to form weak unions and therefore usually require staking or support during the first few years.


Side-Veneer Graft

At one time the side-veneer graft (Figure 4) was a popular technique for grafting varieties of camellias and rhododendrons that are difficult to root. Currently, it is the most popular way to graft conifers, especially those having a compact or dwarf form. Side-veneer grafting is usually done on potted rootstock.



Fig. 4 Side veneer graft


Preparing the Stock.

Rootstock is grown in pots the season before grafting, allowed to go dormant, and then stored as with other container nursery stock. After exposure to cold weather for at least six weeks, the rootstock is brought into a cool greenhouse for a few days before grafting takes place to encourage renewed root growth. The plant should not be watered at this time.


Make a shallow downward cut about 3/4 inch to 1 inch long at the base of the stem on the potted rootstock to expose a flap of bark with some wood still attached. Make an inward cut at the base so that the flap of bark and wood can be removed from the rootstock.


Preparing the Scion.
Choose a scion with a diameter the same as or slightly smaller than the rootstock. Make a sloping cut 3/4 to 1 inch long at the base of the scion. (Use the bark grafting technique shown in Figure 3.)


Inserting the Scion.
Insert the cut surface of the scion against the cut surface of the rootstock. Be certain that the cambia contact each other.


Securing the Graft.
Hold the scion in place using a rubber grafting strip, tape, or grafting twine. Seal the entire graft area with warm grafting wax or grafting paint. Remove the rubber or twine shortly after the union has healed. Never allow the binding material to girdle the stem.


Splice Graft

Splice grafting (Figure 5) is used to join a scion onto the stem of a rootstock or onto an intact root-piece. This simple method is usually applied to herbaceous materials that callus or "knit" easily, or it is used on plants with a stem diameter of 1/2 inch or less. In splice grafting, both the stock and scion must be of the same diameter.

Figure 5. Splice graft.


Preparing the Stock and Scion.

Cut off the rootstock using a diagonal cut 3/4 to 1 inch long. Make the same type of cut at the base of the scion.


Inserting the Scion.

Fit the scion to the stock. Wrap this junction securely with a rubber grafting strip or twine.


Securing the Graft.

Seal the junction with grafting wax or grafting paint. Water rootstock sparingly until the graft knits. Over watering may cause sap to "drown" the scion. Be sure to remove the twine or strip as soon as the graft has healed.


Whip and Tongue Graft

The whip and tongue technique (Figure 6) is most commonly used to graft nursery crops or woody ornamentals. Both the rootstock and scion should be of equal size and preferably no more than 1/2 inch in diameter. The technique is similar to splice grafting except that the whip on the rootstock holds the tongue of the scion in place (and vice versa). This leaves both hands free to wrap the joint.

For the whip and tongue graft, make similar cuts on both the stock and scion. These cuts should be made with a single draw of the knife and should have a smooth surface so that the two can develop a good graft union. Up to this point, rootstock and scion are cut the same as for a splice graft.

Figure 6. Whip and tongue graft.


Preparing the Stock and Scion.

Cut off the stock using a diagonal cut. The cut should be four to five times longer than the diameter of the stock to be grafted. Make the same kind of cut at the base of the scion.


Next, place the blade of the knife across the cut end of the stock, halfway between the bark and pith (on the upper part of the cut surface). Use a single knife stroke to draw the blade down at an angle through the wood and pith. Stop at the base of the initial diagonal cut. This second cut must not follow the grain of the wood but should run parallel to the first cut.


Inserting the Scion.

Prepare the scion in the same way. Fit the scion into the rootstock so that they interlock whip and tongue. Be certain that the cambia are aligned.


Securing the Graft.
Wrap the junction with a grafting strip or twine, and seal it with grafting wax or grafting paint. Never allow the binding material to girdle the stem.


Saddle Graft

Saddle grafting (Figure 7) is a relatively easy technique to learn and once mastered can be performed quite rapidly. The stock may be either field-grown or potted. Both rootstock and scion should be the same diameter. For best results, use saddle grafting on dormant stock in mid- to late winter. Stock should not be more than 1 inch in diameter.

Figure 7. Saddle graft.


Preparing the Stock.

Using two opposing upward strokes of the grafting knife, sever the top from the rootstock. The resulting cut should resemble an inverted V, with the surface of the cuts ranging from 1/2 to 1 inch long.


Preparing the Scion.

Now reverse the technique to prepare the base of the scion. These cuts on the rootstock and scion must be the same length and have the same slope so that a maximum amount of cambial tissue will make contact when the two halves are joined.


Inserting the Scion.

Place the V-notched scion onto the saddle of the rootstock. If rootstock and scion are the same diameter, cambial alignment is easier; otherwise adjust as needed.


Securing the Graft.

Wrap the graft with a grafting twine, tape, or strip, then seal it with grafting wax or grafting paint.


All of the preceding techniques are used to top work horticultural crops for a particular purpose. Occasionally, however, grafting is used to repair injured or diseased plants. Two common techniques available for this purpose are bridge grafting and inarch grafting.


Bridge Graft

Bridge grafting (Figure 8) is used to "bridge" a diseased or damaged area of a plant, usually at or near the base of the trunk. Such damage commonly results from contact with grading or lawn maintenance equipment, or it may be caused by rodents, cold temperatures, or disease organisms. The bridge graft provides support as well as a pipeline that allows water and nutrients to move across the damaged area.


Bridge grafts are usually done in early spring just before active plant growth begins. They may be performed any time the bark on the injured plant "slips."

Figure 8. Bridge graft.


Preparing the Scion.

Select scions that are straight and about twice as long as the damaged area to be bridged. Make a 1 1/2- to 2-inch-long tapered cut on the same plane at each end of the scion.


Preparing the Stock.

Remove any damaged tissue so the graft is on healthy stems. Cut a flap in the bark on the rootstock the same width as the scion and below the injury to be repaired. Gently fold the flap away from the stock, being careful not to tear the bark flap.


Inserting the Scion.

First, insert and secure the scion below the injury; push the scion under the flap with the cut portion of the scion against the wood of the injured stem or trunk. Then go back and insert and secure the scion above the injury following these same steps. Push the scion firmly into place. Pull the flap over the scion and tack it into place as described for bark grafting (Figure 3).

When grafting with young stems that may waver in the wind, insert the scions so that they bow outward slightly. Bridge grafts should be spaced about 3 to 4 inches apart across the damaged area


Securing the Graft.
Secure all graft areas with warm grafting wax or grafting paint. During and after the healing period, remove any buds or shoots that develop on the scions.


Inarch Graft

Inarching, like bridge grafting, is used to bypass or support a damaged or weakened area of a plant stem (Figure 9). Unlike bridge grafting, the scion can be an existing shoot, sucker, or water sprout that is already growing below and extending above the injury. The scion may also be a shoot of the same species as the injured plant growing on its own root system next to the main trunk of the damaged tree. With the inarching technique, the tip of the scion is grafted in above the injury using the same method as for bark or bridge grafting.



Figure 9. Inarch graft.

In Conclusion

Grafting collected scions (most apple tree owners/ orchard growers will usually gladly give you a bit of scion wood if you ask for it in winter) on to your own rootstock is a VERY cost effective way of building up a collection of fruit trees. Rootstocks cost about £2.00 each - and don't forget you can graft a few different variety scions on to each rootstock!

Something you should also consider is saving the disappearing "heirloom" varieties from the UK. There are over 1200 native apples for eating, cooking, as well as for cider making and crab apples for pickling. They have enchanting names: Acklam Russets, Barnack Beauty, Nutmeg Pippin, Knobby Russet…and many more. Despite this, most growers concentrate on a few commercially proven varieties, leaving us with little choice. Worldwide it's estimated there are 7,500 varieties.

Supermarkets stock approximately 30 varieties - in TOTAL - between them!  The criteria for variety selection? Uniform size/ shape & colour. Freshness and variety of flavour is NOT a consideration.

It is estimated that each fruit is sprayed approximately 18 times with herbicide and insecticide poisons. They are further sprayed with hormones to aid storage and induce ripening at a set time (they are harvested before they are ripe).

Most of them are flown in from places like South Africa, New Zealand & Australia in the southern hemisphere, using vast amounts of fuel and causing huge amounts of pollution. By the time they reach your fruit bowl they already have a huge carbon footprint.

 Our native varieties are disappearing. Others are disappearing the world over. I challenge you to argue that is sensible or sustainable.

Bring some sanity back into our lives and grow your own - for yourself, your grandchildren & great grandchildren - because apple trees can easily produce fruit for at least three generations. So get grafting!

If you are having trouble sourcing fruit trees or can't find a rootstock LOCALLY then give one of our on-line fruit tree nursery sponsors a try. Discover the mystical BARDSEY ISLAND APPLE account CLICK to go to our sponsor's web-site shop
Two of our main web-site fruit tree sponsors are shown here. Click on the graphics to go to their sites.


There will be a page dedicated to fruit trees (including rootstock choices, pollination grouping, caring for fruit trees, pruning etc. etc.) on our web-site in the near future.

I am currently in the process of writing and compiling it. To date I have some Fact-files that I've completed that you may like to view before the main Fruit Tree section is finalised and uploaded on to the web-site. You are also welcome to scrutinise the contents and contribute further if you think I've left anything out.

Fruit Trees Rootstock Guide
Fruit Trees - Pollination Guide
If you would like to see a video of how to graft (in the flesh as it were!) Then please view one of Dr Stephen Hayes' amateur videos on the subject. He has an YouTube channel dedicated just to apple trees & grafting!


 (you may be surprised by some!)

I know it's only early Spring BUT a lot of our insect friends (or foes) are already on the foot, wing or crawl! It's a little early to get panicky about their presence, but in a few months time we'll be embroiled in a love/ hate war relationship with many of them.

The trick is to know your friends from your foes. To kill friends could actually cost us dearly in the long run. Conversely letting that "cute little stripped beetle" go could mean a ruined crop further down the line!


The economic significance of ants as pests is difficult to judge. Carpenter ants, which are considered destructive to wood, actually may contribute to forest economy by hastening the breakdown and recycling of timber previously infested by other insects. Also, seed-gathering ants may be destructive to agriculture when they become excessively numerous around grain fields or storage centres, but they also may suppress beetles and other grain pests. Ants such as aphid tending species are frequent pests around lawns and gardens; however, the great benefit of these and other ants in aerating and mixing soil also must be considered. Ants such as aphid, driver and army ants are efficient exterminators of other, more damaging insects, and in some regions are temporarily allowed to enter human dwelling to clean up such pests. Most of the worst pest ants are ecologically displaced species that thrive in disturbed or artificial habitats created by humans. So are they friend or foe? I will leave it up to you to decide.


Blackfly, Greenfly, Brownfly, all come under the catergory of aphids. They attack nearly everything that grows in our gardens. These sap sucking insect pests distort buds, flowers and leaves. They multiply so quickly that unless you act as soon as you see them, you will have an infestation within days. Any of the normal systemic insecticides will kill them, but vary the types at each spray as they quickly build up a resistance if you keep to one brand. If you would prefer not to use chemicals then plant nectar rich plants in your garden to attract natural predators such as Hoverfly's, or make or buy Lacewing shelters (where the adults over-winter). The larvae of lacewings are another good predator of aphids. There is also the option of using soft soap formulations such as "Stergene", or "Naturen" which is based on rape seed oil, but you will have to read the instructions because the latter can cause leaf damage to certain plants. A Foe!


  •  Bees are dependent on pollen as a protein source and on flower nectar or oils as an energy source. Adult females collect pollen primarily to feed their larvae. The pollen they inevitably lose in going from flower to flower is important to plants because some pollen lands on the pistils (reproductive structures) of other flowers of the same species, resulting in cross-pollination. Bees are, in fact, the most important pollinating insects. Female bees, like many other hymenopterans, have a defensive sting. Some like the leaf cutter bee can be a nuisance in the garden as they seem to pick one particular plant. Although they do no real damage, they can make the plant they choose look very untidy, particularly if that plant were destined for a show. The leaf cutter bee's work can be distinguished from vine weevil by the neatness of the cut, being a complete half circle, whereas the vine weevil makes a more jagged edged cut. It is certain though in general the bee is definitely a GOOD friend.


     Capsid bugs belong to the order Hemiptera, sub order Heteroptera. Capsid bugs are closely associated to leafhoppers. They attack the small growing tips which causes severe distortion, and in some cases, blindness resulting in the loss of flower buds. The common green Capsid, Lygacaris pubulinus attacks many different plants, including fuchsia's. There are over 200 species of capsid bug in the British Isles alone. Spray regularly with a systemic insecticide at the first sign of attack. Definitely a foe!


     Caterpillar's are the larval stage of butterflies and moths. I'm not sure whether to call them friend or foe, because as caterpillar's they can be pests, but when they turn into beautiful butterflies how can you count them as such? Members of the order Lepidoptera, this phase corresponds in this special order to the grub, maggot or larva phase in the life history of other insects. The caterpillar develops like any other larva from the segmented egg and differentiating embryo and undergoes several moultings. It later falls into a quiescent pupa stage, and the pupa is normally sheathed in a silken cocoon. It may be fixed or free, suspended by one thread or more to a leaf or branch, or hidden underground. Very few of the caterpillar's will reach maturity. Many are destroyed by weather, by birds, reptiles and other animals, and insects such as Ichneumon wasps and ground beetle's. Ichneumon wasps pierce the caterpillar's and make them receptacles for their eggs and, later, edible cradles for their larvae. You will need to make up your own mind as to whether they are "Friend or Foe".


    Centipede, the common name for the members of the arthropod phylum. The centipedes are long, segmented animals with jointed appendages and a poisonous bite. Centipedes are often confused with millipedes, which constitute a separate class, covered in another article. The centipede body is divided into well-marked segments, the number of which varies from 12 to more than 100. The head, which is covered by a flat shield above, bears a pair of antennae, usually of considerable length, a pair of small, strong, toothed and bristly mandibles, and a pair of under jaws, usually with palps. The next limb like appendages are followed by a modified pair of legs with strong joints, terminating in a sharp claw into which a poison gland opens. Most centipedes measure about 2.5 to 5cm (about 1 - 2 inches) in length. They are one of our friends in the garden, preying on many of the pests that plague us. As opposed to the Millipedes (a foe) they are fast moving, so if it runs away let it go, it will almost certainly be a centipede and a FRIEND.


     Earwig, common name for any member of an order of nocturnal insects found throughout the world. Earwigs are small, slender, and dark coloured. They have pairs of horny, forceps like abdominal appendages, which are larger in males than in females. Most species are winged but they seldom fly. They live under the decayed bark of trees, under stones and in old straw, and feed chiefly upon flowers and ripe fruit. Earwigs were so named because of the erroneous belief that they sometimes creep into human ears. They are completely harmless to humans but are known to transmit virus diseases that affect plants. One simple way of catching them is to put an upturned flower pot filled with straw either on a cane in the garden, or on to the shelving of a greenhouse. Earwigs will hide in this and can be disposed of each morning. For insecticides use a Gamma BHC dust, sprinkled over the compost of the plants being affected. Also I suppose considered a foe, they don't really do a lot of damage, just a few holes here and there. I personally leave them alone and let them live in peace! Who notices the odd hole in a dahlia anyway? Except of course those earwig murdering dahlia show benchers!


     The fungus gnat, or scariad fly, is in itself not a problem. You will see the tiny black flies walking across the top of the compost, mainly of pot plants, fluttering their tiny wings. Although they are unsightly and can be a nuisance when numbers build up it is the larvae, the tiny almost transparent maggots that do the damage. They feed on dead and decaying matter in the soil, along with tiny roots. This can be a problem with cuttings or seeds, but rarely causes any problems to established plants. Make sure that the compost is not over-watered and spray/water with malathion. As with other pests fine gravel on top of the pots acts as a deterrent. Another foe.


    Ground beetle, common name for swift-running, often carnivorous beetles. Ground beetles live under rocks or in moist or sandy soil, from which they get their name. Many ground beetles do not fly. The slender legs are well developed for swift running. These beetles are most often unmarked black or brown; several species have wing cases that are striped or bordered with metallic blue, green or bronze. The head of the ground beetle is narrower than its body, long thin threadlike antennae jut out from the sides of its head. The mouthparts are adapted for crushing and eating insects, slugs and snails. The largest ground beetles are 2.5cm (1 inch) or more in length. The larvae of the ground beetles have well developed legs and mouthparts, are also carnivorous, and live underground. Ground beetles destroy many harmful insects such as the browntail moth and cutworms. A few ground beetles are considered harmful, some species feed on seeds and strawberries, but in general they are one of our friends in the garden.


     Mimicry occurs throughout the insect world, producing many flies that are difficult to distinguish between bees and wasps. The more successful the mimicry, the better their chance of survival. The hoverflies are one of these superbly adapted mimics. Birds see the black and yellow markings as a danger signal and leave them alone. The adult hoverflies feed on pollen and nectar, but the larva are superb predators of aphids, consuming large amounts during their development into adults. The most common, in all parts of Great Britain, is Syrphus ribesii. They are usually easy to tell apart from wasps by their hovering flight and if you hold your hand steady in front of them they will land. Plant nectar rich plants in your garden to attract these REAL garden friends.


     Lacewings are among the natural predators of aphids. The adults, which can be either green (Chrysoperla carnea) or brown (Kimminsia subnebulosa), consume large numbers of aphids, as do the larva. Although you will see them occasionally flying they are not the best exponents of flight with a rather cumbersome motion. They are very distinct with their transparent wings and golden eyes. Both the adults and larva suck the fluids from their victims through mandibles. Many lacewings overwinter in the British Isles and "lacewing boxes" can be made, or purchased, for this purpose. A definite friend.


     Ladybirds (genus Coccinellidae), both adult and larva, are another common predator of aphids. Many overwinter in the British Isles, but large migrations of European ladybirds often occur. The main feature of ladybirds is their distinct red colouration with black spots on the wing casings, which ranges from two spots up to twenty four spots. The most common species within the British Isles is the seven spot ladybird. Although normally red with black spots several species are slightly different having a yellow colouration with black spots, or black with red or yellow spots. Another TRUE friend.


    Millipedes, any of about 1000 species of cylindrical, many-legged arthropods. Millipedes have segmented bodies with two pairs of legs on each of the 9 to 100 or more abdominal segments, depending on the species, and one pair on three of the four thoracic segments. Because of their numerous legs the animal walks slowly with a wavelike motion of the legs down the body. In length they range from about 0.2cm to 23cm (about 0.1 to 9 inches). Millipedes have a hard protective layer of calcium-containing chitin (except in some small species), two simple eyes, one pair of mandibles, two short antennae, and (in most species) stink glands with secretions that repel or kill insect predators. Another protective strategy is to curl into a spiral or a ball when threatened. They live in dark, damp places and feed on decaying plant life, but they may damage seedlings. So as opposed to the centipede, these should be considered more of a pest and disposed of if seen. Foe.


    The snail is a terrestrial species of mollusc. Gastropod (literally, belly footed animal). Snails move by means of a wavelike series of muscular contractions along the bottom of the foot, and, in land snails, by a track of laid-down slime. Snails feed mainly on algae and decaying matter but will also attack growing plants. Some carnivorous snails have radulae that bore holes through the shells of other molluscs to reach the soft flesh. Many species of snails are hermaphroditic and capable of self fertilisation. Slugs are also a gastropod mollusc, related to snails, but without the shell which is represented by a horny plate overlying the respiratory cavity. Slugs are vegetation eaters and often ascend trees in search of food. They may do extensive damage to cultivated plants and are particularly damaging in greenhouses. Both are horrible creatures in my opinion, they're one of the FEW creatures that I can actually conjure up hatred for! They're a serious pest to gardeners and are definitely considered AN OUT & OUT FOE!


     Its strange that our greatest friend in the garden, causes so much fear to so many people. The average garden plays host to thousands of these beneficial creatures. It is estimated that the number of pests they destroy is equal to the weight of the entire human population - so just think where we would be without them! They range in Britain from the tiny jumping spider to the large house variety that we see running across the carpet in the late Autumn. Their hunting techniques are as varied as their size and shape, from the common orb web, through the wolf spider that we find stalking it pray on the flower beds, to the little jumping spider. whatever shape or form they take, and even if you cannot stand the sight of them, please don't kill them. They really are our GREATEST friends.


    Wasps include the Sawflies, and the parasitic wasps. Wasps are highly important to ecosystems. Although Sawflies consume vegetation, most other wasps are either parasitic or predaceous and therefore play a vital role in limiting the populations of thousands of other insect species. All wasps are eaten by other species, thereby providing many links in the food chain. Many parasitic wasps have been cultured and used in the biological control of agricultural pests, such as the ones that are used to control Whitefly. Although a few of the stinging wasps are considered a nuisance, they also provide benefits. Yellow jackets and paper wasps, for example, prey on caterpillar's and other larvae that can destroy crops. They can often be seen hunting Craneflies on warm Autumn evenings. Wasps also feed on flower nectar and play a role in pollination. So it could be said, in general, that wasps are more friend than foe and that we should forgive them a bit when they come after our jam sandwiches when we are having a picnic.


     Whitefly (Aleurodina) are small sap sucking insects that live on a variety of plants, including fuchsia's. They, and their larval stage, live on the undersides of leaves. The first you may know of an attack is the appearance of the sticky honey-dew on the upper surface of lower leaves and the clouds of these small moth-like flies. Regular spraying with systemic insecticides, which are rotated, can help but as with other pests immunity can soon be built up. The white fly adults coat themselves with a wax-like secretion, that is exuded from glands on their abdomens, which also acts as a protection against pesticides. Soft soap, "Stergene", is another alternative to chemicals, and a tiny predatory wasp, Encarsia formosa, can be used as a solution in greenhouses. The wasp lays its egg in the developing larva, which turns black, and the young wasp emerges from the eaten embryo. Another solution for greenhouses is to place yellow sticky sheets around, just above the plants, which will attract and collect whitefly. Another serious FOE.


     Woodlice are not, as most people think, beetles but are in fact terrestrial crustaceans, their nearest relatives are crabs or lobsters. They are characterised by a flattened body, fused abdominal segments and seven pairs of legs. The respiratory organs are completely enfolded by perforated plates. Also known as sow bugs they are common in many regions of the world. Found frequently in most gardens, they live under rocks or in other damp places and feed on decaying animal or vegetable matter. They also sometimes feed on living plants and can become agricultural pests. Some varieties, known as pill bugs, are capable of rolling themselves into a ball when disturbed. The species vary in colour from grey to black. They can be controlled by using BHC Gamma dust sprinkled near to where you find them. Clearing up all dead and decaying matter in the garden is a better idea in keeping their numbers down. In a greenhouse place upturned flower pots on the staging, they will hide under these during daylight where they can be found and destroyed. Another FOE.

    I could of course go on & on, but the above are some of the more common bugs we come across on our allotments & in our gardens in the UK.

    Some are also the ones we are often most confused about. You don't need to be an etymologist to be a gardener, but it's one of those subjects that helps a lot when you peek into it - for your own sake - so that you can tell YOUR FRIENDS from YOUR FOES!


    A series of articles on traditional gardening tools

    "Why do we insist on making such hard work of digging and cultivating our plots with tools that make us bend and strain our backs when millions of people all over the world work the soil with faster, easier and more logical tools which avoid much of the drudgery and backache that we take so much for granted?" (Simon Drummond - Get Digging web-site).

    In fact we have come to expect pain when gardening in this country! How many times have you heard quips about gardeners and their aching backs? Or how the bank holiday will come and bring sore backs and lost work time to over enthusiastic "Sunday" gardeners!

    If you subscribe to the philosophy of "no pain, no gain" then go no further - if, on the other hand, you see no virtue in making hard work even harder then try these tools and you'll wonder how you ever managed without them.

    A few issues ago I promised our readers that I would write a series of short articles on traditional gardening tools. Here is the third tool described in this series.

    Part 3

    The "Crome" or "Cramp"

    In the old days these were used for pulling muck off the back of tumbrels and trailers in the field. A useful tool for raking down rough-dug and cloddy soil. Ideal for clearing long cut grass and other vegetation following scything and cutting. Also good for clearing vegetation from ditches, ponds & even canals. Effective too for breaking up round straw bales!

    In this part of the world we used to call this tool a "Cramp". In other areas it was called a "Long Handled Draw Fork" or a "Crome". In the Norfolk area it was the standard tool for clearing canals and ditches. In that part of England it's called a Crome.

    The cramp (or crome) is a fantastic tool in the garden. I had never associated it with gardening tasks until quite recently - my memory of it being used solely as a tool to drag muck into heaps off a cart in a field. Since I've had this new one of mine it's uses are only limited by what you can't think up for it! Clearing vegetation and debris around the allotment - it was made for the job. As an example, I was recently hoeing along the paths between my beds. Normally I would clear up the stones and debris by gently dragging a rake over them, but in the process I would also drag off some soil. Using a cramp it's just the vegetation and stones that get dragged away. It's width is made for the job. It also comes in handy being dragged over the potato rows after picking spuds. It clears away the debris and unearths some of the tubers that may have been missed - the "volunteer" spuds. An all round fantastic tool.

    My earliest recollection of using a cramp was with my father when I was a lad in primary school. In the autumn we would load up a converted horse cart with farm yard manure, cart-full after cart-full would be taken to the fields where it would be dragged off into heaps to be spread later by hand using a muck-fork. A converted horse cart was particularly useful because it could be manually tipped in increments. In those days many smaller farms used converted horse drawn implements - including carts. The shafts were removed and replaced with a towing pole with a jaw on it that attached to the draw bar of the tractor - usually an old Fordson - many of which had been imported by Henry Ford from America to help the war effort in this country. Every land army girl knew how to drive a Fordson!. So did we as boys - usually from the age of about seven or eight. As soon as you were strong and heavy enough to press down the one pedal that doubled up as a clutch and brake, you were promoted to the job of driving the tractor! Especially for tedious tasks like moving the tractor and trailer from one hay muddle to another whilst the men pitched it on to the hay cart. The other not so nice job of stop/ starting - often by moonlight - was done on a cold October night, whist your father pulled down heaps of muck at the back, using a cramp.

    Cromes or cramps are also used for ponds and for wetland work and are somewhere between a rake and a muck fork. They are also sometimes called a long draw fork.

    Cromes are most useful for removing debris from ponds and clearing ditches. They can also be used for raking up long grass that has been cut, and breaking up bales of straw or hay.

    Cromes are quite a specialist tool, but they are SO useful on an allotment plot that it's difficult to visit the plot without finding something for the cramp to do! A real "Jack of all trades" - even if it did start life off as a specialist!

    Care and Maintenance

    After use, as with all your tools, any mud or muck should be wiped or brushed off, and the tool should be stored somewhere dry - not left lying down or sticking out of your plot! If they are used infrequently it may be advisable to oil the metal head before putting them away, to reduce rusting.

    The wooden handles can be treated with linseed oil. This helps to protect them from water and also leaves a smooth surfaces so they are less likely to cause blisters with prolonged use.

    It’s unlikely to be worth replacing the handles if they break. A new tool will usually be a similar price to the repair and much simpler.

    Safety Points

    • Always carry a cramp by your side at the point of balance with the sharp tines in front and pointing downwards.
    • Do not carry a cramp over your shoulder as you may turn round and hit someone.
    • When not in use, place your cramp flat on the ground with tines pointing downwards preferably stuck a little way into the ground.
    • Don’t leave your cramp stood up by a wall (handle down) or leaning against a tree in case someone walks into it - it's just the right height for eyes!

    Correctly used it's harmless. It can be as lethal as it looks - if used incorrectly! The same applies to many hand tools, from pocket knives up.

    Tools like the cramp, and all sorts of other long handled and traditional tools can be viewed and bought from our sponsor Simon Drummond's web-site. Just click on the "Get Digging" graphic on the left to go to the web-site.

    Get Digging is a small mail order business with no pretensions to competing with the large garden tool suppliers. The business is based on marketing Azadas (Spanish for mattock type tools) and other quality tools not to be found in the normal retail outlets, who normally concentrate on similar ranges of conventional mass-market tools.

    Well worth a visit on nostalgia grounds alone!

    That's it for another issue. If you would like to contribute to our news-letter then all contributions are gratefully accepted.

    If you have any friends or gardening acquaintances who you think would like our news-letter and would benefit from it then by all means point them towards our news-letter archive on the web-site where they can also subscribe on-line to receive the publication by e-mail.


    Until the next time - keep busy, keep hoeing those weeds, but have fun & ENJOY on your plot or in your garden!

    Kind Regards To You All,



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