I don’t know if it was the beautiful view of the surrounding Shropshire hills, or the welcoming smiles of Janta and Merav but as soon as I stepped on the land at Karuna my tummy flipped. There is something so magical about seeing a landscape being healed. To see trees reclaim a hillside, abundant varieties budding with new energy, to know that each one has been planted with heartfelt intent.
I was coming to Karuna to learn how to graft apple trees. To understand the art and science of combining a cutting of my favourite trees to rootstocks, as to grow different varieties to plant in my orchard. The day began with introductions, a diverse group with locals to Londoners, most arriving to learn the skills to care for their own small patches of land.
Janta gave us all an apple, the last of their own, to connect with. After grounding ourselves and reflecting on the nourishment we receive from the land, we were all treated to the taste of Karuna, delicious! The day began with a tour of their stunning site, with Janta showing us their nurseries of fruit trees. We listed to the intriguing descriptions of the different varieties, some from unknown varieties aptly named by the family instead, such as ‘Earthworm Giant’ and ‘Big juicy red’.
Merav explained how the young trees are mulched with card and straw and other organic material, which helps retain moisture, keep down weeds and strengthen the little trees while they are growing. We walked down to their orchard area, kept pest-free by ducks and fed by their own cycling of nutrients – ‘humanure’ and pee bales. A living example of a truly ‘closed-loop’ system.
Janta talked through the trees that gift them with fruit each year, helping us to decide which two varieties we would choose to graft later on. He also showed us his method of tree planting, describing how each tree at Karuna (and they have planted thousands) has had its own hole dug, been fed and lovingly patted in by hand. Perhaps why a local farmer came to Janta for advice on how his trees have done so well on this elevated Shropshire hillside!
We then each planted out a two year old tree and I couldn’t help but be impressed by their vigour for such young trees. Soon it was lunch and then shortly after it was time for our apple grafting tuition. Janta explained the different known methods and gave us his opinions of which had worked for him. He talked to us about the whip, stab, straddle, cleft & strap techniques and then showed us his own ‘karuna style’ method, which was a lot more simple and straightforward. He recommended to have no less than three and no more than six buds on the scion, and also demonstrated the importance of making a smooth cut.
Unfortunately, despite Jantas attentive warning, in all of my enthusiasm to make the perfect cut, I also managed to cut my thumb! The lovely sharp knife managed to slide straight through even my thumbnail. My tummy flipped again, not at the magic of the land, but at the sight of my own blood! Merav took me to clean and dress the wound, sat me down and fed me dates, I certainly couldn’t complain!
After this happening at the beginning of the workshop, everyone else seemed to take even more care with the sharp tools but continued to practice, cutting carefully a short length of rootstock to expose the cambion layer (it’s sappy life force) and binding it to another carefully cut scion. By the summer the tree will have healed its wounds and the tape can be unbound revealing a hopefully healthy little tree.
Janta emphasised the importance of keeping the environment clean, of carefully placing your cuttings so that they are as clean as possible when bound together. As I had managed to put myself out of action so quickly, Janta gratefully grafted my chosen trees. He’d selected one for me however, a juicy red dessert apple called Liberty. I am now sectioning off my own little nursery bed at home so that when my thumb is healed I can practice grafting and build my own little collection of fruiting wonders.
Each attendee was given Janta’s patient and gentle attention one on one and I’m sure that everyone left feeling confident that they had learnt what they had came for. Sadly, mine wasn’t the only injury, at the end of the session, community gardener Leila, had also managed to take a swipe of her thumb. However despite the bandages, the day still got the thumbs up from us!
Thanks again to Janta and Merav, and their sons, for having us and making us feel so welcome. Next time I visit I hope to bring my own grafted tree, minus the bandages. For more information about Permaculture project, Karuna and the courses they run please see www.karuna.org.uk