Fruit Tree Grafting: Whip and Tongue Grafts and Chip Budding

Fruit Tree Grafting: Whip and Tongue Grafts and Chip Budding

Fruit tree grafting is an economical way to create your own orchard. In winter you can collect cuttings (called scion wood) from your favourite deciduous trees and graft these onto rootstock and create multiple copies of each tree, without having to wait for a new tree to grow from seed or having to buy an established tree from a nursery.

There are a few more reasons why it can be a good idea to graft, other than it being cheaper. Grafting wood onto a specific rootstock means you can better choose the size of the tree you’ll grow as well as the hardiness.

In New Zealand for example, one of the standard rootstocks for apple is mm106. This is a semi-dwarf rootstock that is quite tolerant to moist soils. However, if you were wanting a smaller apple tree, for example, you could pick an m9 rootstock, which is a dwarf variety.

The scion wood and the rootstock need to be the same genus for the graft to take. The genus ‘Prunus’ includes stonefruit such as plums, peaches, nectarines, cherries, and apricots, so these could all be grafted on the same type of rootstock. You can’t graft a plum scion wood onto apple (Malus genus) rootstock. The only exception to this rule is pear, which can also be grafted to a quince rootstock despite quince being a different genus.

For some trees that grow quickly from seed, and grow fruit which is true to type such as a peaches,  nectarines and apricots grafting isn’t particularly worth it. But for pears and apples, it’s a great option. Apples and pears that haven’t been grafted to a rootstock with dwarfing characteristics can grow ridiculously tall and take up to 10 years to fruit, and just because you grew an apple from seed you can’t guarantee what type the fruit will be. A grafted apple can fruit in 3-4 years and grafted pear in 4-6 and you’ll be sure of the fruit you get.

That being said, grafting is good fun too, even if it’s just an experiment. It’s very cool to see the wood fuse together and become a new tree. I thought I would give a step by step run down of two grafting techniques, Whip and Tounge Grafts and Chip Budding, and encourage you to give it a go!

Rootstock and Scionwood

The rootstock is a plant with an already established root system. The rootstock is what determines things like how big the fruit tree will grow, what conditions it can grow in and the fruit size.

Some grafting techniques use an established tree stump to graft their scion wood on. In the two grafting techniques below I’m not using an established stump. I’ll be using young rootstock, like pictured below. You can buy bunches of inexpensive rootstock online, or use your own. For example, I have a lot of self seeded cherry blossom rootstock around my property on which I will graft edible cherries.

The scion wood is a cutting of wood that is from the tree that you would like to propagate and grow. Scionwood must be first-year wood, meaning the wood that grew last summer. The scion wood must be collected in winter and must always be dormant (no burst buds) and aim for pieces of about 2ocm- 30cm long. One very long piece can be cut into several pieces.  Store scion wood in the fridge, wrapped in wet newspaper and plastic, until you use it.

Whip and tongue graft

This is a dependable and solid graft with a bit of careful skill required. When grafting it is essential that the cambium layer of both the rootstock and the scion wood match and grow together. The cambium is a tissue layer of cells, responsible for plant growth. To ensure a good match it is important you cut smoothly and cleanly using a sharp grafting knife like this one.

Grafting Knife

Take your rootstock and make a long slanting cut across an internode (the space between the buds). Either place the rootstock on a chopping board and press down hard with a grafting knife or hold the rootstock away from you and with one hard stroke, slice, off an angled slice. Try to get the longest possible cut and as smooth as possible to create an oval face.

Find scion wood of a similar size in diameter and do the same thing.

They should match as closely as possible when held together.

There’s the whip graft, now for the tongue.

Keep your thumbs nice and close together for better control with the knife. About 1/3 of the way down from your cut, slice down into the face. Do this slowly and carefully as this can be quite tricky and you don’t want to press down too hard and cut yourself!

Do this in both the rootstock and the scion. Those cuts create the ‘tongue’ and this is what will help hold the rootstock and scion together. Carefully match them together.

Now the graft needs to be securely tied with grafting tape. Grafting tape stretches as the tree grows and keeps out water and diseases. This step is just as important as a clean cut! Cut the top of your scion wood off so that it has only 3 buds remaining. Plant your finished rootstock, preferably in the open ground.

Chip budding

This grafting technique is one that can be done all throughout spring and even summer. It involves grafting only a little bud of the scion wood onto rootstock. This means you get a lot more use out of one piece of scion wood.

On your rootstock, in the internode (the space between two buds), make a little cut, about 3 mm deep.  1cm above that, slice down to meet the little slit you previously made.

On your scion wood, you want to do the same thing except on the bud.

Once you have sliced the bud off, keep it sitting on your grafting knife to avoid touching it with your fingers and contaminating it. Carefully place it onto the rootstock, matching the bud with the cut you made before.

When wrapping this graft, wrap the bottom of the bud first and only cover the tip of the bud with one layer of tape. Plant your rootstock, preferably in the open ground.

The above two grafts were prepared on a bare rooted rootstock. This is a lot easier than grafting on a rootstock in the ground as you can move it around when cutting.

Machine Grafts

If cutting with a grafting knife isn’t your thing, there are grafting shears you can purchase online that do the grafting work for you and actually cut the rootstock and scion wood so they fit like a puzzle.

Once you have planted your rootstock, keep it well watered. If your graft is successful, you should be able to see the buds on the scion wood grow and swell within a couple of months.

Happy grafting!

Gut-Loving Homemade Sauerkraut

Gut-Loving Homemade Sauerkraut

Fermenting your food is one of the healthiest ways to preserve your produce and what better way to start your fermenting journey than with a classic sauerkraut. It literally means ‘sour cabbage’ and after cabbage sits in its own salty water, this is exactly what it becomes. Traditionally made with green cabbage, purple cabbage adds extra benefits with its antioxidant power. It’s tart, sour, crunchy and delicious, teeming with probiotics.  

You want to start with an organic or homegrown cabbage. Non-organic cabbages will have been sprayed with pesticides which will slow down your ferment and pesticides are obviously also not good for you. An organic cabbage will bring a whole bunch of good-fermenting-activating bacteria to the party!

Then once you have your cabbage, strip off the outer leaves and put these on the side for later.

Then remove the cabbage hearts (the hard white bit in the middle) and chop up your cabbage. As fine or as chunky as you like, bearing in mind that the finer you chop it the faster it will ferment.

In winter, for every 1kg of cabbage, I add in 1 tablespoon of salt.  If I make this in summer, I add 1 and 1/4 tablespoon of salt.

Why different salt amounts depending on the season?

The hotter the temperature, the faster the cabbage will ferment and sometimes spoil. Adding a little extra salt in summer will help inhibit that. In winter, the cooler temperature slows down the ferment so a little less salt will counteract that. This is according to temperatures in New Zealand. If you live in a hot country, adding 1 and 1/4 tablespoon of salt per kg is a good idea.

If your cabbage does start to grow mould or scum on the top, you can skim it off as long as it hasn’t been on there for more than 24 hours as then it could affect your sauerkraut taste. Mould growing on salt fermented vegetables is unlikely to be dangerous.

When you have added the salt it’s time to massage it into the cabbage. about 10-15 of minutes of working the salt into the cabbage.* The salt draws out the water from the cabbage and it’s this water that will act as the ‘brine’. 

*If you have no time to massage the cabbage, mix the salt and cabbage together briefly then place a plate over the top of the cabbage and salt in the bowl with a weight on it and let it sit for about 30-40 minutes. This will also draw the moisture out of the cabbage.

Now you can add extra flavorings such as fennel seeds, caraway seeds, mustard seeds, celery seeds or whatever spices you like. If you’re using green cabbage, some fresh or dried turmeric is great too.

It’s now time to add your cabbage to sterilised jars. Squish it right down into the jar, to squeeze as much in is you can and force the liquid to come up above the cabbage. Cover with any remaining cabbage juice. It’s now important to keep that cabbage submerged as this fermenting is an anaerobic process (meaning without oxygen.) You can use a couple of the large outer cabbage leaves you initially saved to hold the cabbage under.

If it’s not staying submerged enough you can add a weight on top such as a steralised jar or ziplock bag filled with water. Cover loosely with a lid, so that the gases made in the ferment can escape. If you choose to seal your jar, ‘burp’ it daily to release built up gases.

Keep the sauerkraut sitting on your bench or in a cupboard out of direct sunlight for 1-3 weeks, tasting after 1 to see if it is fermented to your liking. Once it’s how you like it, you can rinse the sauerkraut first to get rid of any excess salt, then store in a sealed jar in the refrigerator and use within a month. If you’re not rinsing it, it can store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Potato and Herb Gnocchi

Potato and Herb Gnocchi

It’s pouring rain outside and I have the heater on full blast. This weather calls for comfort food and right now I couldn’t imagine a meal more comforting than gnocchi.

Little soft pillows of dough. Tiny cushion dumplings. Small potato clouds… how many ways can you describe gnocchi?

But let’s put textures aside for a second. Obviously the melt in the mouth quality of gnocchi is critical, but let’s not forget the other aspect of what makes gnocchi so great: it’s a wonderful vessel for sauce. A rich tomato sauce, a creamy mushroom sauce or a simple browned butter, the possibilities are endless.

One of my favourites, which is what is featured in this recipe is a butter sauce with thyme, lemon and garlic. The simplicity of these three ingredients is sensational, and coupled with a fluffy gnocchi, it’s perfection on a plate. Before we can get there however, it’s important to understand what makes a good gnocchi (and what doesn’t!)

A gnocchi is a dumpling of dough. The dough can be made with a variety of ingredients such as semolina, wheat flour, cornmeal, potatoes, cheese or pumpkin. Whatever the dough ingredients, the idea behind them is the same: you want the gnocchi to be as light as possible.

Little dough bricks are a no-no.

This means the the dough needs to be worked as little as possible. Overworking gnocchi dough makes it tough and dense. This recipe uses potatoes as the main ingredients and potatoes too can be overworked. When mashing the potatoes, this needs to be done as briskly as possible, enough to get a rid of the lumps but not too much that you end up with potato glue. Using a potato ricer is a great way to get smooth mash effienctly without overworking.

If you don’t have one of those, I find pushing the potato through a sieve works too.

The potatoes that are ideal for gnocchi are the varieties that are fluffy and dry, a good baking potato. Varieties such as Agria (which I have used) Ilam hardy and Red Rascal. When you have boiled and drained your potatoes, return them to the pot and place it back on the still hot (but turned off) element to evaporate any left over moisture. Let your potatoes cool before mashing.

Once you have mashed your potatoes, it’s time for the other ingredients which are salt, herbs, flour and an egg. The herbs and salt add flavour, the egg will bind the mix and the flour helps to add structure. How much flour to use however will depend on your potatoes, how many you have, how much water they have retained and the size of your egg. It’s best to add your flour in slowly, half a cup at a time, until you reach a soft ball of dough. Don’t add too much.

When your dough is mixed, portion it into 5 even pieces and roll them out into long sausages, about 1.5 cm thick. Do this carefully but quickly so again, you’re not overworking your dough.

Lay your sausages out on a lightly floured bench and use a sharp knife to cut each sausages into small 1 cm gnocchi pieces. Place these pieces on a floured plate or tray until ready to cook.

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Once it’s boiling, place about 10 gnocchi at a time in the water. If you add too many, the water will cool and your gnocchi will overcook and become gluggy. The gnocchi should cook for about 3-4 minutes and rise to the top when done. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and leave to drain in a colander while the rest cook.

Now that your gnocchi has been cooked, what sauce you choose is up to you.

I’ve chosen a butter sauce and as this is a simple sauce, you can add more flavour by frying the gnocchi a little in the butter and slightly caramelising them.  I also added in chopped thyme, lemon zest and garlic.

Potato and Herb Gnocchi - Serves 4


  • 750g peeled potatoes, chopped into 3cm pieces (a fluffy, baking variety)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2- 1 3/4 cups plain flour
  • 3 tablespoons chopped herbs (thyme, sage, parsley....etc)


  1. Fill a large pot with cold water and add in your potatoes. Bring to boil and cook the potatoes until a knife slips through very easily.
  2. Drain your potatoes and place them back on the element for a minute to evaporate any left over moisture. Leave them to cool.
  3. Mash the potatoes.
  4. In a bowl, combine the mashed potatoes, the egg, salt and herbs. Mix in the flour, 1/2 cup at a time until a soft dough ball is formed. Only add the amount of flour you need.
  5. Roll the dough into 5 sausages, 1.5 cm wide.
  6. Slice each sausage into pieces of about 1 cm, and place on a floured tray.
  7. Bring a pot of water to boil.
  8. Add in the gnocchi, in small increments and cook them until they float (about 3-4 minutes)
  9. Let them drain, then add the sauce of your choice.*
  10. * letting them cooked gnocchi sit in your chosen sauce for a while will add flavour to the gnocchi as they will absorb some of the sauce.

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