Orchardist Raymond Barker Shares the Secrets of his Famous Grafting Method

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree: Baker details the grafting method he inherited from his grandfather.

Credit: Michael Lascelle

Orchadist Raymond Barker

Orchardist Raymond Barker uses his famous grafting method to produce “apples that taste like apples”

A hobby gone wild

Raymond Barker and his wife, Sonja, have been growing apples on their two-hectare property in Mission since 1997. “Our original plan was a bed and breakfast with a little room to grow Sonja’s roses,” says Raymond, but every time they sold out of fresh apples at the farmers’ market, he would “go ahead and plant another hundred trees.”


Silverhill Apple Orchard

Their self-described “hobby gone wild” quickly morphed into the Silverhill Apple Orchard, which now includes thousands of square metres of crop tunnels housing heritage and dessert apples, peaches, and sweet and sour cherries, all trained as high-density cordons with drip irrigation to maximize production. The crop tunnels have virtually eliminated disease (canker and bacterial blight) and cultural problems (sunburn), as well as increased the yield of top-grade fruit grown without chemicals. 


Not far from the tree: family roots

Raymond and Sonja both have deep roots in apple production – with Raymond’s going back to his family’s 1836 orchard in Suffolk, England, and Sonja growing up on a Westphalia estate in Germany where apples were the primary cash crop. Today they are following tradition by selling produce from their home orchard and at farmers’ markets in the Fraser Valley.


Apples that taste like apples

To meet the “pent-up public demand for apples that taste like apples,” Raymond expands their production nursery using a simplified whip-and-tongue grafting technique (taught to him by his Grandpa Barker), which is famous for its 95-per cent success rate. It depends on the scion wood and the rootstock wood being very close in diameter (also known as caliper). Highly variable when grown from seed, fruit trees are best created by grafting branches from a desirable cultivar onto a reliable rootstock. 


Handy terms for the apple orchard

Caliper: The diameter of a shoot or trunk.

Cambium: The layer of cells encircling the stem (just below the bark) responsible for growth by producing new cells.

Cordon: Trees pruned into tight columns and grown on an angle to maximize fruit.
 node: Growth points along a shoot – they may produce leaves, then side shoots, and later may simply be a scar where growth took place; some remain dormant, waiting to grow if the terminal bud is removed.

Rootstock: Roots that the scion wood will be grafted onto; rootstocks influence such attributes as growth rate, size, response to soil, and disease resistance.

Scion wood: A shoot of the cultivar you wish to propagate.

Terminal or apical bud: The tissue at the tip of a plant shoot; the bud produces hormones that influence the growth of all lower buds, hence the future shape of the plant.

Whip and tongue: Grafting technique.

Tools and trimming

Raymond does his whip-and-tongue grafting from February to early April. The tools are relatively simple: a grafting knife with a flat blade and some grafting rubbers (¼ x 6 in. or .5 x 15 cm). Thick elastic bands can be used too.



A fresh piece of scion wood (a branch of the cultivar that you will be grafting onto the rootstock) and a piece of similar-diameter rootstock – Raymond prefers B9 (Budagovsky 9) or M9 (Malling 9). Admittedly, rootstock can sometimes be difficult for the home gardener to procure, so Raymond suggests using this same technique to graft new varieties to an existing tree – choose a branch with the same diameter as the scion wood (between 5/16 and 3/8 in. or .8 and .9 cm)


A quick how to:

1. Begin by firmly holding the rootstock or branch being grafted onto. Make an upwardly angled cut (20 cm/8 in. above the roots on the rootstock) between 2 nodes.

2.The angle of the cut¬ should be about 2.5 cm/1 in. long; re-cut if necessary.

3. Cut the scion wood the same way, leaving only 3 buds above the graft union and removing any terminal or apical buds.

4. Align the scion and rootstock, making sure the angled end pieces line up on the outside edges – the cambiums must align on at least one side.

5. Hold the graft together by winding the grafting rubber from the bottom up, being careful to create tension and overlap in order to exclude any air. Tie a knot on top using the thumb to support a loop. Grafting wax should not be necessary.

The end result

A dwarf apple tree with a straight stem, ready for planting. Rootstocks require permanent support or staking and generally produce in two to three years – with first-year apples removed to prevent branch breakage.

Meet the gardeners

Visit Sonja and Raymond at their orchard and country store Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Wednesdays by appointment (for seasonal crops) from July through to Christmas. 30111 Silverhill Avenue, Mission. Phone: 604-820-7957. Email: orchard1@telus.net. Or find them at the Coquitlam Farmers’ Market on Sundays and Abbotsford market Saturdays during apple season.