Jerry baker fruit tree transplanting to fruiting was as tempting to gardeners as the prospect of landing a prized and heady 100-proof bourbon on the blackjack strip at the Las Vegas Dunes Hotel and Country Club.
Or to put it another way, it was a must for “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” host Charles Van Doren, who set the all-time record for winning a question-a-day game show.
“There was no other choice,” he said.
So J.B. Baker, now a 60-year-old dairy farmer from Porterville, set out on Oct. 9 to plant 10,000 seedlings of seven different varieties of peaches, plums, apricots and almonds in what’s left of his 13-acre orchard, more than half of which has been carved out of the front pasture at Dairy Queen Farm in the nearly decade he’s been doing fruit tree transplanting in Kern County.
More than two dozen farmers and contractors have set out to do the work, where usually only four to five farmers do it all.
It’s a “goose egg” of labor, Baker said, calling it “a big job,” but Baker is following the practice he’s used on 300 acres of peaches, nectarines and plums since 1972, when he bought the land in rural Kern County.
He was having trouble with his own fruit trees and wanted to try something different, so he thought a transplant experiment would be a good way to try something out.
Baker got in touch with Rodney Orcutt, who owned the 3,300-acre Josiah Burroughs Plantation in Sanger. At one time, the property was an orchard, but it was no longer being farmed.
Orcutt thought it would be a good idea, and in return, Baker would get to do some transplants on the estate.
More than 1,000 trees are in now in places where, according to Orcutt, “they just aren’t getting the sunlight that they need.”
“They’re getting a lot of other plants and other trees and things like that. It was going to be a fine experiment for him,” Orcutt said.
Orcutt knew there were a number of ways to plant trees. The process that involves transplanting trees is called grafting, in which a bud from a tree of a different species is inserted into a scion, or stem, of a tree of the same species. That way the plant is able to take and get nutrients from the new tree.
There are various approaches to grafting, but J.B. Baker said he’s been practicing a long-time “good graft” method he picked up from his father, “who had gotten it from another grower in Ohio.”
Because grafting is an art as well as a science, growers will use certain numbers, cuts and different methods to create various branches on the tree. Grafting is done during the early growth of the tree to ensure the trees grow as the industry would want.
It can be done on any kind of tree, said Baker, but there are certain species that are easier to work with and transplant because they have a “good quality of wood.”
It doesn’t matter what kind of wood it is, Baker said, and any one can do it. It’s a skill that can be acquired by practice and experience.
J.B. Baker said he has learned how to graft trees from watching others, and he practiced on his father and a brother.
“It’s just the fun of trying different things,” he said.
Picking the right kind of tree is important, Baker said, but there are plenty of them available.
According to Joe Whitehead, an agricultural extension agent in Orange County, “You have so many choices it’s hard to know what’s best for you.”
Whitehead said there are many choices when transplanting trees. Some will be placed on a railroad bed while some will be placed on the ground. They can be transplanted at all ages, from one year to 80, and there are no constraints to where they can be planted.
The first thing that growers need to do when they do transplanting is to have a doctor examine the tree.
They need to know whether it has any diseases or whether the trees are damaged, Whitehead said.
“When they do the transplanting they have to be careful not to move trees that are very small,” he said, because if they are moved, the small shoots don’t have enough root base to work with. If the trees are moved, the plant will develop a disease known as scion or rootstock girdling, in which the shoots stop growing.
Once trees are examined, growers can transplant them to other places in the landscape.
Whitehead said in Central California there is a whole world of trees available to growers.
He said some fruit trees such as nectarines will be planted 5,000 feet from where they were originally grown and some tree fruits such as plums and pears will be planted at 30, 50 and 60 feet.
Growers also have to decide where to plant what kinds