On Friday, December 15 and Saturday, December 16, the Public Entity Saba’s reforestation project hosted its first mango tree grafting class as part of the local food production component of the project. The goal of this class was to inspire and empower island residents to start producing their own food by providing them with the knowledge and know-how needed to do so using fruit trees. The class was led by Dr. Kenneth Banks of the Trees That Feed Foundation in the US and Barney Gibbs of Future Centre Trust in Barbados. A total of 9 participants took part in the class. Various topics were covered ranging from hands-on grafting techniques to mango tree health and care.
The reforestation project collaborated with the Harry L. Johnson Museum to have the first part of the class held on the museum grounds. At the start of the class, the participants were provided individual grafting kits containing various tools used for grafting and were shown how to use them. Before starting grafting, the participants first practiced cutting budwood – which are the young, outer branches of trees – in order to first perfect their cutting techniques. Eventually, the participants were given the opportunity to put what they had learned into practice by grafting cuttings from a grafted mango tree onto the rootstock of local mango trees. Under the supervision and guidance of Dr. Banks and Gibbs, the participants performed cleft and veneer grafts on the young trees.
“I was impressed by all of the students. I hope they will continue to develop their skills by practicing. There is no doubt in my mind that just a few people pursuing fruit tree grafting can make a contribution to the food security and economy of Saba,” said Dr. Banks on the performance of the participants and the importance that the grafting of trees plays in food production.
The grafting material, called scions, was sourced from the farm of local farmer Roderick Hassell in Kelby’s Ridge. The cuttings used were from an Irwin mango tree. Several months prior to the grafting class, the project team sourced young mango trees from areas in The Bottom and English Quarter where mature mango trees had dropped their seeds earlier in the year. The young trees were harvested, transplanted into pots and cared for at the Agriculture Station, specifically for this class.
The second day of the class began on the grounds of the Spy Glass Villa whereby owner Barney Gibbs is developing an orchard with various fruit trees. Here participants were given information on the health and care of mango and other fruit trees. They were also given the opportunity to graft cuttings onto the larger trees there. “Saba has a history and culture of self-sufficiency. The future costs of reforestation will be reduced by having local persons who possess the skills to propagate, graft, and sustain improved varieties of fruit trees on island,” said Gibbs, on the importance of embedding knowledge and know-how into the island community as an investment for its future.
The last part of the class took place on the farm of reforestation project manager Justin Simmons-de Jong. Here Dr. Banks and Mr. Gibbs demonstrated three variants of the bark graft for topworking two older trees. The participants were also given the opportunity to do some bark grafting on the trees. Together with the participants, Dr. Banks and Mr. Gibbs then pruned the trees. This is an important measure to maintain the size of the trees to ensure the fruit can be easily picked and to maintain the health of the tree. Ideally mango trees should have the shape of a wine glass. This allows sunlight to penetrate the canopy and ensure airflow to create a less conducive environment for disease development.
At the end of the class, the participants were presented with a certificate of completion. The certificate symbolizes the commitment of the participants in acquiring this new skill in applied training. “The class offered invaluable hands-on experience for beginners, equipping me not only with insight into mango tree grafting, but also a complete understanding of grafting techniques,” said participant Jordan Every, on her appreciation for the class and newly acquired skills in grafting.