You may think it's a bit early in the year to start talking about mistletoe - but stick with me. If you want to propagate it now is the time! Or at least thats what I've been told - but with mistletoe nothing seems very certain.
So why would you want to propagate mistletoe? Well, at the moment it's something that is missing from the farm and I think it would be a better place if we had some. Its great for wildlife such as the Mistle Thrush, Blackcap and 4 species of highly specialised moth including the fantastically named Mistletoe Marble Moth. And as a bonus you can sell it at Christmas (but more on the practicalities of this later). In fact I don't think there is any in Leigh parish - I believe you have to go all the way to the wilds of Purton Stoke (2.5 miles away) to find any.
So how do you propagate it? Well, you squash the ripe berries onto youngish branches of the appropriate tree species. These include Apple and Poplar but also Pear, Plum, Damson, Cherry, Lime and Willow. We went for Apple, Lime and Willow as that was convenient, and the middle sized ladder reached easily to the young growth. I then sent my son David up the ladder to squash the extremely sticky berries on the branches. He found this great as a. he was allowed to go up a ladder, and b. their consistency is like snot which is one thing a 9 year is an expert in. There is much discussion about whether making a small cut helps and how late in the winter to leave it, but we kept it simple, and as some of our berries were drying out and going brown we had to get on with it. As for our donor berries, these came from sprigs I bought for Christmas from Purton House Organics and Somerford Keynes sculpture park and had survived indoors over Christmas before being moved to a cold shed until we needed them.
So what happens next? Well a root like structure called a haustorium will appear and then a small leaf if we are lucky. But from then on growth is likely to be slow with the first berries in around 10 years time, but it could be longer. So it's a long term project and may not work at all - but it just might.
A few days after our sticking session, I attended an apple pruning course at Days Cottage in Brookthorpe near Gloucester and was impressed at the amount of mistletoe they had on some of there old apple trees (see picture), some of them had huge amounts (and had been verified as a home to the Mistletoe Marble Moth). However some words of caution were imparted by the hosts Helen & Dave. Mistletoe is hemiparasitic, so whilst it produces its own food, it relies on the tree for moisture. So in dry weather (winter or summer), and if the tree is heavily laden with mistletoe, its felt it could have a negative effect on the tree. Also being evergreen it will add "sail area" to a tree in winter which could make the tree more prone to wind damage in the winter. And if I thought I was going to get rich on selling mistletoe I needed to think again. The time to harvest and the fact the French had undercut the market means that it can only be a small bonus not a major enterprise. Oh well!
The course I attended at Days Cottage was excellent, good value and highly recommended whether you have 1 or 100 apple trees to prune. Helen and Dave are so knowledgeable, and the hot apple juice and flapjacks were ace. Also find them at Stroud Farmers market where they sell the finest apple juice, and seasonal fruit.