Cato the Elder, on grafting

I like digging into ancient sources, and grafting is really ancient. Here’s Cato the Elder writing in 160 BC:

Figs, olives, apples, pears, and vines should be grafted in the dark of the moon, after noon, when the south wind is not blowing. The following is a good method of grafting olives, figs, pears or apples: Cut the end of the branch you are going to graft, slope it a bit so that the water will run off, and in cutting be careful not to tear the bark. Get you a hard stick and sharpen the end, and split a Greek willow. Mix clay or chalk, a little sand, and cattle dung, and knead them thoroughly so as to make a very sticky mass. Take your split willow and tie it around the cut branch to keep the bark from splitting.

When you have done this, drive the sharpened stick between the bark and the wood two finger-tips deep. Then take your shoot, whatever variety you wish to graft, and sharpen the end obliquely for a distance of two finger-tips; take out the dry stick which you have driven in and drive in the shoot you wish to graft. Fit bark to bark, and drive it in to the end of the slope. In the same way you may graft a second, a third, a fourth shoot, as many varieties as you please. Wrap the Greek willow thicker, smear the stock with the kneaded mixture three fingers deep, and cover the whole with ox-tongue, so that if it rains the water will not soak into the bark; this ox-tongue must be tied with bark to keep it from falling off. Finally, wrap it in straw and bind tightly, to keep the cold from injuring it.

Vine grafting may be done in the spring or when the vine flowers, the former time being best. Pears and apples may be grafted during the spring, for fifty days at the time of the summer solstice, and during the vintage; olives and figs should be grafted during the spring. Graft the vine as follows: Cut off the stem you are grafting, and split the middle through the pith; in it insert the sharpened shoots you are grafting, fitting pith to pith. A second method is: If the vines touch each other, cut the ends of a young shoot of each obliquely, and tie pith to pith with bark.

A third method is: With an awl bore a hole through the vine which you are grafting, and fit tightly to the pith two vine shoots of whatever variety you wish, cut obliquely. Join pith to pith, and fit them into the perforation, one on each side. Have these shoots each two feet long; drop them to the ground and bend them back toward the vine stock, fastening the middle of the vine to the ground with forked sticks and covering with dirt. Smear all these with the kneaded mixture, tie them up and protect them in the way I have described for olives.

Another method of grafting figs and olives is: Remove with a knife the bark from any variety of fig or olive you wish, and take off a piece of bark containing a bud of any variety of fig you wish to graft. Apply it to the place you have cleared on the other variety, and make it fit. The bark should be three and a half fingers long and three fingers wide. Smear and protect as in the other operation.

(The above comes from our oldest surviving work of Latin prose, btw.)

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