The making of tree grafting in Cai Mon

Seedling cultivation in Cai Mon, Cho Lach District was originated over a century ago by a French parish priest known only as Gernot, who then was administering a Christian parish in Cai Mon, Cho Lach. It was Gernot who brought the first fruit tree seedlings into Ben Tre from foreign countries, mainly Thailand and Malaysia. Firstly, tropical fruit trees such as mangosteen, durian, rambutan, langsat, green Siamese coconut, and date-palm were brought in by father Gernot from the above countries through the Cambodia gateway. These trees after that were multiplied in the gardens of influential rich men, who also served in the local council, so called councilmen. So amongst the first Vietnamese in Cho Lach to grow the imported trees known to many were the brothers of Nguyen Van Hieu (a councilman, who was born here in 1883) and Nguyen Van Thuan (a foreman, born 1887, died 1975). Both were living in Cai Mon, Vinh Thanh Commune, Cho Lach District.

The origination of famous fruit trees in Ben Tre

As the story goes, when the parish priest of Cai Mon brought about 30 to 40 fruit trees in and laid them at the Ba Trum bridge in Cai Mon, he had to hire several guards to look after them for fear that they might be taken away by thieves. According to Mr Nguyen Van Ky, who now lives in BinhTayVillage, Vinh Thanh Commune, there were a lot of excellent fruit trees in the garden of Councilman Hieu. At the time, Mr Tu Trang, a master of martial art, was hired by Councilman Hieu as his personal guard. It was a coincidence that after that Mr Tu Trang's garden also had the finely-tasted durian trees like those in the councilman's garden. A neighbour, Nguyen Van Luc (father of MrKy, Mr Chin Hoa and Mr Trung), asked for and was given 4 grafted branches of durian to grow in his garden. 3 of these old durian trees are now still alive in the gardens of Messrs Nguyen Van Ky, Nguyen Van Hoa (Chin Hoa) and Nguyen Van Trung.

Another person who had access to the precious fruit trees is Mr Tran Hoang Nam, who now lives in PhuThoiVillage, Tan Thieng Commune, Cho Lach District. In 1970, Mr Nam worked for Foreman Thuan, who had green Siamese coconut, Bangkok rambutan, and durian in his garden. So Mr Nam took several branches of these fruit trees to grow in his own garden. The durian trees owned by Mr Chin Hoa and Mr Hoang Nam have been awarded many prizes in good fruit contests and both have been chosen as mother trees.

The first grafting makers

At its formation, the Cai Mon parish was put under administration of the Sai Gon diocese. It was not until 1938 that the Vinh Long diocese had come into form. Mr Pham Huy Phuong, who now is living in the Tay Loc Village, Vinh Thanh Commune, recalls that around 1932, priest Nguyen Trung Ngon who was then sitting in the Church of Phan Thiet province, introduced his two nephews Pham Van Tri and Pham Van Tri, and two others, Mai Van Tu and Mai Van Khanh to study agrculture in a French school in Nha Ray, Phan Thiet. After graduation, they all worked in the rubber tree plantations in Bien Hoa province. Their main job was to graft rubber seedlings.

During 1938-1940, Mr Pham Van Tri returned to Cai Mon and taught his sons (Pham Van Dung, Pham Van Thanh) and some others the techniques to make graftings on their fruit trees. They first grafted the mangos and jack-fruit trees.

At the moment, Mr Hai Thanh, whose descendants are now living in TayLocVillage, Vinh Thanh Commune, just knew how to graft the scion onto the rootstock with rectangular cuts on the bark of the rootstock. After that, the grafts were fixed with bamboo splints and fastened with coconut threads or rubber bands. They would be untied in 20 days later on so that the shoots could grow freely.

At the time, grafting techniques were considered a secret know-how and were kept very tightly. They did not want to share it to others for fear that they might be competed. Even when they had to teach it to neighbours, they tried to keep their instruction in a general manner and were not eager to go into specifics. One of the tricks that were commonly used at the time to hide the secret know-how was to pretend some action so that the learner had to turn away from seeing the skillful acts of the teacher.

Even in that case, the grafting know-how was still spread all over in the neighbourhood. First, they passed it to their children and relatives in their family. Then, these heirs spread it to their neighbours. When the tree grafting developed into a real profession in the village, many of the grafting makers used popular small boats to transport the grafts to sell in other parts of the province, even in neighbouring provinces. Mr Hai Thanh also took the excellent mangos in the Central Part to graft onto local mangos to produce new breeds of mango, which were then called grafted mangos.

Development of grafting techniques

At first, there was the only simple way of grafting by using bamboo splints and coconut threads or rubber bands to fix the grafts. This method, however, was slow and the ratio of successful grafts were also low, just 50% to 60% of the grafts done. Some time later on, coarse clothing was used, and then replaced by waxed clothing to prevent water absorbing and germ that might cause fatal diseases for the grafts. They also began to put the grafts in the shadow, with sunlight rate of 40% to 50% to keep them in good development. Now, the grafts are usually put in a shadowy net. The grafting tools were also improved through time, firstly the French special knife, now the even smaller and sharper one, which looks like a scalpel used in medical surgery.

During the first years of the twentieth century, the farmers of Cho Lach had to learn the techniques and do the research by themselves, then they drew experiences and re-applied on their own daily grafting work. From the initial works of bark grafting and branch provining, they now can do more sophisticated works such as consolidated grafting, stem grafting, etc. In the final years of the last century, every kind of grafting had its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, the bark grafting could develop good contact but was slow to produce new shoots. Or the branch provining required hard labouring but its successful ratio was high.

Today branch grafting is not the same way as in the old days. The same acts are used, but the use of techniques and materials in today's grafting is better and more effective than that in the past decades.

In today's Cho Lach District, many seedling cultivating households have followed the profession for ages, and it has been passed down for 3 or 4 generations. There are about 5,000 grafting and seedling and ornamental tree growing households. There is a great potential for the development of seedling, fruit tree and ornamental tree and flower production that need to be fully exploited.

Translated by An Chau

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