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HomeNewsLocal newsVirgin Islanders Learn to Graft Julie Mango Trees

Virgin Islanders Learn to Graft Julie Mango Trees

Elridge Thomas shows the best size mango tree to be grafted is about three feet tall.(Source photo by Kerrin Margiano)

Elridge Thomas, instructor of the “Julie Mango in Every Yard Program,” which is offered by the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture, met with 15 students Saturday to teach them how to graft mango trees.

Thomas developed the program because “97 percent of food has to be imported to St. Thomas.” He called this an injustice, saying that with its ideal climate, this island should be growing year-round. Thomas has been a farmer on St. Thomas for over twenty years while working thirteen years for the Agriculture Department. In his opinion, in order to be free from the dependency on imported food, this community needs the politicians to understand the importance of agriculture. Snapping his finger on his green thumb, he said, “You can pass a bill, but if you don’t fund it — poof — nothing happens.”

One of the requirements for the program is to be a landowner and have the space to plant at least one mango tree. The students actively participated in the grafting process as he instructed them not to touch the grafting area. Your hands can contaminate the exposed area of the tree. “Cut so it’s not too deep and not too shallow. Wrap the branches with tape, overlapping so that no water gets in. Hold it tight and line it up,” Thomas said.

Grafted fruit trees are more expensive than seedlings, but it’s not about the money. “Genetically, a seedling can go anywhere,” Thomas explained the true value of grafted trees is knowing the fruit you will get. “It produces faster and you can select the variety: its type, size, and cycle.”

Elridge Thomas demonstrates the cutting process to begin grafting a mango tree. (Source photo by Kerrin Margiano)

Laura Martin, a student in the program, said she is happy to have the opportunity to learn about grafting. She has a garden and borders it with vetiver grass. “Vetiver grass reduces erosion of the soil,” Martin said. This program is a perfect example of farmers sharing their knowledge and supporting each other, she added.

Two more students in the program, Monnickia Martin and Philinne Smith, who teach at Yvonne E. Milliner-Bowsky Elementary School on St. Thomas, have a gardening club in which their students participate. They said all schools should make agriculture part of their curriculum. “The United States and Puerto Rico offer agriculture in the classroom, we should make this available for Virgin Island students,” Smith said.

“This information has to be passed on to the next generation,” Smith said.

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