Farm Life: Appleseeds

The apple tree, which some have requested to see, is just a bit over from the redbud tree, which I wrote about recently.  It began blooming a few days after the redbud.  We had two other apple trees and a couple of crab apple trees, which died off from various insect infestations.  This apple tree had two other cousins (e.g. from seeds from the same variety of apples), one of which has struggled along and is about half the size.

This area of the Appalachian Mountains is known for apple orchards.  As squatters moved onto Lord Fairfax’s land in the 18th century, they set up homesteads and planted apple trees.  Large orchards, in the thousands of acres, were latter planted on the hillsides to provide apples, sauces, apple butter, and ciders for the East Coast.  Most of these have fallen away as seasonal workers became more difficult to hire and other sources of apples were easily transported from other regions.  In the Shenandoah valley, just east of us, during WWII, German prisoners of war were housed on apple orchards to provide workers.  Some of these orchards have found a revival with the locally-grown and craft cider markets.  One of our favorites is Showalter’s Orchards and Old Hill Hard Cider, which has an annual Cider Days festival.

Our apple tree seeds came from a yellow apple variety, Virginia Gold.  We have found this apple at one farm market, the Woodbine, near Strausburg, VA.  It keeps well, thus we purchase two to three bushels to put up in our root cellar each winter.  We finished eating this only a month ago.  Of course, we have pleanty of apple sauce from a mix of Virginia Gold, Winesap, Ida Red, and Nitney apples.  The apple sauce will carry us until Fall apple season returns.

About 15 yeas ago, I began experimenting with growing apple seedlings from the Virginia Gold seeds, after eating the apples of course.  A number of these successfully sprouted and eventually grew into the three trees that I planted.

Remember your high school biology, now.  The genetic composition of a seeds is 50% of the mother tree, and 50% from the pollenator tree.  If you want a “true” replication of a specific type of apple, you must take a graft branch from the parent tree and attach it to a root system.  Otherwise, the insect pollenated tree fruit will be half something else.  Thus, our Virginia Gold half apple tree bears red apples.  Looking at the color and texture of the skin of the apple, I speculate that a Winesap found the hips of a bee which then came to make the apple I ate.  I like Winesaps too.

Virginia Gold apples were an accident in themselves.  Rather than some university or nursery hybred project, there were an incicental discovery in an old orchard in the Shenandoah Valley.  Remember all those homesteaders planting apple orchards?  They were too busy doing subsistance farming and defending themselves against Native American raids, British Loyalists, and Union troops to be worrying about growing hybred apple varieties.  Instead, they let nature take its course.  As apples fell from the tree, or apple cores were discarded into waste pits, new apples tree grew.  After a major storm, the lore goes, a farmer went to check on the damage to his orchard, and he found an decilious variety of yellow apples.

Our apple tree, as abundant as the flowers are today, has two challenges to bearing fruit.  First, apple trees are not self-pollenating.  Our loss of our other apple and crab apple trees (we have replanted, but flowering will some years off) leaves a void in having a nearby pollenator tree.  Second, over the past few years the Brown Marmorated Stink bug has moved into this are, poking its needle like mouth parts into every fruit it can find.  If we get apples, most end up as bruised goat apples.  Lucky goats.

About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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6 Responses to Farm Life: Appleseeds

  1. Fun story. I suppose the goats need to eat, too. I am still amazed you are growing apple trees from seed 🙂

  2. Lavinia Ross says:

    Our farm here was already planted with apple trees, most of which we have never seen sold in any store. Many of the trees look pretty old, and were planted by the previous owners parents. The previous owner was in his 80s when he sold us they place. My guess it that the varieties are old heirlooms, or grew from seed.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      How are they for eating, cooking, keeping (e.g. into winter), apple sauce, etc.? We have a difficult time with fruit trees where we are (Appalachian Mountians of West Virginia) because we usually have a late freeze after the trees have bloomed. We have great success with berries, with grow everywhere around us.

  3. Lavinia Ross says:

    The apples from the different trees are all over the map for time of ripening, sweetness and storage quality, all good things. I like a variety. We do get frosts in spring, but it usually affects our pear tree, as it blooms before the apples. Our apples are just coming into bloom now. We have cherries, apples, plums, pears, persimmons, grapes, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and a derelict hazelnut orchard.

    We have lots of wild non-native blackberry here, which is now part of the main honey flow for bees, and everyone eats them, from wildlife to people. They can be hard to keep in check and throw 20 foot canes. I grow raspberries in old wine half-barrels as it is easier to keep the grass out of them.

  4. KerryCan says:

    This area is very big for apples, too, and lately we are getting more interesting varieties–not just the same old Macs and Cortlands. I may have asked you this before but have your read Botany of Desire, by Michael Pollan? He has a fascinating chapter on apples.

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