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.