Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Heritage Apples

I've been trying to get my hands on some heritage apple varieties to plant this winter - after all if I'm going to plant fruit trees, I'd like to plant the yummiest and most interesting types that I can - and also play a small part in conserving some of the heritage fruit varieties that are in danger of disappearing altogether.  Likewise, I also try to plant heirloom vegetables where possible because the taste is so good and the look of the produce is so interesting especially for young children like mine.

So on Sunday whilst Miss Bok was busy painting her apple crate, I went along to a Heritage Apples discussion at Petty's Orchard with my local permaculture group.  The talk was given by the Heritage Fruit Society. I don't know a lot about Australia's heritage fruit so it was very interesting to hear about the good work that the society does and also the trials that they face to keep heritage fruit alive and well.

Although Petty's holds the largest collection of apple varieties on mainland Australia, with more than two hundred varieties of old and rare apples, the portion of the orchard devoted to heritage apple varieties just doesn't seem large enough to continue the work of conserving such important trees and propagation of more of them.  They are continually looking for potential sites and renovating old orchards not to mention volunteers! There is also the sheer amount of work involved in maintaining the orchard.  It's clear that they need more volunteers and more support to continue. They run apple tasting days each year and I'll go along to that in a few weeks, as well as the grafting day where I plan on taking home my own trees!

The road to the orchard in the middle of the suburbs

The heritage apple orchard

 Endless chemicals allowed at the orchard (it's organic) so other than removing them all by hand, they are here to stay.  Interestingly, a few of the younger trees that arrived from Tasmania recently were actually protected by the blackberries (kangaroos and rabbits eat at this orchard too!).  So I guess everything does have it's place.

Part of the activities involved helping to pick apples.  No idea which varieties these all were!  There were so many!

The discussion made me think again about all the causes in the world that need our time.  This is one that I hadn't considered before but it has sparked an interest that I will definitely pursue, to find out more about how the world retains its heritage varieties before commercial growers change the landscape of what we grow and eat entirely and what I can do to help.  I'm concerned that the world is losing its largest seed bank. You can join the petition here.

Why do I personally want to bother to conserve heritage varieties in my own small way by planting them and petitioning?  It's for selfish reasons.  I prefer to grow varieties that were commonly cultivated in earlier periods of human history for the purpose of great tasting food for eating.  This is before they were altered by genetic manipulation and selective 'breeding' for the purposes of mass production, ease of picking and longevity for transport.  I have no need for commercial gain from my backyard edibles, I am growing them purely for the pleasure of eating them in my own home (and hopefully giving them to friends and family) I'm focused on growing the best tasting food that I can, food that is also interesting and if I can help preserve a fading gene pool then I'm all the happier for it!  I wonder how many heritage apple trees we'll have left  in 30 years.  It seems that sustainable living and edible gardens are becoming more popular again which is really wonderful, or perhaps it's just the people that I meet, so I'm optimistic.  Do many of you have heritage varieties growing in your backyards and farms?  Do you have any favourites?


  1. Great Post Mrs Bok! Pettys orchard is a great place isnt it!
    I bought my first heritage apple on Sunday at the Australian Open Garden Scheme Plant Fair at Bolobek. The Strzelecki Heritage Apple farm had a stall with lots of 1m ht trees for sale and they do mail order too. I bought a 'Ribston Pippin' which is a rich tasting eating apple with crisp flesh. Akane is also a really nice variety that is great eating and beautiful white flesh... They also have pears, cider apples, quinces and crab apples.
    I'll be ordering another tree soon, but I just dont know which one!

  2. What an interesting post. I'm not sure of the difference between old-fashioned and heritage varieties, but I knew when I planted two trees a couple of years ago I had to have a Cox's Orange as it is my all time favourite and a Lady in the Snow as it reminds me of my childhood. Happily, I discovered that they also germinate each other so that was very handy!
    They've got apples this year and I can't wait to eat them :)
    I'm pretty sure there is also a heritage orchard down in the Huon Valley, south of Hobart where I live.

  3. Thumbs up! I like reading this post. To grow apple do we need to plant 2 variety for pollination? Are you also taking consideration on this or only variety which self-pollinate. Just curious because I am still learning on growing fruits that need different variety to pollinate.

  4. Hullo!! :)
    Diana yup you need two for cross pollination and you've got to pick two that flower at the same time! You can grow them in pots too on dwarf root stock.
    Yum Sarah I love cox orange pippins too!
    Hi Phoebe! I'll look up that farm. So many varieties!! Am going to taste as many as possible at the tasting day :D

  5. I have a kind neighbour who supplies me with apples as our garden is too small to house a tree!

  6. There's some wonderful names too when you look at old varieties and so much history behind them. I don't have any apple trees, but some of the veggies I'm growing will be heritage varieties.

  7. I have no idea the name of my favorites...I took cuttings from a very old orchard at an old goldmining town where my grandfather used to live in his youth...really. I remembered visiting there a very long time ago as a small child and I especially remembered the about 15 years ago I took a drive up with a couple of my girlfriends and we took some we all have some of the trees! We also took rose cuttings from the cemetery!

  8. I'm so with you. It's a real worry when two large supermarket chains can dictate the produce that we eat. It means that for decades we had tasteless tomatoes. Good on you for going for the heritage breeds. We should never lose these.

  9. Oh I really want to get in to growing heritage apples. I'm just starting to research this. I haven't tasted some of the ones that are my favourites going by their names alone, but there are some great names, often linked to a specific place. My favourite however has to be 'Bloody Ploughman'. I really wonder what that tastes like!

  10. Excellent post! I need to look into a class or meeting like the one you attended. I'm wondering, though, with the heritage apples, do they have more of a tendency to get the diseases and rot and bugs that the hybrids have tried to "phase" out? I've often wondered this, as I try to keep an organic garden, but I know that some varieties of fruits and veggies actually have those higher tendencies toward pests and disease and then you're trying to fight battles without the use of those nasty poisons. Anyway, it was just a question I had.
    I have a number of very old apple/pear trees in my garden that don't produce much anymore. They might be heritage, but I've no idea what kind they are.

  11. Hello! Thank you for your replies! I love hearing from you and reading about your experiences (or not!) with heritage fruit and what you like.
    Good question on disease and organic practices. I don't know a great deal about it, but for me, although I limit the use of chemicals wherever I can, I think it's important to have healthy rootstock that is disease free and this may mean that the rootstock has been chemically treated. Once the apple of your choice is grafted onto the rootstock, you can employ organic practices if you want to. The exception is rootstock treated for crown gall by nogall as this actually genetically modifies the tree and organic certification will never be applied to fruit from those trees...nor would I ever want to eat it!
    With the age of your trees, I think apples stay productive for up to 80 years whilst pears will be productive for far longer. This of course all depends on your soil health also, how clean you keep the area under the trees, how much good things you put into the soil etc. You can tell where my chooks like to hang out because the trees that they prefer to shelter under are doing so much better than the others.

  12. hi mrs b, important and interesting post. heritage varieties are the way to go. i need to get out like you do - the petty visit sounds fun and worthwhile. i found your comment about sometimes using chemicals interesting. i guess we shouldn't automatically reject technology but make a careful informed decision. cheers, catmint

  13. Hi catmint! I don't use chemicals on my plants but I can't be sure that the rootstock that the apple tree I purchase hasn't been treated to prevent disease initially. From what I know of organic farmers, their rootstock do not need to be chemical free (e.g. woolly aphid rsistant stock)to get organic certification although their soil and fruiting produce of course must be free of it. So producing organic trees is not the same as producing organic produce if that makes sense!
    Whilst I go natural where possible, I don't rule out technology either without careful consideration if the need calls for it (which it hasn't yet but you never know!)

  14. I know this is a fabulous blog, I know that because of the fabulous header photo of your fabulous chickens, but my not so fabulous computer is throwing a hissy fit and won't download any of your fabulous photos of your presumably fabulous apples.

    How can I comment if I can't see anything!!!

  15. I love this post. In America I believe we call our heritage variety heirloom. I can't say which is my favorite yet, but know after reading this great post I need to do a little research.

  16. Great post Mrs B. That would have been a really interesting day learning about all the apples. I would love to be in a position one day to do the same thing. Your kids are going to have the best tasting back yard around.


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