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 blackberries...no 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)...so 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?