"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Friday, October 9, 2009

Natural Process

There is an old apple grove not too far from where we live. Every year around this time we take our backpacks, hike into that old orchard, and almost always find our fill of these special fruits. They are special to us because in this long forgotten orchard there happens to be over twenty different varieties of apples and even a few pears scattered throughout the meadows. I'm sure that others must know of this place but we have never once run across anyone else picking apples. Nor does it appear that any apples have ever been picked by anyone other than the few black bears that inhabit this area. We have been gathering fruit here for over 10 years now.

These particular apples have an almost perfumy flavor to them, so very unusual.

Unfortunately, a family of beavers has set up camp in the meadows and has managed to flood the grounds around almost a third of the fruit trees so far, many of these are now dying. I suppose the good news would be that I have been saving seeds off these trees for several years now and have many of their offspring growing on my own property. Perhaps some of those trees will compliment our regular fruit trees and eventually produce delicious apples and pears similar to the ones in the flooded orchard.

Small, tart, golden crab apples. We had to wade through almost a foot of water to get to this tree.

Most of the apples we picked are being made into apple sauce as we can't help but bruise them. Between trying to get them out of sometimes 30-40' tall trees and hauling them around on our backs they never do make it home in the best condition. The huge variety of large, crab, green, gold, red, tart, and sweet apples make some of the best sauce. I will happily share this area with the beavers even if it means all the trees will be lost, anything would be better then losing it to another housing development, as we have many of our old stomping grounds. Progress, right?

Fully loaded and heading home with packs full of soon to be bruised apples.

So, for now, we will continue to enjoy these apples and this private place, perhaps we will need to search out new apple picking grounds while patiently waiting for our own little orchard to start producing. Nothing good lasts forever I suppose, we sometimes feel like the animals must, slowly being pushed farther and farther out as we attempt gather wild edibles.

This pear tree is almost 40' tall, and very thorny. I wonder how old it is?

The pears almost look like little apples, very small and very tart. I'll be planting a few of their seeds this fall.


Michelle said...

I think it's wonderful that you're able to enjoy the fruits of that old orchard. Can you take cuttings from the trees or are they diseased? That's really the only way to get the same fruit, apples are notoriously variable grown from seed. But, on the other hand, you might get an entirely new and wonderful variety.

Stefaneener said...

Ohhh, cuttings might be a great way to share this wonderful resource with other like-minded folks.

Sorry about the beavers - I wish they could have their dam and not flood this too. I love foraging feral fruit.

Jo said...

I always thought it was really hard to start apple trees from seed. Now I have to go do more research ...

randi said...

good gracious, I felt I'd done something great just gleaning the apples that fell off our old trees, none, I might add, looking as insanely healthy as your pickings from the wild orchard. No kidding, you guys never cease to amaze me. As it happens we're making a batch of apple sauce at the moment and I made a mental note of needing ALOT more for canning next year. Let's hear it for backpacks..work and recreation all in one fell swoop!

granny said...

Wow,look at all those beautiful apples.I cant understand why the birds havent moved in and had a feast!Often the old varieties are the nicest,lucky you :0)

WeekendFarmer said...

Amazing!!! Good for you. Looks such perfect fruits. How come they turn out so nice? Obviously no one is spraying them with chemicals.

el said...

Mike, seriously, Michelle and Stef have the right idea: you need to take cuttings of them. I would seriously look into that. You can buy rootstock from places like this place in WA:


and just order so you get them in the spring. Can you remember what trees gave you what beautiful apples you like? You can tromp back there and arm yourselves with cuttings.

I doubt your little seedlings will ever come true; with all that variation in the tiny orchard it just doesn't happen. And: I agree with Randi, those apples though wild are beautiful. Any of the ones I find, though gorgeous on their own, are not exactly pretty: they're tiny (because the trees are way overgrown) and they're buggy.

I would hate to see a resource go like this! (And it's time to cut down some trees in your yard; you need more sun anyway right?)

Anonymous said...

Oh how I wish we had old orchards here where I live in oz where we could also do this. Our orchard is only young so we are a few years away from getting fruit yet. I would also seriously look at cuttings, like Michelle and others have said before me that is the only way to get true to the originals but seeds could be an interesting experiment. Good luck and enjoy your apple sauce.

Silke said...

What a beautiful old orchard! And I can't believe how perfect those apples look - like there isn't a bug interested in them! Or a bird! I hope you can propagate them on your own property before they are done in by the beavers. That pear tree look incredible! And the pears remind me of Asian pears. What a great post! :) Silke

Mr. H. said...


We have thought about taking cuttings before and may do that in the spring now that it is pretty obvious the place will slowly flood and the trees will die.

Mr. H. said...

Stefaneener - Those crazy beavers, everywhere we go there are beavers, which makes me happy as they were close to becoming extinct for a while. They are the one animal I would love to catch on film...I have yet to see one though. Free for the taking feral fruits are my favorites as well.

Jo - Apple trees can easily be started from seed. They just need to go through a period of cold stratification either in the ground outside or your refrigerator for 3 months in order to germinate. But as everyone has pointed out you will probably not get the same fruits as the parent plant.

Randi - The backpacks work great, we hauled out maybe 100 lbs of apples between the two of us. Enough to keep us saucily busy for quite a while:)

Granny - These are some of the best tasting apples I have ever had. No birds just a few bears, but they come at night and we never see them.

WeekendFarmer - No chemicals at all, that is perhaps why they taste good and are bug free. We have noticed that plants in the wild rarely seem to suffer the same bug and disease issues as those in ones own garden.I mean one or two have worms but the vast majority are really nice. Nice until I knock them around in my pack and bruise them.:)

El - We do have quite a few boughten semi-dwarf apple and other fruit trees. With these old orchard trees we were more interested in growing a few really tall trees to plant in amongst the wooded areas of our property so they could better compete for sunlight.

You are right though, I need to tromp back down there in the spring and take a few cuttings so as to keep the some of these trees true.

I am going to cut down one large fir tree this fall or early spring that is about to fall on my garden...that's something.:)

Susieq - We have over thirty semi-dwarf and dwarf apple, pear, plum, nectarine, and peach trees...mostly apple. We are also waiting for them to start producing as they are mostly between 3 and 5 years old and just starting to put out a few fruits here and there. I can't wait! The seeded apples are just that, an experiment. I'll share how it turns out in about 6 years.:)

Silke - It really is a beautiful orchard, I will have to try and find some history on it. The trees are so scattered over such a large area that I don't quite understand what type of an orchard is was. Perhaps, long ago, Johnny Appleseed wandered through that area scattering seeds willy nilly.:)

Those pears are so tart. We like to add a few into our apple sauce batch just to mix it up a bit.

Frustrated Farmer Rick said...

Mike I think those may be quinces and not pears in the last picture.


I believe they were a traditional addition to an English orchard.

If so that is quite a find.

LynnS said...

Nice looking apples from a forgotten and untended orchard! It's amazing that they've done so well without disease striking. Here, we're in orchard country and any untended apple trees become diseased quickly because the area is 'monocropped'.

You might contact your local extension agent or go to the library and check old papers to learn what orchard apples were popular 30-50 years ago. I hope you have success with some softwood cuttings in the spring. I, too, would graft them onto stock trees for better development.

We're into the apples too -- making applebutter today (2nd batch).

m.scott said...

Wow, that's greta you guys have that resource. I was all upset that I have so few wild edibles where I live, that is until I stumbled upon some Pecans and Persimmon trees in the Forrest close to my house. i guess you just need to know where to look.

Mr. H. said...


I'm not sure they are a quince due to the size of the tree, but what ever they are we certainly enjoy useing them as an addition to our apple sauce.

Mr. H. said...


Perhaps they are still doing well because they are so different and spread out. We have thought about grafting them onto our semi-dwarf trees once they get a little bigger.

I have never had apple butter, I'll have to look it it up. Sounds good.

Mr. H. said...

m. scott,

It's amazing what you can find if you really start to look. I have walked by so many wild edibles in the past that I never knew were there until I begin to really pay attention. Pecans...lucky you.

Accidental Huswife said...

What a treasure! You make Idaho seem like paradise.

Anonymous said...

To find you own hidden apple orchard such a treat- I just found your blog so it looks as though I have some great reading to do!

Mr. H. said...

Hello Vickie,

Indeed it is a treat, we are always so surprised that we never run into any other people gathering in some of the places we go. That's OK though, more for us.:)

Thanks for visiting,


Christopher said...

Contact Kay Baxter formerly of Koanga Gardens, which she set up in Kaiwaka, Northland, Aotearoa NZ, specifically to save heritage fruits and vegetables - such as the ones you have found.

Kay will be able to give you advice on saving these heritage apples for the future...

Contact Kay through her partner Bob at bob@changeofheart.co.nz


Mr. H. said...

Thanks Christopher!

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