Wild Apples

The American natural philosopher Henry David Thoreau died of tuberculosis in May, 1862. He lived to see the apples bloom that year and begin to swell into fruit, but not to mature and bring their branches down to the grass. He did, however, complete an essay for the Atlantic Monthly, called Wild Apples. It was published in November of that year, after the apples had come off. Thoreau believed that as soon as every orchard consisted of grafted, uniform trees, wildness would be gone, and with it democracy among people. Where are our apple breeders now? Busy creating high density orchards, when they allow their trees to have sexual lives, and genetically modified apples that won’t brown when they don’t. Maybe there’s a third way, suggesting how farmers might actually move onto this land. Here are some wild apples I have been collecting myself…

Ambrosia, Anonymous, and Malus Fusca apples.Twenty Years of Wild Apples

Top: Ambrosia (left), Anonymous (right). Bottom: Bella Vista (red); Falkland (black).

I first noticed the ambrosia growing on a seedling in the back corner of an orchard in the Similkameen Valley in the fall of 1991. It is now one of the valley’s most important apple varieties. I first noticed the un-named apple to its right a week ago, growing in a ditch in the South Okanagan, next to some grapes and asparagus that had also gone wild. These are both seedlings of domesticated apple varieties. They require irrigation and fertilizer to grow to commercial size, chemicals to keep insects away. The tiny apples are truly wild. They grow on well-drained grassland slopes, with water far below. The red ones taste like crabs spiced with cinnamon. The black ones taste like sweet pears. They require nothing except the sun and the wind, and what snow and rain there are. I bet they could be used as the foundation of an industry. At least the deer wouldn’t eat them. These things have spikes! Some day, an apple crop might look like this:

malus coronia

Little Black Apples

Malus Coronia Crop in Falkland 

Some day, an orchard might look like this:

Malus Coronia orchard on the Old Falkland Road

Wild Orchard

Old Falkland Road

Imagine! This is better than golf.

Oh, yeah. Tomorrow: golf.

Categories: Agriculture, Innovation, Land

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