The Paradise Apple, Modern Farming and the Apple of the Celts

All apple trees are grafted on a root. The tree is chosen for its apples and the root for its growth characteristics. These days, an apple called M9, for Malling 9, after the English Horticultural Research station it was selected at around a century ago, is used for most rootstocks. Its advantages are small tree size, early bearing, and large fruit. Its disadvantages are small tree size, susceptibility to heat and frost damage, poor conductivity of water, and constricted nutrient flow. Still, its small size and precocity are a great advantage, even if you have to spend a fortune on wires and posts to hold it up. And when your workers get them in crooked, well, everyone has to look at it for fifteen years, don’t they.

And that slow water flow can lead to sunburn, such as on these ambrosias.

That’ll cost you. If you graft your orchard in too big a hurry, with workers who can’t tell the difference, you get rootstocks growing instead of trees. Here’s an M9 producing away (the yellow apples on the branch; not the thinned-off apples on the ground.)

And here.

The irony is that the M9, and nearly all apple rootstocks, are from a species called Malus pumila, or the Paradise apple. They’re not all small like this, but they are all native to Europe. These are the wild apples of legend, and they are rich with seeds. I’m going to have to rig up a way to get into this orchard and pick up those apples. They used to be cultivated throughout Europe, back when you made cider out of pasture apples and didn’t much care about them keeping or tasting sweet on a dessert plate. For dessert, you had cider! Those seeds might, on an off-chance, combine the sweetness of the Ambrosia or Royal Gala in the rest of the block, with the ancient celtic heritage of these fruits. It’s time to rescue our ancestors from their bondage to the grafting knife and the colonial farm!


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