Apples ~ a crisp and crunchy heritage

When we were kids and if we were hungry, my brothers, sister and I would venture down the paddock and into a large old orchard at the site of the original farm homestead, planted by the settler-owner at about the start of the 20th century, more than fifty years before our family lived on the farm. People grew and preserved their own food back then. What was remarkable about this old overgrown orchard was the range of varieties. Local old folk spoke of the deep interest by the original owners, who had had no children, had in gardening.

Large untended trees still produced some fruit in season of a variety of plums, white fleshed, crimson-skinned nectarines, large golden peaches (we referred to them as the ‘million dollar peach’ – I’ve not seen this variety since. Mum said it was easy to preserve because it was freestone), black grapes, Chinese Gooseberries (now called Kiwi fruit), Yellow Banana Passionfruit, lemons,  navel oranges, Granny Smith and Golden Delicious apples. We climbed high into those old trees to pick the fruit.

No, I’m not imaging or idealising the unique qualities of those fruits.  I have it straight from the horse’s mouth about the deliciousness of apples. Once when eating a Golden delicious apple, I turned to see Queenie our horse trot up behind me on the other side of the fence, reach over and snatch the apple out of my hand. We didn’t know it then how spoiled we were to have access to these organically grown heirloom fruits.

Post-WWII pastoral farming practices commanded the efficient use of arable land. Grass was king. Cows grazed grass that converted into income earning creamy milk to make what New Zealand became so good at doing, churning out butter, cheese and milk powder.  Dad cleared the old orchard and a newly grassed paddock meant extra grazing for more cows. A new orchard was planted next to our house. Queenie could no longer reach over the fence from the horse paddock to munch an apple.

In 2001, I ordered and planted heirloom fruit trees, grafted onto rootstock from parent trees certified as being true to label. I selected Northern Spy apple tree rootstock which meant I could expect a vigorous tree that would tolerate our poor clay soil. We transformed a disused commercial nursery site into the sheltered orchard we have today. I pick-axed through a deep layer of scoria down to the clay base. Dolomite was applied to help break down the clay. Compost was used to build up each planting area. A windbreak border of medium height flaxes continues to protect the fruit trees from prevailing westerly wind. Comfrey was under-planted to act as a living mulch. Pelletised sheep manure gave the trees a good start.  Chickens now scratch away at the weeds and apply  the fertiliser.

Fifteen years later, our apple trees have grown true to description. Again, our family is snacking on heritage fruit picked from our own trees, preserving  and popping apples into the grandkids’ school lunchboxes.

Red Delicious which is a good pollen donor and crops more heavily when grown with other apples, ripens in March, has dark red apples with deep striping on the skin and is juicy and aromatic. We prefer to eat this apple fresh. it holds its shape when cooked. Golden Delicious crops best when grown with Red Delicious, ripens in mid-March has a golden colour, is thin skinned, and is a crisp, juicy, sweet, taste treat when left to ripen on the tree. This apple cooks well without sugar. Another disease resistant apple we grow and just love is Captain Kidd. It ripens earlier, is very crisp, juicy, sweet and is a good all-round keeping, eating and cooking fruit.

 

 

My Garden ~ no-dig approach to growing soil and vegetables

 

 

The basic tenet of my gardening actions is to care for the soil. I so appreciate the value of the living organisms that function sight unseen beneath the ground. I suppose it’s a biological partnership that we enter into when we garden. Worms recycle humus and produce vermicast as they dig and delve beneath our feet. That’s why I try to tread lightly – and when, like we do here, keep a few animals for grazing purposes, it gets difficult at times to walk with a light footprint. I seek to grow healthy soil and to establish gardens with minimal input.

In Permaculture Ethics in Introduction to Permaculture, Bill Mollison with Reny Mia Slay (pg. 3. 1995), wrote

Care of the earth means care of all living and nonliving things: soils, species and their varieties, atmosphere, forests, micro-habitats, animals, and waters. it implies harmless and rehabilitative activities, active conservation, ethical and frugal use of resources, and “right livelihood” (working for useful and beneficial systems.

I am concerned about the long-term consequences of hoof pugging by our animals. We don’t have a large herd in the commercial sense (that’s another and broader-issue). I have to think of sustainable solutions for our place. Do we use the tractor to plough the soil? The machinery would further compact the soil and cut up the micro-animal life beneath the ground. I prefer (idealistically some might say) to do my best to grow soil with the biomass we have naturally to hand. We rotate our animals away from wet paddocks and fence off stream-banks to minimise erosion. On the up side, our cattle provide manure that attracts the worms that transform it into vermicast. Trees or branches that are felled during stormy weather are a recyclable source of bio-degradable matter. But then chainsaws and chipper machinery uses fuel energy. And so it it goes weighing up the pros and cons.

I guess at this point, I use my energy where it produces fresh food. I’ll let my photos do the rest of the talking.