RAISING APPLE SEEDLINGS
Orchards accompanied every farmstead and small holding in the Olden Days. The seasonal pressing of apples for cider and juice was part and parcel of normal life. Back then, leftover ‘mash’ (pulped apples) was fed to pigs or spread in odd field corners to over-winter and, the next spring, see what came up. Seedlings became saplings, in turn they grew into young trees and, in due course, fruits resulted. Those which tasted good, made fine beverages or stored in an edible state for longest, were selected and developed. Consequently, we can enjoy the range and variety which exists today.
It pleases me to continue these traditions and old ways. After Apple Day in October, that annual celebration of the nations favourite ‘top fruit’, I spread the mash in the veg patch as a natural (organic) soil protecting and enhancing ‘mulch’.
A few months later the area is a sea of tiny plants. To make space for veggies, I have always hit them off with a hoe during the first sunny days of spring. But this time I’ve left a patch undisturbed. It marks the beginning of an experiment which thrills and excites me very much.
The small area which has been spared is now thick with erect, red-stemmed and green-leaved baby apple trees up to 20cm tall. The plan is to let them bide where they be until autumn, then carefully lift the strongest, transplant and grow them on. ’Seedling’ apples, as those cultivated from pips are referred, have the potential to become large or small, heavy cropping or mostly barren, delicious or disgusting. There is no way of knowing without getting to the point at which they bear.
I intend to nurture these babies in appropriate places and confine their excessive tendencies through careful pruning. Eight years or so down the line there should be some fruit. Any that get the thumbs-up in terms of taste or usefulness can be propagated by grafting onto suitable rootstocks to control their vigour and eventual size.
This is a long-term experiment. It will take many years to complete and is more likely to disappoint than succeed. With so many locally distinctive apples to choose from already, many have said, “Why bother?” The answer is simple.
All gardening is an adventure. Growing edible plants is an act of faith. It’s about being brave, taking risks, pushing the boundaries of reality and imagination, trusting yourself and nature to deliver the right things at the right times to meet the ongoing needs of a crop.
Cultivating trees requires additional, visionary investments from the grower, his or her charges and the land on which this all takes place. Far from being a tie or shackle, the bond which home-producers forge with the wider world is capable of enriching and nourishing their lives and inner souls. Arguably, thoughtfully tending the plant of your choice, be it a daisy, lettuce or apple tree, can help you develop as a balanced, open-minded individual.
Whilst looking at the bed of tiny apple seedlings last week and sharing future dreams last week, a fellow gardener observed that, “Old men plant trees, young men cut them down.” Reflecting on my own tendencies as a chainsaw-happy chappy immediately after leaving school and throughout my twenties, it made me pause and think.
Shaston Seedling, Dirty Nails Discovery or Red Fox Running Free anyone?
Copyright, Joe Hashman May 2010