I want to grow some heritage varieties of apples. Those that have developed or been cultivated naturally in backyard gardens and small orchards across the country.
I’m not for a minute suggesting you should ignore the wisdom of the word, especially if it hails from the Oracle of the Allotment…
OK. So maybe I am. Just a little bit. But only if the Oracle can’t back up his
commandment claim with first-hand experience. As far I can tell, Oracles and Commandments exist in all fields of expertise, but seem particularly prevalent in gardening. Perhaps it’s because a lot of the knowledge that exists in gardening is handed over the garden fence? And I guess with things like fruit trees, the experimentation time to find out if what the Oracle says is true or not isn’t usually worth the wait – it’s far easier to just take what he says as fact and move on.
I mean, when a builder tells you not to hit your thumb with the hammer, you can test out his theory pretty quickly and get an answer. You can’t do this in gardening, especially when growing fruit trees. Fruit trees take years to grow and if you defy your elders and grow an apple tree from seed and it turns out to be a bitter tasting turd, it’s gonna take you about 4 years to realise.
(On the plus side, the Elder may have moved on to pastures new and you won’t have to listen to the “I told you sos.”)
Nevertheless, this blind acceptance poses a problem for curious minds – and threatens the genetic diversity and resilience of our food system.
Suffocating experimentation, even with the best of intentions, could well lead to (if it hasn’t already) vast monocultures of fruit & veg that are extremely susceptible to pests and diseases that we don’t even know exist yet. I just keep thinking to myself, if we interbred humans the way we interbreed and clone plants, we wouldn’t have survived as long as we have.
Or maybe we would, but it doesn’t “feel” right.
If life is the art of moving; to stop a plant from ‘moving’ genetically, you are killing it, aren’t you? Or it’s dead but not dead, like a Zombie Apple. There must be a next generation to survive, right? Or the commonly held belief that evolution is survival of the fittest is nonsense. It can’t be both.
In this instance, it makes sense that such a Zombie monoculture can only be maintained via synthetic or specific chemicals or nutrients designed to keep the Zombie line alive before nature catches up with it and wipes out the entire crop.
Without resistance and diversity, all roads lead to zero.
How Comes You’re Using Root Stocks Then?
You might well be thinking then that if I’m so against the idea of monocultures, why am I choosing to use m26 and mm106 root stocks (thanks Walcot Organic Nursery by the way) to graft some apple scions onto?
There’s a couple of reasons.
First is that I want to grow some heritage varieties of apples. Those that have developed or been cultivated naturally – in backyard gardens and small orchards across the country. The genetic value in their seeds must be immeasurable. But in order to unlock that potential, I must first have a starting point.
Grafting apple scions onto well established rootstocks gives me the opportunity to have that starting point. And, after 5 years or so when the apples start growing themselves, I will be able to use those seeds to grow the next generation. Of course, the “shortcut” is to just get someone who has these trees in their garden to send me some pips and get a head start on the next generation, which I’d happily receive if you know anyone… 😉
The second reason is that I’m based in the North East of England. It’s a Marine or Oceanic Climate Region, with a monthly mean temperature below 22 °C (72 °F) in the warmest month, and above 0 °C (32 °F) in the coldest month. This means it’s quite wet and doesn’t ever get too hot.
Being more northerly, we also seem to be a little chillier up here than the southern parts of England, where apple orchards seem to do very well.
This means that the two root stocks I’ve chosen, M26 and MM106 (both semi-dwarfing vigorous growth that reach heights up to 2.5m high) may not have had substantial testing in my specific region. So to me, it just sort of makes sense to try them both and see which does best in my specific conditions.
Thou Shalt Not Grow Apples From Seed
I bet you’ve also been told at some point in time that it’s a waste of time to grow apples from seed?
Probably because “you’ll end up with a ‘bitter apple’, nothing like it’s parent.” Yeah, I’ve been told that loads of times too, but not a single person who has told me that has ever tried to grow an apple from seed.
I’m not saying it’s not true. It probably is, but wouldn’t you like to find out for yourself? Afterall, all of these wonderful apple varieties we have today came from seed at some point in time.
So I put it to you, have YOU ever tried to grow an apple from seed? What did the apples taste like? I would really really love to hear about this from someone who has actually tried it.
And If They Do Taste Bitter, So What?
It’s not the end of the world if you get 4 years in and your apples taste awful. You can graft new varieties onto your trees to make them more palatable.
But by growing your own you have achieved something great. You have been part of the healthy and natural process of evolution, or acted as the curator of a new generation.
It’s quite an honour, when you think about it.