On our farm, there is a very special apple tree. She grows quietly; standing by herself in a little gully, far from prying eyes. No one knows how she got there, miles from the houses and farm sheds. The creek is dry now, but it wasn’t always so. Maybe an apple rolled downstream, thrown by a careless hand. Perhaps a bird deposited an apple seed there. However it happened, the seed sprouted and this ancient tree grew. She is old in New Zealand apple-tree-years, make no mistake about that.
A Special Apple Tree
But it’s not just the isolation, nor even her age that makes her special, for she is a heritage tree. She may very well be unique — the only one of her kind in the world. How special is that? And her apples are beautiful. Cooking apples like your great-grandmother grew. You can’t buy anything like them in a shop. Raw they are tart on your taste buds, but when you cook them up they’re fluffy, sweet and delicious.
I love this old apple tree, and each year at harvest time I’ve worried about losing her. What if a fire raced unexpectedly down the gully or disease struck? The world is losing its unique plants and animals at an alarming rate. It would be sad if our tree was added to the list. So this year we were delighted when the Guytons arrived unexpectedly on our doorstep.
Robert and Robyn Guyton are passionate permaculturalists and have developed their Riverton property into a food farm which supplies most of their daily needs. Robert and Robyn are also the guiding lights behind the Riverton Environmental Centre and are well known in Southland for their conservation efforts and their enthusiasm about saving heritage apples.
Protecting Our Heritage
On a windy, wet Sunday in early spring, Robert and Robyn came to explore the old orchards around the Garston area. Our son Chris found them at our Woolshed. “These trees are okay,” he told them, waving his hand around the nearby orchard, “but would you like to see the best tree on the farm?” Of course they would! When we drove home from church that Sunday, we came across them all, dripping wet and happily stowing cuttings into their car boot. “What a find!” they chorused.
One of the Guytons’ missions is to train other people up in the art of tree-saving. So they passed the cuttings onto Robyn Shields, a former pupil of theirs, who lives not far from Queenstown. Robyn grafted the cuttings (called scions) onto hardy rootstock and they have grown happily into 6 sturdy little trees. She came up to the farm recently, to photograph the original tree complete with apples, and to collect some of them as samples. She invited me to come and visit her little tree nursery and to see the new little apple trees, so I’m very much looking forward to that.
In the meantime, these lovely apples are ready to harvest and I’ve just picked a big bucket full. Yum.
Autumn on the farm is such a busy season. While the men are busy gathering in the grain, I’m focused on harvesting all the other food that nature is providing. My Autumn Harvest On The Farm series is a celebration of nature’s bounty and the foresight of the farmers who began developing this farm more than 100 years ago.