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Making Old Orchards New Again

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Today, 22 percent of apples sold in US grocery stores are the variety Gala, and most supermarkets offer only a few varieties. The backyard apple tree was left to grow wild—until a recent surge in interest in heritage varieties and hard cider production.

As scraggly and unkempt as an old apple tree may appear, it can still be a stellar start to an orchard or a fruitful addition to a family homestead. 

“Planting new trees is going to take some years before they’re mature and fruit bearing,” says Jennifer Ries, who coordinates the tree nursery department at Fedco, a tree and seed cooperative out of Clinton, Maine. “With these old trees, we have gifts from anonymous strangers of the past who planted these trees for particular reasons.”

Old tree discovery and restoration was once the purview of dedicated pomologists such as John Bunker, author of Not Far From the Tree, and Dan Bussey, author of The Illustrated History of Apples in the United States and Canada. Bunker would travel the backroads of Maine and knock on the doors of old farmhouses with peeling paint and sagging roofs. He would scout the property for aging apple trees and, if he found them, collect fruit and cuttings. He has worked to identify more than 500 cultivars in his ongoing career.

But today, it is more than just a few of the apple-obsessed who are discovering and rehabilitating old trees. The surging popularity of hard cider has inspired farmers to revitalize old orchards and plant new ones, and even single backyard trees are benefiting from the renewal.

“We get a lot of emails from cider makers,” says Amy Dunbar-Wallis, a graduate student at the University of Boulder in Colorado and community outreach coordinator for the Boulder Apple Tree Project. “And we hear from homeowners who have apple trees on their land and want to be cider makers.”


Read more about this here.

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