Episode 21: Heritage Harvest
On the next episode, screening 22 August 2015 at 7pm on TV ONE:
Peasgood Nonsuch, Kentish Fillbasket, Devonshire Quarrenden, Rokewood, Kingston Black, Cat’s Head – they’re all old apple varieties and they’re growing in Southland.
Robyn and Robert Guyton have been on an eight-year mission to collect and identify heritage apple trees, combing Southland for remains of old orchards dotted among farms, stations and home gardens.
Their Open Orchard Project involves collecting scion wood from the trees and grafting them onto new rootstock to preserve the varieties.
Robyn Guyton says it started because they wanted to grow heritage varieties on their land at Riverton, west of Invercargill.
They started by planting modern varieties but they did poorly and they were told fruit trees didn’t grow well in Southland. But when they spoke to older people in the community they heard quite a different story.
‘They told us apples certainly used to do well here and they suggested we should try heritage varieties,’ Robyn says.
‘We also learned there were many very old orchards around Southland, often in danger of removal or dying of old age, so we thought it would be great to get a sample of each of the Southland apples and grow them on our land.’
As well as establishing a tree collection, the Guytons teach Southlanders how to graft, prune and care for trees, so they can plant and look after their own orchards and become self-sufficient in fruit.
They want to see orchards established on community land and school grounds so the fruit can be shared.
So far Robyn has identified around 300 varieties growing in the region, but it’s been a long process.
‘When I started going to the old orchards, there was such diversity,’ she says. ‘I didn’t know what they were, so I had to learn.’
She says once you know an apple’s name you know its history. She’s found one variety that dates back to the 1630s.
Once an apple variety is identified they can start working out what how it was used.
‘When they planted these apples there were no supermarkets and they had to plan for the whole year,’ Robyn says. ‘They had to live off them and there were no shops to go to.’
Some of the apples she has collected store well, others are good for cooking and preserves and some taste bitter but are ideal for making cider.
Robyn often finds family members who remember the old orchards. She says preserving the social history that goes with the fruit is just as important as preserving the apples themselves.
Robyn and Robert’s apple project has outgrown their one-hectare home block. They now have more land where they’re growing about 500 grafted trees that they’ll send out to others to create new orchards.
The Guytons also help run an annual harvest festival in Riverton, with workshops on gardening, preserving, cider making and other old arts and crafts.
To read Robert Guyton’s blog, visit: http://robertguyton.blogspot.co.nz
For more about the Guytons’ home Food Forest, visit: http://foodforest.co.nz/the-guytons-riverton-food-forest-nz
For more about the Open Orchard project, visit: www.sces.org.nz/pmwiki.php/Content/ProjectOutline
For more about heritage apple varieties you can buy, visit: www.sces.org.nz/pmwiki.php/Content/2015FruitTreeList?action=download&upname=2015applesB.pdf
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