Slide Show

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Save the heritage apples

Winter apples ready for the picking.

It was daylight on the homestead.
Early as it was I was more than a little late for breakfast. The homestead cabin had been built in the 1890s by a pioneer.
The Homestead Law of 1862 was the coolest thing to ever hit this country, unless you were an Indian. At the time they were not considered U.S. Citizens. 
Indians were unable to file homestead claims on their own land. Everyone else just had to build a residence at least 12 feet square, cultivate a crop and live there five years. That gave you clear title to 160 acres of prime bottom land. 
The railroad was coming. The land rush was on. Homesteading was a family affair. Your wife could file a claim. Your kids could too once they were old enough. 
The prime bottom land was soon taken. What the Indians called “The Jimmy Come Latelys” were forced to move up into the thin soils of the foothills where farming got tougher. 
The homesteaders chopped and burned back the forest to plant potatoes and cabbage amid the stumps. These “stump ranchers” went to great lengths to clear enough land to grow enough food to eke out a living. 
By the Great Depression farming got even tougher than that. Many of these wilderness homes were deserted and taken by the government for back taxes.  
That's most probably how this cabin came to be abandoned by its family. Since then it was used as a haven in the wilderness for trappers, lost hunters and those that researched antiquity. 
In the 1980s the roof of the cabin collapsed in the snow. By the ’90s the 100-year-old homestead cabin was a pile of rotting wood buried in blackberry vines. 
The orchard in the meadow was the only sign of man ever being here. These few remaining pioneer orchards are more than just pioneer artifacts.  If it's true that we should consider the medicinal and food value of plants in the rain forest before we cut it down, it might be a good idea to save the seed of these fast disappearing heritage fruit trees. 
The diverse varieties of apples in pioneer orchards can ripen at any time between august and February. The flavor of these apples, particularly after a frost makes the genetically engineered mush ball that passes for an apple these days taste like the cardboard box it came in. 
I'm not the only one that likes these old orchards.  If you want one of these old time apples you're going to have to compete with the bears. 
You'll probably lose. 
These old fruit trees can grow to great heights and bears are just better climbers than we are. And if that last shiny red apple is a little too far out of reach, the bear can just break the branch off. 
The bears not only provide a valuable pruning service they are good at eliminating one of the unpleasant surprises you can find in an apple tree, the bald faced hornet's nest. 
Finding a hornets’ nest while picking apples can make you scamper down the tree like a squirrel.  Bear will just eat the hornet's nest and keep on picking apples. 
I've watched bears sitting over a pile of apples the size of soft balls, holding the apple between its paws, chopping them up in her jaws while sucking the cider out, a picture of pure enjoyment. 
I scared her off. I would have stolen her apples, if they hadn't landed in bear manure. 
My best advice would be to get your apples off the tree. 

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