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The ManyTracks Orchard

Volunteer "Wild" Apples

unknown parentage, wild seedlings planted randomly by wildlife or human activity



apples from wild trees 2019




Four decades of Growing Good Food in the Northwoods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Down to Earth Information, Experiences, Thoughts

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Black Oxford









The Wild Volunteers - We're blessed with a number of wild or wildlife planted trees on our property, and our area is rich with road-side, forest edge, and field grown trees. I don't know if there were naturally growing apples here before the area was settled but it didn't take long for the settlers to plant fruit trees, particularly apples. There are many old orchards, some still with live, bearing trees, from the early 1900's and likely late 1800's. The trees on our property aren't that old but there were several wild fruiting trees here and there when we moved here forty years ago. And true to those who came before us, we planted more right away, before we had even moved in. Given all of that, the open-pollinated seedling volunteers, no matter how they came to be in any particular spot, via wind, wildlife, or humans, have had a rich and diverse population to share genetics and pollen to come up with their own unique fruit. It's a bounty that is infinitely interesting! They may not all, or even many, be of good taste to the human residents or worth picking but the wildlife, furred and feathered, usually thinks differently and makes great use, and meals, of the fruit. And, as I have discovered, the importance of a particular apple often lies in the abundance, or lack of, other options. When one has no other apples even quite sour apples are appreciated.

Our Wild Family - As I became more interested in, and more comfortable with, pruning the planted orchard trees inside the fence I began taming, training, and untangling some of the volunteers outside in order to make more use of the fruit. Many of them have surprisingly good apples and well worth a bit of effort. As I discovered more fruiting trees to adopt I had a bit of a challenge keeping track of them, inveterate note-taker that I am. The first ones were easy - Front Yard and Cabin. But then it became harder - two more sort of between cabin (now shop) and house, still in the front, and another by the shop but on the other side, and two more in front... So I did the human thing - I named them. That first (and oldest) large Front Yard tree got to keep its directional name and is queen of our rough and ragged "front yard", holding her own amongst the wild vegetation including a small maple/fir forest to the south. Ditto the cat and SteveOne younger tree got named Splitter because at the time I was naming it was right next to the log splitter where Steve was splitting most of our firewood that year. The rest of the trees were named after all the cats who have lived (and are living) with us through the years - each cat has a tree, starting with Mr.C, then Ditto, Cali, Sasha, and our current LilliBulero, who gets two trees because of her great personality, her name, and there being two appropriate trees next to each other in front of the shop, now Lilli and Bulero. One thing they all have in common is little involvement from me, except for pruning to keep them open and within reach, and often once or twice clearing underbrush to make it easier for access. Yet most of them usually have healthy, clean fruit. What a gift they are!

Each tree is unique. Front Yard sets forth beautiful, healthy, large, smooth green/yellow apples, late summer, tart but with flavor, fast to go mealy when very ripe. Not a prolific producer of apples yet quite reliable in spite of living in probably the coldest spot on the property. When I'm short of apples I make full use of these, but usually leave most for the wildlife. Sasha, another healthy, pretty, smooth green/yellow apple is medium size and more tart, actually quite sour cats Cali and Sasha on rugso doesn't get used by me now, but there was a time of apple shortage when I did. The deer get them now. Cali has fairly recently been set free from nearby large trees and is finally getting a fair share of sun. With rather common tart but with flavor medium size fall apples it's not a big producer but nonetheless appreciated. Splitter is similar but with slightly rougher skin and a bit more flavor, a nice eating apple, ripening in September and keeping well for a few months. Being near everyday activity it gets much more attention, and I manage to harvest most of the apples, though I share some with the squirrel, chipmunk, and deer..

LilliBulero cat outsideLilli is a nice tree with poor apples (not at all like her namesake, our wonderful feline LilliBulero), the only one of the lot, so I'm grafting most of the tree over to other varieties, one of which is from a nice fall apple seedling up the road which I call CowGate. Lilli's companion next door, Bulero, is also a nice tree but with interesting apples, not at all like Lilli's. The fruit is small, about 2 1/4 inches, dark red, slightly dry skin, slightly juicy flesh, mild, sweet, somewhat similar to Black Oxford. Not being Bulero apple basket fulloverly impressed with the fruit when I first noticed it I grafted a Norkent to it in 2017, a vigorous hardy Canadian variety, planning to pretty much replace the original with the Norkent. But with a few years of pruning, removing dead and crossed branches, opening up the tree to more sun, bringing the top down, the fruit has improved. This year (2019) to my surprise it was better than ever, jucier, more flavor, and made a very good sauce mixed with the tarter Front Yard fruit. The Norkent graft is growing well so my plan now is to go for half original, half Norkent tree.

Another surprise was Mr.C., for years written off as a tart but good for wildlife 1 1/2" yellow crab. A prolific, tall, gangly, strangly, vigorous crab tree, it cooperatively hangs over a mowed drive area near the house, dropping generous amounts of fruit for the easy dining pleasure of deer and small rodents. I hadn't paid too much attention to the fruit, or Mr.C applethe tree, except to prune low branches to keep them above car height. But a few years ago I decided to prune out some of the worst of the tangle, opening up the fruit to more sun, though my purpose originally was simply to make a somewhat more comfortable looking shape without getting too serious about it. It was, after all, a wildlife tree. But a funny thing happened with the fruit. Last year, a light year for production, I noticed the apples were streaked with red, they were larger, and to my surprise quite tasty.Mr.C the cat Suddenly the tree changed from a crab for the deer to an interesting tasty attractive lunchbox apple. Was it the pruning? Or because it was a light crop? Or the weather? Or?? This year (2019) it was back to full production but the apples were still large (for a crab), 2", red streaked, tasty in a tart-sweet-flavor-filled way. I picked up and snacked on many a little apple as I walked by, though I left most for the deer and critters. I had plenty of other, larger, apples, but this one certainly intrigues me.

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Have you read  "Frost Dancing - Tips from a Northern Gardener" ? A fun short read.

or "Homesteading Adventures"    Creating our backwoods homestead--the first 20 years.

and "Growing Berries for Food and Fun"   A journey you can use in your own garden.

updated 10/06/2019

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