My husband and I purchased a 130-year-old farmhouse in need of restoration, which sat on a largely forested acreage. After months of renovations, I decided to create a trail system.
I began cutting through the dense invasive forest and overgrown brush, venturing farther out each day, until I discovered a massive 30-foot apple tree, then a gnarly 25-foot-wide apple tree. I began to discover an ever-increasing number of gorgeous old heritage apple trees, most of which are between 25 and 40 feet tall, bringing the current total to more than 50.
Perhaps more shocking than the size of these ancient apple trees is the vast array of unique varieties of apples. Even after countless hours scouring many websites, we have yet to find the bulk of our varieties anywhere else (we believe we’ve identified Newtown Pippin, Greasy Skins, and Snow apples).
Now that we know we’re the proud owners of an ancient apple orchard, we’re working to free the trees and catalogue and identify the rare varieties, which bear no resemblance, in look or taste, to today’s apples. Most of the apples have extremely dense flesh, much denser than today’s soft and sometimes pulpy varieties.
These Victorian-era apples provide explosions of taste sensations, ranging from pearlike to wine, and even a hint of beet flavour in one late-season variety. Some are yellow with red polka dots, others are green with a pink blush, some have yellow undersides with coral tops, some are brilliant coral red, and still others are green with almost black spots. To say they’re unique and unlike any of the homogenous apples found in today’s orchards or grocery stores would be a serious understatement.
Better yet, it’s clear from the surrounding weeds and invasive forest that no one could have entered the forest to spray them with pesticides and that these apples have been organically grown for decades, if not for their full lifespan. Their lack of access also suggests that, without human intervention, they have survived extreme cold (the Lost Orchard is located in the Ottawa region), droughts, flooding, pests, heat waves, and many other challenges.
Additionally, unlike most of today’s apples, which ripen in August or September, the apples in the Lost Orchard are ready for eating between July and November, including some varieties that seem to survive after the early frosts and snowfalls.
In some ways, battling the tough and thorny landscape to reveal the forgotten and beautiful rewards has been a metaphor for life. Prior to discovering this orchard, we had endured a string of hardships that had challenged us to our core, but we kept going, believing in brighter times ahead. Now, I’ve never felt more alive as I help to restore food diversity and preserve the living history and legacy of these apple trees.
When internationally renowned astrologer Phil Booth read my posts and saw some of my apple tree photos on social media, he exclaimed: “You’re living in a fairy tale.” And he’s right: I spent over two decades fulfilling projects promoting food security and writing hundreds of articles about various aspects of food biodiversity, all the while dreaming of owning an apple orchard.
I never imagined I’d awaken one morning to find an ancient heritage apple orchard hidden on my newly purchased property. Who knew that preserving food biodiversity could be so magical? And knowing that I’m helping to prevent food extinction and ensuring the food supply? Priceless.
You can learn more about the Lost Orchard at lostorchard.org