Apples: From Asia to Buckley Park

The apple. Malus spp. The fruit, synonymous with fall, school teachers Newton’s universal law of gravity, has a past much more storied than what many Americans believed started with Johnny Appleseed.

Its origins can be traced back to Central Asia – the Caucasus, Himalayan India and into Pakistan and western China to be specific – where at least 25 native species of Malus occurred, some of which can still be found today.

If one were to delve deep into the mentally-shelved lessons from our high school world-history class, we could perhaps remember the historical significance of the Silk Road, a route that traversed the entire Asiatic continent westward to the Black and Mediterranean seas.

Traders, travelers, nomads and others – on foot, horse or camel – surely came across some of these native apple trees, and like all good animals, scattered the seeds in a nutrient-rich medium (read: poop).

Perhaps seeds from one tree, through the animal dispersal method, came into close proximity of another type of apple tree. These previously isolated species could now hybridize, or cross-pollinate (I know, you have had to once again delve into another high school class for that lesson), and a new “type” of apple tree could be created.

Just like you and me, these travelers on the trail had taste preferences.

Apples they liked may have been saved either by seed (never bet on those plants becoming just like their parents – they become the quirky, different kid) or by taking cuttings (guaranteed to be change-free, just like the parent).

It is suspected that many of these preferred varieties or cultivars, through more cross-pollination and more propagation, eventually populated Europe, and by the 17th century made their way to North America where the only native apples were crabapples.

The rest – along with the previous three paragraphs – is history. Apples now grace the grocery store’s shelves 12 months of the year and are grown on every continent other than Antarctica.

Here in the United States – the vast majority of apples are grown in Washington – we produce almost 10 million pounds of apples. That may seem like a lot, but China produces almost 54 million pounds.

On Saturday, a group of dedicated volunteers and students hope to harvest about 4,000 pounds here in La Plata County.

Why you ask? Well, since you inquired, it’s the sixth annual Homegrown Apple Days festival, of course. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, we will celebrate the apple at Buckley Park, which doesn’t have any apple trees. The festival has become an autumnal mainstay as hundreds of people come to enjoy the last vestiges of summer before the snow starts to fall.

Apple Days is truly a family festival, with crafts, pie-eating contests, music and even the random, impromptu potato-sack race. But it also pays homage to the apple. From its roots in Central Asia to the foothills of Southwest Colorado and backyards of Durango, those 4,000 pounds of apples will be put to good use as the juicers and pressers will be working at maximum capacity.

We will also have plenty of apples – slightly dinged by hail – from the CSU Research Station orchard for sale, and for those of you who would like to have them in another form, the 4-H group will be selling pies – large and small.

For more information about the festival, check out the Growing Partners website at www.growingpartners.org.

parmenterdm@co.laplata.co.us or 382-6464. Darrin Parmenter is director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.

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