Last year, my Master Gardener volunteers bestowed upon me a plate. Unbeknownst to me, this wasnt a plate that one would eat dessert from, but instead the plate you display on a shelf. Painted upon it is a man, with a tin pot on his head and rags for clothes, smiling at a little girl holding a perfect apple.
The man, John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed, has become legendary for planting apple trees throughout the country. (Now you see why I didnt think it was a bad idea to eat apple crisp off that plate.) Some stories have him walking, or even skipping around the land, sprinkling apple seeds as he traveled; others depict him dressed in nothing but rags.
In actuality, Mr. Chapman, while being very giving, caring and thrifty (he didnt wear shoes in winter to save money on leather), was also quite the businessman.
He didnt plant apple seeds here and there, but rather in expansive orchards in advance of the westerly moving population. He quickly realized that as the new folks staked their land, they would most likely desire a fruit tree. And lo and behold, once they reached their destination there was a nursery nearby full of trees ready to transplant.
As his name implies, he planted all his trees by seed rather than by grafting (he felt that grafting was against his religious beliefs of tampering with the natural world), which is the way 99.5 percent of trees today are grown.
Quick horticultural lesson: Apple trees grown from seed do not pass on the genetic traits from their parent plant it is literally a crapshoot as to what you might grow. Similarly, seeded fruit frequently lack in taste compared to anything you would find today (even a store-bought apple in June). But Johnny, in his infamous wisdom, didnt really care about taste, nor did the new landowners. Folks were interested in only one use of these bitter apples: hard cider.
Life on the plains was rough, and up until the end of the 19th century, hard cider was their only choice for alcohol. This imbibing continued until Carrie Hatchet Nation and her followers vilified the immoral apple and the resulting cider.
The bad rap continued until the early 1900s, when growers and researchers cloned the sweetest apples by grafting, starting the resurgence of the apple as the ultimate healthy food and the bane of doctors everywhere.
So, here in Durango, this Sunday, we will celebrate the apple, and to a certain extent, Johnny Appleseed, with the third annual Home Grown Apple Days Festival. Sponsored by the Growing Partners of Southwest Colorado, the free-for-all Apple Days has become a highlight of our fall season and will occur in Buckley Park from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. We will have apples to share (you just have to help press them), a ton of games and crafts for the kids, local food and beer, live music, educational tents, fruit trees and shrubs, and more smiles than you can count.
Who knows? The spirit of Johnny might make his presence known.
firstname.lastname@example.org. co.us or 382-6464. Darrin Parmenter is director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.