Apple Trees Don’t Grow from Seeds (and Other Lessons Learned in the Orchard)

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When the days start to get cooler and the leaves start to change color, as it has here on PEI, we can think of no better place to be than an apple orchard. Fortunately, we had the opportunity to spend a beautiful crisp morning at Beamish Orchard, an organic, family-run apple orchard located just outside of Charlottetown.

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In addition to visiting the farm for some delicious apples, we also scheduled an educational tour with the owner, Mike Beamish. He started our tour in the orchard’s newly finished Apple Barn and gave us an overview of the strategies and challenges facing organic apple growers. We learned about fertilizing the trees with compost tea and a few tricks for disrupting the reproduction of pests that like to lay their eggs in the apples. From dusting the apples with a clay that the female insects dislike, to spreading female pheromones among the trees so that the male can’t find a mate, Mike uses some creative tactics to keep his apples looking and tastings great.

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We then headed out to the orchard to see some of Mike’s varieties first-hand. We were joined by Stepanie Compton from the Atlantic Canada Organic Research Network, who also shared her extensive knowledge about apples and organics on PEI. As we sampled some delicious Redfree and Novamac apples, we were all interested and a little shocked to learn that Mike doesn’t plant apple “seedlings” but instead adds new trees to his orchard in the form of a “whip”. A whip is a piece of a desirable apple tree that has been grafted onto a specially selected root stock. Since apple seeds don’t grow into trees that match its parent in the taste and character of the fruit, grafting is a much more reliable way to produce the kind of apple a farmer is looking for. We left the orchard with a lot more knowledge as well as plenty of apples and cider to make an apple feast.

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The next day, we followed up our visit with a homeschool lesson devoted to everything apples. We used some of the resources below to watch a video about pollination, use an interactive map to trace the apple’s journey from its origins in Central Asia, and play a game to match plants with their pollinators. A quick outdoor apple hunt later and we were ready to prepare and enjoy our apple feast with the apples from Beamish Orchard.

We ended our apple extravaganza with a walk along a dirt road in the Prince Edward Island National Park. Earlier this summer we had come across several wild apple trees growing along the road. During our tour at Beamish Orchard we learned that you never know just what kind of apple a tree grown from seeds (rather than grafting) will produce. So, we decided to go and sample some of the “wild apples” and see what we would find. Some were pretty tasty, and others, well, not so much. While we didn’t find the next big variety this time around, we will keep on munching wild apples in the knowledge that the “Fives Fancy” apple is out there somewhere on some abandoned road or old orchard, just waiting for us to find it.

Homeschool Resources:

Crash Course Biology Video: Plant Reproduction
Disney Johnny Appleseed Video
Curious George Apple Picking Game
Apple Tree Reproduction
Apple Blossom Anatomy
Fruit Tree Pests and Diseases
Michael Pollan’s Interactive Apple Map
Nova Pick the Pollinator Game

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