Slim Chances for Apples

Photo Credit: Tom Gill

Photo Credit: Tom Gill

This story comes to us courtesy of our EGP friend Erika Rathje and is worth a share!

I had little interest in growing food until a couple years ago. My mother, an avid gardener whose extended family included farmers, grew a solid crop of tomatoes, peppers and basil every summer. Our yard boasted a Granny Smith apple tree, a plum tree, rhubarb and currants, most of which is still growing furiously with fewer mouths around to enjoy them. Yet somehow my food-growing yearnings ended after that failed attempt at growing peas in elementary school. (These facts may be unrelated.)
So I don’t know why, when I was a nine-year-old back in the mid 90s, I decided to grow apple trees. Stranger still, I wasn’t that crazy about apples except our dwindling Grannies. (This changed when I discovered gala, ambrosia and mutsu, but that’s another story.) Regardless of my long-forgotten motives, I planted at least a dozen apple seeds that March. Thankfully nobody told me that’s not how we propagate apple trees and I remained blissfully ignorant of this for a long time.
After the second winter, only one of thirteen original seedlings had survived. It was ultimately my mother who took care of it as it matured. Eventually it was planted in a new, round patch of garden in a troublesome part of the lawn, and the green moss grew all around. It suffered aphids and gradually assumed a poor posture.
I think my mother told me it would bear fruit when it was five, and I waited. And waited. Finally, in an attempt to push the leaning tree over — or shake it, I’m not sure which — my mother gave the fruitless tree a good shove. It must have been compelled at this point by a sense of impending doom and, at 11 years old, flowered for the first time. I counted six apples. The squirrels ungratefully took half. The rest were small but tasty. And with that, we said goodbye to the tree.
It wasn’t until a visit to UBC Farm four years later that I learned the chances of yielding edible fruit from an apple tree grown from seed is one in ten thousand. I guess you could say I have a green thumb. The apple grower I talked to encouraged me to try sprouting the seeds I saved, but by this time they were too old.
As I write this I have a few apple seeds on my counter waiting their turn. But they’ll have to compete for space with the multitude of vegetables and fruits I’m growing, in my second year starting seeds for my balcony. (It turns out I want to grow *everything*.) It takes patience to grow a tree from seed, so it’s best not to put it off. After all, if you won the gardening lottery, you’d want to find out sooner rather than later, right?
erika-photo
Erika Rathje is a designer, blogger and avid food-grower.
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