The Preservation Orchard: Arbor Day Farm’s Legacy

Heirloom Apple from Arbor Day Farm:

Heirloom Apple from Arbor Day Farm:
Claygate Pearmain

We’re all familiar with the apples readily available in the supermarket and at local orchards this time of year: red delicious, gala, granny smith, jonathans. But what about the lesser-known varieties that have—for one reason or another—fallen out of the spotlight?

The Preservation Orchard at Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, Nebraska, is full of these obscure apple varieties — 65 varieties, to be precise — some of them dating as far back as the 1500s. Some have interesting back stories that rival their appearance and flavor, while others just simply fell out of favor. Unlike today’s common apple varieties, which are bred for beauty and to withstand the rigors of modern food transportation and storage, these vintage apples are a sensitive, finicky lot — with delicate skins and flesh, a short window of ripeness, and the heirloom apple trees themselves often times have not survived the gradual changes in climate where they once thrived.

Heirloom Apples from Arbor Day Farm: Arkansas Black.

Heirloom Apple from Arbor Day Farm: Arkansas Black.

Not only is this very special orchard at Arbor Day Farm focused on preserving the unique apples of yesteryear, but it’s a living record of some of the finest known apples and a genetic repository that may one day help create varieties well-suited to a changing climate. The Preservation Orchard is one of just a handful of orchards in the United States where these rare heirloom apple varieties can still be found.

A visit to Arbor Day Farm this time of year — when a plethora of apple varieties are ripe and ready for picking — offers visitors the rare opportunity to taste the wonderful flavor of some of these old varieties. Heirloom apple tasting is a huge hit with visitors on fall weekends, as Nature Interpreters first show-and-tell about the Preservation Orchard itself, then slice and serve the rare fruits of its branches.

A few antique apple varieties worth noting:

  • Almata: red to the core, and not much more. This apple with reddish flesh has an interesting look but is not particularly flavorful.
  • Claygate Pearmain: common in Victorian-era gardens, this heirloom apple has a nutty aroma and a potato-like appearance.
  • Kandil Sinap: tall and cylindrical, this vintage apple originated in Turkey in the early 1800s. Crisp and juicy with a sweet and sour flavor.
  • Arkansas Black – a medium-sized apple from the 1840s. Glossy, dark red skin almost turns black when stored.

This apple season, be sure to visit Arbor Day Farm’s Preservation Orchard for a unique look at — and perhaps even a taste of — the apples of yesteryear.

Early Harvest Apple: Turning a New Leaf

(Malus X Domestica)

The turn of a new season brings new fall favorites with it like crackling candles and sweet ciders, and let’s not forget tart, juicy apples like the early harvest apple.

Early-Harvest-AppleAs the name suggests this high-yielding apple tree is among the first to be ready for harvest. These apples are ready to be picked as early as July in some locations, with the latest harvest in September. What’s more exciting is the number of recipes you can get out of your apples. Speaking of recipes, check out From the Lied Lodge Cookbook: Apple Pie Egg Rolls for a delicious jumpstart!

Here are a few things to note if you don’t have an apple tree but want to reap the benefits down the road.

Environmental Factors

  • Grows well in moist, well-drained soil, it is not drought tolerant. (Hardiness zones 3-8).
  • Fast growing tree, growing more than 2 feet a year and reaching 20-25 feet at maturity.
  • Prefers full sun, at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day.

Physical Attributes

  • Blooms white/pinkish flowers early to midseason.
  • Is available in standard, semi-dwarf and dwarf sizes. Standard size bears fruit in 6-10 years.
  • Needs a second tree to cross-pollinate with to produce apples. Can be pollinated with Lodi, red Jonathan, red delicious or a variety from a different apple family.

Do you have an awesome apple recipe? We’d love to hear it!