Horticultural History

Heritage orchard filled with horticultural history

Historic horticulture

Jim Krencik/Daily News

U-pickers can now taste the apples of eras past, like hawkeye, a red delicious ancestor, at LynOaken Farms’ Ridge Road orchard. Darryl Oakes, LynOaken’s General Manager, said more than 250 varieties, were planted in an effort to educate and attract consumers to the farm’s apple and wine businesses.

Posted: Saturday, October 5, 2013 12:06 am | Updated: 12:12 am, Sat Oct 5, 2013.

Heritage orchard filled with horticultural history By Jim Krencik jkrencik@batavianews.com The Daily News Online | 0 comments

RIDGEWAY — LynOaken Farms is among the dozens of growers producing SnapDragon and RubyFrost apples this fall, but a walk through the farm’s U-Pick orchard is more a step into the past than a look to the future.

Opened for the first time this September, the six-acre field has more than 300 heritage varieties alongside the farm’s mix of current favorites.

Hundreds of years worth of apple innovation and mutation greet visitors to the Ridge Road orchard. Signs throughout the rows of short but productive trees indicate the variety, its year of introduction and place of origin of each apple.

Walking through the orchard, Leonard Oakes General Manager Darryl Oakes stops at a short tree of Hawkeyes, one of the many varieties represented by single planting.

“These were the original Red Delicious,” Oakes said, picking one of the tree. “Over the years, farmers picked different mutations and we now have better eating apples.”

According to David Schlabach of Schlabach Nursery, the apple varieties were culled from a century old “Fruits of New York” book and a wish list created by the Oakes.

“We picked the interesting names and the ones with interesting descriptions,” Schlabach said.

Some of the field’s apples date back nearly a millennia, but most appeared at farms shows throughout the country in waves for more than 200 years, developed by a chance seedling or experimental mingling.

“In the 1800s and early 1900s, there was a tremendous interest in horticulture,” Oakes said. “Small farms had pride in creating new fruits.”

Several varieties were grown in just a single area, never crossing into national use.

“We have fewer varieties now but they are more familiar,” Schlabach said. “They were much more regional then. As you traveled you’d find apples that are much more familiar in the local region. Some never got out.”

Many were once mainstays of orchards for both their eating, cooking and cider abilities.

The popularity of the old apples rose, crested and fell in the ensuing years, some passed by when new varieties emerged, others abandoned after proving too finicky to produce in reliable qualities.

“A lot of them just weren’t good to grow,” Oakes said. “They may have been long-ripening or difficult to manage.

The now-antique variations have been replaced for more efficient, heartier and better tasting varieties. Baldwin apples were once shipped by the barrel from the lakeside on a roundabout trip to England, a role the better-keeping Empire now fills.

“We’re so much better about keeping apples now,” Oakes said.

The set-aside varieties were kept alive over the years by a movement of seed-savers and hobbyist farmers. Schlabach, who previously owned the acreage where the new “old” orchard stands, knew that scene well from his nursery business.

Schlabach procured each tree’s scion, a fresh-growing shoot that can be grafted onto a locally-grown root stock.

After seven years of growth, the trees now stand around eight feet tall, holding a few dozen apples after hand-picking during the growing season.

LynOaken has held “pick your own” trips for 35 years, formerly in the farm’s Lyndonville Orchards. The move to the Ridge came as the farm moved into wine production and agri-tourism. While the immediate aim is increased traffic to the family’s farm market, Oakes said having hundreds of unique apples gives the farm’s fermented cider business the latitude to experiment with different cider mixes.

Oakes also hopes to go further in educating the community about the history of local and American apples by producing a book about each variety.

But for now, there grows a pleasure to see apples from eras past. Schlabach said he dreamed for two winters about the coming bounty. He’s enjoyed tasting Roxbury Russets and Golden Harveys.

“Golden Harveys are an outstanding apple, but it’s too small for consumers,” Schlabach said. “They all have a uniqueness.”

For Oakes, a special place is reserved for the apples he grew up with and still remembers fondly.

“I know some of these apples from our orchards,” Oakes, a third-generation apple grower, said. “People picked 20 trees of Wealthy apples in a two-week stretch. That was one of my grandmother’s favorites.”