Apples – Malus Domestica

“There is no fruit in temperate climates so universally esteemed, and so extensively cultivated, nor is there any which is so closely identified with the social habits of the human species as the apple. Apart from the many domestic purposes to which it is applicable, the facility of its cultivation, and its adaptation to almost every latitude, have rendered it, in the ages, an object of special attention and regard.”

Dr. Robert Hogg, The Apple, 1851

Apple remains found in Israeli and Turkey have been dated to 6500 BC, but it is difficult to say exactly where this fruit came from; wild species growing to the north (representing the sweet variety), or husbanded trees found nearer to settlements (Morgan, 2013). From the thirteen century onward the number the varieties of esteemed apple soared, and the plant was taken to almost every corner of the earth (Morgan, 2013). As the apple evolved with humans it acquired a reputation associated with of sexuality, temptation, and a tendency to invoke chaos and destruction [1]. The apple possesses a remarkable diversity of color, form, flavor and texture. From a culinary perspective fresh apples are ranked among prize ingredients, and from a dietary perspective apples are a useful source of fiber, vitamin C and potassium (Morgan, 2013). From a local perspective apple trees bring blossoms, birds, wildlife and pollinators. They create a microclimate that can be exploited to help serve the needs of other desirable species. Apples themselves naturally have a long shelf live and a wide range of applications. Finally, apple trees provide an opportunity to pick delicious fruit that is in its prime, free of pests and preservatives.

Like many other fruits, apple’s do not breed true to seed, so every pip is potentially a new variety with its own unique genetic makeup. The long history of apples and their reproduction method gives apples an amazing amount a genetic diversity. In general, apple trees can withstand a wide range of summer and winter temperatures, many types of soil, and are relatively indifferent to day-length, making it possible to cultivate them at any latitude where suitable microclimates exist (Morgan, 2013). New varieties have been crossed with exceptionally hardy species and have the capacity to withstand artic temperatures (Morgan, 2013). The main factor restricting the migration of apples into warmer climates is a lack of winter chilling [2] (Morgan, 2013). Many mountainous regions help to satisfy this winter chill niche. In addition, new tropical varieties have also recently been developed.

Since apples do not breed true to seed, and because most varieties do not root easily from cuttings, grafting has evolved to become a key step in their cultivation. Grafts can occur naturally if two branches rub together which will eventually lead to the branches fusing together (Morgan, 2013). The point in time when farmers became inspired enough to experiment with grafting and follow this process they found in the wild remains unclear. The integration of grafting into agricultural practices was a huge step forward in apple production because it gave farmer the ability not only to reproduce useful trees and establish valued varieties elsewhere, but it also transformed otherwise undesirable trees (Morgan, 2013).

Grafting require a rootstock to be planted in the ground and develop a root system, and a scion to be grafted onto the rootstock. The Rootstock will determine the tolerances, height, and lifespan of the plant. Standard or half standard species have a long lifespan (~100 years) and need less attention (Sinden, 1989). Dwarfing trees on the other hand will bear fruit sooner and grow less vigorously but tend to have a shorter lifespan (~30 years) (Sinden, 1989). The scion determines the characteristics of the apples produces. If you find yourself grafting remember to ensure that you both harvest and graft at the appropriate time of year, the cambium lines up, the scion is grafted in the proper direction, and the scion and rootstock are both from healthy specimens.

In most cases apple trees reproduce sexually, a male germ cell (pollen) form one flower pollinates a female germ cell (ovule) of another flower. Most apple trees are self-incompatible and require cross-pollination from another compatible variety to successfully pollinate (Sinden, 1989). As a result, if you are planting apple trees it is important to plant at least two compatible varieties. Furthermore, careful consideration should be taken to select varieties that blossom at roughly the same time. To ensure a good crop production, trees should be planted relatively close together to encourage crosspollination (~6-8 ft) when planting standard and half-standard trees (Sinden, 1989). Wind protection is also suggested, especially at blossom time because pollinating insects are deterred by strong winds (Whitefield, 2002). Apples will tolerate some shade, but need to be in full sun for at least half the day (Whitefield, 2002). Sunshine gives apples their full flavor and color, so it may be more important for some variety as apposed to others (Whitefield, 2002).

[1] For example apples play a critical role in the biblical story of Adam and Eve, are the sacred fruit to the Greek love goddess Aphrodite and her Roman counterpart Venus, and Celtic stories identify the apple with love and fertility (Morgan, 2013). Many folklore stories also utilize the apple as important plot development tool, for example Snow White falls victim to a poisoned apple.
[2] For apple trees to resume growth in the spring their dormant phase must be ‘broken’. Dormancy will be broken after a prescribed ‘sum’ of winter conditions has passed; the tree then knows that winter has ended and will begin to flower in response to warm temperatures. This sum of cold weather is known as winter chill. (Darbyshire, 2014).


Darbyshire, Rebecca. Crossing the threshold: adaptation tipping points for Australian fruit trees. PICCC, Primary Industry Climate Change Center. 2014. Web. Retrieved from

Morgan, Joan. The New Book of Apples. Random House. 2013.

Sinden, Neil. In a nutshell: A manifesto for trees and a guide to growing and protecting them. Common Ground. 1989.

Whitefield, Patrick. How To Make A Garden Forest. Permanent Publications. 2002.

Forest Ecology & Climate Change Adaptation

Oliver Kellhammer work as an artist, activist, and environmentalist has led him down an extraordinary path in life. He has created numerous art instillations with a focus on food justice, communication and botanical intervention. Some instillations he shared with us range from guerilla and sanctioned gardens, reestablishing forested areas after infrastructure developments, growing slime mold to predict the future and working to preserve forested areas.

One topic that Oliver returned to on several occasion was how climate change will affect the future ecology of the world, and how we should be preparing for it. Oliver highlighted some species that were historically present in North America, like the Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides). The fossil record for Dawn redwood have been found widely distributed throughout North America and Eurasia from the early Late Cretaceous to the Plio-Pleistocene. The species was thought to be extinct until 1941, when it was found in the Shui-sha-ba Valley of china (Lepage, 2005). Since then it has been successfully replanted in city in North America (e.g. City of Toronto, New York City etc.).

As climate change continues to destabilize climatic patterns it is important that we identify vulnerable species and species that might be able to fill the ecological niches of species lost. The history and range of tolerance of Dawn redwood makes it an interesting tree to consider when thinking about climate change adaptation. The wide distribution in space and in time suggests that the genus probably grew under a wide range of climatic and environmental conditions (Lepage, 2005). Dawn redwood could become an important species for North America as the effects of climate change continue to unfold over the years.

Oliver is not the only one thinking about the problem our current ecosystems are facing. Greg O’Neill, research scientist for the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, is running one site, in the Okanagan, that is involved in the Assisted Migration Adaptation Trail (AMAT) project. The AMAT project is trying to determine the limits of commercially important species by moving them south and subjecting them to warmer weather, and at the same time is working to determine if moving species north will enable them the fare better as the climate evolves (Marris, 2009). The province of BC has also recently adjusted its forestry rules for replanting cut blocks to encourage the movement of species northward or up in elevation, so that they can remain in an environment that most resembles their ‘climate-envelope’ (Marris, 2009). So far these initiatives have only happened with commercial timber, and the project is too young to have strong conclusive results. Trying to integrate a foreign species such as Dawn redwood into BC, despite it potential benefits, would cause uproars within many communities. Even moving native species outside their historic ranges is viewed negatively for fear of aggressive invasion. However, as climate change continues to push our biogeoclimate zones around, isn’t it only logical that we find species that can “invade” these new environments and thrive in them?

Finding ecological solutions to changing climatic conditions is extremely complicated. Oliver offered unique thoughts into the matter, which would likely run against the grain of most conservationists, and similarly, Greg O’Niell faces substantial criticism for his involvement in the AMAT project. As climate change continues to unfold and the effects become more pronounced a variety of solutions will be required to maintain ecological services and functions. My wealth of knowledge is not robust enough to heavily weighing in on the debate for and against the assisted migration of species, but I feel it is important to acknowledge that the idea of ‘novel ecosystems’ may be a very real actuality in the near future. One could argue we are creating ‘novel climates’ and that ‘novel ecosystems’ may be the only way to continually deliver ecosystem services and function even if some ecological mistakes are made along the way.

What do you think? What is the best way to prepare our ecosystems for Climate Change? Is it something that is possible? I’m open to any and all forms of feedback!

From the Farm to the City

I heard a story while at Linneae from a fellow student, about a child who refused to believe apples come from apple trees and instead they firmly asserted that apples in fact come from the supermarket. I try to put on my empathy hat, think back to when I was a kid growing up in cities (Toronto & Calgary), were did I think apples came from? Farming is anything by an easy job; it requires constant creativity, perpetual problem solving, steadfast dedication, a wealth of knowledge and a deep understanding of the land. To be a successful farmer the want and desire to produce food must be set in your bones, so that your spirit may be carried through the years of laborious work. While I understand that not everyone can be a farmer, the far reaching effects of farming and the shear importance of the role justifies a comprehensive literacy from the general public. “We have to bring children into a new relationship with food that connects them to culture and agriculture” – Alice Waters.

Small-scale permaculture farming requires its practitioners to develop an intimate reciprocal relationship with the landscape, the seasons, and local systems. Doing so allows practitioners to find the simplest solution to on the ground problems. In order to be a successful permaculture farmer you must be literate in the language of the land and the systems on it. On Cortes we had the opportunity tour various system with local translators; to glean from them insights into the relationships they have create with the land, the animals and each other. Linneae Farm is an extraordinarily special place that has, over the past 100 years, developed a multitude of sustainable systems by not overexploiting the land and its resources. It is an amazing place to acquire knowledge, inspiration, guidance, and fresh food! However, due to its location and the capacity of the stewards it is not feasible for large numbers of people visit and learn from the farm. Linneae is able to operate its systems in part because the farm is zone as a conservation covenant, which exempts from normal taxation and allows its stewards to keep systems small and sustainable. Under normal circumstance Linneae Farm would likely have to put more pressure on the land by increasing its annual production. Linneae is a special place but it is unrealistic to try to replicate its model, it is simple too unique, and it is unfair to place the onus of education on its stewards. As students I feel it is our responsibility to take the lessons we have learn from the Stewards of Linneae, and from others in the Cortes community, with us back to the city.

Permaculture offers an opportunity to integrate thoughtful agricultural systems into our urban landscapes. Together we must observer our urban systems to find edges within these environments and exploit them for the benefit of both people and the earth. We have to find ways of creating multiple functions within the landscapes we inhabit, and cycle the excess energy that we create. We need to expose ourselves, our youth, to the interact relationships between the land and our food. In order for all this to happen municipalities need by-laws that normalize food production. The City of Victoria has already started to adopt such policies. With ‘minor’ prodding from individuals within the urban food scene, the City of Victoria has recently streamlined its licensing process for small-scale urban food production businesses. It has also produced several resources encourage those interested in urban food production. (

It will be interesting to see how Victoria’s urban food production community grows in the coming years. The stage is set for the industry to potential see significant growth. Some leaders have already begun to emerge within the community (i.e. Chris Hildreth – Topsoil). But do Victorian’s have a strong enough appetite for an urban food production industry?