Monday, April 09, 2007

Update: The Trees Have Arrived

from stupid warm California. This is what my bathtub looks like:

There are two apple trees in that plastic bag on the left (which is now wrapped in a blanket to keep the roots dark until planting). In the big foam pot (from UFS, I love it, $4) there are two little pots with lingonberries in them.

The answers to your questions are: Yes, we have another bathroom. The butterflies are stick on thingies from Hobby Lobby. Because the bathroom has a sort-of unfortunate 70s decor theme in brown and yellow with butterflies and these cheered it up quite a bit without the bother of new tile and wallpaper. Arkansas Black and White Pearmain. Lingonberries come from Scandinavia and make a lovely jelly. And a very nice ground cover.

What you didn't ask is how old the White Pearmain is. As you may or may not know, apple trees that make apples that taste good are all clones of the original good-tasting apple tree of that type. Apples do not come true from seed, and like 95% of apples from seed are substantially too tart to eat and often taste like crap to boot. Johnny Appleseed wasn't spreading eatin' apples -- them was alcohol-makin' apples, and that was the primary use for apples in the U.S. for a very long time. (Because alcohol is a lot CLEANER than untreated water since it kills buggies rather than sharing them with your intestines.)

Anyway, if you want an eatin' apple, usually called a "dessert" apple, you've got to find one that tastes good, and then you've got to keep grafting branches from that one onto other rootstocks, creating clones, and then use the clones to make more clones, and so on and so forth. All of your Red Delicious apples come from clones of the first Red Delicious tree, and when the market for dessert apples started to grow in the U.S. in the late 1800s, you could literally make an overnight fortune if chance genetics bestowed upon you a tasty tree. Very chance, because apples are remarkably profligate breeders: a mature tree can easily produce 700 apples a year (or even twice that), with 10 seeds per apple, each and every one genetically different, for a yearly scattershot of some 7,000 genetic combinations in an attempt to find one that will survive local conditions -- leaving us to choose among those 7,000 options to try to find a tasty one! Next year, the tree will try 7,000 new combos. Maybe you'll get lucky then.

So how old is my White Pearmain? Well, it's the oldest known English apple, and has been in cultivation -- and cloning! -- since A.D. 1200. Yep. When my tree starts bearing fruit in a few years, that will be the identical fruit that some English dudes were eating 800 years ago, and my tree is an exact clone, via centuries of grafting, of that original tasty tree.

(This, incidentally, is why apples are among the most pesticide-laden of crops -- potatoes and cotton are the other huge ones -- because you have literally thousands upon thousands of acres of identical Red Delicious clones growing, often in fairly close proximity, and bugs evolve FAST. Wild apples grow in a crazy genetic mishmash so a bug that can kill one apple tree might not be able to attack the one right next to it. Red Delicious dates from 1870, and trust me, it didn't take the bugs 137 years to hit on the right genetic hack to go all Langolier on their asses. Which is also why heirloom apples like the White Pearmain often don't have problems -- all my local apple attackers are probably really good at Gala or Red Delicious or whatever, but haven't seen a White Pearmain in buggie memory, and the nearest one is probably 100 miles away.)

Next to the White Pearmain, my Arkansas Black looks like a mere baby, having turned up in Arkansas in the 1880s.

The other apple fact I have to throw in here, because it's one of the few things that sticks in my head from four years of high school Russian and I never ever get to use it, not even in Trivial Pursuit, is that the capital of Kazakhstan in Russian, Alma-Ata, means "Father Apple." In Kazakh it's Almaty, and means something more like, "Seriously, you would not BELIEVE how many apples there are here!" But the Russian mistranslation is on to something, since apples are believed to originate there.

1 comment:

Father Eyebrows said...

Well, I certainly learned a lot of apple facts I never knew before, even after all those summers working in apple orchards. I wonder how much of the genetic stuff the farmers even knew.