Kazakstan Apples

On one of our bus trips in Jordan to visit Permaculture sites, I happened to be next to Ethan Roland. Ethan has visited the original Kazakstan apple orchards, and has been super inspired by the place, the very old man who is the caretaker of the orchard, and the apples. I asked him many questions and came to have a bit of a picture myself of what it looks like there.

The orchard in Kazakstan is known as the original centre of diversity for apples, in an area that is now under intense pressure from grazing animals and human predation in various ways. Sadly these unique trees are disappearing fast.

Ethan was very touched by the very elderly gentleman who is the caretaker or kaitiaki of this old orchard, and his concern for its future. The area has wonderful soils, and  contains a wide range of climatic conditions, and slopes and aspect. The area is difficult to get around in, it is a dense forest with the roots of the apple trees suckering everywhere.

There is a huge amount of biodiversity in this area. Every apple is different, because they are all seedlings: yellow, red, russet etc. The range of species growing in, around, and up them, is huge, with a full range of forest layers. The oldest apple trees are around 200 years old. Ethan says that most of the apples are not very similar to what we now think of as apples, they come in all sizes, shapes and colours and mostly taste very different to what we think an apple tastes like today. Many of these are more like crab apples, and often astringent, but many are wonderful too.

There is an amazing article written by Gary Paul Nabham, titled The Fatherland of Apples. He begins by writing: “The Fragrance of the forest is unlike any I have ever known. The smell of ripening and rotting apples and pears fills my nostrils. At my feet, russet reds, blushing pinks, vibrant roses, and creamy yellows mottle the ground, where wildlife has half-consumed the wild fruit that makes this Kazakh forest so bountiful.“ Nabham is a well known American seed saver and environmental activist. His full article is here

The apple trees are huge, all seedlings, and form the canopy of the forest. Years ago, when I was being shown around the Ahipara Gumfields in Northland looking for old Dalmatian fruit trees, I came across an ancient apple that was as tall as our native bush with epiphytes growing in the crux of the branches all the way up. It was a sight to behold and these trees all look like this with hops growing up the trunks, and raspberry and blackberries and other fruits growing in the undergrowth. It is amazing to have such a perfect example of an original guild – with so many supporting species growing together.

The range of other species (or guild), Ethan saw growing in this apple forest included:

– roses of many kinds

– brambles of many kinds, including raspberries and blackberries

– hawthorn

– hippophaea

– strawberries

– grasses and umbels (apiaceae i.e. wild carrots etc.)

– grapes and hops

– wild cannabis

– wild onions

– birch

– locusts on the dry banks

There is a struggle going on in Kazakstan to save this forest orchard at this time, just as we have in our own backyards a struggle to save our own heritage food plants and animals. We don’t need any more science for us to know that these ancient trees and animals hold a key to our future. We can feel that in our bones. Saving what we have here, learning to regenerate the soil, and learning to plant them in guilds with their families is our job at this time.

When you buy Koanga Gardens heritage fruit trees you are supporting the saving of our New Zealand heritage trees and small family businesses who are learning to regenerate the land the trees are grown on whilst bringing heart back into local rural communities.

Kay Baxter