Preserving America's classic apple trees in dwarf form
On the outskirts of town is an apple orchard featuring many of the favorites of an earlier time: Rhode Island Greening, Smokehouse, Summer Rambo, and Cox's Orange Pippin, to name only a few.
The apples are part of the Lancaster Farm Museum here and, while they fit the museum mold in terms of varieties, they are ultramodern in that they are all dwarf trees - and thereby hangs a tale. Moreover, it is a tale with a sweet and fragrant promise for home gardeners everywhere - and for specialty fruit growers as well.
Tom Lloyd, who started the Preservation Apple Tree Company of Mount Gretna, Pa., five years ago, has donated that orchard to the museum. He wants to take the famous old names out of dusty record books and bring them alive, literally, to people visiting the farm. Dr. Lloyd a professor of obstetrics at the Hershey Medical Center, grew up with a love of fruit. Early in his academic career he began planting old-time apple varieties wherever he was living at the time. But it seemed that just as the apples were old enough to begin bearing, he would be offered a promotion that sent him elsewhere, leaving the fruits of his labors for others to enjoy.
That's when he began looking into dwarf-size fruit trees that begin bearing in a quarter of the time it takes for a standard tree to begin fruiting.
To his dismay, however, very few of the old varieties were available in dwarf form. So the practical Dr. Lloyd began grafting scions (fruiting wood) of his favorite apples onto dwarf rootstock to meet his own needs. Out of that initial practice has developed the Preservation Apple Tree Company, the only one offering what might be termed heritage trees in a size convenient for the small backyard.
During the first 300 years of European settlement of North America, immigrants brought with them their favorite apple varieties and steadily spread them across the length and breadth of the land. All of Europe's best apples were brought to America, where they thrived, apparently, as well as the immigrants themselves.
As Dr. Lloyd explains it: ''Since each apple tree grown from seed is a unique hybrid of its parent trees, several thousand varieties had been produced and named by the middle of the 19th century.'' Those varieties with superior characteristics were maintained by vegetative propagation; in other words, by grafting or by budding.
By early in this century several dozen European and American varieties had become highly regarded and established in both private homes and farm orchards. Then commercialization of the fruit industry took over and the wide variety of available apples began declining.
''Apples with unique flavors within unpretentious skins were abandoned for large, pretty, but often far less tasty varieties,'' says Dr. Lloyd. The fact that an apple variety (Rhode Island Greening is one) ripened its fruit sequentially rather than all at once meant it was abandoned by an industry that could not afford to pick a tree several times over.
As housing developments moved into former apple country in this century, old trees were systematically removed and the resource threatened. Fortunately, the establishemnt of preservation orchards in various parts of the country has meant that a majority of the better old varieties will not be lost forever.
Now Dr. Lloyd has come along to provide these same varieties on dwarf stock - trees that grow between 6 and 9 feet tall, yet yield 2 to 3 bushels of full-size fruit every season.
Dr. Lloyd supplies trees to nurseries and garden centers all over the country or, if no such retailer is available in a particular area, direct to the customer.
For the name of an outlet in your area write to the Preservation Apple Tree Company, PO Box 279, Mount Gretna, Pa. 17064.