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In the meantime, while the apple blossoms are blooming, I thought it was a good time to revisit the Trinity Heritage Orchard Project in Weaverville. The orchards will be breathtaking this time of year.
In the winter the leaves are bare
And no one sees the signs
Of a house that stood and a garden that grew
And life in another time.”
Kate Wolf – The Lilac and the Apple Tree
The North State has many rich legacies. One of them is heirloom apples. Since 2006, Carol Fall, Program Representative for the University of California Cooperative Extension in Trinity, has been working year-round trying to trace and document this very legacy for the Trinity Heritage Orchard Project (THOP). Photo: An heritage apple tree in full production at the Steiner Flats orchard site in Trinity County.
The Trinity Heritage Orchard Project is “a multi-purpose effort by the UCCE which seeks to preserve the horticultural history of the County, promote heirloom orchards as a food resource, and demonstrate techniques to care for these neglected trees.” It is one of the branches (pardon the pun) of “Trinity Roots,” an initiative sponsored by UCCE in Trinity County in order to promote agritourism and locally-supported agriculture. Photo: Carol Fall, UCCE Program Representative in Trinity County, beneath a fruiting apple on the grounds of the Young Family Ranch in Weaverville.
Among many other programs on which Carol works, the Heritage Orchard Project is clearly close to her heart. She is animated and infectious in her enthusiasm for the project, the heritage it strives to protect, and the very trees themselves. Weaverville and Trinity County in general are clearly close to her heart. Photo: Carol Fall, UCCE Program Representative in Trinity County, discussing the quirks of some of the heritage trees at the BLM-owned Steiner Flats orchard site.
Carol works out of the Young Family Ranch, a remnant pioneer homestead dating back to the 1850s in Weaverville, located alongside the historic Weaverville Cemetery. The Ranch is owned by the Young Family Ranch Trust and managed by the Trinity County Resource Conservation District. When she is not out in the trees, or implementing one of the other UCCE nutrition or agriculture-education programs in the county, Carol is at the Young Family Ranch diligently mapping the location of old trees in the County, writing up seasonal conditions reports, inventorying the trees identified so far, and even tending to young grafts of some of the most significant old varieties. Photo: At the end of the grape-vine enclosed nursery garden at Young Family Ranch stands an elegant old barn.
Recently, Carol toured us around the Young Family Ranch grounds – citing the history of the buildings and the trees. Over a delicious and completely Trinity-County-sourced lunch, she talked with passion about the fun and satisfaction involved in locating the County’s old trees. She described hiking through snowy wilderness areas, orchard ladder in hand, in early spring “because that’s the easiest time to spot the trees – when they’re blooming!” she explained. Photo: The entrance sign at the Young Family Ranch.
THOP got its start in early 2006 with an effort to save and document old trees around the historic Lowden Ranch in Lewiston. A stage coach stop, post office and the location of a critically important bridge crossing the Trinity River, Lowden Ranch once boasted 3000 orchard trees. Like most of the heritage orchards in Trinity County, Lowden Ranch’s orchard was originally planted by settlers coming to the area after gold was discovered in the County in 1858. Among the many things that settlers brought with them from their former homes were cuttings and root stock for both productive and ornamental plants. Many, many varieties of apples were brought to the area and planted not only for their fruit but as importantly for producing hard cider. Now owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Lowden Ranch has just a few remaining trees – including ‘Sweet Bough’ and ‘Siberian Crab’ apples. Photo: Spring apple blossoms.
In the spring of 2006, when the decision was made by UCCE to undertake such a project, the first thing on the agenda was trying to locate old trees and remnant orchards in the County. While settlers may have “streamed to the area” following the discovery of gold, many historic homesteads were abandoned and allowed to return to their natural state once gold fever had passed. “At this point,” laughs Carol, “Trinity has more bears per capita than it does people.” Trinity County which covers around 2 million acres, is largely rural and boasts two of the North State’s most revered wilderness areas, The Trinity Alps and the Yolly Bolly Wilderness. Although many historic trees and orchards remain around existing towns, these wilderness areas are also dotted with historic apple trees marking the spots (along with other fruit trees and lilac bushes) where once homesteads stood. Photo: A heavily laden branch of ‘Sierra Beauty’ with an old shed side and the Weaverville Cemetery in the background.
To get the initial old-tree inventory started, the UCCE got information from a variety of sources. A Trinity County-legend, botanist and forester, Alice Goen Jones walked Carol through topographical maps of the County and marked areas in which she knew there were, or had once been, producing trees. Alice, who died at the age of 98 in 2010, was the 9th woman graduate of a forestry program in the United States and only the 3rd in the state of California, according to Trinity County Historical society sources. She received her degree in Forestry from UC, Berkeley in 1934 and subsequently moved to Trinity County with her husband. Alice was one of the leading advocates for the Trinity Alps to be designated as an official Wilderness Area, which it was in the 1980s. Alice knew the wilderness areas of Trinity County as well as anyone and Carol expressed how lucky she was to have received so much first-hand information from Alice. Photo: A largely untended, but fruitful ‘Rome’ apple dating back to the 1860s at the Steiner Flat orchard site.
Carol and the UCCE also reviewed existing historical records and put out a call to local residents through ads and community announcements requesting any information about old trees. Over 145 locations of old trees were reported and listed by mid-2006. Some were single trees, Carol said, others were larger orchards. Photo: The freshly cut but quickly browning flesh of a famed cider apple, the ‘Hubbardston Nonesuch.’ This apples develops a protective russet-colored netting on its skin as it matures, making it an excellent ‘keeper’.
Between 2006 and 2007, staff on the THOP visited 50 of the reported tree sites. “In the fall of 2006 and 2007, apples and pears were collected from 118 trees at 28 locations,” Carol reported. Of the originally visited 50 sites, 22 of them did not bear fruit. Collected fruit was sent to Ram Fishman of Greenmantle Nursery in Garberville for identification. Carol described Ram as the “Godfather of Heirloom” in the area, and his nursery is dedicated to “All the old timers, Long may they thrive”. After years of working with him, sending fruit to id and cuttings to graft and propagate, Carol has learned a lot. Over time, she has developed her own sense of which trees are most interesting, bear the best fruit, might be a variety as yet undocumented by the project, or might be worth reproducing as clones to protect the lineage. But she is always excited when she finds something she is not sure of and sends it off to Ram for confirmation. Photo: Heritage pears are also tracked and documented for the Trinity Heritage Orchard project. This one ornaments the entrance to the Young Family Ranch in Weaverville.
Ideally, Carol maintains a fairly systematic schedule of visiting old trees in spring to see if they are in bloom, reporting on time and condition of bloom and then re-visiting those same trees again the following autumn to collect and report on the tree’s fruit. “I try to collect fruit from one tree six times over the course of the fruit production, each time collecting from a different part of the tree. I note things such as ripening time, color of fruit over time, flavor, juice, aroma, flesh texture and the color of the fruit when cut.” All of these factors indicate different things, such as how well people will like the apples, and help Carol decide to collect ‘scion wood’ cuttings in order to reproduce the trees or not. “People used to have very different standards as to what made a good apple,” Carol said. “For one thing, whether it kept well without refrigeration. For another, how soft it was. Many people today prefer a crisp, firm apple. But back then, they did not have the teeth we have now or the dentistry and so a soft apple – like ‘Golden Sweet’ was preferred. They also used a lot of apples for drying, cooking, and making cider and hard cider. Many of these heritage apples, such as ‘Hubbardston Nonesuch’ and ‘Smith Cider,’ aren’t great eaten fresh, but make great cider or cookers!” Photo: Heritage lilacs, roses and pears are also tracked and documented for the Trinity Heritage Orchard project. This pear ornaments the entrance to the Young Family Ranch in Weaverville.
One of the goals of the THOP is to identify and reproduce culturally significant varieties, especially ones no longer in cultivation and in danger of being lost as a genetic strain. Between data collected on the fruits of the heritage trees and the identification provided by Ram Fishman, Carol and UCCE decide whether or not to collect cuttings from which to grow clones. Cuttings are taken as hardwood cuttings from the top of the tree in February when the tree is dormant. Apples are some of the longest lived fruit trees, especially in the ideal (for apples) climate of Trinity County, with its cold winters and dry hot summers. But Carol admitted to there being a certain urgency to the work, for her, as these trees begin (after all these years) to “senesce and head towards the end of their useful life.” She worries that important old varieties could be lost before she gets to them to take cuttings. In spring 2008, Carol identified a significant tree in one of the wilderness areas, but wildfires that summer, caused so much damage in the region, that the tree was lost. “It was heartbreaking.”
When a tree is chosen for cloning, multiple cuttings are grown-on to increase the chance of success that one or more will reach maturity. Ram Fishman keeps some of the clones, and the UCCE takes some them. Once the clones are big enough, the UCCE plants the young trees in public areas such as schools and banks and libraries in order to keep the genetic variety alive and to provide fruit and access to this ‘living history’ to the public. “Trees from scion wood collected in 2006 have been planted in the Weaverville Children’s Garden, Hayfork Children’s Garden, Weaverville Community Forest, Lowden Ranch, and the Young Family Ranch.” Photo: Apples from the Steiner Flat trees.
“You can request this work be done by us as well.” Carol related with regional pride that a long-time resident of downtown Weaverville requested that UCCE take cuttings of the name-unknown old tree in her garden. “She’s 98 and happily paid the small fee for identifying and taking cuttings under the condition that we re-plant the tree at the local school before she dies. There’s a great legacy.”
If you’re headed to Trinity County, you can visit many of the historic orchards on your own, and public gleaning is allowed, but gleaners are asked to follow good gleaning etiquette, for instance do not climb or otherwise cause potential damage to the trees and ask first to pick any fruit from private property. Although originally planted by miners and homesteaders following the Gold Rush, many of remnant orchards and trees are on land now owned by local or federal agencies. Photo: Apples from the Steiner Flat trees.
The following orchards are listed as easily accessible:
Lee Ranch House, Weaverville
Located on Lorenz Street behind the Jake
Jackson Museum, owned by Trinity
County.The ranch house was built in 1918 by
Sam Lee, a miner, farmer, storekeeper
and descendant of a pioneer
Apple trees include Gravenstein, Lawver
and Grindstone (AKA American Pippin).
Steiner Flat Orchard, Douglas City
Turn on Steiner Flat Rd from Hwy 299 at Douglas City. Go 3
miles. Orchard is on your left. Owned by BLM.
Steiner Flat was settled by Benjamin Steiner in 1850. The
ranch produced fruits and vergetable to sell to the mining
Apple varieties include Sweet Bough, Roxbury Russet,
Holland Pippin, Hubbardston Nonesuch, and Rome Beauty.
Lowden Orchard, Lewiston
Located on Lewiston Road, 2 miles north of Hwy 299.
Look for Parking Area & trailhead. Walk trail 1/4
mile north through pasture. Owned by BLM.
William Lowden established a homestead here in
1852. His Grass Valley Ranch supplied produce
to a hotel and stage stop at the ranch and other
locations beginning in 1858. Only a few trees remain
from an orchard that once included almost 3000 trees.
Apple varieties include a Sweet Bough and Siberian Crab.
Highland Art Center, Weaverville
Located on Hwy 299, across from Jake Jackson Museum
Owned by Snyder-Highland Foundation.
The Highland Art Center was formed in 1953. The facilities
were orginally a residence built in 1894 with various out-
buildings added over the years.
The apple tree adjacent to the white picket fence is a
UCCE serves Trinity County through its 4-H Youth Development Program, Nutrition, Family & Consumer Science Program, and Agriculture & Natural Resources Program. Carol is hoping to also begin a Trinity County Master Gardener program in spring of 2012. Photo: Heritage trees that have been visited by Carol or other UCCE staff are pin-pointed using GPS and labeled as well as entered into the computerized data-base of the THOP trees.
The Young Family Ranch hosts a series of events to educate children and their families about gardening, nutrition and natural resources, including the Summer Day Camp, Pioneer Day, a Pumpkin Patch and Cider Pressing. For more information on upcoming activities, contact: TCRCD at (530) 623-6004.
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In a North State Garden is a weekly Northstate Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California. Made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum – Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico, In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell – all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday mornings at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time. Podcasts of past shows are available here.