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Food | Agriculture

Apple Detectives Try To Save Thousands Of Varieties

OPB | Nov. 7, 2013 8:30 p.m. | Updated: Aug. 5, 2014 5:05 p.m.

Producer - Vince Patton
Videographers - Todd Sonflieth, Michael Bendixen
Editor - Todd Sonflieth
Additional Images: Home Orchard Society
Aerial Footage Courtesy: Andy Johnson-Laird
__________________________________________________

Ask Nick Botner what his favorite apple is and it presents a conundrum. He’s got too many choices growing in his orchard near Yoncalla.

“I have thousands of apples here that taste better than anything you can find in the store,” says Botner.

The Niedzwetzkyana apple, from Russia, has red skin and red flesh inside.

The Niedzwetzkyana apple, from Russia, has red skin and red flesh inside.

Vince Patton / OPB

He walks to a tree, flips open his knife and slices open an apple unlike any on the market. The flesh of the  Niedzwetzkyana is almost as deep red inside as its skin is outside. “It’s from Russia,” says Botner. He loves its color but not its flavor.

Another tree features apples with golden brown skin. Cox’s orange pippin hails from England. “In America we say ‘seedling,’” says Botner, “and in England they say ‘pippin.’”

This one is worth eating, he says.

His orchard has 4,500 different varieties of apples growing.

“I have the largest collection in the whole world,” he says.“There’s so many out there I can’t possibly eat them all, but I take a taste of every one every year.”

Joanie Cooper, president of the Home Orchard Society, calls Botner’s collection “amazing.” She adds, “Geneva, New York has the apple collection. It’s a federally funded repository and they don’t have nearly what he has.”

She and the society’s Shaun Shepherd have visited his orchard several times, sampling apples in the fall, examining the fruit for color, shape and size, and comparing traits to apple catalogs of a century ago. Their detective work has helped them verify which varieties he has.

However, the farm is more than the 86-year-old can easily care for, so he’s put the farm up for sale.

The Home Orchard Society fears Botner’s apple collection could be lost, so the group has launched an ambitious plan to preserve a living cutting from all 4,500 of Botner’s varieties.

Apples come in a rainbow of colors.

Apples come in a rainbow of colors.

Vince Patton / OPB

The group hosts grafting parties where volunteers take scions, or cuttings, and splice them to new roots. The cutting takes over and grows into a new tree.

“It’s very important to preserve the legacy of all these varieties for the future,” says Shepherd. Cooper agrees, adding, “We want it to be a project and conservancy that goes forever.”

After two years of grafting, about half of Botner’s apple varieties have been replicated. However, they all live in pots because the Home Orchard Society’s 1 1/2-acre orchard at Clackamas Community College is full.

“It’s a crazy idea,” says the society’s Shaun Shepherd. “I’m not sure any of us really understood just what exactly was involved when we decided to try to do this thing.”

Botner says he’s grateful that someone cares enough to try to carry on what he started. “It might be a hobby to me but every apple is edible and it’s food,” he says. “It’s very important that people be able to grow their own food. You’ve got a lifetime of good eating.”

The Home Orchard Society needs to get cuttings from 2,000 more trees at Botner’s orchard. A deal to plant saplings from his grafts fell through at a large rural nursery so the group is continuing its hunt for land.

Nick Botner grows 4,500 varieties of apples in his orchard near Yoncalla, Oregon.

WEB EXTRA: Apple Tasting

 

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Funding provided by

Major Support Provided By:

  • Dorothy D. Gage and Dan Stanton
  • Fred and Clara Dolen Charitable Foundation

Additional Support Provided By:

  • Kay Kitagawa and Andy Johnson-Laird
  • Christine and David Vernier
  • Coit Family Foundation
  • Beth Torry Miller Trust
  • Greenfield/Hartline Habitat Conservation Fund of the Nature Conservancy
  • The Roundhouse Foundation
  • Bonnie and Peter Reagan